Monday, 30 March 2015
Order of Business
This is my first time to be in this privileged position for eight years. I assure the Leader that we on this side of the House will not be opposing the Order of Business today. However, I wish to mention a few things, although I do not wish to be controversial as I am not in the form for it.
When I raised a matter in the House last week, the Leader advised me to table a Commencement Matter. I was going to do so, but now that I have my chance I will raise the matter again. It concerns whole-of-life assurance policies. The amount of mail I have received since I raised the matter last week is incredible. My Fianna Fáil colleague, Deputy Michael McGrath, has previously raised it in the Dáil and I understand he has also been inundated with mail, most of it from people in their sixties and beyond. It concerns covering one's spouse and family following one's death. Many people took out such policies 20 years ago and invested, on average, €100 per month in the expectation that, following their death, their spouse would receive something in the order of €200,000. This provided great comfort for many and their families, but what would happen was never explained to those who took out such policies. After ten years the companies involved are entitled to review the position and can change the premium payable at will. The customer has no say in the matter. After a further ten years the companies involved can do it again and again after a further five years and again after a further five years. If a person is lucky enough to reach the age of 70 years, it appears the companies involved can do so annually. I have a client who started off by paying €100 per month for cover worth €200,000. Twenty years later he is covered for the same amount, for which he is paying €850 per month. He is trapped and has already invested about €50,000. These policies have no surrender value and there is no investment aspect to them. Most people have stopped paying for them, but the money goes straight into the hands of the company involved.
It is one on which I have received a lot of mail and I must tell the truth. The Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, is quite sympathetic, if one sees his response to Deputy Michael McGrath. He believes, however, that the hands of the Financial Ombudsman are tied on the issue, but I am not so sure. Given his stature, will the Leader bring this matter directly to the attention of the Minister?
Will the Leader arrange a debate on the issue of domestic violence following the launch of the report this morning by SAFE Ireland on lawlessness in the home? I was honoured to be invited to launch the report for SAFE Ireland at the Royal Irish Academy. Powerful testimony was given by a survivor of domestic violence and others who had worked on the report.There were some important findings on the inadequacies of the criminal justice and policing system with respect to how we dealt with domestic violence. Some very important recommendations on reforms were also made. The report builds on the work of the Oireachtas justice committee which produced a report last October on the issues of domestic and sexual violence. Other colleagues in the House and I were involved in the compilation of that report. There is also the Garda inspectorate's report from November 2014 which pointed to how policing practice should be improved in dealing with cases of domestic violence. I, therefore, ask the Leader for a debate in early course on domestic violence and, in particular, the recommendations made in the SAFE Ireland report.
I note the negotiation by the UK Secretary of State for Health, Mr. Jeremy Hunt, on an agreement on a meningitis B vaccine with GlaxoSmithKline which acquired the vaccine just three weeks ago. Will the Leader suggest to the Minister for Health that its use be considered in this jurisdiction? We have one of the highest rates of meningitis in Europe and the arrangement has been welcomed by Mr. Jim Wells, the Norther Ireland health Minister. There may be an opportunity to tackle a disease which causes such distress and death for small children and their families.
I note the measures today from the seven universities in the State to attract more students from Northern Ireland. Education in the cause of the peace process is always something to be supported and commended.
It is a tribute to the debates we have had on the Order of Business in this House that today we see that 54% of people would vote "No" to any acquisition of Aer Lingus by British Airways or International Airlines Group, IAG, while only 24% would vote "Yes". Of the people who would vote "No", 50% of Fine Gael voters would vote in such a way, 54% of Labour Party voters and 58% of Independent Member voters. Some 62% of Sinn Féin voters would vote against such a deal, with 66% of Fianna Fáil voters. Today marks the opening of the Edward M. Kennedy Institute in Boston. Last evening the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Charles Flanagan, paid tribute to Mr. Edward Kennedy. With former President Carter and Professor Alfred Kahn, he had made airlines in the United States compete when they wanted to collude. That is an example we might follow in this jurisdiction. Now that we know that approximately 700,000 people watch the Oireachtas TV channel, we know that debates on the Order of Business have helped to shift public opinion away from a very strong campaign in favour of acquisition. I thank the Leader and the Cathaoirleach for this. It will the subject of a Commencement Matter tomorrow. Taking account of the plan for aviation on outer offshore islands, it is very important that we make airlines compete when they want to collude.
There has been a matter in the newspapers in the past few days, with pharmaceutical industries claiming 500 job losses because of Government policy on reducing the cost of drugs. It is important that we provide the right information, that in 2000 the cost of pharmaceuticals to the health boards was €570 million and that by 2008 and 2009 it had increased to over €2 billion. We could not allow this to continue and if we had allowed such a pattern to evolve, we would now be paying a further €1.2 billion on top of the €2 billion we were already paying. We introduced legislation in this House on the use of generic drugs and have had to come from a position where in 2013 only 10% of drugs used were generics. In the United Kingdom the usage rate was approximately 80%. As a result of that legislation, the level of generic drugs used is now at 48%, which represents a major increase. I am not saying we should go down the same road as the United Kingdom to get to an 80% rate, but we certainly need to bring down the cost of pharmaceuticals. In doing so we can bring on-stream new drugs that could be helpful. The media seem to have been attracted to the argument that 500 jobs have been lost, but it does not give the true picture that we have had to deal with to ensure we can continue to provide the health care service we want to provide. However, we must reduce the cost of drugs even more. My understanding is that this year the bill will be approximately €1.8 billion, which is still not low enough. We should certainly be working to bring it down further.
Tacaim leis an moladh atá déanta ag an Seanadóir Bacik go mbeadh díospóireacht againn maidir le cúrsaí foiréigin baile. Is ceist í atá ardaithe againn go rialta sna Tithe seo agus is ceist fíorthábhachtach í. I also welcome the launch of the SAFE Ireland report this morning. Last Friday in Galway Domestic Violence Response launched a billeog as Gaeilge on issues surrounding domestic violence. That debate will be very important. We should note that the Government has severely cut back resources for domestic violence response organisations and that part of the issue is that these bodies are suffering from a lack of resources to deal with the ever-increasing number of telephone calls and representations they are receiving.
I note a very strong opinion piece in The Irish Timestoday by representatives of the Centre for Independent Living on Ireland's need to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. This is an issue that has been raised with me by a local school, Tigh Nan Dooley. I have also spoken of late to people from Inclusion Ireland about the issue. Eight years ago Ireland signed but did not ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities which has since been ratified by 156 countries. The Government continues to argue that it cannot ratify it until we are in compliance with it, specifically Article 12. It also contends that new capacity legislation must be passed. According to the article, it has had more than a decade to get its ducks in a row and, from a legal perspective, there is no impediment to the State ratifying the convention. The article also contends that the Government's failure to ratify the convention is based on policy grounds alone. By signing the convention the State has signified its intention to ratify it. According to Article 18 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, the State is obliged to refrain from acts which would defeat the object or purpose of the treaty. It is outlined in the article to which I have referred that all of the cuts in the past eight years to supports for persons who wish to live independently - they include mobility allowance, the motorised transport grant, benefit allowance, medical cards, etc. - without providing for similar or better alternatives constitute a breach of Ireland's obligations under the convention, despite the lack of ratification. Therefore, it would be pertinent for us to have a debate on the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities and when the Government intends to ratify it.
I support Senator Ivana Bacik in her call for a debate on the issue of domestic violence. We were struck last week by the detail of the murder trial that was ongoing which was indicative of what we did not know about people's lives. Nevertheless, we do know about domestic violence. Many people suffer in silence or behind closed doors, but we are aware of the matter which has been raised in this and the other House. There have been various meetings held, but we still seem to have stalled in dealing with it. When it comes to taking action to change somebody's life or do something about the matter, we seem to move into a different space where the issue of domestic violence is treated as a nuisance or a problem to be solved between an individual couple and where the apparatus of the State has nothing to do with it, but nothing could be further from the truth. The continuing work of SAFE Ireland with domestic violence centres across the country, specifically in lobbying and conducting research, is obvious every time it produces a report and it is up to us to keep the issue alive in the Seanad. We are not going to solve all of the problems here, but we need to show that we believe that those involved in dealing with the subject need our continued support. It seems, however, that we have made very little progress, not just from a legal perspective but also from a societal perspective. It seems to be an issue we just do not want to grasp. We have grasped the nettle of child abuse and other issues, but it seems this issue is beyond us, or at least is one we want to keep beyond us for some reason I do not quite understand. I would very much welcome an early debate on it, in which we might perhaps specifically consider the findings made in the report rather than the detail of domestic violence. We must consider ways by which the law could be expanded and added to.
Yesterday the British Government announced it was going to dissolve parliament and hold an election next month. Although normally that would not attract a huge amount of our attention as we look on from a distance, the Conservative Party has stated it is its intention to hold a referendum on Britain leaving the European Union. That would have huge a impact on Ireland, not just on business, tourism and exports. It would probably mean passports would be required at the Border between Dundalk and Newry. I do not know if we have given any thought or attention to the implications of such a decision. While it would not happen immediately as the Conservatives would have to win the election and then the referendum, it is frightening to think about the implications for us from a business point of view and in terms of how we manage our own affairs.
It also arose during the week that we did not have the ability to identify jets that flew along the west coast because we did not have long-range radar capacity. I do not know if we need it and the cost would probably be huge, but there are reports that Russian aeroplanes have been coming into Irish territory in recent times. We want to make sure we have taken at least some precautions to ensure we are protected. Some years ago there was a candidate in the Danish elections. He was not elected, but he did very well by arguing that, instead of having a Danish army, the country should have a huge gramophone with a huge voice saying in Russian, "We surrender, we surrender, we surrender." That was one way to solve its problem. Iceland also decided that it did not need an army, that it was going to use the United States army. I am not suggesting any of these is an answer from our point of view, but let us make sure we have protected ourselves in whatever manner is the correct way to do it. This issue will become much more important if Britain decides to leave the European Union and we find ourselves on a little island isolated from the rest of Europe. I suggest to the Leader that we have a discussion on this issue in the near future.
I support my colleague, Senator Ivana Bacik, in her call for a debate on the issue of domestic violence.
I also raise the issue of a vaccine for meningitis, which was raised by Senator Sean D. Barrett. Ireland has the highest incidence of meningitis in Europe. Ms Siobhán Carroll who founded the campaign group Act for Meningitis, with her husband Noel - they are from Oranmore, County Galway and sadly lost their four year old daughter Aoibhe to meningitis in 2008 - has welcomed the moves made in England in this regard. The national immunisation advisory committee has recommended similar measures be put in place here and the Department is looking at a cost-effective agreement with the manufacturer. I concur with my colleague, Senator Colm Burke, on the need to bring down the cost of medications and welcome the negotiations that are taking place.
I, too, support Senator Ivana Bacik and the call for a debate on drugs, particularly biosimilars, relatively new drugs which would save the country tens of thousands, if not millions, of euro. As a new grandfather, I also support the call for the making available of the meningitis vaccine. At €300 a pop in a private capacity, it seems ridiculous that the State will not step.
Further to Senator Feargal Quinn's remarks, the Army do a great job in defending the State. Therefore, there is no need to worry in that regard.
I remind the House that the teachers' conferences start next week. We are in a particularly turbulent time with teachers and it may be opportune to call for a debate on the establishment of technological universities. It is the case that almost all of the institutes of technology have voted to take industrial action should the process continue, but for the life of me I cannot see why we have embarked on this route. The institutes of technology have a task to carry out in the regions. We already have seven excellent universities and do not need new universities, although there is probably a case for having one in the south east. I ask the Leader, at his convenience and after the Easter conferences, to arrange to bring the Minister for Education and Skills to the House for a debate on technological universities. I can see no way how the project can move forward without the co-operation of staff who have deep concerns, not least of which is the lack of consultation.
I support Senator Colm Burke's call for a debate with the Minister for Health on the issue of pharmaceuticals and the cost of drugs. Big pharmaceutical industries were busy last week in peddling their propaganda and trying to suggest jobs were being lost owing to the Government's policy on purchasing. Will they tell us how many people have lost their lives or have had their lives damaged as a result of their pricing policies? The cost of medicines continues to be exorbitant and we need to explore why that is the case. It is absurd that people are going on holidays to Spain and bringing back a six-month supply of medicines. While I am a full supporter of the vaccination and immunisation programmes, we have to be very careful. We had a situation in the case of the pandemics and swine flu vaccine where the HSE made the terrible error of indemnifying GlaxoSmithKline from any responsibility. Today, families are living the terrible consequences of that decision, with children having contracted narcolepsy. It is an important debate that we need to have.
I commend the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Alex White, for signalling that he intends to bring a memo to the Cabinet tomorrow to ensure large sports events of national importance such as the Six Nations rugby championship will remain free to air and not be put up for grabs by the highest bidder. I would also like to see the Minister discuss the latest - it was not a U-turn - about-turn of somersault proportions by EirGrid in the roll-out of the national grid. Senators Denis Landy and John Kelly and many others across the floor have said we do not need to double the capacity of the grid or destroy the country through the erection of thousands of new pylons. Now all of a sudden Thomas Edison has come back into the EirGrid boardroom to tell it that it can undertake expansion and upgrading without Grid Link or Grid West. Apparently, we can have underground power lines in County Mayo but not in counties Laois and Meath. Does the technology require one to have the Taoiseach in one's constituency? The people of Ratheniska are entitled to the same rules and fairness from EirGrid. We need to know why it did this about-turn. We need to see exactly what is going on in terms of energy policy.
A concern of mine for many years has been the national Tidy Towns movement, with which I have been involved since the early 1970s.I am trying to encourage the Department to get involved. I cite a lack of consistency on the part of judges in the national Tidy Towns competition. Depending on the judge involved and whether he or she visits once or twice, one can be lucky. I call on the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government to come to the House for a debate on the Tidy Towns groups throughout the country and their contribution for more than 50 years in more than 800 towns and villages making them nicer places for residents and visitors alike. Their contribution helps to beautify their surroundings every year. I call for a debate on the issue of early judging, as some places are judged before plants are in bloom. More judges are, therefore, needed. National Tidy Towns groups are prepared to contribute if the Department is prepared to provide matching funding to increase the number of judges. Some 20 judges covering the entire 26 counties is not sufficient. It is necessary to recognise the difficulties experienced by some of the voluntary groups throughout the country.
Last Friday the Department of Social Protection published a report on the rent supplement scheme which recommended that rent supplement limits not be increased on the basis that it would accelerate the rate of rent increases in the market. That is patent rubbish because rents are increasing in the Dublin by 10%, some indices by 15% and in the rest of the country at different levels. They are predicted to rise by 20% in the next 12 months. The real question is whether rent supplement tenants can access properties in the market at current rent supplement rate. The answer to that question is no. What is happening as a result is that people are finding themselves homeless. I, therefore, ask the Leader for a debate as a matter of urgency with the Minister not only on the most recent report but on the future of the rent supplement scheme. Much concern was expressed in the media at the weekend by a number of homeless organisations which regard this matter as urgent, given that about 200 families are living in hotels and that the position will get much worse. The Department cannot wash its hands of the matter in the way it has attempted to do.
I call for a debate on the wind-down of NAMA and, in particular, the Project Cobalt style initiative where NAMA is planning to off-load remaining blocks of apartments within the M50 ring. Unfortunately, they will be off-loaded to purchasers of blocks of 20, 30 and up to 150 units, which is ruling out the selling of individual units to young people who want to enter the home ownership market. It begs the question as to what role NAMA is playing in the housing market, in particular in limiting access to individuals to home ownership.
I draw attention to two wonderful education events in Dundalk which have taken place since Friday. This morning I had the pleasure and honour to present certificates to more than 100 graduates of the National Learning Network, NLN, in Dundalk. It was brilliant to be there. I commend the Education and Training Board and the HSE which provided the funding for the programmes aimed at people who have suffered a personal setback or are unable to get back into the labour market owing to an accident, disability or ill health. It was wonderful to hear some of the graduates speak about their achievements and say how they had never thought in their wildest dreams they would get this far. I congratulate them on so doing.
I also congratulate the local ETB school, O'Fíaich post-primary college, which last week was announced as the overall winner of the Sky Sports Living for Sport competition in Ireland and the United Kingdom. It is, therefore, champion of the British Isles. There was wild excitement in the school when the announcement was made on Sky Sports News last week. Some 22 students attended the prize giving ceremony in London at the weekend. Given that more than 1,700 schools took part in the competition, it makes the recognition of the school even more special. After it had noticed an increase in behavioural problems and that students lacked motivation and self belief, the school decided to participate in the project to encourage goal setting to raise motivation levels. By the end of the ten week period all 19 students involved had improved their level of attendance. One student, whose level of attendance was only 20% before becoming involved, did not miss one day during the project. This highlights what can be done in education to motivate students to get the best out of the education system.
I agree with Senator Aideen Hayden, first, on the genuine crisis in the house rental market and the difficulties with the rent supplement scheme and, second, the argument in regard to NAMA which, in a sense, feeds the problem and is part of the solution. I dealt with one or two cases in which individuals who were attempting to purchase properties from NAMA found it difficult because, for some reason, the agency appeared to be trying to sell an entire portfolio of properties. From a housing policy perspective we should try to engage in dialogue with NAMA to ensure that where genuine housing applicants are in a position financially to purchase, they will be deemed to be priority clients. That would help from a housing policy perspective.
My second observation is not really one to which the Leader can respond. Officially the British general election campaign has started today following the dissolution of parliament. The date for the general election was flagged in advance, not by weeks or months but years. It is a sign of a mature democracy when for years in advance people know when the next general election will take place. There is a need for economic and political certainty, given that, as we have been advised, the general election will take place next February or March. We should all be mature and strong enough in our political convictions to cope with a campaign of seven, eight or nine months. It would be good, therefore, if at the earliest opportunity the Taoiseach and the Government gave advance notice that the general election will take place in February or March. The political establishment in Britain or British society has not collapsed simply because the people have known for the past three years when the next general election would take place. If we knew the actual date, we could have a mature and constructive debate with the public well in advance of the general election, not weeks before it. From the perspective of ensuring political certainty and engaging in political debate, it would be useful for everybody if the Taoiseach was to be specific in setting the date, whether it was in October, November, February or March. Nothing collapsed in the United Kingdom in knowing the date four years in advance and nothing would collapse here if we knew the date seven or eight months in advance.
I join Senator Terry Brennan in applauding the amazing work being done throughout the country by the national Tidy Towns organisation.I would certainly welcome a debate on the issue in the House and would like to broaden it in order that we start a national conversation on how we protect the beauty of the countryside in order that the people can enjoy it, with the millions of visitors who come to the country each year. The huge amount of litter we see everywhere is a blight on the countryside and a sad reflection on us as a people. As I drove to Dublin this morning from Ballinasloe, the number of people working along the motorway gathering bags of litter that had obviously been tossed out of car windows by motorists was a sad reflection of what we thought of the countryside and how we regarded visitors to the country. We need to get real. This is a small country that depends very much on tourists and if we want to make the place attractive, we must rid ourselves of the scourge of litter throughout the country and along nice walkways and greenways.
I welcome the statement made by the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade on the Ibrahim Halawa case which was heard in court in Cairo last week. The Minister said Mr. Halawa's welfare in custody remained the primary concern for the Government and the Department and that there was extensive engagement on the case. Officials from the embassy attended the court and the presence of the ambassador was acknowledged because some of the media coverage gives the impression that the Government is not taking a sufficiently keen interest in the case. I encourage the Minister to continue the good work in order that this young man who most people firmly believe is totally innocent will soon be back with his family to continue his education at school. I applaud the embassy for the work it is doing and I hope there will soon be a very positive outcome to the case.
I support the comments of Senator Feargal Quinn on the potential exit of the United Kingdom from the European Union. We all acknowledge that it would have far-reaching ramifications for all of Europe but particularly Ireland. Ireland is particularly vulnerable not only because it is the United Kingdom's closest neighbour but also because it is it's largest trading partner. We will all follow the general election campaign which starts in earnest today and watch the outcome with great interest. It will obviously have a significant bearing on whether a referendum will take place. It is likely to take place because any political grouping that will come into power is likely to hold it such is the public's desire for it. A discussion in this House would, therefore, be useful. It would not just be a general discussion of the potential effects because we are all fully aware of them but also a discussion of what we could do to influence public opinion in the United Kingdom. We are obviously small in the context of the size of the population of the United Kingdom, but we should think about some useful methods by which we could somehow influence the debate there in the run-up to the referendum.
I support Senator Paul Bradford's comments on having fixed general election terms. It would be an excellent idea for the country. Much of what political commentators like to speculate on concerns when the Government will slip on a banana skin causing an election. Enjoyable as that may be, having fixed terms in the political system would make a lot of sense in the case of local, European and general elections and would result in far more certainty.
Will the Leader arrange an early debate on crime levels? We have talked previously about the number of burglaries around the country, but they have a particularly insidious effect on elderly persons, many of whom live alone and are frightened to stay on their own after being burgled or when someone close to them has been burgled. It has a huge effect on the desire for independent living and not enough of a focus is placed on the issue. I do not think I have heard the Minister for Justice and Equality make any statement on it. We have become immune to the number of people killed in Dublin - shot dead on their doorstep or in their homes. As it is unacceptable, I would like a debate on it. It might help the Minister in taking account of the real effect on the citizenry of failures on the part of the State to deal adequately with these situations. There may also be a need for legislative changes. I noted in one of today's newspapers that the Garda was looking to ensure it would not be affected by the new penalty points system and that if gardaí were in pursuit of criminals, they could exceed the speed limits. It is lunacy to have a system under which criminals obviously have no regard for speed limits, while those in pursuit are inhibited in trying to catch them. I know that there are inherent dangers, but we must look at best practice internationally in that regard.
I have noted that the Leader has said the debate on No. 1 will start immediately after the Order of Business. That was not indicated to Members in the notice that was sent on Friday. Some Members have put considerable work into the Bill. I am here, but others are not here and they are extremely anxious that the debate not take place until the scheduled time of 3.45 p.m. I propose an amendment to the Order of Business. I would not like to have to press it to a vote and would like the Leader to be amenable to scheduling the debate in accordance with the schedule sent to us. This is a reasonable request, given that Members are coming to the House today precisely to participate in the debate, and I hope the Leader will accede to it.
Senator Ned O'Sullivan, acting Leader of the Opposition, spoke about whole-of-life assurance policies. I agree with him in that regard. Carrying out reviews after ten years, particularly when no such indication was given when people took out these policies, is flawed. As the Senator said, there is no refund of moneys paid if a person forfeits after ten, 15 or 20 years. I agree with the Minister for Finance that the matter should be taken up with the Financial Services Ombudsman, but if he cannot solve the problem, legislation should be introduced if necessary because the people concerned took out policies in good faith and find halfway through them or 20 years on that they are costing them an exorbitant amount that they cannot meet. The Senator has certainly raised a very important point and I will bring the matter to the attention of the Minister.
Senators Ivana Bacik, Trevor Ó Clochartaigh, Susan O'Keeffe and Hildegarde Naughten spoke about the SAFE Ireland report on domestic violence. As Senator Ivana Bacik mentioned, the reports builds on the work of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Equality and Defence. I will certainly try to facilitate a debate on the matter as soon as possible.
Senators Sean D. Barrett and Hildegarde Naughten, among others, spoke about the meningitis B vaccine and the deal struck between the UK Government and GlaxoSmithKline. It has been suggested it will cost in the region of £40 per vaccine to make it available to everyone in the United Kingdom. I am sure the Minister for Health and his Department will try to negotiate a similar agreement with the drugs company as soon as possible.
Senator Sean D. Barrett also noted the findings of the poll which showed that 54% of people were against the acquisition of Aer Lingus by IAG. This matter has been raised on many occasions on the Order of Business and will be the subject of a Commencement Matter tomorrow.
Senators Colm Burke and John Whelan spoke about the cost of drugs.Some of the drug companies suggest that 500 jobs may be lost as a result of the reduction in the costs. Tough luck for the drug companies. The use of generic drugs has increased from 10% to 48%, as has been mentioned by Senator Burke. We must work towards reducing the cost further. That is the aim of Government. In the UK, 80% of drugs used are generic. As Senator Burke said, we cannot aspire to that in a short period of time, but we must have improvement on the cost of drugs supplied by drug companies to our health system.
Senator Ó Clochartaigh spoke about the Centre for Independent Living and the need to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities. We probably should have a debate on this issue in the House. We had a similar debate last year on that matter.
Senators Quinn and Noone discussed the referendum on the EU. It certainly will have severe repercussions for this country if the UK decides to leave the EU. The Taoiseach spoke of his concerns on this matter at a meeting of business interests in Northern Ireland only last week. We are concerned about the situation. At this point in time, during an election campaign, it would be inadvisable to get involved in the affairs of another country, but it is certainly something to which we should return after the next election.
On the updating of our radar capability to track down planes that may pose a threat to us, I am sure our Defence Forces are considering the matter. I will certainly bring it to the attention of the Minister for Defence, Deputy Coveney.
Senator Naughton also spoke about supporting the use of the new vaccine. Senator Craughwell advised us that the teachers' conferences are coming up and we have votes on industrial action by academic staff regarding the merger of institutes of technology, which is regrettable. We will have a Bill on technological universities coming to the House. It is not likely to be brought to the House before the summer, but perhaps we can arrange a debate with the Minister for Education and Skills so that we can feed into that process. I agree with his remark that there is a need for a university in the south east. Irrespective of industrial action, that process will have to continue. It is the only region in the country without a university and it has suffered as a result.
Senator Whelan spoke about the cost of drugs. He also supported the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources regarding the need to ensure that large sporting events remain free to air, and he called for a debate on energy policy. We had a debate on energy policy with the Minister at the beginning of the term. There have been changes in the meantime in relation to EirGrid, so perhaps we can try to get the Minister in again next term to discuss the whole area of energy policy and the matter the Senator raised regarding EirGrid.
Senators Brennan and Mullins discussed Tidy Towns. Senator Brennan spoke of the need to ensure we have more judges to combat the problem of early judging, where it is felt that some towns may be favoured over others. Senator Mullins raised the question of litter. It is disgraceful to see the amount of litter that is dumped from people's cars. People go about their business and throw whatever they have out of their cars. It is certainly contributing to the state of our country. Some of our roads are badly littered. I do not know what we can do about it. Education and penalties, a carrot and stick approach, are certainly necessary. I will try to arrange a debate with the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport on that matter.
Senator Hayden spoke about the decision of the Tánaiste's Department not to increase rent supplement. She called for a debate on the future of the rent supplement scheme. We had a debate on the private rental sector with the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Coffey, on 11 February, but we will try to have the Tánaiste in to discuss the report on this matter prepared by her Department.
Senator Hayden also, along with Senator Bradford, discussed the wind-down of NAMA. Selling off large blocks where individuals have no chance of securing homes is a wrong policy. We will try to have the Minister for Finance come to the House to discuss that matter with us.
Senator Moran lauded the achievements of educational facilities and pupils in Dundalk.
Senator Bradford spoke about economic and political certainty. I thought we had that here. The Government has made a commitment to serve its full term to advance the policies that are securing our economic future and recovery. I assure the Senator that this Government will serve its full term.
Senator Mullins mentioned the case of Ibrahim Halawa and the presence of the Irish ambassador in court. That is to be welcomed. The Government is doing everything possible to secure this young man's release.
Senator Walsh spoke about crime. We had the Garda commissioner in the justice committee last week, giving a comprehensive report on her policing plan and the Minister had indicated that she will come in. Senators will be aware that there is quite an amount of legislation with which the Minister has been busy in the past few months. As soon as those pieces of legislation are out of the way, she is quite willing to come to the House and have a debate on crime.
It is now 3.30 p.m. We will proceed as I indicated. I do not think a quarter of an hour will make much difference to anybody, so I will proceed as we outlined on the Order of Business.
My point of order is that all Members in this House should be entitled to the same opportunities. I have somebody who is prepared to second the amendment formally, but because I was the last speaker, it is impossible for me to have a seconder.
I had called Senator Bradford as the last speaker before that and then Senator Noone indicated that she wanted to speak. One thing that troubles me is people who decide to come in willy-nilly towards the end of the Order of Business and want to speak. I allowed Senator Walsh in to be courteous to him. I understand his predicament, but there was nobody here to second him, so the amendment falls. The Senator cannot take a stance on the Order of Business.
- Ivana Bacik
- Sean Barrett
- Paul Bradford
- Terry Brennan
- Colm Burke
- Eamonn Coghlan
- Michael Comiskey
- Martin Conway
- Gerard Craughwell
- Maurice Cummins
- John Gilroy
- Aideen Hayden
- Lorraine Higgins
- Caít Keane
- Denis Landy
- Mary Moran
- Michael Mullins
- Hildegarde Naughton
- Catherine Noone
- David Norris
- Trevor Ó Clochartaigh
- Marie Louise O'Donnell
- Susan O'Keeffe
- Pat O'Neill
- Tom Shehan
- Jillian van Turnhout
- John Whelan
- Katherine Zappone