Seanad debates

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

2:30 pm

Photo of Maurice CumminsMaurice Cummins (Fine Gael)
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The Order of Business is No. 1, Gender Recognition Bill 2014 - Report and Final Stages, to be taken at 4.45 p.m.

Photo of Marc MacSharryMarc MacSharry (Fianna Fail)
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I ask for a debate on equality in our education system. As the Leader may be aware, there have been a number of court cases relating to University College Galway, UCG, - this is not to involve ourselves in court cases but it concerns equality in terms of promotional prospects. It is a very serious issue in St Angela's College in Sligo, which is the only constituent college of what we would have called the National University of Ireland north of the Dublin-Galway line. As part of the merger of that institution and UCG, it is proposed that the college lecturers, who have in the main the same qualifications, excellent educational outcomes and equality in all other ways, should transfer as less than equals and be known simply as university teachers. We cannot have a scenario where elitism and what is effectively the unfounded superiority complex of UCG are seen to displace the rightful career paths of people of PhD standard in terms of qualifications and to downgrade them to university teachers. I have written to the Minister for Education and Skills about this issue but as a House, we need to debate this issue because we cannot allow this kind of elitism to prevent people from having their rightful status in line with their qualifications and experience.

Following on from my call last week relating to the debts of smaller local authorities, could the Leader arrange a debate on local government funding, particularly those local government areas that do not have a robust funding mechanism compared to the large authorities in Dublin such as Fingal which has Dublin Airport as part of its rates base giving it the extraordinary position of having €100 million on deposit. Sligo has been told by the Department to close libraries. This is fundamentally wrong. Members of the other House, particularly Deputy Tony McLoughlin, have pointed out that this is an issue for the council and that the council need not close libraries. I remind this House and Deputy McLoughlin that it is the Government that needs to step in to help fund a local authority which does not have means to fund itself. That is essential.

The main point I wanted to raise today was to propose an amendment to the Order of Business to have the Minister for Health come to the House. We have seen again today crocodile tears being shed by a Minister who says he will redouble his efforts to deal with a crisis where 551 people are on trolleys throughout the country rather than where they should be. One remembers very clearly the tears of the emotional Deputy Reilly when he was judging the Government of the day on how it was dealing with it. One can only wonder what he might think of the blunder of this particular Government as we have 551 people on trolleys in all hospitals in the country, particularly Limerick which stands out with some 55 people on trolleys. When is the Government going to get to grips with this crisis? Last week, I outlined the fact that in correspondence to the Department of Health last September, the HSE looked for €1.4 billion. What did the Government do? It gave it an extra €100 million. I listened to some experts in the field on the radio as I came in here. They pointed out that this is down to resources. This is down to funding and was completely predictable. Indeed it was predicted. The Minister saying that the Government is going to redouble its efforts simply does not cut the mustard. It is amazing in the extreme that for all the dynamism the Minister appears to have as a politician, he has managed to surpass the level of mediocrity and failure his predecessor, Deputy Reilly, showed in this area.

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Independent)
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I think all colleagues will want to join with me in condemning the shootings in Denmark at the weekend coming so soon after the terrible killings in France in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo affair.I note there is now a most unfortunate atmosphere of fear and intimidation around the issue of free speech. We had a meeting in Trinity College last night on that topic, which had obviously been arranged for some time. There was a heavy security presence because the issue is now seen as one attracting violence. It is something we should all condemn in the interests of democracy and free speech.

I welcomed the publication and approval by the Cabinet today of detailed provisions of the children and family relationships Bill. Those proposed measures have already been through pre-legislative scrutiny at the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality. I look forward to the debate we will have on that Bill, so perhaps the Leader can say when it is likely to come before the House. I understand that it will go to the Dáil first, probably next week.

The legislation deserves a general welcome. Indeed, at the committee hearings it received a general welcome from almost all stakeholders and NGOs. It is a child-centred reform of family law designed to meet the needs of children living in diverse families. It will give children greater rights in those diverse families. It will provide for parentage, guardianship, custody and access in a reformed manner across a range of family situations. I welcome that positive step forward.

I also welcome the policy on small schools announced today by the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan. It is a new policy to support sustainable school communities. The Minister spoke of having attended a small rural school herself, as I did in Cork. The Minister referred to two new elements in the policy, both of which are hugely important. They involve improved changes to the staffing schedule in small schools and a voluntary protocol for future sustainability for one-teacher schools, with reduced enrolments. That is a key issue and I look forward to a debate on the new policy.

I welcome the launch of the Labour Party's marriage equality referendum campaign last Thursday, as well as today's launch of Labour Youth's campaign in support of the marriage equality referendum. I know that other parties and groups will be launching their campaigns in the coming days and weeks.

Photo of Sean BarrettSean Barrett (Independent)
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Those advocating the takeover of Aer Lingus by British Airways have appeared at the Joint Committee on Transport and Communications. I must inform the House that not one route resulted from that PR performance. All they want to do is take over an existing airline. What is the performance of British Airways from Manchester, Birmingham, Belfast, Glasgow and Edinburgh on the North Atlantic? The answer is five zeros because they operate no services on the North Atlantic. What is their performance in Irish regional airports? It is yet another five zeros. There are no services at Derry, Shannon, Cork, Kerry or Knock. People in the regions are quite right to be concerned about what is going on in this PR campaign, without any substance being conducted at all. I gather there is another session today.

There are even questions that Parliament has no right to tell aviation executives what they can do because they run the industry better. There is a strong body of literature against anti-competitive mergers in any business, however, including that one. Parliament can hold its head high on this. I looked up the Official Report of the Dáil on 27 June 1984. When legislation was then proposed by airlines to put people in jail for two years and impose a fine of £100,000 for selling airline tickets too cheaply, the rebels were Des O'Malley, Hugh Coveney, John Wilson, Liam Skelly, Pádraig Flynn and Monica Barnes. All the parties got together and said: "We don't take legislation dictated to us by airlines." When the then Fianna Fáil Party Whip was asked to put the legislation through on the nod, the formula he used in order not to be pushed in that direction read as follows: "I know the terminology here is governed by technical reasons, but the answer is 'no' for the record. However, to overcome the regulations with which we have to comply, the answer is 'yes'." That stopped the Bill no doubt because of the confusion, but we may need to do that again.

The PR campaign to end Aer Lingus as an independent airline should be resisted by all parliamentarians. We did it in 1984 and we will do it again. We will not be dictated to by the PR departments of either Aer Lingus or British Airways.

Photo of Catherine NooneCatherine Noone (Fine Gael)
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I call for a debate on the introduction of plain cigarette packaging, especially now that the tobacco lobby is threatening legal action on the matter. It shows an astonishing nerve and I can only hope that the Government sticks to its guns and brings in this legislation. I listened to the discussion about this matter on the radio this morning.If the tobacco industry does not believe plain packaging works, why is it opposing is so vigorously and investing so many resources in doing so? The argument of counterfeit tobacco products has been raised fairly extensively by the lobby. If the illicit tobacco trade is so rife and growing, surely packaging associated entirely with anti-counterfeiting measures, as opposed to distracting brands, fonts and colours, will be harder to counterfeit than the current packets, given that the security features are just one single component thereof. Statistics highlight what many of us know to be true: plain packaging works.

Photo of Sean BarrettSean Barrett (Independent)
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Hear, hear.

Photo of Catherine NooneCatherine Noone (Fine Gael)
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As we know, plain packaging was introduced in Australia in December 2012, and the latest Australian Government statistics show that the proportion of Australians smoking is at its lowest since records began. Smoking rates are falling there at their fastest in 20 years. The daily smoking rate has declined from 15.1% in 2010 to 12.8% in 2013. The statistics, which I will not go into in detail, show that younger people are delaying the taking up of smoking. Everybody knows that the younger one starts, the more likely one is to be addicted in the longer term. Further research from Australia shows that when smoking cigarettes from a plain packet, smokers are 81% more likely to think about quitting at least once a day, and they rate quitting as a higher priority in their lives. Dozens of peer-reviewed studies have shown that plain packaging will ultimately reduce the attractiveness of cigarettes and reduce the ability of packaging to mislead consumers into believing some products are less harmful. It will increase the noticeability, recollection and impact of health warnings and messages. I find the legal threats of the tobacco industry to be disappointing, to say the least. I call for a debate in the near future on plain packaging and its introduction in the context of these legal threats.

Photo of Terry LeydenTerry Leyden (Fianna Fail)
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I second the proposal to amend the Order of Business made by Senator Marc MacSharry, who outlined very well the inadequate work of the Minister for Health, Deputy Varadkar. He is very disappointing. When he was eight years of age, he set out to be Minister. He had an ambition or dream to be Minister; perhaps it has become a nightmare since he went into Hawkins House. He is terribly ineffective. I just cannot understand why he does not do a tour of all the accident and emergency departments to see what is happening on the ground and find out how ineffective the management of those departments is throughout the country. There is total mismanagement on the ground. The Minister, if he were doing his job, would tour every accident and emergency department and use his position as Minister to try to bring about improvements. Basically, he is a complete failure in his Department and should be removed. There should be a vote of no confidence in him in the Dáil. If my colleagues there would listen to me, they would have one. It is what I would do about the Minister. It is all spin and no action; it is all PR. The Minister is on television day and night coming out with the same old stuff - claptrap.

I support the campaign by Ms Roseanne Brennan, who is on a vigil outside Leinster House until tomorrow calling for a change in the law on speed limits in housing estates in memory of her son, Jake, who died in June 2014 at the age of six. I commend her, her supporters and friends on holding a vigil in the cold outside Leinster House to try to persuade the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, to change the law to reduce the speed limit in housing estates to 20 km/h. I suggest that 30 km/h would be a very good compromise. One hundred and ninety-seven people died on our roads in 2014, including 16 children under the age of 15. These are horrific statistics. The campaign Ms Brennan has launched will bring about results. One party has brought forward a proposal in the Dáil, which is being debated at present. I hope that, in this House, we will support a change in this regard. The bylaws being proposed by the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, are really matters for each authority to consider but, to be effective, the Minister should not send out another circular or make a statement such as that issued on 15 October 2014. Ministers in this Government are losing their way. They are ineffective and not dynamic enough.

Photo of Catherine NooneCatherine Noone (Fine Gael)
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The Senator should know about it.

Photo of Terry LeydenTerry Leyden (Fianna Fail)
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They just send out plenty of surplus.

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

Photo of Terry LeydenTerry Leyden (Fianna Fail)
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It is all PR and no action. The quicker we have a general election, the better. The Government members are a tired bunch of people. I hope they will go to the country and get the results they genuinely deserve. Out, out, out.

Photo of John KellyJohn Kelly (Labour)
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I read an article in the Irish Examineryesterday which stated that the executive of Cork County Council has warned local authority members not to engage in any discussion about wind farm developments that are proposed for the country of Cork because the wind farm developers have threatened to sue Cork County Council if there is debate on them once they apply for planning permission. We are moving from a situation where there is no engagement with local communities and there is no proper consultation to one where we are stifling debate on the future of wind farms. These wind farm developers are using bully-boy tactics because they have the money to do so. It is a disgrace. They are not recognising the considerable resistance by people to wind farm developments. The local authority members are elected by the people to express their views on behalf of the people. I only want to put it on the record of the House that it is bully-boy tactics to stop resistance to wind farms.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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On my way in to the Chamber I was confronted by a protestor, which is perfectly legitimate, who held a placard stating, "Children have rights". It was about the marriage equality referendum. I would agree that children have rights. They have the right not to be treated as shuttlecocks in a political dispute, and this is what is happening. They talk about children having a right to a father and mother. Every child has a father and mother. Some 33% of births in the State are outside marriage. These are to single women. I doubt these people propose going back to the old days in which their views reigned and the children of single parents were wrenched from them and put into institutions where they were brutalised or exported to Australia or America. That leaves one possibility only, that they are attacking people because they are gay. That is the only reason. We must confront this kind of prejudice and the presentation of an absolute and perfect ideal of heterosexual marriage.

Marriage is a wonderful institution, but it is a human institution. It has changed since its inception. It only became a sacrament in the Roman Catholic Church in the middle of the 16th century, that is, three quarters of the way through the history of Christianity. It was incorporated into British law in the middle of the 18th century, which is not that long ago either. People were forbidden to marry black people. Jewish people who marry outside their religion are expelled from it. There have been many preclusions. Marriage is vital. It is a social institution and it is changing. I would quote one of the people I admire most of all in the history of this country, the great advocate of Catholic emancipation, Daniel O'Connell, who, confronted by this kind of narrow-minded dog-in-the-manger selfishness about extending liberties to Roman Catholics, made the point that human dignity is not a cake like the national product where the more one divides it up, the less there is. Rather it increases, so that the more one gives dignity and respect to citizens, the more everybody in society is enriched. For that reason, I say register and vote "Yes" triumphantly.

Photo of Terry BrennanTerry Brennan (Fine Gael)
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I, too, spoke to the protestors outside. Mrs. Brennan - of course, the name was good and I had to make it my business to talk to her - had concerns about speeding in housing estates. I have been campaigning for the past 15 years, both at local authority level and in the Seanad. Speed limit signs anywhere are a complete and utter waste of money and time. There is only one way to reduce the speed limit outside schools, in housing estates and in dangerous locations, and that is through the use of what are called speed bumps. I called them ramps for years. The proper designation is speed bumps. The protestors out there agree with me. They talk about 20 km/h and 30 km/h speed limits.Nobody patrols them and it is unreasonable to expect gardaí to do so. I have photographs of various schools and estates throughout the country which need speed bumps.

The achievement of the Irish cricket team in New Zealand in beating one of the top teams in the world was wonderful. This must not be let go.

Loop Head peninsula in County Clare has been listed in the top 100 green locations in the world. This was planned by the local community in conjunction with Clare County Council, Fáilte Ireland and various bodies. What the community has and what this will mean should not go unheeded.

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

Photo of Terry BrennanTerry Brennan (Fine Gael)
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The community there works together as we did where I come from in Carlingford. We should encourage other communities to follow in the footsteps of the Loop Head community.

Photo of Feargal QuinnFeargal Quinn (Independent)
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Last year we introduced a Bill on food provenance, whereby every product should state its source, which the Minister turned down on the grounds that legislation would be introduced at a European level, and therefore we withdrew the Bill. However, to the best of my knowledge nothing has happened since then and look what happened this week. The Irish Farmers Association detected that pigmeat being sold in a number of outlets as Irish pigmeat was not. This is a real reminder of why we need more than goodwill to ensure that people who buy a product know what they are buying and know the product they are getting comes from the source from which they understand it to come. It is time we recognise changes are taking place in the marketplace. Let us ensure we protect our citizens from eating something other than what they thought they bought.

It was very interesting to hear Senator Barrett speak about the 1980s and an attempt by Aer Lingus, or the Government of the day, to accuse us of selling air tickets too cheaply and making it illegal to do so. It is a reminder that the marketplace works because of competition. Let us ensure we continue this competition, no matter where it comes from. I can remember the outrageous prices we paid for airline tickets to get from here to London until we had competition, which was not welcomed and had much criticism. It is a reminder that the marketplace, no matter where it is, does change and it is changing in many different ways.

I introduced the topic of competition with regard to post offices a while ago, but Senator Bacik stated it was probably better handled in a different way. There is little doubt there is competition, and the postmasters are quite concerned about it. They will have to adjust to whatever happens. It is interesting to see that in two shops, one of which is in the midlands, An Post has introduced two outlets for selling postal services. It is a reminder that the marketplace is changing. Let us ensure we as a nation adjust to the marketplace for the benefit of consumers.

Photo of John WhelanJohn Whelan (Labour)
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I support my colleagues, Senators Kelly, Noone and Barrett, so the Seanad robustly rejects and resents any interference or attempt to silence democratic representation. It is our job to interfere, to engage and to represent the community and public interest. We will not be told by officials in Cork County Council that we cannot make robust representations on planning issues, particularly the planning of wind farms and giant and industrial turbines. We would be negligent if we did not do so.

It is outrageous in the extreme that the tobacco industry has threatened the Government that if it does not back off on plain packaging, it will take the country to the High Court. How dare it do so.

Photo of John WhelanJohn Whelan (Labour)
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Let us see it in court. We will see how that pans out. We will not back down.

Similarly, the House will not back away from speaking loudly and rejecting IAG's proposal to buy Aer Lingus. As Senator Barrett stated, the board will appear before the transport committee today and tell us how the proposal is a great idea, but it has skin in the game and its members stand to make a financial killing from their shareholdings.

Photo of John WhelanJohn Whelan (Labour)
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We must look past that vested interest and put community, national and strategic long-term interests first for towns and cities like Waterford and Cork, the midlands, Mayo, Limerick, Shannon and so on. We will not sell out. People would like to silence us, but we will not be silenced. We have an expert in Senator Barrett, an independent and credible economist who has nothing to gain from his views. We do not always agree, but he speaks on behalf of the public interest at all times.

Public patience is wearing thin as regards the planning of wind farms. We need new statutory and binding guidelines that are coherent and consistently applied across the country. It would be timely to invite the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government to the House in the coming weeks to announce the new guidelines.

Photo of Gerard CraughwellGerard Craughwell (Independent)
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I call on the Leader to arrange as quickly as possible a debate on the current state of law and order. I live in the peaceful suburbs of south County Dublin. Recently, I attended a meeting called by Deputy Ross. A senior member of An Garda Síochána was also present. Deputy Ross invited members of the public to speak. A young lady stood up and asked the most dangerous and risky question I have ever heard, in that she asked anyone at the meeting whose home had been broken into in recent times to raise a hand. Every single hand in the hall was raised, my own included. I had a beautiful, restored Honda 50 motorcycle taken from outside my door at 6.20 p.m. I live on the busiest road in my area. The Luas stop is five minutes' walk from my house. To get from there to any house in my estate, one must pass mine. As thousands of people were passing it on their way home from work, blackguards walked away with my motorcycle.

On Saturday evening, I was watching television when I heard banging. It was 7 p.m. and people were coming home from shopping. Two guys were at my next door neighbour's house trying to kick the front door down. The boot marks are still there for anyone who wants to see them.

The Garda closed its station in Stepaside some years ago and law and order is at the level of anarchy. Opportunists hit three houses in a row. My estate is not the only one suffering. Any Senator could relate similar examples.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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Is the Senator looking for a debate?

Photo of Gerard CraughwellGerard Craughwell (Independent)
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I would appreciate a debate as a matter of urgency.

Photo of Michael ComiskeyMichael Comiskey (Fine Gael)
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I welcome the fact that the Minister of State, Deputy Harris, visited Sligo on Friday to examine coastal erosion around Rosses Point. I raised the matter as early as 2007 after people approached me about the danger, which still exists, to its golf course. The former Minister of State, Mr. Brian Hayes, MEP, granted €800,000 or thereabouts to Sligo County Council to carry out repair work, but more money must be allocated because the erosion is continuing. Something needs to be done.

Also on Friday, we met a group from Kiltyclogher regarding Seán Mac Diarmada's house. I have often mentioned this matter. It is important that resources be put in place ahead of the 2016 celebrations so that we can put that famous house on the map. It is in the same condition in which Seán Mac Diarmada left it in 1913 or 1914. The Office of Public Works, OPW, has replaced the roof of that beautiful cottage, but I look forward to more work being done ahead of 2016.As already mentioned, the progress being made on small schools is another issue about which we have been approached. There are many small schools in County Leitrim and west Cavan. We are constantly being contacted and asked to ensure that everything possible is being done to ensure retention of small schools in rural communities.

Photo of Diarmuid WilsonDiarmuid Wilson (Fianna Fail)
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More than 2,000 professionals and volunteers involved in the child care sector gathered outside the gates of Leinster House this afternoon. It was a peaceful gathering, the purpose of which was to highlight the gross under-funding of the child care sector. Despite many representations to various Ministers and Departments, this sector has been starved of adequate funding for the past number of years.

As I said, the 2,000 professionals and volunteers outside Leinster House today came together to highlight the inadequate funding being provided to the child care sector. A number of people from County Cavan formed part of that gathering, some of whom had left home early this morning so as to be on time for the demonstration this afternoon. When I attempted to bring a small number of them into Leinster House for a cup of tea and a sandwich, I was prevented from gaining access with them. Ordinary, decent members of the public were refused entrance to their Parliament. I do not blame the Head Usher or any of his colleagues for this but I do want to know why I, as a public representative, was prevented from bringing these law-abiding people into their national parliament and not afforded the opportunity of giving them a cup of tea and a sandwich. I was accompanied by a senior Member of the Lower House, my colleague, Deputy Brendan Smith. This has never happened to him before. I understand that another colleague of this House was prevented from bringing three or four people into Leinster House.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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That is a matter that could be brought to the attention of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges, CPP.

Photo of Diarmuid WilsonDiarmuid Wilson (Fianna Fail)
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I want to put the Cathaoirleach on notice that I intend writing to him, as Chairman of the CPP, about this matter. I felt it necessary to raise this matter on the Order of Business this afternoon because I think what happened is absolutely disgraceful.

Photo of Michael MullinsMichael Mullins (Fine Gael)
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I support my colleague, Senator Noone, and others in the request for a debate on the legal threats to Government by the cigarette companies. This is one battle we must win given the damage caused by tobacco to people's health and the cost to the Exchequer in that regard. My only concern is the counterfeit issue. I hope that packaging and security will be such that the particular concern which retailers have can be addressed so that this cannot be used as an excuse to back away from what Government intends to do in this area.

I also call for a debate on our most unhealthy relationship with alcohol. I acknowledge that we have already had several debates in this House on the issue and that there legislation in this regard in the pipeline. However, I am prompted to raise this issue again following reports across all of the media today of 500 students queueing outside a pub in Galway at 10 a.m. waiting to get in to celebrate Donegal day.

Photo of Michael MullinsMichael Mullins (Fine Gael)
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I understand the students concerned had travelled from all over the country. I have no problem with students or anybody else having a few drinks. I am told that up to lunch time no problems or issues had arisen.However, I am very concerned about the condition many of those students will be in by closing time tonight-----

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Independent)
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Hear, hear.

Photo of Michael MullinsMichael Mullins (Fine Gael)
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-----the potential damage to their health and to other citizens of Galway city and the potential disruption and anti-social behaviour that may arise. Much has been written recently, and there has been much debate in all media, on the impact of alcohol abuse in our society, including the impact on health and the cost to the health service. A Senator on the other side of the House referred to problems in accident and emergency departments, but 25% of the people who present at accident and emergency departments every weekend do so as a result of excessive use of alcohol.

We must keep this issue at the top of the agenda and have plenty of discussion about it. This House has a crucial role to play in trying to get the message across that drinking in this country is out of control. Even Diageo, which has a vested interest, is prepared to spend €1 million to highlight the fact that drinking is out of control in this country. We must utilise this House to get the message across to people that we have a problem and it must be addressed.

Photo of Paschal MooneyPaschal Mooney (Fianna Fail)
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I understand this matter was raised earlier but I wish to put my views about it on the record. Senator Noone spoke about the plain cigarette packaging legislation which was quite rightly passed by this House last year, with all party and non-party support. What has angered me considerably is reports in the media that one of the largest tobacco manufacturers in the world is now sending letters threatening legal action against the sovereign Irish Government. If ever there was a case of an outrageous action by a corporate body, that is a perfect example. Those of us who have followed the tobacco lobby over the last number of years should not be surprised, because its members are among the most unscrupulous group of people one could encounter.

Photo of Paschal MooneyPaschal Mooney (Fianna Fail)
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Films have been made about the American tobacco lobby. One of them - I cannot remember its title now - received a great deal of acclaim some years ago. It depicted the lengths to which the tobacco lobby will go to get people to use the product. That is not the point; it is fully entitled to do that. It has a product and it wants to sell it. However, when it starts dictating by sending a legal threat to the sovereign Government of this country, telling it that unless it withdraws the legislation it will be subject to litigation, that goes over the line. I hope the Government will issue a public statement condemning the arrogance of this company, in the first instance, and stating that it will hold firm. The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Reilly, has been quoted today as saying that he will hold firm on this legislation. I hope there will be some response from the Government.

I am not aware of any other occasion on which a corporate entity has threatened a sovereign government over legislation it proposes to pass. The people in the tobacco industry should be made aware that one half of the democratic structure of this Parliament has already passed this Bill, having debated it openly and in a democratic fashion. It fully supported it. I suggest that the company and the other company that has sent briefing notes to Senators might get their act together and realise that the Bill is a Seanad Bill, having been introduced first in this House, debated fully and passed unanimously. I hope the same will happen in the Dáil and that two fingers, or something similar in political terms, will be given to this company and to the tobacco lobby in general. It talks about paying more than €600 million in tax, but there is no talk about the billions this State spends on the health of people who have been smoking through the years. Everybody is aware of the amount of money that could be saved by the health service in this country if fewer people were smoking.

Photo of Marie MoloneyMarie Moloney (Labour)
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I second what Senator Mooney said about the tobacco industry and the pressure it is putting on the Government.It is a disgrace to be honest. I heard them on radio today saying they were not selling any less cigarettes so I do not see what their problem is.

I welcome the announcement made today by the Minister for Education and Skills about the new policy for retaining small schools, particularly in isolated areas. I know about the matter because where I come from, in south Kerry, a number of small schools are in danger of losing a teacher and some of them are in danger of closing. I am delighted to welcome the Minister's news today. I have circulated her announcement to the schools in question and await their comments. I hope their comments will be favourable. A small school is the heart of any community. Many of us attended small schools and they were places of learning. We are very proud of rural schools and we would like to keep open as many of them as possible.

Photo of Fidelma Healy EamesFidelma Healy Eames (Fine Gael)
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I heard all about Donegal Tuesday for about two hours when I listened to "Liveline" this afternoon. This morning at 8.45 a.m., 500 young people queued outside a particular public house in Galway. Apparently this is a new tradition that started about four or five years ago, and since Donegal won the all-Ireland, where people don Donegal shirts and queue. Really it was queuing to commence binge drinking when the pub opened at 10.30 a.m. I fear what state those young people will be in by now. I fear for their health, their well-being and for other people's property. As a parent of young people, it is difficult to fight this culture of binge drinking.

Photo of Fidelma Healy EamesFidelma Healy Eames (Fine Gael)
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I am being straight when I say it is impossible to fight such a culture alone and families are finding this really tough. We have to start breaking down this culture. It is hard to change culture but we have begun to be successful in terms of drink driving, for example. I call on the Leader to say to the Minister in charge of this matter that we need a systematic plan to combat binge drinking. It is an awful shame that we did not break the link between sports advertising and drink. We have gone some way towards doing so but it is not good enough. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister here and start a serious debate on the matter.

I ask the Leader to arrange an urgent debate on the Children and Family Relationship Bill which received approval from the Cabinet today to proceed. The Minister for Health's article in the Irish Independent today was factually incorrect. He put it on paper and published that there will be no legal change as a result of the same sex marriage referendum. How incorrect is that?

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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He was quite right.

Photo of Fidelma Healy EamesFidelma Healy Eames (Fine Gael)
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He was incorrect.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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I ask the Senator to explain the matter.

Photo of Fidelma Healy EamesFidelma Healy Eames (Fine Gael)
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We need a debate.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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We can have that debate when the Bill comes to the House.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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The urge the Senator not to make a statement without explaining it.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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What was it on? Explain it.

Photo of Martin ConwayMartin Conway (Fine Gael)
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I, too, join with colleagues in terms of the threats from cigarette companies concerning the Government's positive initiative for plain packaging. I have spoken in this House, by proposing Adjournment debates and on the Order of Business on numerous occasions, about the sneaky tactics that these cigarette companies use to peddle their products, particularly the cash and benefit-in-kind incentives they make available to young people working in supermarkets and shops around this country in order to encourage them to peddle their disgusting and dangerous wares. The Minister for Health has covered himself in glory in the way he has taken these people on. If he is remembered for nothing else in his political career, but for taking on these bully boys, then he will have done a great job.

There is another big abuse that takes place in this country, namely, the abuse of alcohol. The number of alcohol addiction places provided by the public health system is shameful. They do not number over 100 even though alcohol abuse is a major problem in this country. We must get real. We must put structures in place to facilitate people who find themselves in the dreadful position of being addicted to alcohol and help them beat their addiction.On a more positive note, I would like to finish by agreeing with my good colleague, Senator Brennan, in his description of Loop Head. Many people may not realise it but the Taoiseach’s grandfather was the lighthouse keeper for many years in Loop Head. The Taoiseach had an enjoyable experience when he visited his grandfather's old home in Loop Head about two years ago. The community in Loop Head has done a magnificent job, in collaboration with the local authority and other tourism bodies. Councillor Gabriel Keating spearheaded this project and as a county and a country we owe him a huge debt of gratitude for having the vision and foresight to drive this project. This is now considered one of the top 100 green destinations in the world and this can only auger well for County Clare. It is a fitting complement to the Cliffs of Moher visitor experience.

Photo of Maurice CumminsMaurice Cummins (Fine Gael)
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Senator MacSharry called for a debate on equality in education, particularly about teacher promotional prospects. We will try to arrange such a debate.

The funding of local government was also raised. This matter has been the subject of Commencement debates in the past few weeks, with specific reference to Sligo County Council. We will try to get the Minister, Deputy Kelly, to come to the House in early course to address the issue of local government funding.

There was amendment proposed to the Order of Business which I do not propose to accept. The amendment requests that we call the Minister for Health, Deputy Varadkar, to the House. He has been here recently discussing the health service plan and budgets. He is trying to reform the system.

Photo of Terry LeydenTerry Leyden (Fianna Fail)
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It is not succeeding.

Photo of Maurice CumminsMaurice Cummins (Fine Gael)
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If it was only down to resources, the situation would have been solved a long number of years ago when resources were thrown at it. However, the system got worse. I totally reject Senator Leyden’s assertion that accident and emergency departments throughout the country are mismanaged. I would like to compliment doctors, nurses and all involved in accident and emergency departments for their efforts and work in very difficult and sometimes overcrowded circumstances. They certainly should not be in any way castigated as was done by the Senator.

Photo of Terry LeydenTerry Leyden (Fianna Fail)
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The Minister is not doing his job.

Photo of Maurice CumminsMaurice Cummins (Fine Gael)
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The Minister is doing everything possible. The 50 managers of the hospitals were invited to meet the Minister yesterday. Of course there is quite an increase in flu-related admissions to our hospitals. The Government has allocated €25 million in a national service plan and that is being used as planned in providing additional funding for 50 transitionary care beds in the greater Dublin area and 65 bedrooms are to come on stream in Mount Carmel on a phased basis. There are quite a number of other areas where the Minister is working as best as he can to address this situation. The Government regards the whole system of trolley waits as unacceptable and is doing everything possible to address the situation. The Minister is doing that.

Senators Bacik and Healy Eames referred to the Children and Family Relationships Bill. Senator Norris also referred to quite a number of issues that will come under the remit of that Bill in dealing with children, families, marriage, dignity and respect, as the Senator mentioned. We will have ample time to discuss this Bill when it comes before us. It has to go through the other House first so I am not in a position to say when we will get the Bill in this House. I assure the House that with the co-operation of all Members, we will have ample and sufficient time to debate that Bill. The same will be the case with the referendum Bills. We will provide sufficient time to discuss those Bills. There will be no guillotine.

Senators Bacik and Moloney welcomed the new policy on small schools announced by the Minister for Education and Skills.I hope that will end the scare tactics and the scaremongering that has gone on for quite some time in relation to the Government's supposed intention to close small schools.

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Independent)
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Hear, hear.

Photo of Maurice CumminsMaurice Cummins (Fine Gael)
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I am sure this will be welcomed throughout rural Ireland, in particular. The Government has been criticised in rural Ireland in the context of the possible closure of schools. I hope this policy nails that lie on the head at this stage.

Senator Barrett has raised the question of Aer Lingus on a number of occasions in recent weeks. He has said that public representatives will not be swayed by the power of public relations companies and will make informed decisions on Aer Lingus. I note the very salient points he has made on this issue, as he did previously at the Joint Committee on Transport and Communications.

Senators Noone, Mullins, Whelan, Mooney, Moloney and Conway spoke about the threat by a tobacco company to take legal action against the State with regard to the plain packaging of tobacco. When the Minister, Deputy Reilly, declared his intentions in this regard and said there would be no going back, I welcomed his proposals. Senator Mooney mentioned that this House unanimously supported the Bill that provided for the plain packaging of tobacco. The Seanad has been very firm on the issue.

Photo of Sean BarrettSean Barrett (Independent)
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Hear, hear.

Photo of Maurice CumminsMaurice Cummins (Fine Gael)
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I am sure the other House and the Government will stand firm and stand up to these threats from the tobacco company.

Senators Leyden and Brennan referred to the question of reducing the speed limit in housing estates. Everybody agrees that something will have to be done. Perhaps the best course of action involves putting up signs stating that the speed limit is 20 km/h, installing speed ramps or including speed ramps in the planning conditions for all estates. Such issues will have to be considered. We all agree that it is a question of what we can do and how it can be enforced. Something will certainly have to be done in this regard.

Photo of Maurice CumminsMaurice Cummins (Fine Gael)
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Senator Brennan also complimented the Irish cricket team. He was joined by Senator Conway in complimenting the community down in the Loop Head Peninsula on its efforts in promoting Loop Head, which is now in the top 100 green destinations in the world. Senator Conway particularly complimented Councillor Keating on his stewardship in that regard.

Senator Quinn pointed out that a Bill on food provenance was introduced last year. My understanding is that this issue was discussed in the European Parliament a couple of weeks ago. I am not quite sure what has transpired on foot of that. I do not know whether legislation or directives have been introduced. I read that the whole question of labelling was discussed in the European Parliament. We will try to get an update on that. It has been highlighted that 30% of pig produce which is labelled as "Irish" is not Irish at all. I note Senator Quinn's points about how the marketplace works. I think competition is the key to that. The Senator mentioned a number of things, including An Post, when he spoke about the need to adapt to the marketplace. I think we all agree. Senator Quinn is one of the experts in relation to the marketplace and adapting to the marketplace.

Senator Whelan spoke about the need for public representatives to speak out on issues. He mentioned the threats from the tobacco industry and to Cork County Council from wind energy interests. He said we need to have a debate on the statutory guidelines for wind farms. We have had a number of debates on this issue. I will ask the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government whether he is in a position to outline the statutory guidelines. If he is ready to announce them, I will ask him to do so in this House, as requested by Senator Whelan. Senator Craughwell called for a debate on law and order. He outlined the number of burglaries in his area and linked them to the possibility of the closure of Stepaside Garda station. We will invite the Minister for Justice and Equality to the House for a debate on this issue.

Senator Comiskey spoke on coastal erosion in County Sligo, noting that €800,000 in funding was allocated and had been spent. He noted the need for increased finance to combat coastal erosion in the area. This is not a Sligo issue alone, but a national one.

Senator Comiskey mentioned Seán Mac Diarmada's house, which he has mentioned in the House previously, and welcomed the OPW's replacement of the roof, but noted the need for further refurbishment of this very important piece of history.

Senator Wilson spoke on the child care sector and the need for more funding. It has been recognised that more funding is necessary in this area. The Government has taken some steps towards reversing the cuts in the child care sector, in addition to all other sectors, over the last seven or eight years. I take on board the Senator's statements on salaries and wages in the child care sector, which, for qualified people and professionals, are very low. I hope this will be taken into consideration when the low pay commission is up and running. I also note the Senator's point on the refusal of access for some of his constituents. As the Cathaoirleach has mentioned, the Senator might raise this with the Committee on Procedure and Privileges, CPP.

Senators Mullins and Healy Eames spoke about students queuing for access to pubs in Galway at 10.30 a.m. today. I agree with the Senators that our relationship with alcohol needs to be addressed. The public health implications which have been mentioned by a number of Senators must also be taken into consideration. We will be addressing legislation on alcohol. The Minister has outlined that it is hoped to bring the legislation before this House in this session.

We heard from Senator Conway on Loop Head and Senator Moloney on small schools. I mentioned this previously. This covers most of the items.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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Senator Marc MacSharry has tabled an amendment to the Order of Business, "That a debate with the Minister for Health on the large number of people on trolleys in hospitals throughout the State be taken today."

Amendment put:

The Seanad divided: Tá, 14; Níl, 24.



Tellers: Tá, Senators Ned O'Sullivan and Diarmuid Wilson; Níl, Senators Paul Coghlan and Aideen Hayden.

Amendment declared lost.

Question, "That the Order of Business be agreed to," put and declared carried.