Thursday, 20 November 2014
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, motion regarding Protocol No. 21 on the position of the UK and Ireland in respect of the area of freedom, security and justice annexed to the Treaty of the European Union and to the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, back from committee, to be taken without debate on the conclusion of the Order of Business; and No. 2, Valuation (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2012 - Report and Final Stages, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 1.
As acting leader for Fianna Fáil today, I wish to raise the issue of water fluoridation in Ireland. The condition of Irish people's dental health in the 1950s has been summed up by Dr. Joe Mullen, principal dental surgeon at the HSE, as being dreadful and an absolute emergency that needed to be addressed. This is endorsed by Professor Denis O'Mullane, former chief dental officer at the Department of Health in the 1950s and former professor of dentistry in UCC in the 1990s.
In 1964, then Fianna Fáil Deputy and Minister for Health, Sean McEntee, made the courageous decision to introduce water fluoridation in Ireland in the interests of the dental health of Irish children. Mr. McEntee, a feisty northerner who had courageously fought for Irish people's freedom in the 1916 Rising at the GPO, was fearless in pursuing a cause in which he believed. The fluoridation of Irish water has now been in effect here for 50 years. The battle to introduce it in Ireland was fought out in the High Court and subsequently in the Supreme Court and it therefore has constitutional accord in our country.
Despite the fact that numerous scientific reviews have demonstrated that water fluoridation has greatly benefited the dental health of people over the timespan of its use, sadly, it has consistently been the subject of disinformation and distortion of evidence. On an issue that provokes such strong feelings, it is crucial to have responsible and measured debate based solely on facts. In 2002, the forum on water fluoridation published a report which found that water fluoridation has been very effective in combating tooth decay. There is no valid evidence of any negative health effects from fluoridation at the maximum permitted level.
The expert body on fluorides and health was established in 2004 to advise the Minister for Health on all matters relating to water fluoridation. It continues to meet and discharge its responsibilities under the chairmanship of Dr. Seamus O’Hickey, a fellow of the International College of Dentists. The expert body has found the only side effect from fluoridation is dental fluorosis, a superficial staining of the teeth which can be easily removed.
Across the world, many health organisations have conducted similar reviews. In the US, the National Research Council did a study on fluoride in drinking water in 2006. In 2007, the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council published its findings on the safety of fluoridation in water. In 2009, Health Canada published expert panel guidelines in 2009 for Canadian drinking water quality. In 2014, Public Health England 2014 provided a water fluoridation health monitoring report. Not one of these reports established any basis for considering that artificially fluoridated water supplies could pose any health risk.
Water fluoridation is a cost-effective measure, costing €3.86 million a year, while preventing tooth decay which is painful.
The expert body on fluorides and health estimates that without fluoridation, the average five year old could expect to have five or more decayed, filled or missing teeth. Can one imagine the pain of bringing a four year old to the dentist to get teeth removed?
The level of fluoride in drinking water in Ireland is set at 0.6 and 0.8 parts per million. Parts per million is equivalent to milligrams per litre. Anyone with a mathematical head will realise how minimal that is. This is less than half the maximum level permitted by EU regulations.
I have more important points to make. During my research into this matter, I discovered that wedding presents of false teeth were given in the 1950s and 1960s because often a bride’s or a groom’s teeth were in such a bad way.
It is difficult to follow that. It is a relief on this side of the House to hear someone from the other side commend some aspect of our water supply. I agree with Senator White on the water fluoridation issue. There have been many debates on it in the House with some heated exchanges. I thank her for putting so many of the factual aspects of fluoridation on the record.
I welcome yesterday’s announcement of the new water charges package from the Government. It is welcome that we are seeing affordability as a key principle in the new measures with a much fairer, simpler and more straightforward way to charge people, along with delays in the charges taking effect. Most people will welcome the new measures. It also shows the responsiveness on the part of the Government in responding to the key concerns raised by so many around the country.
I commend Senators Power, van Turnhout and Healy Eames on introducing a Private Members’ Bill on adoption tracing last night which passed Second Stage and received unanimous support across the House. It is a good day for the Seanad when another Private Members’ Bill gets the Government’s assent in this way. We will all seek to work to ensure it progresses.
I commend Women’s Aid which is holding a ceremony today to remind us how many women have been murdered by partners and ex-partners. It has been 78 women since 1996 and is a wake-up call.
Will the Leader check when Committee Stage of the Employment Equality (Amendment) Bill 2012, another Private Members’ Bill which I introduced in this House and which received Government assent, will be taken? I hope it will be before Christmas as it is an important Bill seeking to amend section 37 of the Employment Equality Act 1998 and end discrimination against teachers in particular on grounds of sexuality, family or marital status. It was referred to committee in April but we have been some months waiting for the Government’s amendments. I am pursuing this matter myself but will the Leader pursue it too?
I echo Senator Bacik on last night’s adoption Bill. Senators Power, van Turnhout and Healy Eames did this House a great service and were ably supported on the Government side by Senators Burke, Maloney, Brennan and others. I did detect, however, a distinct lack of enthusiasm by the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs. I hope Members on the Government side will ensure this Bill comes back to the House. The last Private Members’ Bill we had on prohibiting smoking in cars with young people disappeared for two and a half years before it appeared back in the House in much the same form as it was presented in the first instance by Senators Crown and Quinn.
I welcome yesterday’s changes to the water charges. However, we still have the problems highlighted in the report of the local government efficiency review group, headed by Mr. Pat McLoughlin, as well as the fact Irish Water is seriously overmanned. The McLoughlin report called for 30% fewer county managers, 15% fewer city managers, 10% fewer planning staff, 15% fewer directors of services and 10% fewer of corporate services staff. All of these staff were put into Irish Water, however, which has burdened it with costs which the people said they could not afford in their demonstrations.
There is also no evidence of economies of scale. The one big organisation argument does not hold up. Leitrim has a much lower rate of wastewater than larger counties. The Government’s fascination with doing things off the balance sheet is economic hocus-pocus. The next time an accountant says this in Government Buildings, he should be shown the door.
At yesterday’s transport and communications committee, what has been called the next Irish Water, postcodes, was discussed. Up to 98% of post in this country is delivered the next day by An Post, a remarkable achievement on which I compliment the organisation. The independent postal providers used Sat Nav. A postcode system is being considered which has risen in costs from €15 million last year to €24 million in April and to €27 million yesterday. The prospect of a €50 million cost has been raised with some believing it could head to €80 million. It does not seem to do anything and there has been no cost-benefit analysis. Members of all parties on the transport committee are seriously concerned that this is an out-of-control project. What are the benefits if 98% of post is delivered the following day? What does one get for expending these large amounts of money? Why has the cost-benefit analysis not been supplied to this House, as the former Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Rabbitte, said he would do in July?
As Senator Bacik reminded us today, the international day for opposing violence against women, is significant. I too compliment Women’s Aid for marking it. Up to 78 women have been murdered by their partners or ex-partners since 1996. In accordance with the organisation’s wishes, I propose the House observes a minute’s silence at 11 a.m. in memory of all those women murdered by their partners and ex-partners. I am sure the acting leader of the Opposition will wholeheartedly concur with this proposal.
I agree very much with everything Senator Barrett stated. I would like an urgent debate on Irish Water, which is still not acceptable. People have a big problem with this huge umbrella organisation. Yesterday, I gave the analogy that it is like establishing McAlpine to build a tree house. This day two years ago local authorities provided water, albeit in a flawed state in certain areas, for a particular cost. Now, two years later, nothing has improved except it will cost of hundreds of millions more. The model is fundamentally wrong and I have a major problem paying for water to support a grand superstructure umbrella organisation of well-heeled individuals used to the luxury of spending other people's money. It is wrong and needs to be dealt with. People will not accept it. I realise the Minister has tried very hard in recent weeks to come up with a plan which people will accept, but sadly I am afraid he has failed. It is required that this organisation be abandoned and the Government, through central capital expenditure, build an infrastructure worthy of a 21st century nation and provide water to all parts of it. This is the responsibility of the Government, not to finance through bribery of the people with their own money this superstructure of an organisation.
The Government seeks to turn the landlords into agents of the Revenue Commissioners and the Collector General, which is fundamentally wrong and doomed to failure. As somebody who must declare an interest, as an auctioneer who knows about collecting deposits and rents from tenants, not a landlord in the country has not experienced a tenant who is moving out stating he or she will not pay the last month's rent as the deposit will go against it. The Private Residential Tenancies Board, PRTB, is an unmitigated disaster. While it does good work at times in representing and protecting tenants, I give the example of a tenant who refused to pay rent but continued to live in a property for three and a half years, who was eventually evicted having paid no rent and owing approximately €27,000, and who wrecked the house and walked into a local authority house the next day. The Government is expecting a great amount from landlords to do this work, and putting the onus on them to collect this is doomed to failure. I confidently predict there will be no collection of water rates through landlords because it is impossible and unenforceable. I appeal to the Government to go back to the drawing board. It has been an unmitigated disaster and a mistake but it should move on, get rid of the big super quango, return to the local authority model for now, and invest in capital infrastructure to get the standards in Roscommon and other counties without good water up to the quality to which people are entitled.
I welcome the announcement by Irish Water. I hope this means the water problem has been sorted out once and for all. It will only cost €1 per week for a person living alone and €3 where two or more people are in a household. This is a very good deal and the people must accept it and at long last put it to bed. We must remember those in rural Ireland have been paying for water. Those involved in group schemes have made an investment, whether in private group schemes or buying water from local authority schemes. It brings home to us the point of water harvesting, and it is important we ensure every assistance is given to people who want to harvest water for farm use. Sligo has had a pilot scheme in place for a number of farmers who have had problems with water bills over the years. I hope this is the end of it and we move on.
I congratulate the Government on making the move yesterday not only with regard to water but a particular aspect, which the fact Irish Water was demanding PPS numbers from its customers, the citizens. Yesterday the Government accepted the point Irish Water will not have the right to demand PPS numbers. Not only this, but it will be made illegal for it to hold on to the information it already has. I raise this because No. 26 on the Order Paper was a Bill I introduced on 4 November, two weeks ago, to deal with exactly this point and make it illegal for Irish Water to demand PPS numbers and for it to hold on to any of the information it had. I am delighted the Government listened to the voice of the people and stated this will not happen. I ask the Leader to withdraw the Bill because I believe we have achieved what we set out to achieve in the area.
I would like to add support to the concerns Senator Sean Barrett raised with regard to postcodes. The House deserves a debate on it. We have had discussions on it at meetings of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Transport and Communications, but the figures mentioned by Senator Barrett are so huge it would be wrong to allow it go through without cost analysis. If this House has a purpose it is to watch for exactly this type of thing and ensure we have this debate. The sum could reach approximately €50 million and we do not know its benefit. It may well be there are huge benefits, but I do not understand or know them. As Senator Barrett stated, every postman in the country knows almost everybody's address, where people live and how to deliver to them. There may well be something behind it that we do not understand. I would welcome a debate on it.
Like others I welcome the new water charges, which I believe are fair and reasonable. I compliment the Minister, Deputy Alan Kelly, who inherited an unholy mess in the establishment of Irish Water. Now we can invest in fixing our leaking pipes, something which we have not done although we have been paying for water for years through our taxes. Now we are in a position to deliver good quality drinking water to everybody in the country. This is comfort to far more than 21,000 people in Roscommon who have been on boil water notices for many years, and I welcome it very much. With regard to the PPS numbers mentioned by Senator Quinn, there was never a necessity to provide PPS numbers and because of this I never filled out the form. I will now fill it out. I knew there was no necessity for them in the first place.
It is very clear Irish Water has become a monument to the Government's failure. Irish Water is as toxic as the Government's policies. If any Labour Party Senators believe this will be seen as a fair and reasonable response to the demand made by the tens of thousands of people who have taken to the streets, they will get the answer on 10 December-----
-----who are sick to the teeth of listening to Senators and Deputies on the Government side state it is only €1 per week or €3 per week. We have heard it again today from Senator Comiskey, with his very generous salary and expenses, which I also receive. We may be able to afford to pay, but for many people out there €3 per week is a lot of money. He and his Government colleagues simply do not get it, but they will get it in the ballot box come the next election and on 10 December when people come out in big numbers to demonstrate against what they see as an unfair tax. People are not fools.
They will not be fooled by what was an election stunt yesterday. They know that the Government is trying to introduce the principle of the charge and once that is introduced the charge will go up and up. People are clever enough to know that.
There should be no half measures. The Opposition sat and listened to the Government Senators, yet when those of us who criticise Government policy speak they heckle and shout us down because they do not like what we have to say. Will the Leader inform us when the Seanad will debate this issue? There was a lengthy debate in the Dáil yesterday but there has been no debate yet in the Seanad. When next week will the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government be in the House to deal with all these issues?
I thank the Leader for agreeing to observe that minute’s silence. It is significant to mark our solidarity with women experiencing domestic violence.
In recent years we have heard that Ireland is one of the safest countries in which to have a baby. A new report from the United Nations Population Fund demonstrates that this is untrue. It highlights 30 countries with a lower maternal mortality rate than Ireland and 25 European countries that have a lower rate than Ireland. Our nearest neighbour, the United Kingdom, scores slightly better than us. We score relatively highly in the numbers of teenage pregnancies at 14 per 1,000 women aged between 15 and 19 years. There are only four other European countries with a higher rate. We are out of step with our European neighbours on those two metrics. Will the Leader invite the Minister for Health to come into the House to debate this issue soon?
The House should condemn in the strongest possible terms the cold-blooded murder of four rabbis and a police officer by two Palestinians who entered a synagogue in the ultra-orthodox neighbourhood of Har Nof in Jerusalem during a morning prayer session. They were armed with guns, a meat cleaver and knives. It was a seven minute killing spree resulting in four worshippers killed and eight wounded, including the police officer who died later in hospital. The rabbis who died were men of peace and faith. It was the deadliest attack on Israeli civilians in more than three years. President Mahmoud Abbas rightly condemned the attack but the killings were praised by Hamas and the Islamic Jihad. This is a serious departure and it is only right and proper that we should show solidarity with the people of Israel after this gruesome attack on a synagogue.
There was another recent incident in which Palestinians murdered Israeli civilians. The Israeli response was to demolish the home of the family of those responsible for the murder. Would it be acceptable in any other civilised country for the government to demolish the home of a family linked to, or responsible for, the death of an individual? The response is provocative and will cause more bloodshed. Furthermore, the Israelis continue to build in the occupied territories. The situation will get worse. I hope we will have an opportunity to discuss this next week, or soon, with the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Flanagan, who is taking a strong line on this. I suggest in the meantime that we send our condolences and a message of solidarity to the people of Israel following this unprovoked attack on the rabbis, the synagogue and the peace-loving people in that area.
I welcome the fact that the Government has listened to the people and to us public representatives, who contributed to the debate through our parliamentary parties and raised people’s various concerns. I regret that it took so long to resolve but setting up a utility of the size of Irish Water was never going to be simple.
I welcome the package the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Kelly, has announced, which most people consider to be fair, simple and affordable. It gives certainty to everybody for the next four years. It also guarantees affordability for the future and that Irish Water will never be privatised, unless the Irish people decide differently in the future.
I am particularly pleased that the water conservation grant of €100 will be paid to every household, including those which get their water from private group water schemes. These people have been paying for water for decades and I am glad the Government is acknowledging this and those who have invested in private wells and have ongoing costs to ensure a good water supply. I want to see Irish Water getting on with the job it was set up to do, to raise the finance to fund the infrastructural projects throughout County Galway and the entire country that have waited decades for investment.
If we want to create enough jobs to ensure that people remain working here we need a good, safe, reliable water and wastewater infrastructure. We need it too if we want to keep on attracting tourists. The Government still has a major job to do to rebuild the economy and I hope it can get on with dealing with the real issues now that the Irish Water situation has been dealt with effectively. I look forward to this country continuing to grow and prosper in the years ahead.
I remind Senator Leyden that Israeli Ministers have recently issued a call for the public to arm itself. That is a dangerous departure which will blow that conflict into a full religious one.
The Irish Water saga has gone from the sublime to the very ridiculous. Senator Mullins lauded the fact that €100 will be handed over to a person who has a private well. These people never looked for that money. The Government seems to be able to go to local meetings and write cheques for €100 and hand them over to people for no reason. It is bizarre. Perhaps those people will put the money towards the cost of maintaining a septic tank, 48% of which are failing the inspections. Maybe they can put the money towards the cost of installing a new bio-unit which will set them back a pretty penny.
I cannot understand the Government’s approach to Irish Water. The installation of meters caused huge angst and anger.
During the local European elections we met people on their doorsteps and they were right to be bloody angry and crestfallen when they saw that the footpaths were being dug up. The cement is hardly dry on them and now the water meters outside their homes are purely ornamental. The measure has been a complete waste of money.
I heard the Minister speak on "Morning Ireland" this morning when he spoke about grasping the nettle in terms of Irish Water. I put it to the Leader that this issue has become a bunch of nettles and no matter which way the Government turns, it will be stung and there is not a dock leaf in sight. It is time Irish Water was consigned to the same bin as the electronic voting machines. The Government should go back to the drawing board and start again. Sometimes one must knock an old house to build a new one. Instead of papering over cracks and filling holes with Polyfilla, it is often better to go back to the drawing board and start with a clean slate, which is what the Government should consider.
I welcome yesterday's announcements about Irish Water and wish to make a few comments on what was said here this morning and take exception to Senator Cullinane's allegation that the Government is toxic. We have created more than 70,000 jobs since we came to power and are creating around 1,200 new jobs per week. We have brought stability to this country. We are also making sure we have a sufficient amount of tax coming in to pay for social welfare and all the services that are provided in this country. Therefore, the Senator's comments were outrageous and do not stand up to scrutiny.
Sinn Féin wants to get power but does not want to make decisions. That was clearly evident at the Cork City Council's meeting held last Monday night when Sinn Féin could not vote for its budget. Sinn Féin did not vote for the budget yet wants to be in office. It cannot have it both way. If Sinn Féin wants power then it must be prepared to make decisions.
I wish to respond to a colleague in Opposition who mentioned meters. I pay a commercial rate of €7,000 per annum for 1,500 sq. ft. in office space and I am sick and tired of listening to people who want services but do not wish to pay for them. I pay for water charges for my commercial office as well. Yes, meters were put in which led to huge savings for people in the commercial sector. People also became far more careful about the way they used water and made sure there was no wastage. That is what the metering system is about - making sure we can identify where problems lie. One of the examples of usage given to us was that 22 houses use 1 million litres of water due to leaks. Perhaps the Leader might be able to explain the matter a bit more. Metering is about making sure we get value for money.
I wish to raise another issue. It is very sad that an hotel in Cork had to cancel an event to be held tonight due to security risks posed to the Taoiseach who was due to attend. It is outrageous to have reached the stage that there are risks to security simply because a political meeting is being held. I have no difficulty with people holding a peaceful protest outside a meeting. However, the level of abuse and threats made to people has been outrageous. It has reached the dangerous stage where a commercial enterprise chose to cancel an event and move it to another centre. I welcome anyone who wants to organise a peaceful protect but ask them to at least respect others and allow people to attend a political party meeting without being abused and suffering verbal abuse. What has happened over the past two to three weeks is outrageous.
I agree with the last sentiments expressed by Senator Colm Burke and it is important to reflect them in the House. It is disgraceful that the Taoiseach would be prohibited from attending an event, whether party political, community or whatever else, due to the threat posed in a democratic republic where we fought for democracy and freedom over 100 years ago. It is a disgrace that individuals who call themselves protectors or democrats would in some way try to incite or spark dangerous situations. I refer, for example, to the incident that occurred last weekend with the Tánaiste and to the Ministers, including the current Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, who have received threats. I believe the latter received another threat this morning. Such behaviour is outrageous and disgraceful and I wish to add my condemnation of any such action.
In terms of the policy issue of Irish Water, it is right that we should reflect on it in a cool, rational and calm manner. I welcome the steps that have been taken by the Government. The steps represent progress even though I disagree with them.
The fundamental issue, irrespective of water charges and bringing down the cost over four years, is the establishment of Irish Water and its objectives going into the future. Those objectives will lead to some form of privatisation in terms of bonds or bringing in private equity. That will see the same situation arise which has happened in other jurisdictions, including England. I refer to a monopoly being privatised and no longer being in the control of the people which is a dangerous scenario. That issue will not go away despite promises being made and enshrining it in legislation. The county councils are the best method of delivery. The way forward is to use the councillors and the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government and have something enshrined in a Department.
In terms of the cost of water, we have heard people say no one should pay for water. People already pay for water so the debate should be about the way we pay for it. We already pay €1 billion for water through the taxation system. We need to debate how we pay for water, who controls the supply of water and who to call if we want pipes fixed. In ten or 15 years time we may have to contact a call centre in China to get a leak repaired in west Cork or Donegal. That is a scenario which should have been prevented but was not prevented by the announcements made yesterday.
I, too, share the sentiments expressed by Senator Colm Burke and my colleague, Senator Ó Domhnaill, that a very dangerous precedent has been created. In the history of the State no Taoiseach has ever been prevented from attending a public function. Such action is a disgrace and the people who engaged in such activity are not true democrats.
I was very impressed with Senator Leyden's sympathetic contribution about the murders of people in Israel. I wish to comment on the previous murders of a baby, a mother and others by Palestinians. I am not sure what their motives were but Senator Leyden made reference to the case as well and to the demolition of the flat in which a gentleman lived. I agree with the Senator that such actions are very counter-productive. I compliment him because although he comes from a very committed viewpoint and is very committed to the Palestinian side, it is rare in this House to hear sympathy being expressed to Israel and the Israeli people. It is a welcome development. It was right and proper that he did what he did, particularly when he is not seen as a great friend of Israel. I do not mean that as a criticism but as a compliment.
I agree with Senator Barrett on the Eircode proposals. Senator Quinn made reference to the matter as well. I am also a member of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Transport and Communications. Yesterday, I listened to representatives from different sources who are involved in the Eircode proposals and know there is a great concern about the matter. Senator Barrett alluded to a figure that emerged yesterday when Deputy Michael Moynihan, who is our spokesman on the area, asked the witnesses how much had been spent on consultants' fees.
It emerged that some €1.8 million has already been expended and that a further €1.6 million will be expended by the time the project is completed. However, what was interesting was that the gentleman concerned then said this constituted only 6% of the total figure. Senator Barrett was very quick to point out in my presence that this now means the cost of introducing the Eircode system is in excess of €50 million. The questions he has raised are legitimate. The information is coming from a committee of the two Houses and it is in this context that I share and support the Senator's view that the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Alex White, should outline in the House exactly what is happening regarding the provision of area codes.
Let me make a final point to reinforce my request. When it was asked whether the model being proposed by Eircode had been adopted in any other country, the reply was that it had not and that it would be unique to Ireland. I am not trying to suggest this could be another Irish Water but it certainly is raising fundamental questions that need to be addressed. They need to be addressed early and not late in the day when the decisions are taken. This needs to be addressed now. Therefore, I strongly urge the Minister to come to the House to answer questions.
I was struck by the words of Senator Colm Burke who said the Government has created 70,000 jobs. Let us clarify that: it is the entrepreneurial men and women of Ireland who have created the 70,000 jobs, against all the odds. Ireland is in a poor position in terms of tax competitiveness. We are 93rd in the world, by comparison with United Kingdom, our nearest neighbour, which is 33rd in the world. Let us not forget part of the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland, is only 60 miles up the road.
I have been speaking to entrepreneurs. A female entrepreneur said to me the other evening that if she sells her software business here, she will have to pay capital gains tax at a rate of 40%. She asked me what I believed she would do with it and whether she would reinvest it here. She said she absolutely would not invest it here and would instead go to Northern Ireland where she would benefit from more attractive measures.
The Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Richard Bruton, and the Taoiseach should wake up to the reality of competition that could siphon away our small and medium enterprises, which we all recognise across the Houses and the country are the lifeblood of the economy and are needed for employment. They are needed to put money into the coffers so we can have social protection. Let us become tax competitive. Everybody needs money in their pocket right now. There is almost anarchy on our streets because people are at a tipping point. Let us wake up to this. It is not right that Prime Minister David Cameron's Government in the United Kingdom can offer six months' free rent and free rates to small enterprises while we do not. When we got strong on foreign direct investment, Prime Minister David Cameron was very quick to put us back in our box, so much so that we have had to come up with a knowledge box in this country and address the double Irish. Let us have a real action plan and jobs. Let us get tax competitive and put money back into the people's pockets here so everybody can benefit and so we can remain the best small country in the world in which to do business.
There is a major issue of public concern that is not getting a hearing in the Oireachtas, namely, the proposed increase in the registration and retention fee for nurses that is to come into effect. The Nursing and Midwifery Board of Ireland is proposing a 50% increase, which is outrageous. Some 2,000 nurses protested in Blackrock yesterday. I now urge them to protest outside Leinster House. I propose an amendment to the Order of Business calling on the Minister for Health to come to the House to discuss and justify this. He should state what he will do with the health services when the nurses do not pay their fees in January.
I agree with the unions involved that the nurses should not pay the fee. Nobody has been asked to pay a fee that is 50% higher during the whole period of austerity. It is completely wrong. There are many two-nurse households that will have to pay €300 in January. It is austerity gone too far for the nurses. They are among the few PAYE workers — teachers have now been included in the set-up in that they have to pay the Teaching Council — who must pay a fee to work. It is not fair that a bloated bureaucracy in Blackrock, which disgracefully aired in public allegations of drunkenness against a nurse that turned out to be untrue, is now looking for a 50% increase in the registration fee. I propose that the Minister for Health come to the House to explain and justify this or tell us it will not go ahead.
I second the amendment to the Order of Business proposed by Senator Thomas Byrne. I support the comments of Senator Fidelma Healy Eames on the need to take a radical and close look at ensuring our taxation system encourages entrepreneurship and investment, in addition to a work ethic, across the country. The current application of the universal social charge does not do this.
We had a well-attended and very good debate last night on the rights of adopted children. It is very much predicated on the integrity of genetic identity and, second, the best interest of the child. I hope that we inject these two principles as guiding lights into all policies of the Government on the family. In that regard, we had a minute's silence this morning — very appropriately on this day — to show concern over violence against women. We should invite to the House the Minister for Justice and Equality to have a debate on marriage. There is a need for it. Ireland has a low rate of divorce by comparison with other states, and it is important that we preserve that. It is important that we do so in the interest of the children. Many couples who find their relationship in difficulty stay together until the children reach a certain age in order to protect them. Others go to great lengths to ensure the children are at least cushioned from the psychological effects of separation.
I came across a survey carried out in Sweden in recent years. Sweden has had divorce for much longer than Ireland. The researchers studied middle-aged and older women who divorced 30, 40 or 50 years ago and found that there was a much higher incidence of mental illness among women whose parents had divorced while they were children. We should be conscious of that. I would like a full debate in the House on this. We have had divorce for 20 years in Ireland. I acknowledge we are not good at doing scientific research on the social implications of such matters but believe there should be some debate on the no-fault divorce and whether it needs to be examined in light of our experience.
The rights of fathers in this matter should be paramount. Many fathers are deprived of access to their children when their relationship breaks down. This is not in the interest of the children in the vast majority of cases, and that needs to be examined. While I am strong on the rights of fathers, I am also strong on the fact that fathers and mothers who walk away from their children, but particularly fathers, have responsibilities in addition to rights. The State has an obligation to follow through on this. I ask the Leader to have a debate on this.
One of the themes of the current Seanad is that our Leader, Senator Cummins, has done a very good job in smoothing the way business is done in the Chamber in general. We are appreciative of that but I would like to make one more suggestion. It happens fairly frequently that there is no legislation available. We have been seeing a few gaps in the schedule lately. While I understand important matters can be raised for discussion through statements or motions without necessarily having a legislative endpoint, I wonder whether we could examine procedures to work out whether we could facilitate additional Private Members' time.
I for one have several Bills I would like to try to introduce for debate in the lifetime of the current Seanad. I have one coming up in a week or ten days' time dealing with the issue of defamation charges by public bodies but there are other issues that I and others would like to raise. Would it be possible to have a system in place whereby we knew, with a few days' notice, that there was likely to be a gap in the schedule? Then we could try to advance the next Stage of a Bill or afford an opportunity for Second Stage readings of other Bills if they have gone through First Stage.
Turning to another issue which may be described as troubling, although that is too strong a word as one should never sound alarmist, this is a very safe country in which to have a child from the point of view of maternal mortality compared to other countries. It is not, as we have been told, the safest. I am afraid it is no longer in the top few. When dealing with maternal mortality, which is thankfully rare, statistical blips can come about. There can, sadly, be a bit of bad luck where two or three cases occur in one year and might not occur in another year. This has the effect of distorting the statistics. However, despite this, the record of this country in this area has been knocked down a couple of pegs from the place that we held. Maternal mortality is desperately rare, and when it occurs it is an unbelievable tragedy so we should always have zero tolerance for it.
In this regard - I apologise for sounding like a broken record - there is something seriously wrong when we have so few consultant-level obstetricians in the country in general. They are very unevenly spread and some of the hospitals are desperately low. In the entire western region of the HSE, there is perhaps the lowest number of obstetricians per head of population of any identifiable region in the OECD. Maybe not having enough doctors does not affect the maternal mortality rate and maybe it does. We certainly should not allow ourselves to be lulled into a false sense of complacency that we are in some kind of obstetrical nirvana where things do not go wrong. We have amazingly good midwives and nurses and incredibly well-trained obstetricians but we do not have enough of them. It is critically important that we look at this, perhaps in a debate in the House on maternity services.
Senator White spoke at length on water fluoridation in Ireland and the benefits which have accrued to people as a result of it. As has been stated, we have had a number of debates in the House on that matter previously. I take on board everything that Senator White has mentioned.
Senator Bacik spoke about the clarity and certainty that now exists on water charges and inquired when Committee Stage of the Employment Equality (Amendment) Bill would be resumed. I will try to ascertain the position.
Senators Barrett, Quinn and Mooney spoke about post codes and the need for a cost-benefit analysis and I am sure that matter will be scrutinised vigorously in the joint Oireachtas committee as it should be. Senator Barrett also highlighted the need for Irish Water to reduce costs and overheads and that point has been recognised by all concerned.
Senator Coghlan spoke on Women's Aid and we had a minute's silence. Senators MacSharry and Cullinane enquired as to when we will have a debate on water charges. That will take place on Tuesday, 25 November. I note the Senator's point about the Private Residential Tenancies Board and the difficulties there. In respect of County Roscommon, people will have good, clear drinking water after 12 years or more with boil-water notices. That is to be welcomed and is what we need in all parts of the country
Senator Quinn spoke on the Bill he had proposed in regard to PPS numbers. I thank the Senator for withdrawing that Bill, No. 26 on the Order Paper, and I urge Members who may have motions and Bills that are out of date to withdraw them from the Order Paper. It will help everybody concerned if there is no backlog.
Senator Kelly spoke on fair and reasonable charges for water. I note his points in that regard. Senator Cullinane said that people are not fools where water is concerned and I fully agree with him. People are certainly not fools and will not be bought by silly policies from any party.
Senators Naughton and Crown spoke on maternal mortality rates and Senator Crown mentioned the need for more obstetricians in some regions. He called for a debate on that matter and I will certainly raise it with the Minister for Health.
Senator Leyden, on a point which was raised yesterday and Tuesday, condemned the murders of rabbis and other innocent people in Jerusalem. That was commented on by a number of people in the last days on the Order of Business. The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Flanagan, will be in the Seanad on Thursday, 27 November to participate in a debate on the Middle East and give us an update on what is happening there.
Senator Mullins also welcomed the package on water and raised the question of privatising water supplies. That is off the agenda, going by the proposals. It will require a plebiscite if any Government contemplates changing the legislation.
Senator Heffernan addressed the installation of water meters. It has been discovered that in 22 houses, 1 million litres of water a day were being lost. That is enough water to supply the town of Gorey for a day. It was discovered when the meters were put in and that is the reason it is necessary to have them. We need to ascertain where these leaks are occurring. Some people have said that installing meters is a waste of time but that is not the case.
Senator Burke spoke on the achievements of Government in job creation and the economy and alluded to the dreadful situation whereby a hotel in Cork was forced to cancel a Fine Gael function that the Taoiseach was going to attend this evening because of security concerns and threats. This has been mentioned by Senators Ó Domhnaill and Mooney and others. It is a dreadful step. Democracy is certainly a fragile flower which we should cherish. Threats to democrats elected by the people are to be condemned by all.
The Irish people, irrespective of their politics, do not take kindly to threats, bomb threats and violence against elected representatives or anybody else. I thank the Members for their comments in that regard. Senator Mooney mentioned that issue, and also the fact that Senator Leyden had raised the question of the murders in Jerusalem.
Senator Healy Eames rightly pointed out that it is the duty of Government to provide the climate for businesses to thrive and that is what the Government has done, as has been proven over the last three years. Over the three years prior to this Government taking office we had job losses of over 250,000.
We have created more than 70,000 jobs net since then. We held a good and comprehensive debate on small and medium-sized enterprises, SMEs, yesterday in which a number of Senators took part.
Senator Byrne raised a matter that was also raised on the Order of Business last week and this week, namely, the 50% increase in registration fees for nurses. In this regard, I do not propose to accept the Senator's amendment to the Order of Business, but the matter has been brought to the Minister's attention.
Senator Walsh referred to yesterday's debate on the adoptive rights Bill. He also raised a number of valid points concerning divorce and many other issues. I understand that the children and family relationships Bill will be introduced soon, presenting an opportunity to debate these matters.
Senator Crown sought additional Private Members' time. I will investigate the possibility. I would not have much of a problem with it and hope to be in a position to allocate further time in the coming session.
Senator Byrne has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That a debate with the Minister for Health on the 50% increase in registration fees for nurses be taken today." Is the amendment being pressed?
- Sean Barrett
- Thomas Byrne
- Gerard Craughwell
- John Crown
- David Cullinane
- Mark Daly
- James Heffernan
- Terry Leyden
- Marc MacSharry
- Paschal Mooney
- Denis O'Donovan
- Ned O'Sullivan
- Feargal Quinn
- Jim Walsh
- Mary White
- Ivana Bacik
- Terry Brennan
- Colm Burke
- Eamonn Coghlan
- Paul Coghlan
- Michael Comiskey
- Maurice Cummins
- Jim D'Arcy
- Michael D'Arcy
- Imelda Henry
- John Kelly
- Denis Landy
- Marie Moloney
- Mary Moran
- Michael Mullins
- Hildegarde Naughton
- Catherine Noone
- Susan O'Keeffe
- Pat O'Neill
- Tom Shehan
- John Whelan