Tuesday, 4 November 2014
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, statements on health, to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business, with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes, those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes, and the Minister to be called on to reply to the debate not later than 5.40 p.m.
As a Dub, I would also like to extend my welcome to Mr. Boylan. He has ruined many Septembers for me over the years, and many Junes, too.
Tomorrow the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly, will come to the House to discuss the situation with Irish Water, so I do not propose to go into it in great detail today. However, people will note that there is a motion on the Order Paper, which I intend to move tomorrow and I assume the Government will accept it. This will deal with one facet of the problem, in that people are as concerned as I am that this utility could and will be privatised further down the road. I thank the Leader for arranging that and I will deal with the issues directly with the Minister tomorrow. Suffice to say the whole situation is a complete mess and the Government must get a handle on it, but I will wait until tomorrow to discuss that.
Has the Leader any indication of when the social welfare Bill will come to this House? I assume it will be some time in November. Could he give a commitment in advance, as he did last year, that this Bill will not in any way be rushed through this House and will not be guillotined, as has been done previous occasions? The Leader's track record on this is good but I put the House and particularly the Government Members on notice that my party and others intend to table a series of amendments on a number of issues, particularly on the area of pensions.
I have mentioned time and again the plight of the Irish aviation superannuation scheme members, especially the deferred members. I wish to put on the record of the House in respect of the retired members of the scheme that if people in any other job had proposals to reduce their pensions by up to 60% - pensions that were promised to them - it would be of concern to any group of people. There is a group of 15,000 people here who are going to have their pension benefits and those promises ripped asunder.
The pension levy introduced by the Government took €2 billion out of private pension funds of people in the State. The irony is not lost on the members of the retired aviation staff association, RASA, that only two weeks ago the Aer Lingus Irish aviation superannuation scheme, which is in such difficulty, had to pay in excess of €11 million to the Government by way of a pension levy. That brings the total paid out of this scheme, which is in a very difficult position, to €28 million. The people who are carrying the burden of this €28 million are the retired members. The proposals put forward by the so-called expert panel that reports to Government on the restructuring of this scheme mean these retired members will have carry a levy of 2.53% on their pension fund into the future. That is on top of a proposed reduction of six weeks' pay, whereby from 1 January, people in their 70s, 80s and 90s who have worked their whole lives in the airport will have six weeks' pay taken from them as well as carrying the full burden of the pension levy brought in by the Government. They will be paying an additional levy of 2.53% on top a reduction of six weeks' pay.
I am asking the Leader to give an indication of when the Social Welfare Bill will come to the House. Will it be this month? Could he give a commitment that it will not be required to pass all Stages in the one day and that, as has previously been done, this House will be allowed the time to debate it on each Stage?
I also thank the Leader for arranging the debate tomorrow on Irish Water with the Minister for Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Kelly. Everyone will welcome the Government decision to provide more clarity next week about the pricing structure for Irish Water.
----on affordability. The issue of adult dependent children is particularly pressing, but in regard to the ongoing debate in the media on Irish Water, it is important for us as Senators to state we did not guillotine the Bill in this House. We had an extensive debate on the Water Services Bill.
We did not do that in the Seanad, and that is an important point to make. I hope others will also make that point in tomorrow's debate and elsewhere.
I welcome that we are seeing such a successful Web Summit under way in the RDS in Dublin. There are 22,000 delegates attending. I congratulate all involved. It is an immense achievement to have brought together so many people. It is the biggest summit of its kind in the world and brings about €100 million to the capital city in terms of the direct proceeds and spin-off from the conference. There are clearly many other spin-offs and I suggest to the Leader we might at some point have a debate on the developments arising from a succession of successful web summits over the years in Dublin.
I welcome the fact President Higgins is on a visit to Ethiopia. When we next have a debate with the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade or the Minister of State at that Department, Deputy Sherlock, we might include issues around trade links and other links with African countries. The Minister of State signed a double taxation agreement with Ethiopia yesterday which will benefit Irish companies.
When we are debating issues concerning the African continent, it is important that we look in particular at the development of trade and cultural links with countries with which we have had long links over many years and where we are now seeing really important developments. I think President Higgins's visit will strengthen those links.
I would also like to welcome the opportunity we will have tomorrow to debate Irish Water. I acknowledge in particular the role of my colleague, Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell, who called strongly for such a debate.
As the Leader and the other Members of the House will be aware, an ISPCC Childline coffee morning fund-raiser was held in Leinster House last month. I thank everybody who contributed towards the €860 we raised, which will go to Childline. For the first time ever, Childline sadly had to issue an emergency appeal recently to look for funds to ensure it will not have to cut its night service. Childline answers approximately 1,800 calls a day. Some 11% of them are answered during the night. Those who were present at the coffee morning will have heard from one of Childline's volunteers about the type of listening service that is provided, for example when a silent call is received from a child who is cowering under the bed, afraid that his or her abuser will hear the call being made. It is wrong for any call to go unanswered. Most of the funding received by Childline comes from the generosity of the public. This House played a critical role when it came together to agree an all-party motion on the missing children hotline. I ask Senators to do whatever they can to encourage people to raise funds for Childline and the many other amazing charities in this country. They have had a very severe blow this year. We need to pick up confidence. As Senators, we need to show leadership by having confidence in the invaluable work that the charity sector does. I am particularly highlighting the important role being played by the Childline listening service.
I will conclude by calling on the Leader to ask the Ministers, Deputies Fitzgerald and Reilly, to explain why the Irish Youth Justice Service has not published an annual report since 2010. I would be interested to know why this has not happened. Perhaps they can also explain the delay in publication of the Garda youth diversion project report for 2013. We will have a debate on penal reform tomorrow. I would like to know where these reports are. It is significant that there has been no report from the Irish Youth Justice Service since 2010.
I would like to move an amendment to the Order of Business proposing that No. 13 be taken before No. 1. It is very pertinent that this topic should be taken, particularly in view of the debate we will have tomorrow.
According to an article in today's The Irish Times, the Minister of State, Deputy Deenihan, is investigating the possibility of giving the diaspora a vote in future presidential elections. It seems the Minister of State has suggested that a referendum will be necessary to facilitate this. I suggest that an alternative is already contained in a Bill that Senator Zappone and I introduced earlier this year. The Bill in question would enable the diaspora to have a vote in Seanad elections. A referendum would not be needed for this because Article 18.10.1° of the Constitution provides that "elections of the elected members of Seanad Éireann shall be regulated by law". In fact, the Minister of State, Deputy Deenihan, can give the members of the diaspora something much more powerful than a vote in the Presidential election every five or seven years. He can give them a vote in the Seanad election without needing to have a referendum. It is possible to do this. I believe it is worthy of consideration. I urge the Minister of State, Deputy Deenihan, to examine the matter. I am fully in support of his efforts to give a vote to the diaspora. I believe it would be much more useful and beneficial to the diaspora if they were to have a vote in this House, rather than once every five or seven years in the other House.
I would like to refer briefly to the pension problem that was mentioned by Senator Darragh O'Brien. People in north County Dublin are very concerned about this serious issue. It would be worthwhile to make sure we have that debate shortly.
I wish to call for a debate on cyberbullying, an issue that was brought home to us again this weekend when it was reported that a controversial website, Ask.fm, is planning to relocate to Ireland. I cannot begin to imagine the upset of the parents whose children committed suicide due to being bullied. All of this pain is being revisited by these families due to the proposed relocation. I understand that the Minister for Foreign Affairs intends to raise the issue with the Government.
It is critical we have a debate on cyberbullying. It is very important we highlight this issue repeatedly. Perhaps it would be suitable to have a special session where we would bring in experts on this issue. I think many Members would be supportive of that as cyberbullying is a very important issue to discuss.
Undoubtedly, this has a lot to do with the public anger about the "lot of mistakes made in relation to the set up of Irish Water", as acknowledged by the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Kelly, yesterday. I marched with the people in Tallaght on Saturday last. There were a mixture of reasons, they said, as to why they came out in their thousands there and in their tens of thousands throughout the country. It is the water issue but it is not just that issue.
As I stressed in my response to budget 2015, the Government pursued a policy of massive social disinvestment during the austere period. Many women and children were hit particularly hard by the cuts. Reports last week unequivocally demonstrate that the Government is failing many in both groups. I have several questions I wish to raise with the Tánaiste, Deputy Burton, in a Seanad debate on these reports. My overarching question, however, would be how we will ensure our future legislation reinvests in women and children.
The first report, the World Economic Forum gender gap report, examined 142 countries. Overall, Ireland's gender gap ranking slipped from fifth in the world in 2011 to eighth in 2014. It grew over the past year. Why are women becoming increasingly worse off relative to their male counterparts in a recovering economy? In Tallaght and neighbouring communities where I have worked over many years, 55% of women leave education by secondary school. What progressive policies are being implemented by the Government to combat gender inequities such as this?
The second report is the UNICEF report on the impact of the economic crisis on children. It also presents equally disturbing figures on the disproportionate effects of social disinvestment on many Irish children. The rate of child poverty in Ireland has increased by almost 11%, from 2008 to 2012. In 2012, 130,000 children were poor. Childhood poverty rates dropped over the same period of time in 18 countries and in many EU countries that also struggled with economic crises. Will the Leader invite the Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection to the House to debate these reports soon? Policies must be designed in the future in light of their impact on gender dynamics and their effect on children.
My colleagues, Senators Landy and Whelan, and I have been fighting with EirGrid over recent years regarding the Grid25 project. As a result, we have brought about an independent group which was set up to investigate the possibility of putting cables underground. Alongside that, we always said there was a need to debate whether this project was necessary. Colm McCarthy has agreed and said it is not necessary. The Irish chartered institute of engineers has said the wind energy and pylon projects are not necessary. It is fascinating that as of last week we have the ESB - the predecessors to EirGrid - questioning whether this expansive and expensive project is necessary. It claims it is not. It is very important we have a debate in the House at the earliest opportunity on the need for this project to go ahead at all. I call on the Leader to invite the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Alex White, at the earliest convenience to the House in order that we can have a broad debate on this. There is a great deal of expertise in the House on this project. Serious economists are on our side. We would be foolish to ignore them.
I would like to ask the Leader for an urgent debate on the crisis facing farmers, in the beef industry in particular. It is mind-boggling to see our counterpart farmers in the UK getting a substantially greater price than that being obtained in this country. I raised this in the House several months ago. At that stage, I made the accusation that there is a cosy cartel giving the two fingers to the Minister and to farmers in this country.
I applaud the IFA and other farming organisations, which are protesting publicly about this issue. It is an extremely serious issue. The goal-posts keep changing. There was a huge push less than two years ago to produce bully beef at 20 months old but that has now been reduced to 16 months and even 14 months. The huge multinational supermarkets are driving that and are dictating the pace. Our massive cattle slaughtering set-up controls the situation. The real losers here are the farmers, whether suckler cow farmers or people dedicated to beef. It even has a knock-on effect on the dairy industry and it is doing huge damage.
I will not propose an amendment to the Order of Business today but I promise the Leader that if the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine does not come to the House soon to discuss this issue, which I have raised previously, then I will come in here with all guns blazing and, from tomorrow on, will call votes every day.
I support the call by my colleague, Senator Naughten, for a special debate on cyber-bullying. Many people are beginning to feel the effects of it and we are hearing many prominent people highlighting the impact cyber-bullying is having on them and on the population generally. It is unthinkable that two families have lost loved ones in recent times and that the company, Ask.fm, is considering relocating its business to Dublin. We need to consider the ethics of that and whether we want to welcome that company to our shores.
I very much applaud and congratulate the gardaí and the customs officers on the raid on the fuel laundering plant in Monaghan this morning. They seized three tankers, a mobile oil launders and 50,000 litres of laundered fuel. The plant had the capacity to launder 20 million litres per annum which equates to the loss of €10 million to our Exchequer. This plant had been operating for more than one year.
Organised criminal gangs are setting up front companies to source and launder fuel which is then sold in petrol stations throughout the country. It is estimated that there are 150 petrol stations in the North operating in this particular manner. It is an average of six illegal operations per county. These stations must be identified and named publicly. In the past, I have called for some type of Q mark to be issued to legitimate fuel operates in this country because in my county and in other counties, we have seen serious damage being done to vehicles. People have had to carry huge costs which they cannot recoup as insurance companies will not cover them.
I call on the Minister for Justice and Equality to redouble her efforts and make additional resources available to the customs officers and the gardaí to stamp out this practice and to join forces with her colleagues in the North to put an end once and for all to this scourge of fuel laundering which is costing the economy in the South a fortune and which is also causing huge financial hardship to many citizens as a result of damage to their vehicles.
I second the amendment to the Order of Business put forward by my colleague, Senator Quinn.
I draw the attention of the House to a debate on Radio 1 at lunchtime on Saturday about gay marriage. There were three people opposing gay marriage and two, including Senator Zappone, supporting it. This seems to be odd. Even as an interpretation of the McKenna judgment, if one considers that 66% of the people are in favour of gay marriage, it was three to two. That is supposed to be balance on Radio 1. The Seanad was also represented by Senator Rónán Mullen who did his usual thing of saying, "Let us treat everybody with respect" but then invaded against what was described as "the Government's twisted legislation", which did not seem to me to display all that much respect.
There is also the question of allowing the diaspora to vote in presidential elections.
That is an excellent idea but we did not attack the central problem of the Presidency, which was addressed at my instigation by the Constitutional Convention. A total of 97% voted in favour of extending the method of nomination and the Government ignored it.
A total of 97% of the people of Ireland said the presidential nomination process should be broadened. Let us hear something about that instead of this tinkering away at the edges of situation. Let the Government for once fully address the central issues involved instead of endlessly tinkering around the edges.
Could we have a debate on the Middle East? We had a very good one recently. I am very grateful to the Leader and you, a Chathaoirligh, for bringing the Seanad back in July for that reason. The situation there is ghastly. I received an e-mail today that says Gaza has run out of petrol. A maximum of six hours of electricity remains. I am sorry to say that at the same time my old university, Trinity College, whose graduates I represent, is collaborating with the Israeli arms industry in defence systems and drone technology. That is shameful. I am all in favour of the exchange of ideas and I do not agree with a total block on academic exchange but I do not think we should be involved in that kind of military technology.
I congratulate Dundalk FC, its manager Stephen Kenny, and the excellent team of players on their fantastic success this year in winning the League of Ireland trophy for the first time in 19 years, and the EA Sports Cup Final.
It has been a very barren time for Dundalk in terms of winning trophies and I am delighted that this year it came to the fore. Dundalk has always been a very sporting town, in particular a soccer town. The wins have given a boost to the town both in terms of sport and economically, which I hope will be an attraction to the town in the coming year.
I wish to raise the ongoing issue surrounding Sinn Féin, the kangaroo courts and the Maíria Cahill controversy. I still believe we are waiting for answers to the important and crucial questions that have been asked publicly of Sinn Féin and of Deputy Adams. Since Maíria Cahill's story broke, other people have come forward to confirm that they were also sexually abused as minors. The lady's story has never faltered and answers are required. I am particularly concerned at the recent admission that known child abusers were sent across the Border by the IRA. I live in one of those Border towns and I believe that the Leader of Sinn Féin should answer the questions directly about information on the whereabouts of such people. Are any of them in the county Deputy Adams represents? I call on him to categorically give us the information. Have the Garda and Tusla been made aware of the whereabouts of such people? Those questions must be put to Deputy Adams and he must answer them directly.
Senator Zappone hit the nail on the head when she referred to the myriad reasons people protested on Saturday. It is clear that the vast majority were protesting against water charges, Irish Water and the privatisation or potential privatisation of water services, as people see it. However, they also protested at seven years of austerity and all of the cuts that have been foisted on them. The reason we have seen so many people on the streets is that they have had enough. There is a message in that for the entire political system, not just for the Government parties, but for all of us. People want fairness and equality. The vast majority of people understand that the public finances were not in a good place and needed to be corrected but they wanted them corrected in a fair way. They view what happened in the past seven years as anything but fair. For the vast majority, the straw that broke the camel's back was water charges.
Senator Bacik was correct to say we spent 17 hours in the Seanad debating the Water Services Bill.
We commended the Government at the time on giving the appropriate time, but hundreds of amendments were tabled by Sinn Féin, Fianna Fáil and Independent Senators dealing with all the concerns about which we are now hearing from the former Minister of State who set up Irish Water, and the current Minister who now says the entire process was a bit of a mess. Not one amendment from the Opposition, which dealt with bonuses, the pricing structure and charges, the use of consultants and many of the issues that manifested themselves, was accepted by the Government. We will have two hours and 15 minutes tomorrow to discuss water charges and many other issues within that. That is not enough time because people have many questions on those issues and we must ensure every Senator who wants to speak has the opportunity to do so. This is the time for us to have a frank, constructive debate on this issue, but two hours and 15 minutes is not sufficient and I respectfully ask that an extra hour would be given tomorrow. If the Leader is not in a position to agree to that today, we will propose an amendment to the Order of Business tomorrow but I ask in good faith that the Leader would acknowledge and accede to this request.
Dublin is hosting the Web Summit from today until 6 November. Dublin hotels and guest houses are hiking room rates, in some instances by up to 600%, in an effort to cash in on the Web Summit. Someone mentioned 20,000 visitors to our capital city, and they are most welcome. Someone else said it was the biggest such summit in the world, but prior to the summit starting, some hotels in Dublin were quoting room rates of €60 and €90 per night. This week they are charging €320 per night, an increase of 350%. Those charging a normal rate of €160 per night are charging €463 per night, which is an increase of 280%. Those charging €160 per night last week and next week are charging €270 per night this week. Those charging €100 per night last week are charging €250 per night this week. It is immoral, wrong and it cannot be justified. I know that supply and demand dictates in this case but it gives the wrong impression to tourists coming to this country. Tourists will not return here with such prices being charged. Hotels and restaurants lobbied every one of us-----
I am. They lobbied every one of us to retain the 9% VAT rate, and what is happening now is outrageous. This country is killing the goose that laid the golden egg. Such rates cannot be justified. I spoke to the owner of a hotel in the capital of the south of France. It charges €189 per night.
I agree with Senator Brennan because all the Oireachtas Members have been literally thrown out of their hotels, but it is a bit late at this stage to have a debate on the issue. The bird will have flown and their customers will have returned home.
I join the Cathaoirleach in welcoming Seán Boylan and his wife, Tina, because he played a major contribution to GAA and sport generally, and to health issues on which he gave great leadership.
I also welcome Mr. Frank McGlynn and Mr. Joe Leddin to the House today. It is nice to see visitors coming here to the House. I thank the staff for giving all visitors such a good conducted tour of the Dáil and the Seanad, which is a good service to have.
I commend An Garda Síochána and the Revenue Commissioners on the seizure of fuel-laundering facilities at Inniskeen, County Monaghan, which were capable of processing 20 million litres of fuel. A total of 50,000 litres were found on the premises, which represents a loss of at least €10 million to the Revenue Commissioners. It is alleged that at present, 150 stations throughout the country are being run by front people for paramilitary organisations, whose members are ex-IRA and others who are exploiting this situation. I call for a debate and ask the Leader, through the Cathaoirleach, to have the Revenue Commissioners, the Minister for Justice and Equality in particular or the Minister for Finance come into the House to outline exactly what action is being taken to eliminate this situation. We need an Eliot Ness, who took out Al Capone in the 1930s. There appears to be a lack of a real, dynamic approach to this situation. Surely, it is evident to people in County Monaghan that this had been going on for 12 months in Inniskeen, the home of Patrick Kavanagh? Surely, there should be surveillance on the ground, as there are facilities for aerial surveillance at present and it is not rocket science to root them out? I commend Texaco, which took up a line I took in this House two weeks ago, which was that each legitimate station should post a guarantee stating the fuel on that premises was legitimate and had not been tampered with, interfered with or stretched. People are concerned because there are allegations that some legitimate stations are taking in this supply. This should be rooted out once and for all. The Leader is interested in this as a man who is very much in favour of law and order, as I have heard him state in this Chamber previously on many issues. He should bring the Minister to the House to explain what action has been taken to eliminate this scourge once and for all.
Members of the Seanad pride themselves on being legislators and I put it to the House today that Ireland's bail laws are a disgrace and are in dire need of an overhaul and a review. I ask the Leader to arrange at the earliest opportunity a discourse with the Minister for Justice and Equality. All Members are aware that people make errors or mistakes and deserve a second chance. The criminal justice system should have education and rehabilitation at its core and foundation, as well as an opportunity for people to get back on the right track in life. However, what this country has at present is that the criminal gangs and criminal elements are driving a coach and four through the bail laws. They are putting what one might see on-screen in an episode of “Love/Hate” in the penny-ha'penny place. It is clear to the Garda and to everyone familiar with the issue that it has got the stage at which there no longer is any deterrent. Gardaí do their job and apprehend people with multiple convictions, who are released out on bail within hours only to set about again with serious criminal activities, including robberies and other serious offences. They are driving up and down the country in high-powered cars while out on bail and are putting families under duress and holding them hostage, robbing shops and raiding old people's homes. The winter evenings are now approaching and the only thing to protect people in the countryside is the community alert text alerts system.
While the Garda is doing its best, what is the point when it apprehends people who already have a string of convictions to their name and are out on bail in respect of other serious charges? I am not talking about petty criminality but about serious matters. What happens is such people are aware that were they commit other crimes, the court would sentence them to concurrent sentences. Therefore, there is no deterrent. indeed it pays them to commit crime while out on bail. I make the point that if the law is an ass, it is making a fool of us all. Members must review radically and overhaul the bail laws because criminals are making fun of them. They are making a laugh of the laws and are conducting a reign of terror while out on bail. It is unacceptable.
I thank the Leader for inviting the Minister, Deputy Varadkar, for the health debate. Mr. Seán Boylan is here because he has an interest in that aspect of our wider health and medical services. Last Saturday week, Mr. Jeff Dudgeon of the Ulster Unionist Party, at a meeting of the Irish Association, called for the retention of the long wave 252 service, as Senator Mooney has done. Councillor Dudgeon said it is a way this State talks to people in Northern Ireland. A member of the Unionist community has asked RTE not to shut down a service. I compliment the Minister, Deputy White, on delaying the shutting down of transmission and hope we might debate it in view of the wider context in which the service operates.
On 29 October, I received a note from the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, that he has incorporated into the memorandum of association of the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland proposals from this House that the bank should operate in a counter-cyclical manner. It is important that the House notes the Minister's decision. The biography of T.K. Whitaker states that he came to appreciate the important political and constitutional role played in public life by this democratic forum, where he was elected political speaker of the year in 1978 by the press correspondents. He said the Seanad gives a platform to independent voices and does important, though unglamorous, work as the second Chamber in scrutinising, initiating and revising legislation. He reiterated those views last year during the referendum. The fact that the Minister for Finance has incorporated into an article of association proposals made here and that our senior and most eminent public servant endorses the House challenges us to live up to the hopes of those who sent us here and to realise those high expectations.
I welcome the fact that we will have a debate tomorrow on Irish Water and I thank the Leader for arranging it, and in particular for arranging to have the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Kelly, with us.
He will be informative and will get rid of much of the needless speculation. While I will not call it idle gossip, people are far-fetched in some of the suggestions being put forward. As Senator Darragh O’Brien said, we will leave it until tomorrow.
I welcome the preliminary announcement by the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Heather Humphreys, on Killarney House. I look forward to her making a detailed statement in this House when she returns from her duties abroad. In particular, I look forward to hearing from her the plans for its opening, management, staffing and what it will showcase, some of which we already know. There are 35 acres of wonderful gardens there. Senators O’Sullivan, Daly and Moloney will appreciate as much as I do the beautiful layout of Kerry marble there. It is beautiful.
Ten days ago there was a fatal crash on exit 13 of the M7 northbound when five young men, the youngest of whom was 12, were in a car being chased by gardaí. A 30 year old lady, who was coming from doing her supermarket shopping on her way home from work, was killed stone dead. The man driving the car had 20 convictions. What sort of justice system do we have if a man, who has a 12 year old child in the back of his car, is committing robberies in north Tipperary and driving recklessly with gardaí chasing him all day?
The whole thing is a joke.
I also support Senator Whelan's comments on the wonder of what members of the Garda are doing in certain parts of the county. I was in Kilkenny, one of my favourite cities in the country and a beautiful tourist attraction, last weekend. A 238 year old bridge in the middle of this medieval city is about to be replaced by a new construction. Normal people like ourselves have been out protesting about it. Some have even taken a week off work to do so in the hope of preventing this happening. In a context where the heritage budget has been reduced from €22 million to €7 million, it is no wonder these people cannot get support. Twenty gardaí arrived at the bridge last week to remove one protestor who was taking turns with others to protest through the night. Will the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government come to the House to talk about what is happening in Kilkenny city? I am loath to say it but the fact is that corruption and brown envelopes are destroying one of the most beautiful cities in Europe.
I agree with Senators Terry Brennan and Terry Leyden that it is great to see 20,000 people coming to Dublin to attend the Web Summit in the RDS today. This venture, with its extensive programme of events, is a credit to the organisers and city management. Unfortunately, however, our hotel industry has let us down yet again by imposing exorbitant prices to coincide with the summit. There is a hotel diagonally opposite this House which is quoting €185 for a room that would normally cost €50. I am aware of several other hotels which are quoting €500 or €600 for rooms that would usually be charged at €150. It is not good enough, but I am not sure what we can do about it. Would it be possible, for example, to introduce some type of price control mechanism? The same thing used to happen in Galway during the Galway Races, but the problem seems to have rectified itself in the wake of the bad publicity to which hotels in that city were subjected. Will the Leader invite the Dublin-based Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, to the House to give his view on what might be done? Perhaps the Government needs to engage with the Irish Hotels Federation to ensure this type of practice does not recur in the future. It is simply not acceptable.
I agree with the sentiments expressed here today regarding the Ask.fm website, which has apparently been responsible for the deaths of several individuals as a consequence of cyberbullying. The Government should raise a flag in favour of young people experiencing cyberbullying by telling the company which operates this website that it is not wanted in this country. The majority of decent people do not want anything to do with it because of its appalling track record. Will the Leader bring the sentiments of the House in this matter to the attention of the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation?
While welcoming the great Meath hero, Seán Boylan, and his wife to the Visitors Gallery, I am saddened to inform the House of the death today of another great Meath man, former Senator Jack Fitzsimons. He will be remembered by people in this House and throughout the country as a person who was highly influential in many spheres of life.
I agree with Senator David Cullinane's call for a longer debate on the issue of water supply and water charges. In this regard, I welcome the motion put forward by my colleague, Senator Darragh O'Brien, and signed by all Fianna Fáil Senators calling for a referendum on the privatisation of Irish Water. I understand the Taoiseach ruled out such a referendum in an interview at the Web Summit earlier today. That is a dangerous move to make. What we are being told will happen - I am sure it has not been thought through properly - is that some type of legislation will be introduced providing that Irish Water may only be sold where a two thirds majority of the Oireachtas supports such a sale. Unfortunately, any legislation can be amended in subsequent years by a simple majority of the Oireachtas.
I am setting out my stall today that I will not accept any such legislative proposal. It is only a half measure and a sticking plaster. Any such provision would have no effect whatsoever. We simply must have a referendum. As I understand it, however, we in this House cannot initiate legislation to hold a referendum.
The Seanad must make its voice heard with a motion which will be tabled tomorrow which will call for the Dáil to initiate that legislation. When that legislation for a referendum comes before the Seanad, we must support it and say to the people this will be tied down. Any legislation that purports to say that a two thirds majority in the future will be needed to reverse the decision is complete and utter nonsense and will have no effect. We want a referendum. There are so many other issues associated with Irish Water which must be addressed. I was shocked to be reminded on "Prime Time" last night that a former Fine Gael PR officer is the lobbyist, the public affairs person, for Irish Water. He is leaving his position because his contract is ending now. The public is sick of so much of what is associated with Irish Water.
I was proud to stand with the people in Duleek and Kells on Saturday and to listen to what they were saying. They are not happy with any of the political parties but we have to listen to them and hear what they say. The legislation should be brought back to the House and we should try to make changes to it.
I agree with much of what has been said by Senator Byrne and I hope he and his party will support the Sinn Féin Private Members' motion and the Bill we are putting forward today which proposes exactly what he has asked for which is a constitutional referendum on the issue.
I attended a very interesting conference on Friday in Dublin on the subject of the global diaspora and development. It dealt with issues relating to our own diaspora. I note the reference today to voting rights for the diaspora but many other issues were also raised at the conference, including the way we treat members of other diasporas who have come to Ireland and their representatives. We have a Minister of State with responsibility for the diaspora and it might be useful to have a debate on the Irish diaspora and in particular ways to engage with the second generation of the diaspora.
Tá an-iontas orm inniu nár thapa an Seandóir Ó Cochláin an deis labhairt faoin ócáid iontach a bhí i gCill Áirne an tseachtain seo caite, Oireachtas na Gaeilge, a bhí thar barr ar fad. Ba mhaith liom tréaslú le gach duine a raibh baint acu le agus a bhí páirteach in Oireachtas na Gaeilge. Féile bliantúil é agus fuair daoine an-fháilte ar fad i gCill Áirne. Is féile iontach é. Bhí beocht, bríomhaireacht, cultúr, teanga agus gach rud eile ann. Bhí an tAire Stáit, an Teachta McHugh, i láthair chomh maith céanna agus bhí míle fáilte roimhe. An rud atá iontach soiléir ná tá an teanga agus an pobal faoí bhrú agus tá géarghá le tacaíocht. Sílim os rud é go bhfuil an tAire Stáit socraithe isteach ina ról nua ag an bpointe seo, go mbeadh sé an-mhaith, in áit muid a bheith ag caint faoi cé mhéad Gaeilge atá nó nach bhfuil ag an Teachta McHugh, go mbeadh muid ag caint faoi céard atáimid ag déanamh ó thaobh an Stráitéis 20 Bliain don Ghaeilge 2010-2030, cén fís atá ag an Aire Stáit ó thaobh Fhoras na Gaeilge, cá bhfuilimid ag dul ó thaobh chúrsaí Gaeilge agus Gaeltachta, agus go labhradh muid faoi polasaí Gaeilge an Rialtais, seachas cumas Ghaeilge an Aire Stáit amháin. Sílim go bhfuil an díospóireacht sin thar a bheith tábhachtach agus bheadh fáilte roimhe.
I commend our colleague, Senator Barrett, on his article on Irish Water in The Irish Times. Along with Senator Cullinane's earlier comments, I believe it should be required reading for the Government in light of the apology announced yesterday by the current Minister, Deputy Alan Kelly. As has been pointed out, this House debated the Irish Water Bill without a guillotine and it seems the Government is crying crocodile tears over what should have been done in a legislative framework when in fact it had the opportunity to do it in this House over 17 hours when many amendments were tabled but it chose not to do so. Now they are reaping the whirlwind and it is shame on them.
I echo the comments made about the possibility of the Government agreeing at last to give the vote to the Irish diaspora. This initiative has arisen out of remarks made by the Minister of State, Deputy Deenihan, to The Irish Timeswhen he arrived in New York yesterday for a three-day visit during which he will meet the Irish diaspora in various cities in the United States. I read that he may bring a memo to Government in this regard. Notwithstanding what Senator Norris has said about half-term measures, I believe the Irish diaspora would embrace this decision enthusiastically if it were to be taken by the Government, belatedly, and that the vote would be extended to the diaspora for presidential elections. This would be a watershed decision which would lead to a wider debate on how we should address the legitimacy of the Irish diaspora.
I welcome Senator Ó Clochartaigh's comments in this regard. The Leader should allocate time in the coming weeks for a debate on the diaspora and the Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach, Deputy Deenihan, should be invited to attend. I do not believe that the Minister of State has come before the Seanad since his appointment.
Now that he has outlined specific areas of policy that are affecting the diaspora, it would be opportune if the Minister of State were to come before us in order that we might have an opportunity to discuss matters with him. If we had a debate of even one hour's duration, it would be very welcome.
I echo the comments made by Senator Barrett in respect of RTE's long wave 252 service. This issue has not gone away and RTE has been receiving a voluminous amount of correspondence from members of diaspora, particularly those in the UK, in the two to three weeks since it was first raised. I call on RTE to reverse its decision in respect of the service. A new RTE authority is due to be appointed in the coming months. Two thirds of the members of this authority will be appointed between now and Christmas. I call on these as yet unnamed members - the Government will inform us of their identities in due course - to reverse the decision to which I refer. Even the members of the outgoing authority could seek to reverse it in the coming weeks. There is no doubt that it should be reversed without any further delay.
I agree with Senator Mooney in respect of RTE's long wave 252 service and his request for a debate on the issue. I also agree with the comments made in respect of the right to vote being extended to members of the diaspora. I attended the meeting of the Constitutional Convention when the majority of those present agreed that the right to vote in presidential elections should be extended to these people. However, this is not enough. Granting Irish citizens abroad the right to vote in presidential elections would merely extend to them the lowest form of democratic expression. Of the 196 countries in the world, only nine which grant votes to the members of their diasporas confine the right to vote to presidential elections. All nine states in question have executive presidents who have powers similar to those enjoyed by the President of the United States. We must engage in more than tokenism and extend to the members of our diaspora the right to vote in Seanad elections. I welcome the legislation that has been brought forward by colleagues in this regard.
In the context of the diaspora and emigration reform, elections are being held in the United States and I wish all those running well. I refer, in particular, to the Boyle brothers, whose father is from Glencolumbkille in County Donegal. The older brother is running for Congress in today's elections. The two men, Kevin and Brendan, served simultaneously in Pennsylvania's House of Representatives, something which had never happened previously. I hope they will be elected to represent their district but that they will also represent the interests of Donegal and Ireland in the United States.
I hope emigration reform will be at the top of the agenda in the forthcoming period in the US. The President of the United States is supposed to bring forward an executive order regarding emigration because Congress has not acted in respect of this matter to date. I hope the order will facilitate humanitarian visas for the estimated 12 million undocumented citizens - of whom 50,000 are Irish - living in the United States. These people should be given the right to return to the US if they are obliged to travel home to be with family members in times of distress, illness or death.
Will the Leader consider organising a debate on crystal methamphetamine, which is also known as crystal meth? This cheap, nasty and highly-addictive drug has been available in the United States for many years and it is now coming our way. Crystal meth is going to replace heroin, cocaine and all the other illegal drugs available here.
It is one of the worst drugs because most people who take it become instantly addicted and highly violent. In some instances, up to seven gardaí have been required to restrain individuals who have taken crystal meth and who have presented at accident and emergency departments.
I thank the Leader for making time available for this afternoon's debate with the Minister for Health, Deputy Varadkar, and for that in respect of Irish Water which is due to take place tomorrow. Will he confirm the amount of time that will be allocated in respect of each of these important debates? The debate relating to Irish Water is particularly relevant. I attended the protest in Galway city at the weekend and listened to what some of the people there had to say.
We will have a debate tomorrow on this. It is about water, but it is about more than this. It is about the effect of the recession on the people. They are saying enough is enough and this is the tipping point.
I would be grateful for silence from my fellow Senators.
If we needed proof of this, I was struck by the report issued last week by UNICEF on the effect of the recession on children, which showed that 170,000 Irish children, our citizens, live in poverty. One must question the Government's priorities in this case.
I take my hat off to Fr. Tony O'Riordan in Moyross who put out a plea to Catholic churches throughout the country to sell any unused gold or chalices they have to fund a teacher in his school. Moyross is one of the most severely disadvantaged places in Ireland. I have supervised teaching practice in the area. I take my hat off to him because he is showing real leadership. This man knows the value of education and has his priorities right. I believe that around the corner is the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan. None of this hangs together, but what it does state is that the Government is not listening and does not have its priorities right. I am very disappointed with this because I backed the Government.
Will the Leader bear in mind what I am asking, that we have adequate time for the debate tomorrow on water, because it is about the recession and its impact on the people? Will the Leader also ask the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, why she cannot provide the extra teacher for the school in a severely disadvantaged area in Moyross, County Limerick, which has more than 30 children in junior infants? It is not good education.
To answer Senator Darragh O'Brien, we will have a debate tomorrow on Irish Water and two and a quarter hours have been allocated for it. I will ask the Minister whether he can be here for longer. The times are dictated by the Minister's diary but I will certainly endeavour to have him here for longer if it is at all possible. I assure Senator O'Brien there is no question of the privatisation of the water supply in Ireland. The Government will take steps in this regard.
Senator O'Brien also asked about the Social Welfare Bill. I understand Second Stage will be taken in the House on 2 December. I assure him we will deal with Committee and Report Stages on different days and they certainly will be split.
Senators Bacik and Brennan and several others spoke about the 22,000 delegates at the Web Summit and we welcome each and every one of them to Dublin. Senators Brennan and Conway in particular raised the rates being charged by hotels, which are five or six times the normal rates. This is certainly exorbitant and the relevant committee should bring before it the Irish Hotels Federation and ask it to comment on this. It lobbied very strongly for the retention of the 9% VAT rate, which the Government retained, but charging such rates for hotels, as Senator Brennan stated, is like killing the goose that laid the golden egg. Let us hope this type of action will not continue.
Senator Bacik called for the Minister of State, Deputy Sherlock, to come to the House to debate developing trade links with Africa.
The Minister of State is overdue a visit to the House, so I will invite him.
Senator van Turnhout praised Childline's services and asked about the Irish youth justice service not reporting since 2010. I will raise the latter matter with the Minister for Justice and Equality.
Senator Quinn proposed an amendment to the Order of Business, seconded by Senator Norris, to the effect that No. 13 be taken before No. 1. I will accede to the amendment. Like several other Senators, Senator Quinn raised the question of votes for the diaspora in Seanad elections as well as in presidential elections. I will invite the Minister of State, Deputy Deenihan, to attend the House in early course to expand on the ideas he has mentioned in the past day or two.
Senators Naughton and Conway referred to the need for a debate on the issue of cyberbullying. Senator Conway referred to Ask.fm. In many cases, there is undoubtedly a lack of responsibility on social media. People, particularly young people, believe that they can say whatever they want and hurt others. This matter must be addressed. I will invite the Minister to the House, but we will hold a debate on the issues of mental health and suicide next week, as requested by a number of Senators in recent weeks. We may hold a separate debate on the issue of cyberbullying before the end of the term.
Senator Zappone addressed a number of questions to the Tánaiste. The Tánaiste will attend the House for Second Stage of the Social Welfare Bill on 2 December. As the Senator rightly pointed out, we are witnessing a recovering economy, but it has not fully recovered yet. We are still spending a great deal more than we are taking in as a country. This situation needs to be borne in mind.
On wind energy, Senator Kelly asked whether there was a need for pylon projects. While this question has been debated by the committee, I realise that new points have been made by several Members, so I will ask the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy White, to attend the House.
Senator O'Donovan discussed the beef crisis. We will try to get the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Coveney, to attend the House on the matter. The Minister is in China trying to open markets for our beef producers. We can expect good news in that regard, namely, that Irish beef will be sold to China, thereby increasing the size of the market and the prices achieved by farmers. Last week, the Minister chaired the third meeting of the beef roundtable discussion between processors, farm bodies and all of the main stakeholders in the sector, including the farming bodies, meat processors and Government agencies as well as Tesco and McDonald's. At the Minister's request, farming groups and processors have agreed to engage in intensive discussions on the commercial issues that are in dispute during the next two weeks under an independent chair. He also secured a strong endorsement from all stakeholders for the establishment of farmer-owned producer organisations in the beef sector to help rebalance negotiating power. The Minister is doing everything possible to solve this problem.
Senator O'Donovan also requested a debate on the fisheries. The Minister, Deputy Coveney, will attend the House to discuss that matter in the coming weeks.
Senators Mullins and Leyden referred to fuel laundering.
We would all like to join in complimenting the Garda Síochána and Customs and Excise officials on their find in Monaghan. Fuel laundering is a reprehensible business, funded in many cases by former republicans involved in criminal activities. It will have to be stopped. It was requested that the Minister for Finance come to the House to outline the steps that have been taken in this regard. There has been great co-operation between the Irish and UK customs and excise officials and scientists in combating this problem. I am sure the Minister will come to the House and address the matter in early course.
I noted Senator Norris's points on the proposals of the Convention on the Constitution on the presidential election and his points on the diaspora. Senator Moran complimented Dundalk FC on its successes and rightly pointed out that the matter of Sinn Féin and Maíria Cahill has not gone away. Sinn Féin certainly needs to name the abusers that it banished to this jurisdiction. The protection of our children is-----
Senator Cullinane called for extra time to debate water charges. As I stated, I will try to arrange it but it depends on the Minister's diary.
I have alluded to the fact that Senator Brennan mentioned increases in hotel rates.
Senator Whelan referred to bail laws. I agree totally with him in this regard. We had a referendum on bail laws in 1996, to the best of my knowledge. The number of crimes committed by people out on bail is totally unacceptable. I agree with the Senator on concurrent sentences. I will try to arrange a debate on these issues with the Minister for Justice and Equality. The Minister will be here for three separate debates tomorrow. Perhaps the Senator's issues could be raised with him when discussing penal reform, in particular, which subject is covered in the Private Members' motion tabled for tomorrow.
Senator Barrett raised the retention of Longwave 252, as has Senator Mooney on a number of occasions. I certainly support the Senators' remarks in that regard. Senator Barrett pointed out that the Minister for Finance is taking on board a number of proposals made by him in this House. Scrutinising, initiating and amending legislation comprise the main purpose of this House and we do it quite well.
Senator Paul Coghlan mentioned Muckross House.
I note his points in that regard.
Senator Mary Ann O'Brien agreed with Senator Whelan that there should be a debate on law and order and the bail laws. Recently the Director of Public Prosecutions made a speech asking people to refrain from commenting on cases that might be coming before the courts.
It is very important we bear that in mind when commenting in the House.
Senator Mary Ann O'Brien mentioned something about the Kilkenny bridge and I know there are other points in regard to that, but she also mentioned something about corruption and brown envelopes. If the Senator has any information in that regard, I urge her to go immediately to the Garda and report it.
I agree with Senator Conway's comments on Ask.fm.
Senator Byrne told us of the sad news of the death of former Senator Jack Fitzsimons, and I am sure we all wish to express our sympathies to Mr. Fitzsimons's family.
Senator Ó Clochartaigh called on the Minister of State with responsibility for the diaspora, Deputy Jimmy Deenihan, to come to the House for a debate on the diaspora and also called for a debate on the Irish language. We will certainly ask the Minister of State with responsibility for Gaeltacht affairs and natural resources, Deputy McHugh, to come to the House to discuss that matter.
Senator Mooney also spoke about the Irish diaspora and long wave 252, and on the fact that we had 17 hours of debate on Irish Water in this House.
Senator Daly spoke on immigration reform in the USA and the dangers of the use of crystal meth, which is a highly addictive substance. I am sure we can discuss that matter with the Minister of Health, who is waiting to come into the House.
Senator Healy Eames spoke on the UNICEF report regarding children. I am sure she will raise that matter with the Minister for Social Protection when we are dealing with the social welfare bill. She might submit her issue relating to education as an Adjournment matter to the Minister for Education and Skills.
I would also like to be associated with the expression of sympathy to the late Mr. Jack Fitzsimons, a former Member of this House, and I am sure the Leader will provide time for expressions of sympathy at a later date.
Senator Feargal Quinn has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That No. 13 be taken before No. 1." The Leader has indicated that he is prepared to accept the amendment. Is that agreed? Agreed.