Tuesday, 2 December 2014
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, motion re Estimate provision for the horse and greyhound racing fund allocation for 2015, back from committee, to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business, without debate; No. 2, statements on Government geoscience initiatives from industry support to education, to be taken at 3.45 p.m., with the contribution from group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes, and all other Senators not to exceed five minutes. I thank Senator Craughwell who gave notice that he was intending to move an amendment to today's Order of Business to deal with homelessness. I succeeded in getting the Minister to come to the House tomorrow from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. to debate the issue.
What I say is not in any way to gazump Senator Craughwell and his e-mail to us all following the shock and horror of events in recent days and the need to debate homelessness and take tangible action, but we must table an amendment to the Order of Business that the Minister would come to the House today. The crisis is such that it demands immediacy rather than to be scheduled as a matter for debate tomorrow evening. A man lost his life a matter of yards from where we speak today and it is unacceptable that we will again have a day's outrage and resort to business as usual. If there is genuine political will to do something about this crisis then we must press ahead and do it. That means now - today. It also means decisions backed up by resources to deal with the problem.
Since 2011, we have had two cuts to the rent allowance scheme and warnings were given at the time as to the impact the cuts would have. As we speak, 168 people are sleeping rough in Dublin. It is not just a Dublin problem; people are sleeping rough in every urban centre throughout the country. There are 90,000 people on the housing waiting list, 20,000 in Dublin alone, 9,000 in Kildare and more than 1,000 in my town of Sligo.
We have seen this crisis throughout the country. Last week, some €2.2 billion was announced for a housing strategy that is supposed to solve all the problems over the next six years. As we saw with the terrible loss of Jonathan Corrie's life this week, this matter requires immediate action. One wonders where the social dividend is from the 2,000 units that were to be available from NAMA since 2012. How many boarded-up units do we have in local authorities throughout the country, where councils do not have the money to do up such facilities to accommodate people immediately? How many Army barracks, fire stations and Garda stations have we closed down around the country? Surely there is no shortage of property. What we need is the political will, rather than - as with the suicide crisis - aimlessly saying "Shock, horror" from time to time when there is a tragedy. We all manufacture a bit of anger in here but do nothing about it. For that reason we must push this to a vote today.
The Minister must come here today and we must be prepared to take the appropriate action. Talk is cheap, as we have seen. No Government has covered itself in glory in dealing with this issue but it has now clearly come to this. Somebody has died across the street and we are sitting here saying that we will talk about it tomorrow and have it sorted by 2020. We have empty buildings all over the country and while there is clearly money to do certain things, there is no one to accommodate homeless people.
As I lay in bed this morning, I was embarrassed listening to the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Simon Coveney, who promised people that there was a plan to get homeless people off the streets when it gets cold at Christmas. Let us get them off the street today, not when it gets cold at Christmas. It is cold already and it is not acceptable to deal with this situation in two years' time. Perhaps the Minister, Deputy Coveney, was outside his comfort zone of agriculture this morning. He was a disgrace telling the nation that he has a plan if it gets cold at Christmas. How dare he? How dare we all settle for such mediocrity?
When time allows, but certainly sooner rather than later, can the Minister, Deputy Coveney, attend this House to explain his Department's inactivity in seeking to open the Russian market to beef and live cattle? Why are his people not taking a proactive approach? Why can the Minister or one of his departmental officials not go on tour to get these markets opened? Denmark, the Netherlands, Italy and France have agreed bilateral agreements for the opening of the Russian market by the end of December, while we sit on our hands blatantly ignoring the silent crisis of our agricultural SME sector which needs us to be proactive. We cannot operate on some kind of administrative auto-pilot, indifferent to the difficulties facing farming families.
The four countries I named have opened the Russian market, yet we are sitting here waiting for some lead on a European-wide basis. A focused, proactive approach is required by the Minister in order to achieve what is required for marketing Irish beef.
I move amendment No. 1: "That the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Kelly, come to the House today to outline for us the urgent measures that will be taken to address the housing crisis."
I thank the Leader and Senator Craughwell for initiating the debate on homelessness, which we will have for two hours tomorrow evening with the Minister, Deputy Kelly. It is extremely important given the tragic death in the past 24 hours of a homeless man on the streets of Dublin. It happened very close to Leinster House. We should all extend sympathy to the man's family. It is shameful that somebody has died while living and sleeping on the streets of Dublin.
It is very easy to indulge in manufactured outrage but I do not think that is an appropriate response to this tragedy. A far more appropriate response is a practical programme of initiatives which will be taken to address the serious and urgent problem of homelessness in Dublin. I commend the Minister, Deputy Kelly, for announcing today that he will be convening a special forum on homelessness on Thursday this week. He has invited the CEOs of the four Dublin local authorities, the Lord Mayor of Dublin, the Cathaoirligh of South Dublin, Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown and Fingal county councils, as well as the non-governmental organisations working in the sector. The Minister has also invited the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, Dr. Diarmuid Martin, to meet with him on Thursday.
Recognising that all those stakeholders have a part to play in tackling homelessness, it should not be beyond the abilities of four Dublin councils to address in particular the urgent and pressing problems, with approximately 160 to 170 people sleeping rough on the streets of Dublin. A practical and quick response like that taken by the Minister, Deputy Kelly, is far more effective than the sort of hyperbole and manufactured outrage from those who actually stopped the social housing programme building and laid the seeds for the homelessness problem with which the Government is trying to deal today. I take issue with the dismissal by Senator MacSharry of the €3.8 billion social housing programme announced last week by the Minister, Deputy Kelly. It is an extremely ambitious programme-----
-----that seeks to redress the sustained neglect over many years of building in the social housing sector, which has led us to the crisis we now are in. I thank the Leader for organising the debate.
I also commend the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, on her movement on the issue of junior cycle reform and her indication that she would be willing to engage further with teachers unions on the issue of capacity in particular. A huge consensus is building among parents, educators and school students on the need to ensure higher levels of school-based assessment in junior cycle reforms. It is highly unfortunate that teachers are out on strike today and that pupils are deprived of education for a day. I hope, as I am sure do all Members, for a resumption in negotiations between the Minister and the teachers' unions in short order to ensure there will not be a further day of strike action in the new year because it is important to recognise it in the interests of pupils to try to move towards a better system of junior cycle assessment.
Finally, I welcome the publication late last week of the heads of the sexual offences Bill and, in particular, those provisions dealing with the criminalisation of sex purchase, which members of the justice committee had recommended unanimously last year. I also commend the organisation, Facing Forward, which held a worthwhile and important seminar in Dublin Castle yesterday on the use of restorative justice in the context of sexual offences. It is something Members might consider building into the sexual offences Bill and I look forward to the debate on it when it comes before this House in the new year. I ask the Leader that, if possible, this Bill might commence its passage in this House.
As the news story of the 43-year-old man who died in a doorstep during the Dublin winter of 2014 was told by reporters, the words "in the shadow of Leinster House" were repeated continuously. In the shadow of Leinster House, as already has been mentioned, more than 160 others in Dublin city are sleeping rough, which is a rise of 20% on the same period last year. Each Member could cite statistics from his or her own community, as already has happened, and, for example, 173 people are homeless in the South Dublin County Council area. Consequently, I support an urgent debate on homelessness in Ireland and I thank Senator Craughwell for putting forward that proposal. Something must be done that is not being done now and either the Government analyses of these problems are wrong or incomplete or the political ideologies that direct its solutions are insipid, vacuous of original vision or simply outdated. However, in order that such a debate could be as fruitful as possible and inclusive of thoughtful analysis and imaginative recommendations on what can be done differently, at least a day or more than 24 hours would not go astray to help Members to prepare their remarks. I support the Leader in this regard and thank him for inviting the Minister, Deputy Kelly, to appear in the House tomorrow afternoon or later in the evening.
However, this is also the Dublin winter in which there is deep agitation in the air. This has resulted in intimidating and menacing behaviour in some of our citizens and residents, as well as civil unrest and many of us are wondering why is this and what is happening. I believe it has much to do with the increasing and unattended to gap between those with enough and those with little or nothing. Several months ago, a man named Thomas Piketty gave a lecture to more than 700 people in Dublin on his book, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, and one of his primary messages is that inequality of wealth and income is not good for any society. He is not the first with this message and it is not good for any society but is the seedbed of political, social and economic instability and, therefore, solutions that are multifaceted and based on transparent and collective reasoning must be found. To conclude, recent pronouncements in the pre-general election mud slings regarding the left-right divide and the tax-and-spend versus the less-tax and-more-spend approach are not worthy of the citizens. They deserve more from Members, especially those who will not have a place to sleep indoors this evening.
What is called the Dublin house price explosion of 42% in 18 months will create a property tax time bomb. I welcome reports that the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, is considering linking the property tax to the consumer price index rather than to exploding house prices, which is not any indication of ability to pay the property tax. I am glad the Minister is addressing that.
I welcome also the recall of the United Arab Emirates ambassador. It was mentioned twice in the House last week that this ambassador was fined for the ill-treatment of three staff in a case before the Employment Appeals Tribunal. He has since been recalled while the issues are being investigated by his Government. That is the way in which international relations should proceed.
The funeral of Dr. Jack Kyle, one of the great rugby players of any era, takes place this afternoon in Belfast. He was a gentleman and a humanitarian who devoted much of his medical expertise to serving people in Indonesia and in Zambia. In his interview with Ms Miriam O'Callaghan, replayed at the weekend, he was the rugby player who knew the most poetry of W.B. Yeats that I have ever heard. He was a great man well known in this neighbourhood because he would stay in the Shelbourne Hotel before big matches and train in College Park. A gentleman of Irish sport is being laid to rest today and I commiserate with his family, Caleb and Justine.
As a Kilkenny person, I extend my deepest sympathy to the Corrie family on the death of Mr. Jonathan Corrie. It is an awful tragedy. I look forward to the debate tomorrow that has been proposed by Senator Craughwell, and I compliment the Senator on that.
Will the Leader contact the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and ask the Minister to write to the Commission? Ireland is facing a crisis in milk this year given that milk production is 7.1% over quota for October 2014 whereas it was only 1% over quota in 2013. Ireland will face a superlevy bill of approximately €113 million. It was inevitable that farmers would increase production with quotas disappearing next year, but this is a serious situation. If farmers will be fined, it could cause major problems on farms, especially for cash flow. With the downward pressure on the price of milk, will the Leader ask the Minister to write to the Commission asking that the superlevy payment, if we face a superlevy bill, be made on a phased based, perhaps over three years.
Also, I did control my anger and, unlike other Members of this House, I did not manufacture it.
We all wish to be associated with the expression of sympathy to the family of the young man who died in the vicinity of this House.
Will the Leader of the House request the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, to come to the House to outline exactly the situation regarding her intransigence in these negotiations with the teachers unions, the TUI and ASTI? There are 27,000 teachers and 350,000 students who are out today.
There are 730 schools closed today. I do not see why the Minister, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, has to follow the policies of the former Minister, Deputy Quinn. She is a new Minister and she could reassess the situation.
My knowledge of dealing with teachers, and there are some teachers in this House, is that they are asking how, given that they live in the communities, they can give a fair assessment of someone whom they know personally and whose family, relations and neighbours they know. One must realise it is impractical. If the Cathaoirleach was given the task of assessing the 59 Senators here and it was based on-----
Would the Cathaoirleach like that? I take it he would. We would be so anxious to please the Cathaoirleach that we would hardly ever oppose him. If 40% of our re-election depended on the Cathaoirleach's assessment, we would be particularly anxious to keep him happy.
They are the experts in the field whose concern is for the pupils. I have spoken to teachers in this regard and they are the advocates for pupils, not the judge, jury and executioner. Let us have a reasonable approach from the intransigent Minister. It is so unfair that 350,000 pupils are at home today. Their parents must cater for them and do not know exactly what will happen in January.
I call on the Leader to initiate a debate in this House on the ambulance service in this country. There is an urgent need for the Minister for Health to deal with this. A damning Health Information and Quality Authority, HIQA, report has received an airing in the media today. It examined the ambulance service response times, understaffing and the quality of the fleet. I have stated several times in the House that if one does not get an ambulance in eight minutes in Dublin, it is almost a crime, whereas in rural Ireland, one could be waiting any amount of time for an ambulance. I heard a man on the radio this morning telling how he called an ambulance for his mother following an accident but there was no available ambulance for her. He subsequently found out that six ambulances were lined up at the accident and emergency department at Letterkenny for two or more hours, waiting for the hospital to take the patients. That is why none was available for his mother.
It is laughable that the HSE does not have to deal with the damning HIQA report as there is only a moral imperative in this respect, which comes from the chief executive of HIQA. There was a moral imperative on the HSE when the accident and emergency department at Roscommon was being examined and considered unsafe, and it dealt with that issue immediately by shutting down the facility. It is an urgent issue. I have stated in the House before that we must form a national fire and ambulance service where the two elements can work together, with firemen trained as first responders or advanced paramedics. We must deal with the debate in an urgent manner.
I asked the previous Minister for Education and Skills whether he thought people in the Department or teachers were the greater experts. He conceded that teachers were the greater experts, although he rightly considered himself a political expert as Minister for Education and Skills. Many myths have grown up around this strike so I will reiterate the truth about it to the Seanad today, without interruption from my colleagues in Fine Gael.
External examination is the key to the standard of how all students regard the junior certificate examination. It is the key to how all students believe in it. It is the truth of the external examination they want maintained, along with the aspect of the external examination that remains above reproach. They want the human objectivity of the external examination maintained, along with the idea that the process is done at national arm's length. The teachers are not against creativity, imagination, project work or advanced technology in arts, literature or music. They just want these to be externally examined. There are myths growing up around this on television and radio.
The Minister is not arguing the point when she speaks of reform. Of course we must have reform, which we have every day of the week in Montessori and at middle, second and third level. There must be external examination and in this instance, the teachers are correct. The Minister facilitated us last week with an Adjournment debate on the issue but I would like her to answer on what she intends to do now. The matter is not going away and in this instance, the teachers are correct.
I congratulate Galway on its recent designation as the UNESCO city of film. It is wonderful news not only for Galway, but for the country, as it is the first time an Irish city has received the designation as UNESCO city of film.
It is one of only five worldwide and is granted on a permanent basis. This is a lasting recognition for all those people and organisations to ensure that Galway is a premier location for the arts in Ireland. People such as Declan Gibbons, Lelia Doolan, Jenny Dagg and many others, including Galway city and county councils, are to be commended on their excellent work in submitting this bid. It is estimated that the film and television industry in Galway supports in excess of 600 jobs and is worth more than €72 million to the local economy. Galway's cultural tradition and the potential for a sustainable long-term development were key factors in it achieving the UNESCO city of film designation. I have no doubt that the award will help Galway's international profile as a major artistic hub and help it strengthen its bid for the 2020 European Capital of Culture.
We were all horrified at the death of that young man so close to this building. While this sort of thing is happening all the time, the fact that it happened so close to this building has jolted us. I congratulate Senator Craughwell on the manner in which he appealed to the Leader to have a debate on the matter. Based on what the Leader said, the Senator went to him yesterday and gave him time, rather than raising it today and calling for a Minister to appear today. I do not support Senator MacSharry's view on this occasion; I support Senator Craughwell's. I thank the Leader for responding as well as he did having been given notice. It is something I have learnt. It is great to have a newcomer come in and show us how to do things. Giving notice has given the Leader the opportunity to do something about it.
Senator Kelly spoke about the report on the ambulance service. Yesterday morning, the same organisation, HIQA, issued a report on defibrillators. Senators will remember we had a very good debate on defibrillators in which the Minister said he wanted to give some thought to it. The Bill we discussed in the House would require all premises with more than 100 people going through each day to have a defibrillator. HIQA's health technology assessment report accepts most of what has been proposed. However, it claims it is too expensive to do it in every building. I accept that is so and it may have to find a way.
When considering the cost of defibrillators, we must remember they are life saving. We are talking about homeless people dying on the streets. People who need defibrillators are also dying if we do not manage to get more of them in. The proposal is that businesses should get grants from the Government to support not just buying a defibrillator, which costs about €1,000, but also training people to use it. I believe that is something that could be done. There are things the Government could do to make it less expensive. Why do we pay VAT on defibrillators? Why do we pay VAT on children's car seats? There are some things that do not make sense. I can understand the Government claiming that it not in its hands but in the hands of the European Union. Let us ensure we argue the case that defibrillators should be free of VAT. Defibrillators should qualify for a grant to encourage considerably more businesses to install them.
Watching the "Six One News" last night, I was absolutely shocked and sickened that the headlines in 2014 should relate to a homeless person who lost his life tragically adjacent to Leinster House. It made everybody here sit up. It is not that anybody was not aware of the problem. As others have mentioned, this happens in many places. It is perhaps more poignant because it happened outside the gates of power where we sit and debate issues. I welcome that the Leader has agreed to a debate on the issue tomorrow. I hope that we do not just have a talk tomorrow and instead come up with something to address the situation urgently.
I extend my sympathies to the family and friends of Jonathan Corrie. This matter has been raised in several occasions in the House and by people driving or walking past Leinster House. It has been noted that individuals who sleep rough nearby are losing their lives as a result of a lack of suitable homes for them.
I was also sickened by headlines relating to the psychological and physical abuse visited upon the most vulnerable people in society. I refer to events at Áras Attracta and the news which emerged last night in respect of this type of abuse being carried out there. Those who reside at Áras Attracta are adults with intellectual disabilities. It is deeply disturbing to hear about some of the allegations being made against members of staff at the facility in question. Those allegations relate to staff shouting at, slapping, force feeding and kicking residents. Families turn to the providers of residential services when their adult children can no longer care for themselves. I thank the RTE investigations unit for revealing what is happening at Áras Attracta. It is dreadfully sad, however, that it was necessary for a journalist to go undercover at the centre, particularly when an investigation had already been carried out in respect of an incident with took place in 2012. I urge the Leader to make time available as soon as possible for a debate on this matter and on the overall care afforded to people with intellectual disabilities in residential settings throughout the country. The families of those with intellectual disabilities deserve to know, with absolute certainty, that their loved ones live in a caring and safe environment in which they are treated with the respect and dignity they deserve.
I join Government and Opposition Senators in expressing sadness and shock at the death of Jonathan Corrie at a spot very close to Leinster House. It is tragically symbolic that Mr. Corrie died only a few yards away from the national Parliament of this State. Only last week the Government announced its housing policy and the investment plan relating thereto. However, that announcement did not include anything with regard to emergency measures designed to deal with the homelessness crisis. I commend the Leader on arranging a debate on homelessness tomorrow. I also commend Senator Craughwell on working with the Leader to facilitate that debate.
I agree with Senator Moran that we do not want any more talking in respect of this issue. What we want from the relevant Minister is a clear plan of action regarding the investment that is going to be made. Last week I attended a briefing given by representatives from the Simon Community who referred again - in very dramatic terms - to the homelessness crisis. They also referred to many issues relating to housing, including the rent caps and limits which are causing major difficulties for many families and which are forcing people to enter substandard accommodation. We need to discuss a range of issues in the context of this matter. One cannot walk from this building to Grafton Street in the evenings without passing six or seven people who are homeless. That is the reality.
I accept that this is a complex issue and that there is no magical solution to it, particularly because some people who are homeless have mental health difficulties or addiction problems. I am very conscious that we need to be mindful of the fact that there are myriad issues which arise in the context of homelessness. I welcome tomorrow evening's debate, in which I hope to participate.
My second point relates to the strike in which post-primary school teachers are engaging today. This matter was raised in an eloquent manner by Senator O'Donnell, who referred to the external examination issue. I agree with the points the Senator made. In general, teachers are being asked to perform miracles in under-resourced schools. Now they are being asked to assist in the implementation of reforms without being given access to proper training or adequate resources. The request they are making is reasonable. I drove to the Houses this morning via St. Stephen's Green and I saw teachers who are on strike today walking up and down on one of the footpaths. That is not where teachers want to be. They want to be in the classroom, rather than out on strike. In that context, I support the call for the Minister for Education and Skills to come before the House this issue with us.
I again take the opportunity to commend the Leader on ensuring that the Minister of State with responsibility for housing will come before the Seanad tomorrow to discuss the issue of homelessness.
I echo the sentiments expressed by Senators across the House in respect of homelessness. I recall, during my first Christmas as a Member of the Seanad, raising the fact that a homeless individual was sleeping rough across the road from the Leinster House complex. People who could have made a difference were continually entering and leaving the Houses at the time but that gentleman was still sleeping rough. Thankfully, it was not him who passed away.
I join colleagues in extending my sympathy to the family of Mr. Corrie. What happened to him was shocking.
On a more positive note, I welcome the announcement by Michael O'Leary that Ryanair will bring additional passengers through Shannon Airport in 2015. I note Mr. O'Leary's comments that it was as a direct result of the Minister, Deputy Michael Noonan, abolishing the travel tax that Ryanair is in a position to bring 1.6 million additional passengers into this country. That has had a significant impact on the tourism sector.
I agree with the points made by Senator O'Donnell and others regarding external examination of students. The Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, is a very capable and competent Minister. This issue must be negotiated, not on the streets but around a table. In order to protect the integrity of any examination process, whether junior certificate, leaving certificate or otherwise, we cannot have teachers assessing their own students. It does not make sense. I call on all parties involved to sit down together in the coming weeks to work this out. There is goodwill on all sides, including among teachers. They, too, want to get this right.
We can be thankful that there usually is an upside to all such disputes. In this case, the strike allows me to welcome Alison Cotter to the Public Gallery, a young lady who is doing work experience in my office and is on a day off today. I hope she enjoys herself.
Her name will be there for posterity in the Official Report.
I second the amendment put forward by my colleague, Senator Marc MacSharry. Notwithstanding Senator Craughwell's initiative and the Leader's opening comments, today is the day to discuss this matter. Indeed, it might well be part of the problem that we keep putting off that discussion. According to the Order Paper, our business today includes "Statements on Government Geoscience Initiatives from Industry Support to Education". I might need somebody to translate that for me because I have no understanding at all of what it is about. However, I do have an understanding of the homelessness problem.
Senator Conway referred to earlier remarks he made in this House on this issue. I have not checked the Official Report, but I do recall, going back more than ten years ago, standing up on the other side of this Chamber and raising the issue of homelessness in the lead-up to Christmas. I join all colleagues in sympathising with the family of Jonathan Corrie. It is somewhat ironic that the place where he tragically passed away is where all of the national and international press locate when filming reports from Leinster House. I wonder will any of them pause in future to recall that the spot on which they stand is where somebody passed away within earshot and sight of the Houses of the Oireachtas.
A report in The Irish Timestoday is relevant to our calls for an urgent debate on homelessness. The report outlines how a social housing project in Gardiner Street which would house several dozen people who are badly in need of housing is now complete. Nobody has been accommodated, however, because the Christian charity which owns the property has put the rent so high that the matter remains under negotiation with Dublin City Council. Will the Leader use any influence he can bring to bear on the Minister of State with responsibility for housing, Deputy Paudie Coffey, to resolve this issue? This particular housing complex is in the constituency of the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, who was asked about it yesterday. It is a tragic irony that in the aftermath of Mr. Corrie's death yesterday, a housing project located not all that far from where he died is ready and waiting to accommodate people in desperate need of housing but a Christian charity has put the rent so high that it is not acceptable to Dublin City Council. That is a scandal. Those who call themselves Christians should be brought to account for their actions in this matter.
I join colleagues in sympathising with the Corrie family. My intention today was to call for a debate on housing, so I welcome the Leader's undertaking in that regard.
There should not be a reason that 168 people would sleep rough in a city of 1.2 million people. More than seven months ago €35 million was allocated to the four local authorities in Dublin, in particular, to ensure people were taken off the streets. The Archbishop of Dublin has called for a forum to examine the issue and the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government said that he would set up an emergency forum. It is an increasing problem and it cannot only be looked at in the long terms. There are many reasons for homelessness but there is no excuse for anybody being homeless. We should try to prevent them becoming homeless in the first instance and I would like the forum to concentrate on this as well as getting people off the street to ensure nobody is on the street this Christmas. During the Celtic tiger era, 2,366 adults were homeless in 2008. That was at a time loads of money was sloshing around the country. Reference was made to the allocation of €2.1 billion to tackle homelessness but this is not only about money. There are other problems and I hope we will flesh these out. Like Senator Naughton, I would like steps to be taken to outline what will be done. The provision of €35 million will not solve the problem.
I compliment a group of architects who over the weekend designed a house out of a container. It won an award and it is on display in the Irish Museum of Modern Art. It will be donated to the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. It is a beautiful, modern, state-of-the-art house which is powered by solar energy. It was built in three days with materials provided by 66 companies. This shows that where there is a will, there is a way.
I do not expect the Minister to come to the House to negotiate with the unions but we have to try to move the issues forward. Several thousand students are out of their classrooms today and that should not happen. There is no such thing as a low stakes exam.
However, I would like to move on to the issue of John Corrie. May he rest in peace. He was born 43 years ago. I am sure a mother, father, brothers and sisters loved him. I knew nothing about him and, to my shame, if I passed him on the street, I would have turned my head the other way because I cannot look at homeless people. I live in fear, like most of us, that one day I may find myself homeless. I do not want the Minister to be brought to the House and I formally propose an amendment opposing that. I accept the Leader's offer of a two-hour debate tomorrow night. I will vote against the amendment. I do not want this man's death to be used as a game. None of us knows why he died. An autopsy will inform us at some stage in the future. However, tonight 167 people will be on the streets in Dublin. The Civil Defence has all the resources required to provide them with shelter. Will the Leader ask the Minister following the Order of Business to mobilise the Civil Defence as a short-term measure?
The Ormond Hotel on Ormond Quay has been lying idle for several years. Break down the doors and let the people in out of the cold.
What happened caused outrage because it happened outside our door, but it is happening every night of the week in every city in Ireland. I was up at 6 a.m. and went for a walk. By the time I got back to my house, I was frozen to the bone. I have no idea how those people survive. Please do not tell me that they are alcoholics and junkies. Someone hitting skid row and finishing up lying in a cold, wet doorway overnight is something that should outrage us all. It is to my shame that I have never done anything about it. I have a chance in this House to call for a debate. Homelessness is not just for Christmas. It goes on way beyond Christmas. Please do not give me a solution up to 26 December.
I congratulate and salute the Beaufort community council for its speedy response in having the cross on the top of Carrauntoohil restored to its rightful place in time for Christmas.
I commend Senator Craughwell and others. I sympathise with the Corrie family. The Leader will arrange a debate for tomorrow. I commend Dublin City Council, which has provided €2.44 million for emergency accommodation and €2.5 million to charities such as the Simon Communities and the Fr. Peter McVerry Trust. Of course there should be sufficient sheltered accommodation for people on the streets, but some of them are there by desire. We cannot force people. As Senator Cullinane stated, there are addiction issues, etc. This problem is more complex than we might think upon looking at it and reading press reports. I hope that we can go into some detail tomorrow evening. Senator Craughwell mentioned a property on Ormond Quay. Fr. McVerry mentioned it on television yesterday. I do not know why it has been lying idle for so long. Maybe Dublin City Council could use its good offices to examine the suggestion. Perhaps further sheltered accommodation could be provided.
I hope that tomorrow's debate will shed more light on this issue and that we will examine the various complex issues arising for some of those involved. The young man in question had not been at home for the guts of 29 years. There are different reasons for every case. It is shocking when it happens, but there will be no one-size-fits-all solution. I look forward to our debate.
I was somewhat disconcerted to read reports on the recent announcement of an intention to withdraw security services from banks and ATM cash-in-transit trips. Apparently, it follows new thinking on the part of the regulator, the Private Security Authority, PSA. It is especially unusual that this was decided and made public in the run up to Christmas. I am not suggesting for the moment that we need the Army on our streets and so on, but we have grown accustomed to the safety that such a service provides. I am sure that many lives have been saved over the years by the presence of armed Army officers and gardaí at the banks. Ironically, there have been two raids on ATMs in the past week, one in Ratoath and one in Raheny. The Garda and the PSNI have also signalled that there has been a significant increase in dissident republican activity with an eye to disrupting Christmas shopping. The Minister for Finance, who owns one of our banks almost in its entirety, should make a statement on the issue to the House. I understand that the banks always met the costs, which meant there was no burden on the State. I would like the decision to be reviewed and explained to us fully.
The holly is a most beautiful plant with which we like to adorn our halls and walls at Christmas. Unfortunately, it is also usually the victim of wholesale vandalism on the part of people who enter our forested areas and national parks with slash hooks and destroy entire trees instead of just taking twigs.
I am slow to encroach on Senator Paul Coghlan's well-established patch but I was delighted to read that the rangers in Killarney National Park gave twigs of holly to people free of charge in order to discourage the theft of holly. Unfortunately, we will see fellas on street corners all around the country selling big chunks of holly and the plant will never grow again.
I am sure that in all the years that John Corrie spent living rough on the streets of Dublin little did he think his name would be mentioned by practically everybody who has spoken in this House of Parliament here today. As we think of him, and think of his grieving family, the greatest tribute and, hopefully, legacy he can leave is that we will do everything possible, as public representatives and parliamentarians, to redouble our efforts to make sure, in as far as is humanly possible, that nobody else will die on our streets anywhere in Ireland as a result of not having shelter for the night.
I welcome the fact that the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government will convene a forum on homelessness. I have no doubt that all the State agencies will redouble their efforts to ensure that many of the people who are homeless on our streets will have shelter during this winter.
We need to widen the debate and investigate why so many people with broken lives live on our streets. We see on a daily basis the many people whose lives are ravaged by the abuse of alcohol and drugs. We need to tackle the drug traffickers and the people who facilitate the distribution of their illicit trade. We need to provide more rehabilitation facilities for people who wish to come off drugs and alcohol. We also need to address the many issues faced by people with mental health problems. Let this tragedy be a wake-up call for all of us to address these major social issues that face the country today. It is almost 100 years since people fought at the GPO for freedom. If we are to remember John Corrie then let us take decisive action to address the many serious problems that face our country today.
I wish to continue paying respects to John Corrie and I also empathise and sympathise with his family. I am speaking after all the other Senators that have spoken today.
As Senator O'Donnell just said to me, we have invested millions of euro in dealing with the homeless and thousands of people work in the sector. We can debate the matter all we like tomorrow but something must radically change. There must be a game changer that we can, once and for all, resolve the issue. As a previous speaker has said, we must dig to the bottom of the problem but we need to do something immediate. We are only speaking about it here today because this person's death happened on our doorstep but such tragedies happen every day in this country.
John Corrie is somebody's son, John Corrie is probably somebody's father, John Corrie is somebody's brother and John Corrie has a sister who is now crying. He was a real human being who died beside us with no dignity and no respect.
I shall move on to another issue. Earlier Senator Moran spoke of the "Prime Time" debate and said there is a need to hold a debate on people with a severe mental health disability being placed in residential care. I second her call for same. I visited a 17-year old child in Kildare last week who was put in respite residential care 14 months ago. Her family are in Dublin and they are distraught because their little girl who has never been cared for anywhere else but in her home has been injured no less than four times at her current location. She has broken her toe, damaged her ankle and can no longer speak. She fell against a radiator recently and hurt her neck and split her lip. Unfortunately, she did not get plastic surgery in time so is disfigured forever. Her family want her put back near them in Dublin where they can keep an eye on her. They want to save the State money and care for her at weekends. They have spent €4,500 on round trips to the residential care centre which her consultant in St. James's Hospital says is not safe for her.
While I could go on for two hours, Members need a debate and need some action because these people have no voices. The only quality of life this child has is to visually see her family - those whom she loves - every day and they are a round trip of 120 km from her.
Senator Mary Ann O'Brien stated there must be a game changer on homelessness and the tragic death of Mr. Corrie has presented Members with an opportunity as a catalyst for action. While of course a long-term plan is needed and of course the causes of homelessness are deep and varied, an emergency response is also needed. I do not know how anybody sleeps out at night. I was delighted to hear messages coming through to the effect that the Catholic Church is offering 68 emergency places for the homeless. If nothing else is done until the long-term solutions kick in, as a nation we should ensure that each homeless person has an emergency home, be it through the empty buildings of NAMA or any vacant buildings. I will also await the debate tomorrow evening.
I propose an amendment to the Order of Business to invite the Minister for Education and Skills into the House regarding the teachers' strikes.
Today, there are 350,000 young people out of school, with another day threatened in January. Moreover, it is not just the children who are studying for the junior certificate who are out, but this also affects the leaving certificate children. The Constitution states the parents are the primary educators but nobody consulted them and it is probable that 200,000 homes have been discommoded. There is talk about parents being partners in education but is this rhetoric or is it real? I must be honest and state I am very uncomfortable with the leadership-----
I also express my sympathies to the family and friends of Jonathan Corrie, who died just yards from this Chamber. However, homelessness, and the result seen yesterday of somebody dying on the steps of Parliament, is the thin edge of austerity. That is what it looks like when services are cut and when funding has been withdrawn from mental health services, from alcohol and addiction programmes and from housing programmes. Consequently, I support my colleague in seeking an immediate debate on this matter. I also support a debate on the teachers' strike. Members have a light itinerary today and the fact that the teachers' unions and the Minister are not in here debating this issue today shows the Government does not seek debate in this regard.
Most appalling is the deafening silence from the Government when it comes to the fact that every piece of communication from this island is being listened to and monitored by the British Government. This is being done without a single word from the Government, as though that should be normal behaviour between alleged friends. The next time Senator Paul Coghlan meets the ambassador, he might ask him to stop listening to his telephone calls.
I ask the Leader to organise a debate, to bring in the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade and to ask him why there is no outrage from or protest by the Government. The ambassador is not even being brought in to explain why they are listening.
I hope, by the time we get out of this Chamber, the Government has the will and bravery, because it is cowardice so far, to take the case of the hooded men back to the European courts because this is the issue. It is not about what happened nearly 40 years ago.
I was speaking to representatives of the homeless services and there was a sad and despondent air amid the news of Mr. Jonathan Corrie dying outside the gates of Leinster House. Mr. Corrie was known to the homeless services as "Teardrop John" because he had a teardrop tattoo on his face. To see the reporting of it, it takes away from the human aspect of this.
Mr. Corrie spoke to a friend of mine who is involved with the homeless services on Tuesday night last and he told them that he loved fishing. He had a fine conversation about his parents and I want to put on the record of the House the high regard in which he held, and the love and affection that he felt for, his mother in particular. I believe that on that day he had just spoken to her for the first time in five years. Indeed, he spoke in very high regard of his father at that time as well.
No wonder people are affected by seeing him dead before Christmas. We can talk all day about the reasons people are homeless, but the fact remains that this was a man with a heart, a human being who died because he had no roof over his head.
We cannot underestimate the scale of the epidemic, especially here in the capital city but also in Limerick, Cork, Galway and elsewhere. It is a national disgrace. It is a national shame that this is going on. I welcome the debate that is proposed for tomorrow. To be honest, it is long overdue.
On Wednesday night the week before last, I took part in the homeless count where we went around the city. I was given, with my group, a small area, from O'Connell Bridge to Liberty Hall where there was somebody sleeping at the doors, past the-----
I intend to. It extended past the Custom House, the Connolly memorial and Store Street Garda station where there was a number of people stretched out inside, and men were huddled in threes and fours in doorways trying to shelter themselves from the cold and wet of that night. We came across an Internet café on Talbot Street where there were a number of lads stretched out all over the seats for want of a place to stay. In that patch, that tiny rectangular area up to Talbot Street and back down O'Connell Street, we counted 38 persons who were sleeping rough that night.
I join other Senators in extending sympathy to the family of Mr. Corrie.
If he had not died where he did, there would not be a word about him. That is the reality. I have been a Member of this House since 2002 and homelessness has been discussed since I first joined, with periodic mentions since then. The facilities do not exist that can give a bed to everybody who needs it but not everybody wants a bed, with some choosing not to have one. I am not saying that was the case with Mr. Corrie. He is being spoken about today, unfortunately, because he died in a certain place. Otherwise, there would not be a word spoken about him. I would welcome a debate on the issue and I hope some good can come from the publicity surrounding his death.
I join other colleagues in calling for the Minister to come to the House to discuss the teachers' strike. The teachers have a very valid argument and a point to make. As I indicated, I accept the Minister has made some concessions in the changes to the junior certificate proposed by the former Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Quinn. However, these are not acceptable, even at the level where 40% of the assessment would be done internally. I would welcome the Minister to the House to discuss the matter.
I add my sympathies to those being extended to Mr. Corrie's family. Homelessness is a very sad reality in the city and it is a problem which has many facets. People may find themselves in settled employment one minute, with a home and family, and they may suddenly find they have lost their job and house. Their problems are different to the issues experienced by somebody who is severely ill and addicted, who is unfortunately living a life which has not had the anchorage of family, employment, etc. We need to tackle the problem in its many different facets.
We should see this as an absolute emergency and state that we will not let another winter pass with people sleeping on the streets in near-freezing conditions. It is simply unacceptable. We can have all kinds of long-term plans for solving the mortgage repayment or default crises and the need to build more units but the hard core of people in danger of dying on the streets from the effects of exposure, crime or starvation number in the hundreds and not the thousands. It is a problem that is eminently fixable; it could be done with a budget not of hundreds of millions of euro but probably the low tens of millions of euro.
I suggest the need for an emergency action plan. First, we need a major reprioritisation of public spending. There is something a little offensive about trying to make a city look beautiful by building new parks, painting the window surrounds of old buildings and beautifying our statues while people are underneath those statues and in the eaves of those buildings who are freezing. We should put a blanket ban on spending money on anything that could be classified as a beautification project until we have adequate emergency homeless shelters in place and provisions in place so that anybody sleeping outside, under a bridge, flyover or a bush in a park will have somewhere to go, although it may not be the best home in the world. They would be warm, dry and safe in some kind of wardened accommodation. We could afford to do that without breaking any banks. As I indicated, we could halt any beautification projects. Although it may offend many people, I believe the dead leaders of the 1916 Rising would probably like nothing more than to have a "seven signatories" homeless shelter rather than more plaques on the walls commemorating events from hundreds of years ago.
Every public relations contract in every local authority in the country can be ended and we should put a modest tax on cigarettes, with the money being used specifically for maintaining a homeless shelter. We could fix this problem in approximately six weeks if we had the will.
Dublin City Council is spending money this year on an interpretive centre for Bull Island. The entire country is starting to resemble a bull island if this is the scale of priorities when people are freezing in the street.
I join the expressions of sympathy to the family of John Corrie. The vast majority of Members of the House have spoken about the issue of homelessness. Like all Members I am very concerned over the recent rise in the number of people sleeping rough in Dublin city. Any loss of life on our streets is a tragedy. We all agree that a recovering economy needs to translate into better living standards for all our people.
As the Deputy Leader mentioned, the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government will convene a special forum on homelessness on Thursday to meet elected mayors, CEOs of local authorities and representatives of the voluntary organisations to address the serious challenges posed by homelessness in the Dublin region in particular.
Arrangements are under way to expand the number of emergency bed spaces. A total of 164 beds are being sourced by Dublin City Council - 38 have already been put in place with another 30 due by 8 December, a further 76 by 15 December and a further 20 by 5 January. Approximately 160 people are sleeping rough in Dublin on the last count. There are 655 vacant units in the hands of Dublin City Council being refurbished and returned to use. Work has started on 245 and there will be a further 410 over the next four to six months.
The Housing First service for people sleeping rough in Dublin is under way. It is a wrap-around programme provided by Focus Ireland and the Peter McVerry Trust, which supports people sleeping rough to find and sustain tenancies.
The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government has written to all local authorities urging them to give priority to homeless households in their allocations. The Minister has allocated €10.5 million in additional funding in 2015 for homeless accommodation and related services, bringing the total to €55.5 million next year. This goes well beyond the Government's existing commitment to maintain its expenditure at the 2013 level of €45 million.
The Minister has also provided an additional €4 million supplementary allocation to Dublin City Council in November to assist in the costs of emergency accommodation arising from the increasing number of families being accommodated in commercial hotels.
I will not continue further with that. I am sure we will have a very good debate tomorrow and I thank the Minister for agreeing to come to the House to have a comprehensive debate on the subject tomorrow night.
Senator MacSharry spoke about the opening of the live cattle trade with Russia. I will certainly raise the matter with the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Marine, Deputy Coveney. Over the past year or so the Minister has been very active in opening beef markets to many countries which have proved to be very productive. I will certainly raise the question of the Russian market with him also.
Senator Bacik said that very little social housing had been built during the boom years and we are certainly reaping the reward of that at present. She also spoke about the teachers' strike, as did many other Members, including Senators O'Donnell, Craughwell and Healy Eames. I will endeavour to have the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, come to the House. After the Order of Business I will ask her if she can come in this week. I am in the hands of the Minister, but I will certainly make representations to see whether she can come in this week.
Senator Zappone spoke about the need for multifaceted solutions to homelessness and we can all agree on that.
Senator Barrett welcomed the recall of the United Arab Emirates ambassador. He also commented on the death of Jack Kyle, an extraordinary sportsman in his time.
Senator O'Neill stated that milk production is 7.1% over quota and referred to the fact that Ireland will face a superlevy bill of €113 million as a result. The Senator asked that the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Coveney, make representations to the effect that this money might be paid on a phased basis. I will certainly communicate his views on the matter to the Minister.
Senator Leyden also referred to the teachers' strike. I reject his comments to the effect that the Minister for Education and Skills has been in any way intransigent in respect of this matter. She has moved a great deal from her original position but I think we will leave debating the issue until she can come before the House.
Senator Kelly requested a debate on the ambulance service. I will try to facilitate his request by asking the Minister for Health to come before the House.
Senator Naughton welcomed the fact that Galway has been designated UNESCO city of film. Obviously, a major boost will accrue to the city's image as a result of this development.
I note Senator Quinn's points in respect of defibrillators and the fact that VAT should not be charged on them. The Senator raised this matter previously, particularly in the context of the provision of grants to encourage businesses to install defibrillators on their premises.
Senators Moran and Mary Ann O'Brien raised the disturbing reports relating to a care home, Áras Attracta, in County Mayo. The reports in question are shocking. Senator Moran has referred to the care of people with intellectual disabilities on several occasions in the House. We will endeavour to have a debate on the matter.
Senator Conway welcomed Ryanair's announcement regarding an increase in the number of flights into and out of Shannon Airport and the fact that an additional 1.6 million people are using the airport as a result of the abolition of the travel tax in particular.
Senator Mooney was among those who referred to homelessness. He also highlighted the need to resolve the position in respect of a housing complex in Dublin's inner city. I share the sentiments expressed by the Senator in that regard. The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Donohoe, has made representations with a view to removing the impasse that has developed. Senator Mooney also referred to the debate in which we are due to engage with the Minister of State at the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy McHugh. I am sure the Senator is aware that when the boom was at its height in 2006, the value of the geoscience sector was estimated to be €4.2 billion or 3% of GDP. The geoscience sector contributes significantly to the building, energy, mining and environmental services sectors. More recent independent studies estimate that mining and related activities alone, which give rise to 1,400 jobs, are worth €800 million per annum. These issues will be discussed later with the Minister of State, Deputy McHugh. Senator Mooney often refers to Ireland's natural resources and the development of and support for rural areas by the Government. I am sure he will play a very important part in the debate with the Minister of State, which is due to follow the Order of Business.
Senator Paul Coghlan referred to the restoration of the cross at Carrauntoohil and complimented Beaufort Community Council on its work in this regard.
Senator O'Sullivan referred to the withdrawal of security services for the banks, recounted details of recent raids in Ratoath and Raheny and requested that this matter be revisited. I will certainly bring it to the attention of the Minister for Justice and Equality. Perhaps we might engage in an overall debate on law and order early in the new year.
Senator Mullins referred to the need for rehabilitative services for people with addiction problems. We had a debate on mental health recently, and this is an issue we can certainly discuss. I agree with the Senator regarding the need for better access to rehabilitation for persons with addictions.
I welcome Senator Healy Eames's indication that the Catholic Church has provided 68 places for homeless people. That is excellent news.
Senator Daly referred to cuts to the housing programme. Today is not the day to get involved in politics around this issue. I will note, however, that the amount of money that was spent on social housing in the boom years was practically nil.
Senator Heffernan, in his comments, brought a human dimension to the issue of homelessness. I am sure he will make a useful contribution to the debate tomorrow. Senator Wilson made the very valid point that some people who are homeless will not accept shelter. I note, too, the comments made by Senator Crown on this issue.
I do not propose to accept the amendments to the Order of Business.
Senator MacSharry has moved an amendment to the Order of Business: "That a debate with the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government to outline the urgent measures to be taken to address the housing crisis be taken today." Is the Senator pressing the amendment?
For Senator Craughwell to say we are playing politics with this issue displays an extraordinary level of ignorance. Senator Mooney has been making contributions on social issues for almost 30 years in this House. I am here a mere 12 years. Colleagues may vote whichever way they like, but we are asking that the debate take place today.
- Sean Barrett
- Thomas Byrne
- John Crown
- Mark Daly
- Terry Leyden
- Marc MacSharry
- Paschal Mooney
- Denis O'Donovan
- Ned O'Sullivan
- Averil Power
- Mary White
- Diarmuid Wilson
- Ivana Bacik
- Terry Brennan
- Colm Burke
- Paul Coghlan
- Michael Comiskey
- Martin Conway
- Gerard Craughwell
- Maurice Cummins
- Fidelma Healy Eames
- James Heffernan
- Imelda Henry
- Caít Keane
- John Kelly
- Denis Landy
- Marie Moloney
- Mary Moran
- Michael Mullins
- Catherine Noone
- Mary Ann O'Brien
- Marie Louise O'Donnell
- Susan O'Keeffe
- Pat O'Neill
- Feargal Quinn
- Jillian van Turnhout
- John Whelan
- Katherine Zappone
Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell has also moved an amendment to the Order of Business: "That a debate with the Minister for Education and Skills on the teachers' strike be taken today". Is the amendment being pressed?
- Ivana Bacik
- Sean Barrett
- Terry Brennan
- Colm Burke
- Paul Coghlan
- Michael Comiskey
- Martin Conway
- Maurice Cummins
- Michael D'Arcy
- John Gilroy
- Imelda Henry
- Caít Keane
- John Kelly
- Denis Landy
- Marie Moloney
- Mary Moran
- Michael Mullins
- Catherine Noone
- Marie Louise O'Donnell
- Susan O'Keeffe
- Pat O'Neill
- Jillian van Turnhout
- John Whelan