Thursday, 12 February 2015
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, motion regarding the appointment of the Ombudsman for Children, to be taken at 1.15 p.m. and to conclude no later than 2 p.m. with contributions from spokespersons not to exceed six minutes and the Minister to be called on to reply no later than 1.55 p.m.; and No. 2, Irish Collective Asset-management Vehicles Bill 2014, Committee and remaining Stages to be taken at 2 p.m.
On the day we have Willie Walsh of IAG speaking with the transport committee may I ask whether, if the assurances the Taoiseach has sought in terms of Heathrow and various other issues are given, it is the Labour Party's intention to support the sale of Aer Lingus? Could the House be given some clarification on that?
It is disturbing today to read in The Irish Timesthat the HSE director general wrote to the Department of Health seeking €1.4 billion in additional funding last September. We then had the Minister announcing what he believed to be a realistic budget in October, yet it was only €115 million more than the previous year despite the fact that the HSE had sought €1.4 billion. Despite that supposedly realistic budget announcement last October, the following month, the director general, Tony O'Brien, felt compelled to tell the Minister, "It has not been possible to provide funding to address the substantial majority of the demographic and critical service cost pressures, some of which carry risks from a clinical perspective". We need to clarify where these risks are. Was Mr. O'Brien referring to the 500 plus patients on hospital trolleys, which have become commonplace over the course of the last weeks and months?
Was it the fair deal scheme, where there are very substantial waiting lists? What is the situation?
How bad does the HSE anticipate things will get when it is some €1.3 million short of the funding it anticipated it would need? I do not want to be calling votes on having the Minister in here today, but I ask that an additional health budget debate be held as soon as possible, so that the Minister can outline for us how a budget announced in October was stated to be realistic, when it seems to be €1.3 billion short of the figures put forward by the HSE to his Department in September.
While the Leader may feel a Commencement debatemay be more appropriate for this issue, such is its seriousness that I would like to see a debate in the House in which all could participate. It arises from the Sligo County Council's debt of some €100 million and the central Government's treatment of the people of Sligo on the back of that debt. It is prescribing, centrally, the closing of basic First World county services, like libraries, motor taxation offices, outdoor staff and so on. It is prescribing the closure and cutting back of these services, it is prescribing more redundancies and it is treating Sligo County Council and the people of Sligo as if it were some independent republic out in the middle of the Atlantic. At the same time, there are larger councils, such as Fingal County Council, with over €100 million on deposit.
The reality is that the funding mechanism for smaller local authorities like Sligo, and there are many others in similar situations throughout the country, is not robust enough. They do not have the benefit of Dublin Airport, for example, within their commercial rate base, which Fingal does. That is just one example. We have a situation in Sligo where central Government support is essential. The attitude taken to this by the Minister, Deputy Alan Kelly, and his Department in treating the people of Sligo in such a discriminatory manner, is effectively to do to us in the north west what the Germans and the ECB did to the people of Ireland in prescribing the medicine they felt should best be taken. The people of the north west are no less entitled to services than the people of the east coast, the Leader's own area, or other parts of the country. When it comes to discrimination against 65,000 of the nation's citizens in this way, it demands attention from the Houses of the Oireachtas-----
I was also taken aback this morning to see the front pages of the newspapers and Willie Walsh coming out with a very gung ho attitude, saying that he was following this Government into the trenches in terms of our shares in Aer Lingus. On the question of whether the Labour Party favours the sale of the State's shares in Aer Lingus, it is a Government decision, but a number of senior Labour Ministers have said they do not see any commercial imperative in selling the State's interest and are aware that the State's interests in the matter need to be protected.
I thank Members for a robust debate yesterday on the issue of housing. While I am reluctant to ask again for a debate on housing, a number of issues were raised, particularly in regard to home ownership, tenant-purchase, and other issues around low- or middle-income households having access to home ownership. The credit unions have recently said they would be willing to enter the market in terms of mortgage lending. They were very quickly slapped down from a regulatory perspective for putting their necks above the parapet on this issue.
This merits a two-fold debate, with the first dealing with the credit unions. There were a few high-profile credit union failures but the vast majority of Irish credit unions are very sound and have been serving their communities very well for significant periods of time. They know their membership in a way that banks do not know their customers, and we need to look at whether the current regulatory framework is adequate for the needs of credit unions and their membership. I would like a debate on home ownership. Many Members would have something to add on that.
I welcome the announcement of a ceasefire in Ukraine. We have seen many ceasefires before. Let us hope this one goes somewhere. Around 5,300 people have been killed so far in this conflict on European soil. I would like to see a wider debate on European issues, covering the security issues Europe is facing together with issues like the Greek bailout. We have seen the announcement of the President Juncker investment plan. Ireland has a number of projects of significant value already lodged for that fund and we have the issue of quantitative easing. There are a number of European issues that would merit a debate in the House.
I found the comments of the economist John FitzGerald at the banking inquiry yesterday very refreshing. He put his hands up and said he had made the wrong call, was totally wrong and had made a big mistake that will live with him for the rest of his life. I want to put something on the record. John FitzGerald is an eminent economist. He was the first person to forecast the massive oversupply in the housing market in Ireland.
A campaign being launched nearby this morning is called Stop Out of Control Drinking. I am alarmed by this campaign because it is funded by Diageo, a drinks company. It has many good people associated with it but I did two reports for the European Economic and Social Committee on alcohol-related harm and I saw at first hand how the industry will try to influence, orchestrate and campaign to ensure that any effective reports one is trying to do are diluted. The industry did not win in that case, but when I saw the campaign title, Stop Out of Control Drinking, it made me think that most people in Ireland would think the campaign was not directed at them.
What we should be talking about is alcohol-related harm. Allowing a drinks company to frame a debate and put major money behind a public health campaign is wrong. I would point those involved to the World Health Organisation which indicated that it would be inappropriate for the industry to have a role in the formulation of alcohol policies either nationally or locally. The industry's involvement in this campaign is wrong. Those involved with the campaign would say it is independent but let us remember that Diageo, the drinks company involved with this, exists to sell alcohol and to make profits for its shareholders. That is the reason for the business. I do not argue with that but it is not a public health company.
Let the people frame this debate, not a drinks company. It is unacceptable that any of us would support a campaign that is so clearly the narrative of the drinks company. That is what it wants us to talk about, the out of control drinking, not the effect drink has on family households and the triggers the special rapporteur on child protection mentioned to us at the health and children committee. We cannot have an ambivalent response to alcohol, we need to look at it seriously. It is having a destructive effect in many households. That is the area I deal with. I ask that we have a debate in this House on alcohol-related harm. Let us take the lead on the issue and not put it in the hands of any drinks company.
We had a very good debate yesterday on the Garda Síochána and GSOC. It covered a range of areas but what impressed me most was that the Leader's replacement was an expert in this area because of her involvement in the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality. It was a reminder to us of the benefits that come from those committees. One of the areas we debated yesterday was crime prevention and crime detection.
There was a raid in Galway yesterday morning to which the public responded immediately by calling the Garda. Four people were arrested and I understand the jewellery stolen was recovered. It is a real reminder of the work An Garda Síochána and the Oireachtas joint committees do.
Mr. Willie Walsh is appearing before the Joint Committee on Transport today, which is the reason my colleague, Senator Sean D. Barrett, who is a member of the committee is not present. It is a reminder of the work being done by the committees, but we must cover these areas because we cannot all attend committees. Senators Ivana Bacik and Sean D. Barrett are university Senators, which adds to the talent available.
Senator Aideen Hayden raised the question of credit unions, on which I would like a debate. The proposal is that those credit unions which, as the Senator stated, stay close to and know their customers will be made into super credit unions. I can understand why and it makes sense to do so. However, it be would be worthwhile having a debate in this House, as well as at the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditur and Reform, because there is a range of views, as well as expertise, in this House, from which we could derive benefit.
I highlight the announcement this morning by the Minister for Tourism, Transport and Sport, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, of further funding of €320,000 which has been approved by Fáilte Ireland under its national festivals and events programmes for 11 key national festivals and events that will take place this year. Two of these events are the Galway International Film Fleadh which will receive €20,000 and the Galway Oyster Festival which will receive €30,000. This comes in a week when Galway has been awarded the purple flag award, a prestigious accolade given to cities and towns which meet or surpass the standards of excellence in managing their evening and night-time economy. With this award, Galway has proved to be a friendly, entertaining and enjoyable place to visit, in which regard our festivals play a significant role. That is why this funding is critical. The benefits to Galway of receiving this accolade are wide-ranging, including attracting domestic and overseas visitors and lower crime rates. The city met all 30 criteria and was particularly commended for showing strong evidence of leadership and a high incidence of business engagement. Galway's alcohol strategy which was put in place to prevent and reduce alcohol-related harm was recommended as a role model of joined up strategic thinking. It is a very good initiative which, I understand, is being rolled out across the country.This announcement is further good news for Galway. In November it was awarded the designation UNESCO City of Film, while last year it was awared the designation Best Overall Micro-City in Europe by the Financial Times. Ireland's success as a tourism destination is based on our visitors' experiences, in which regard funding for festivals plays an important role.
I have just come from a conference sponsored by Christian Aid on the human rights impact of tax and fiscal policies. The Minister of State, Deputy Simon Harris, gave the opening address and was followed by Professor Philip Alston, the UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights. It is a very significant conference, especially in the light of the fact that all political parties and Independents are shaping their approaches to taxation and fiscal policies in the run-up to the next general election. I wonder how many of the manifestoes that will be drawn up shortly will include a section on human rights and the explicit link between human rights and taxation policy, as emphasised at length by Professor Alston. Let us hope all of the political parties and those in formation and the Independents will include one.
I call for a debate with the Minister of State on the human rights impact of tax and fiscal policies. Ireland is at a critical juncture and such a debate would necessarily raise again one of the most fundamental questions all political parties must answer: is this an economy or a society? This morning the Minister of State said economic recovery must be society-led, with which I agree, but what does that actually mean? He said we needed to invest in the economy in order that we could do something with it. That is a traditional and tired economic model. I heard that Fine Gael was going to offer the people a new model. What is meant by "a new model"? A new model is not investing in the economy in order that one can do something with it but investing in society to have a healthy economy. We need a Copernican turn to our model. Investing in society would mean Irish citizens' fundamental rights to health, education and social protection would come first, not last. The Minister of State said Ireland invested in these things, but the Government refuses to put the issue of a constitutional guarantee for economic and social rights to the people, as the Constitutional Convention recommended. When we invest in the economy, job creation, multinationals, research and development, knowledge boxes, etc., we need to do so in a way that will not increase income and wealth inequality, domestically or internationally, and all that flows from this. Please let us have a debate on tax justice and the human rights impact of tax and fiscal policies soon. Within this debate let us hear from the Government on why it will not put question of guaranteeing the economic and social rights of citizens to them to decide.
I congratulate and commend all those involved in the running of the 90th national coursing meeting in Clonmel which was held over two weekends owing to bad weather. It finished last weekend and started the weekend before. In particular, I commend those involved in hare husbandry for a number of weeks. Fantastic crowds turned out and fantastic support was to be seen. However, I raise another matter in connection with Clonmel and the many counties in which coursing meetings are held, including Clare, Limerick, Waterford and Kilkenny, to name but a few. Gangs of unscrupulous characters are coming onto lands where open coursing meetings are being arranged, stealing and destroying hares and leaving the land and property utterly destroyed. This matter was brought to my attention by a long-standing coursing enthusiast, Councillor Andy Moloney, from Cahir. He informed me that damage had been done to hares and lands across the south east by gangs who were robbing hares and, in some cases, killing them for their own enjoyment, with groups of dogs, which were unlicensed and should not have been carried in any vehicle.
The reason I raise this issue is that the greyhound industry (amendment) Bill is on the agenda for the spring term. It is very important that the Leader bring this issue to the attention of the Minister of State, Deputy Tom Hayes, in order that we could look at some system whereby for each dog licensed there would be a notice for the vehicle in which it was being carried. This system is in use in the United Kingdom. If police officers stop a suspicious vehicle and do not see a notice in it, they can impound the dogs being carried. We need to move on this issue quickly.
I support the comments made by Senator Feargal Quinn on the courageous work of gardaí from Mill Street Garda station in Galway yesterday. They apprehended four men who had robbed €1 million worth of jewellery from Hartmanns jewellery shop on William Street. This unarmed force apprehended four eastern European gangsters who were armed with hammers and what turned out to be a false gun, although the gardaí in question were not to know this. The staff were threatened with violence and the gangsters scooped up €1 million worth of jewellery, but within less than 30 minutes gardaí were on the scene. They followed the gangsters whom they apprehended and arrested on the streets of Galway. They are now being questioned. I call on the Leader - I presume with the support of Senator Feargal Quinn - to write to the Garda Commissioner. The Leader and I were nominated to the Seanad by the representative bodies of An Garda Síochána.
An Garda Síochána has come in for a lot of criticism in recent years but we have an unarmed police force whose members had the courage and strength to apprehend these very serious criminals who were well organised. I ask that the Leader would write to the Garda Commissioner to commend the gardaí - the Superintendent and his team - in Galway on their speedy action in defence of Irish citizens and businesses. Anyone who runs a business realises that there is a constant threat from criminals who are very active at the moment and who are watching situations exactly like the one to which I refer. The livelihood of the Hartmann's staff would have been in jeopardy if this robbery had been successful.
Furthermore, I ask that the Minister for Justice and Equality would come to the House because we need scrutiny of all eastern European people coming into this country through the passport system. They all have to produce their passports here. Those passport details should be recorded and contact made with the police forces in eastern European countries to see if any of these people have criminal records. Nobody with a criminal record should be allowed into this State. We have enough criminals ourselves without importing them from eastern Europe. The level of crime that is occurring is very evident to me and this may be the start of a trend in that regard.
All in all, we should be very proud of An Garda Síochána in this particular instance as well as in many others which go unrecorded.
I welcome the announcement by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Coveney, this morning relating to what can be termed the "old young farmers". A meeting was held by such farmers in Athlone last week and further meetings are planned throughout the country. These farmers have been left out in many ways. They started farming in 2008-09 but were not in a position to apply to the national reserve for quota going forward. The Minister has now made provision for these farmers. They will be able to apply to the national reserve now and will be treated the very same as young farmers which is very good news.
Bhí cuid mhaith Seanadóirí, Teachtaí Dála agus Airí inné ag déanamh gaisce as an bplean jabanna atá fógraithe ag an Rialtas.
The Government's plan on jobs which was announced yesterday seems to be a question of reheating the chicken, when one delves into the detail. The targets therein were supposed to have been delivered on and the plan itself was supposed to have been delivered over a year ago. We are seeing a trial run now, in a limited area, of the jobs plan which probably will not be finished by the time this Government has been put out of office - hopefully. It is another instance of plenty of spin but very little action. I also note that 7,550 older unemployed people were left out of the unemployment figures released by the Government, which shows that those figures are being massaged too.
I wish to add my words of congratulations to the members of An Garda Síochána in Galway on the way they acted yesterday morning. They were very brave and very swift. However, I take issue with the tone of Senator Leyden's comments and feel that they are bordering on racist. Perhaps the Senator should consider having them struck off the record of the House. A criminal is a criminal, no matter where he or she comes from.
Senator Leyden suggested that every eastern European coming into this country should be profiled on his or her way in and I certainly would not agree with those comments.
It has been an up and down week for An Garda Síochána. We have seen more arrests this morning, including that of a 15 year old boy and a man in his 50s, in connection with the protests in Jobstown. Many people are asking fundamental questions about the nature of that investigation and its apparent heavy handedness. That said, it is important that we recognise the good work of An Garda Síochána. I wish to raise an issue which was brought to my attention by someone who is entering that profession. He is one of the new garda recruits who got through the application process - for which there were 25,000 applicants - and is now in Templemore. He has huge concerns about the pay and conditions under which he will be expected to work. When the new recruits graduate they will only be earning €23,171 before tax is deducted but the last group of recruits, who graduated in 2009, were paid approximately €31,000. The latest recruits are very concerned about their pay and conditions and their ability to work as gardaí on the beat. I know that the Minister for Justice and Equality - or a Minister of State in that Department - is in the House regularly to deal with issues relating to An Garda Síochána but the pay and conditions of new gardaí and how they can be expected to survive on the amount they are paid is an issue that should be examined. Perhaps it is an issue for the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform because the pay rates seem to come under the remit of various pay agreements negotiated by that Department.
I agree with Senator Leyden's comments on Hartmann's jewellers in Galway. I had a plate engraved there on my retirement from UCG many years ago so I know the shop well. I compliment the gardaí involved. We have heard so much criticism of An Garda Síochána in recent times but it is a priceless force and it is important that we would acknowledge the work it does. I wholeheartedly support An Garda Síochána and I agree with Senator Ó Clochartaigh that pay and conditions in the force should be examined. Gardaí put their lives on the line every day and probably feel that they are not appreciated. They never look for appreciation, I am sure, but they are at least entitled to a just reward.
I wish to raise the issue of the number of robberies that are facilitated by stolen mobile phones. Criminals are using stolen mobile phones to communicate with their accomplices and so forth. In California a new law has been passed that mandates kill switches in mobile phones. If one's phone is stolen, one can kill it remotely. This technology is not available in every mobile phone. It is only available in the iPhone 6, the Samsung Galaxy S5, and several other very new smart phones. Microsoft is expected to put it in its phones soon. Some US states have made kill switches mandatory in all mobile phones. I was at a public meeting in Firhouse last week which was entirely taken up with a discussion on burglaries, crime and so forth. Many people spoke about the way crime is being facilitated by mobile phones. I am not calling for a full debate on this issue but rather am asking if the Leader would make representations to the Minister to examine whether we could introduce similar legislation. We should also highlight this kill technology because many people who have these newer smart phones would not even know that this technology is included. It is possible to kill one's phone remotely and the phone is rendered absolutely useless. Phones are also being stolen for resale and this technology renders them useless. As a result of this technology, it has been found that phone-related crime has decreased.
I concur with the remarks of Senator van Turnhout and others but would point out that the Taoiseach made some very good choices in his appointment of Senators to this House. Senator van Turnhout is not on the University Panel and Senators on that side of the House cannot claim to have all of the brains. Both the elected and nominated Senators have university degrees, unlike in times of old. I hear this peddled across the floor every so often ---
A debate might be too intellectual for us ordinary five eighths on this side of the House.
I concur with the congratulations extended to An Garda Síochána in Galway and also commend the two, what might be termed by the tabloid press "have a go", citizens who were very brave and courageous in initiating the chase. I also welcome the fact that the opportunity has arisen to point out the scandalously low pay rate for the new garda recruits. My colleague, Senator MacSharry raised this a number of weeks ago and was the first in this House to do so, following a high profile visit by the Minister for Justice and Equality, the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste to Templemore when the first recruits were being initiated. There has been a deafening silence from the Government on this. I have not heard one word since about this pay rate of €23,000. Here we are, congratulating gardaí for taking their lives in their hands - for €23,000. That is a scandal and one that needs to be addressed in a budgetary framework. Perhaps the Leader will comment on that.
I commend the comments of my colleague, Senator Hayden, on the leading economist who appeared before the banking inquiry yesterday. The man is a real patriot and he has made an outstanding contribution to the life of this State during his time with the ESRI. The meeting yesterday cannot have been easy for him. He raised fundamental issues which I hope will be addressed by the banking inquiry. They are fundamental issues about what seems to be - and I use the word cautiously - an arrogant approach by officials in the then Department of Finance on the impending crisis that was going to explode on this country between the years 2005 and 2008. They not only studiously ignored advice that was being given but treated it with a level of contempt. I hope that the banking inquiry will invite them in because they are still around and ask them to justify their actions.
Perhaps the committee will also look at what came into the public domain. I refer to the letters or correspondence between the then housing Minister, Deputy Noel Ahern, and the Department of Finance at the time of the introduction of 100% mortgages. The economist pointed out not once but repeatedly that this development posed a real danger to the Irish mortgage system and that it would create enormous financial and economic difficulties if it was allowed to go unchecked. What did the Department of Finance do? The officials treated his advice with total contempt. There are issues surrounding the advice that was given at that time by the Department of Finance to the political environment. The matter needs to be teased out and addressed.
I wish to compliment Niall Gibbons and his people at Tourism Ireland who have once again pulled off yet another great coup of extending the number of greening iconic site across the world. There is upwards of 60 sites that will go green for St. Patrick's Day. Given the size of this country there will be a focus on Ireland as a result of the colour green appearing at iconic monuments throughout the world. It is a wonderful commendation for Tourism Ireland and Niall Gibbons. Among the iconic attractions that will go green on St. Patrick's Day will be the Grand Ole Opry House in Nashville, Tennessee.
I welcome the announcement made by the Minister for Education and Skills on 10 February on the immediate establishment of the inclusion support service under the remit of the National Council for Special Education. I admire the aspiration to offer a better and more integrated service to schools within the areas of continuing professional development in special education for teachers, behavioural support in schools and the provision of services for children who are deaf, hard of hearing or visually impaired. This move will see the amalgamation of the special education support service, SESS, the national behaviour support service, NBSS, and the visiting teacher service to operate under the auspices of the NCSE.
I hope the current staff with their high level of expertise and specialist qualifications will be maintained within the new inclusion support service. I also hope that the prompt and effective support available from SESS, the NBSS and the visiting teacher service to schools facing immediate challenges is maintained during the transition process and beyond. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Education and Skills to come here to outline her vision for the inclusion support service and other aspects of special education in schools.
I wish to note that those promoting the takeover of Aer Lingus by British Airways have had a free run in the media today - on two radio stations and headlines on two newspapers, the Irish Independentand The Irish Times. Those of us who are responsible for the 25% stake in the company that the public does own are constrained by ridiculous takeover rules from the Irish Stock Exchange and we cannot answer back.
I want to assure our friends in the media that it is not just the people of north Dublin or in the regions of Ireland who are concerned about anti-competitiveness mergers by legacy airlines. It is also a respectable position to hold in international economics journals. I want the media to stop trying to portray the opponents as some kind of plastic Paddies or something holding out for something that does not have a future.
This airline does have a future. We must ask people to look at the record of British Airways in the United Kingdom. It is now smaller than easyJet by far. It is smaller than Ryanair in its own country. It totally neglects Scotland. There are no services from Scotland on the north Atlantic route operated by British Airways. It neglects its own regions. It has reduced services in Manchester and Birmingham.
The view that Aer Lingus, which currently carries 11 million passengers, cannot grow is belied by the fact that this is where Ryanair and easyJet were placed at the beginning of the century. Now one has increased passenger numbers to 60 million while the other has increased numbers to 100 million. There might a period of consolidation but it has been mostly by legacy airlines. The two new airlines in Europe - easyJet and Ryanair - carry far more passengers than any of the legacy airlines. Let us not allow this kind of stigmatisation of the opponents of the sale of the airline - as backwoods men - prevent a full debate. The onus is on British Airways to present proper figures and not media briefings of the kind we saw yesterday and today. The Government should not be constrained in getting the best deal for Ireland for its 25% by the ridiculous takeover rules of the Irish Stock Exchange.
I have written to the Governor of the Central Bank who appoints two members to the takeover panel. It is surely an imbalance where the person trying to do the takeover gets free reign and the people trying to fight it off are muzzled. That is not the way a vital national asset should be treated.
I support Senator van Turnhout's comments on the campaign to stop out of control drinking which was launched today by the drinks industry. The title and drive behind it seems to say that any drinking that is not out of control is fine. Business is business so I can understand what motivates the drinks companies but this is a public health issue. Our relationship with drink needs some serious work. In the context of recent legislation on below cost selling and the like, I would welcome a debate on the issue. The Leader is probably trying to arrange for same because it was requested a couple of weeks ago.
Litter is an issue that seems to have reared its head in Dublin in recent times. Some years ago a rebate system operated when one returned glass bottles. We could do worse than introduce a rebate system to encourage the recycling of plastic bottles and containers which are deposited. Dublin City Council, in particular, could introduce a scheme and perhaps give 10 cent per glass or plastic bottle recycled. In an international context, a number of cities across the world have successfully implemented the scheme and people receive anywhere between 5 cent and 20 cent per glass or plastic bottle returned. The money spent on the rebate can easily be offset against the benefit of having a cleaner environment in a physical and ecological sense. Dublin City Council had a budgetary surplus coming into this year so there are funds available for this scheme. A trial period of three months could be set aside. If there was a rebate of 5 cent per bottle then a €30,000 funding package could see over 600,000 returned. This is something we should consider.
I support Senator Hayden's request to set aside time for a more substantial debate on housing. I appreciate we debated a Private Members' motion last night on the matter but motions just produce party political statements. It would be worthwhile to have a more substantive presentation on housing problems and options. There are solutions and ideas which need to be debated more fully. I ask the Leader to facilitate such a debate. Housing is one of the great national problems. A duty of the House of the Oireachtas is to debate national problems. We could be of some assistance to the Government in putting forward ideas.
I also support Senator van Turnhout's comments on the drinks campaign, or whatever it describes itself as.
The drinks industry has sensed a certain degree of weakness on the Government's part following the decision not to pursue a ban on advertising by drinks companies in the context of sports events. That was a fundamental error. There is now a view in certain sectors of the drinks industry that they will be able to browbeat the Government further. We are all aware of the profound problems caused across society by the excessive consumption of alcohol, our greatest social problem which stretches into criminal behaviour, societal and family breakdown and requires an urgent national debate. It is a debate that does not require to be led by the drinks industry but by the Department, the Government, politicians and community leaders. Senator Jillian van Turnhout's views are shared by many of us. The issue is worthy of debate and further consideration.
I refer to the second or third PR stunt by the Minister for Health, Deputy Leo Varadkar. On 5 February he announced that the Cabinet had approved proposals to require restaurants, takeaway establishments and all food service outlets to post calorie details of all meals on menus alongside the price point where food was ordered. In his press release the Minister stated he was very concerned about the level of obesity in Ireland. He said the latest figures indicated that two out of every three adults and one in four children were overweight or obese. Michelin star chef Derry Clarke said he was completely against the move which was beyond ridiculous. If one wants people to lose weight, sofas, televisions and laptops should be taxed. It is not all about calories; it is about moving. The Government's plan to introduce calorie counts on restaurant menus is a complete farce. It does not take the reality of the restaurant industry into account and will cause huge damage to restaurants, especially the smaller independent establishments for which Ireland has gained a reputation for quality during the years. I understand completely that McDonald's and KFC have the same menus day in and day out and, as such, could cope with the plan to fix menu items. However, many restaurants with creativity and innovation have a pinch of this and a dash of that and change their menu items such that calorie counts are not consistent. These restaurants are extremely busy and run on shoe-string budgets. They cannot afford to have dedicated staff members to calculate calorie counts. I hate to have to say many of our chefs are leaving the country because of the pressure on restaurants by rates and expensive overheads. It is a gift from God to be a brilliant chef, as well as requiring an education. Many of our chefs, including chefs from England and France, are moving abroad, while there are people from abroad coming to this country who are not trained as chefs. They are taking up positions and it is very sad that our own are leaving.
I will be tracking the Minister because he has also abdicated his responsibility for the extension of BreastCheck. It is a farce what he is at in that regard, pretending, as announced on 17 October, that it was going to happen. Reading the small print, if we see it, it will be at the end of 2015.
There has been a great deal of reporting recently in media circles on members of the Traveller community, including Sarah Dunne, the daughter of the Pecker Dunne and a very positive role model in the Traveller community.
Gabh mo leithscéal. I had a number of other people whom I would have liked to name, but I cannot do so. There was an issue the other day involving a Wicklow hurler who had received a great deal of racial abuse because he was a member of the Traveller community. There are positive aspects, including "Norah's Traveller Academy", Norah Casey's television show on RTE, although the Traveller community is often ridiculed in other programmes such as "My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding". However, there is an element in the Travelling community which is not really reported on or spoken about in public; that is, the dark underbelly of criminality. I visited the Natural History Museum next door to Leinster House where I saw that the rhino horns had been removed from the exhibits to prevent them from being taken in a theft operation being run by Traveller gangs. There is a certain propensity for violence. It was reported this morning that a 17 year old girl and a 16 year old boy were being married off in a pre-arranged marriage. I taught as a Traveller support teacher in a school and young girls were coming into my class at 12 and 13 years of age who knew whom they would be marrying. That would not be accepted in any other element of society.
I call for a debate in the Chamber with whoever is the relevant Minister. I imagine it is the Department of Justice and Equality, but it is not a matter related to equality. I call on the Minister to come to the House to tell us what measures are being taken. Criminality, lack of respect for law and order and taking the law into one's own hands cannot be tolerated in any section of the community, be it foreign nationals, settled people or members of the Traveller community or paramilitary organisations.
Senator Marc MacSharry raised the question of Aer Lingus. The Government will make a decision on the sale of the 25% share after considering all points from the committee established to inform its deliberations.
I was asked for a debate on the budget of the Department of Health. The Minister was in the House recently to discuss the health service plan and the matter was discussed then. We had a very comprehensive debate on the budget, but we can certainly try to get the Minister to come here again to discuss that matter and those raised by Senator Marc MacSharry this morning.
The debt issue at Sligo County Council was the subject of a Commencement Matter recently when the Minister provided all of the information he had available. Budgets are the responsibility of local authorities which must run their finances in a proper manner. While I note the Senator's points about the expenditure in Sligo on many infrastructure items, in particular, in the past few years, the Minister answered comprehensively only a couple of weeks ago.
Senator Aideen Hayden raised the issue of whether we needed to change the regulatory framework for credit unions and asked for a debate on the matter. She also raised the issue of housing.
We had a comprehensive debate on housing last evening. The Minister was very forthcoming on the Government’s housing strategy. Senator Hayden called for a further debate on home ownership which we will try to arrange.
Senators van Turnhout, Noone and Bradford referred to the Stop Out of Control Drinking campaign and questioned the fact it is funded by a drinks company. They suggested it is a public health issue which could be dealt with by other agencies in the system rather than being sponsored by a drinks company. They called for a debate on alcohol-related harm. We have had debates on this issue in the past but I will ask the Minister to come into the house to address the matter again.
Senators Quinn and Leyden referred to the very good debate in the House on GSOC, the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission. They also commended the efforts of several gardaí in Galway yesterday. I join in congratulating those gardaí on their wonderful work, as well as the work done by all members of the force across the country.
Senator Quinn also raised the issue of the work of Oireachtas committees. Much of the work done by joint Oireachtas committees goes unnoticed by the public and journalists. Journalists tend to go for juicier points made at some committees. However, all the committees do hard work, day in, day out, which is not recognised. I would like feedback from Members if they feel the arrangement for Commencement debates rather than Adjournment debates is more successful.
The idea of that change was to give Members an opportunity to attend committee meetings and the Order of Business later.
Senator Naughton welcomed the allocation of €320,000 for additional funding for festivals nationwide. She also welcomed the awarding of a purple flag for Galway and lauded many initiatives in her native city in this regard.
Senator Zappone called for a debate on the impact of taxation and fiscal policy on human rights, a debate she has called for previously. I will try to get the Minister for Finance, or the Minister of State, Deputy Simon Harris, as she requested, to attend the House to debate this issue. It was the subject of a Christian Aid conference this morning.
Senator Landy congratulated all involved in the 90th national coursing meeting in Clonmel, County Tipperary, recently. He highlighted the activities of some people who interfered with the coursing event. As we will have the Greyhound (Amendment) Bill in the House in the coming months, it will be an opportunity for him to raise those points then.
Senator Leyden called for profile checks of people coming into the country. One cannot discriminate against one set of people coming in from Europe. All the same, I am sure the Garda is keeping everything under control and checking any people with criminal records coming into the country. The force does great work in that regard.
Senator Comiskey complimented the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine on his old-young farmer scheme. Senator Ó Clochartaigh seems not to realise that unemployment has decreased from 15% to 10.6%. On his question about the recent arrests of people over protests at Jobstown, that is a matter for the Garda and will continue to be so.
Senator Mooney raised the issue of pay and conditions, as did Senator Marc MacSharry several weeks ago, for new Garda recruits. A low pay commission will be set up by the Government. I am sure the point on the early entry rate for civil servants, and gardaí in particular, will form part of the commission’s work.
Senator Cáit Keane raised the increasing use of stolen mobile telephones in burglaries and the new technology that is available to switch off stolen mobile telephones. I suggest she raises it as a Commencement matter to discuss it with the Minister.
On university degrees and University Panel Senators, in my eyes all the Senators are equal.
No, that is George Orwell, not here.
Senator Mooney also praised Fáilte Ireland on the greening of prominent buildings on St. Patrick’s Day across the world. I also compliment the agency on its efforts in this regard.
Senator Jim D’Arcy raised the inclusion support scheme announced by the Minister for Education and Skills which will bring together several services in the education sector. I agree with him that it is a matter on which the Minister should come into the House. I am sure she will be anxious to do so to explain the scheme.
I noted Senator Barrett’s point on the sale of the 25% stake in Aer Lingus. The onus is now on British Airways to provide proper figures. We all agree with him in that regard.
Senator Noone outlined the possibility of a refund on returned plastic bottles to combat litter in Dublin. I am sure Dublin local authorities will take on board her observations. She could raise those points with councillors herself.
Senator Bradford, along with several other Senators, called for a further debate on housing and home ownership. While we had a debate on housing last evening, I am sure the Minister of State, Deputy Paudie Coffey, will come into the House to discuss this matter again. Senator Bradford also raised the excessive use of alcohol and that no strategy in combating this should be led by the drinks industry.
Senator White does not agree with the Minister for Health, Deputy Leo Varadkar, on the posting of calories on menus. It has been embraced by several restaurants. There are other restaurants for which it will present difficulties. I would not say, however, that the posting of calories on menus is causing chefs to move abroad. That is stretching it a little too far.
Senator Heffernan raised criminality of some in the Traveller community. There is criminality in all sections of the community, a point which he clarified. He called for a debate on law and order which we will try and arrange with the Minister for Justice and Equality.