Seanad debates

Thursday, 16 April 2015

10:30 am

Photo of Maurice CumminsMaurice Cummins (Fine Gael)
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The Order of Business is No. 1, Valuation (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2012, amended by Dáil Éireann - Report Stage, to be taken at 12.45 p.m; and No. 2, Roads Bill 2014 - Second Stage, to be taken at 1.30 p.m. and to be adjourned not later than 3.30 p.m. if not previously concluded. Contributions from group spokespersons are not to exceed eight minutes and those from all other Senators are not to exceed five minutes. The Minister will be called on to reply for ten minutes at the end of the debate.

Photo of Terry LeydenTerry Leyden (Fianna Fail)
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I support the agenda today, which is very worthwhile. The Valuation (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill is a very important Bill which should be passed as quickly as possible. The Roads Bill 2014 is also substantial legislation which will get proper scrutiny in this House.

Will the Leader ask the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, to come to the House to try to avert the threatened strike on 1 May by the busmen's union on account of the reorganisation of transport in the city of Dublin? In particular, will the Minister deal with the threat the drivers feel to their jobs in Dublin Bus? I think there is a certain conflict of interest in the sense that the Minister is the Minister for both transport and tourism. On the one hand he is promoting the Wild Atlantic Way and the new project he is putting forward but this strike has the potential to cause terrible damage to the tourism industry at a very vulnerable and sensitive time. Negotiations should continue and the Minister should desist from forcing the issue at this stage. Ministers in the past have resisted similar proposals for the city of Dublin, though not for new routes outside Dublin such as to Cork etc., where there has been competition for some time.

In the city of Dublin the Luas has been operative since 2002 and Fianna Fáil should be very proud of the fact that, in Government, we built and developed the Luas, which will now be expanded and is in direct competition with Dublin Bus. On Tuesday evening I visited a family in a suburb of Dublin and I used the Luas instead of Dublin Bus. It is a very efficient and effective service and it will be more so when the two lines are linked up.There is major competition for Dublin Bus, which employs 3,200 staff and is a major employer in the city of Dublin. The people of Dublin have great affection for Dublin Bus. Given that this House contains people like Senator Barrett who have great knowledge, the Minister would get tremendous advice by coming to this House, putting his views to it and getting a responsible approach from Members of this House. Will the Leader to arrange for the Minister to come to the House as soon as possible to discuss the issue? I appeal to the National Bus and Railworkers Union to call off the threatened strike on 1 May because it will damage the tourism industry in the city of Dublin. A strike at the very start of the tourism season would give visitors to Dublin a very bad impression.

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Independent)
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I ask the Leader for a debate on Seanad reform in light of the publication of the report on Seanad reform in recent days. I know other colleagues looked for that debate yesterday and I am hopeful we could have it soon given that this report is the culmination of a very extensive consultation process. Many of us, including the Labour group of Senators, made submissions to the Seanad reform group chaired by Maurice Manning. I hope we can have a debate on the content of that report and its recommendations.

I also ask for a debate on cyberbullying and cybercrime. I commend Senator Higgins on producing the harmful and malicious electronic communications Bill which is aimed at tackling cyberbullying, an issue of great concern to people across the floor of this House. In recent years, we have seen some very disturbing reports of the trauma caused to young people in particular by cyberbullying and the use of social media to bully and, in effect, abuse people. Senator Higgins has taken an important first step in the debate. I know she will be publishing the Bill in the coming days and both Senator Whelan and I, as communications and justice spokespersons, respectively, along with our Labour colleagues are very happy to support her in this initiative. I hope we will have a debate in this House in very short course on this issue. I am conscious that the Law Reform Commission is also doing a great deal of work on cybercrime more generally, so quite a lot of work has been done on cybercrime generally and cyberbullying in particular and how best to tackle it. Certainly, this Bill is a very important development and I commend Senator Higgins on it.

I also ask the Leader for a debate on education and school admissions policy in light of the publication of the Education (Admission to Schools) Bill over the break. Again, this Bill is the culmination of a great deal of consultation. The Minister for Education and Skills has already said she will consult further before she decides on the issue of set-aside places that schools may keep where they are oversubscribed and run a waiting list. A number of issues are still to be resolved and we might have a debate in this House before the Bill formally comes to us to debate some of those more detailed issues around school admissions policy.

Photo of Sean BarrettSean Barrett (Independent)
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I express my sympathies to the Buckley family from Mourneabbey in County Cork at this very stressful time and endorse the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade's expression of thanks to the Glasgow police force for their assistance in this regard.

I thank Senator Leyden for his remarks about the bus situation. I think the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport will be here later on today. Tendering is a good idea. I recall how during the 1980s, there was one bus per day between Dublin and Galway. It went around by Mullingar in case a person was in a hurry. There are now 60 buses run by three different operators. The bus business can develop. The alternative is that we continue with the block grant, which is not related to anything. Having some competitive tendering, which as the Taoiseach noted in the Dáil yesterday, Bus Éireann and Dublin Bus might very well win, puts it on a better basis. I am sure the bus is, as Senator Hayden noted, the work horse of public transport. It is growing very rapidly in some aspects, particularly since the motorways were built and in light of access to airports. I echo Senator Leyden's hope that a strike does not happen on 1 May.

Members of the Oireachtas Committee on Transport and Communications have been invited to hear a presentation on 28 April 2015 on the implementation of the national postcode system. It comes as a surprise because the committee has been hearing evidence on that. I do not see any benefits to An Post, which already has 98% next day delivery rate. That is pretty efficient by any standards. Many private sector people, notably, Tommy Carr, who is well known in GAA circles, have said that the system adopted is not the one they want. There is a smaller number of dissenters who would operate it. The cost could be up to €30 million and I do not know what the benefits are supposed to be. One hears statements about improved efficiency and accuracy of internal business. A figure of 98% is pretty accurate. We hear about improved efficiencies with regard to logistics. Again, 98% is not bad. We also hear about better planning and analysis capabilities and enabling organisations to improve existing services. If it is not a problem, why are we spending so much money on it? As a Member of the House with constituents in Northern Ireland and the Republic, I can say that it is far easier to write a letter to somebody in Clones because the post office knows where Clones is than to try to remember what the codes in digits are for Newtownbutler, which is only down the road. It is just an added nuisance. This has been around for ten years in the Department through four Ministers - Noel Dempsey, Eamon Ryan and Deputies Pat Rabbitte and Alex White - and I think it is time to scrap it. It has been around so long and has worn out Ministers who tried to get the thing properly evaluated. I do not see any measure of benefits. The safety and security sector, which it is supposed to benefit, also has doubts about it. What is the problem if 98% of the post is already being delivered the next day? Why spend more money and disrupt an entire system unnecessarily when, as we saw in debates last night, we have far worthier things to spend money on?

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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I wish to raise a most important matter concerning the front-line troops of our democracy, a matter I have no doubt is close to the Cathaoirleach's heart. County and city councillors toil tirelessly on behalf of the citizens, give of their time freely and generously and are the first to be approached by individuals and communities with various grievances and problems involving a multitude of local and national issues. They are the people who argue, debate, mediate and negotiate with county managers and other officials throughout the land. They are the people who are approached when the media needs to check facts on a local matter and who are always helpful. They do not have a trade union but they have trade associations such as the Association of Irish Local Government and the Local Authorities Members Association. I am not saying they are afraid to speak up but they should speak up more on their behalf. We all know there are far fewer councillors since the reorganisation of local government and the previous local elections and these councillors have much larger electoral areas. These people are pretty much full-time councillors who work seven days a week, all hours of the day and night and are at everybody's beck and call for very little recompense. I suggest that this is treating them poorly, if not shabbily, and it cries out to be addressed, especially since there are visible signs of an improvement in the economy.

At a minimum, they deserve a liveable wage. I discussed this matter with the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government last year and possibly more than once in the past. I suggest the matter be discussed with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform who will shortly open talks with the public service unions. We must not forget these front-line troops.

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

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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I am practically finished. Senator Leyden always has his own take on things. They are not seeking the earth but I am calling for fair play, equity and justice - nothing more and nothing less. I am looking forward to the Leader's favourable response and, I hope, the united backing of this House.

Photo of Gerard CraughwellGerard Craughwell (Independent)
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I am delighted to see that my Commencement matter yesterday on the issue of PRSI for councillors has led to Senator Paul Coghlan's awakening with regard to salary issues and the terms and conditions of employment of councillors.

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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I assure the Senator that it had nothing to do with it. I have been discussing this matter with the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government and others for quite some time.

Photo of Gerard CraughwellGerard Craughwell (Independent)
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I am glad it has led to Senator Coghlan's awakening with regard to salary issues and the terms and conditions of employment of councillors throughout the country. I will be tabling a Commencement matter for the Minister, Deputy Kelly-----

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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I was a councillor at one stage and I am well aware of the matter.

Photo of Terry LeydenTerry Leyden (Fianna Fail)
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Senator Craughwell-----

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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Senator Craughwell to continue without interruption, please.

Photo of Gerard CraughwellGerard Craughwell (Independent)
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I will be tabling a Commencement Debate matter with the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly, on the issue of salaries for county councillors. Did I agree with Senator Paul Coghlan? At the very least they should be looking at 50% of a Senator's salary.

The Leader will recall that before the Easter break I raised the issue of bullying in the workplace. In recent weeks a number of organisations have commented on this, and, in particular, the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation, INMO, has issued a report on bullying in the workplace. I have just returned from the teachers' conference, where I made a presentation on the issue. I was taken aside by a number of teachers and heard of some very distressing cases from around the country. I believe the use of zero-hour contracts has led to people being put in a vulnerable position, and bullying is the food, so to speak, that feeds the bully, given that people are in unstable contracts of employment. I asked for a debate with the Minister for Justice and Equality on the use of the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act as a way of dealing with bullying in the workplace, because we are dealing with adults.

An extremely well organised debate of the Seanad Public Consultation Committee took place here recently on farm safety. Would it be possible to arrange a similar debate on bullying in the workplace and invite the various representative bodies to the Seanad to explain the issue? Bullying in the workplace is something none of really wants to touch. It is one of those taboo subjects that people are petrified to go near. There are many allegations of bullying in the workplace, but having been a trade union representative for many years, I found that in many cases bullying is misinterpreted. It might not be a bad thing for the Seanad to sit down and discuss with the experts, particularly the people in DCU, exactly what is bullying. Let us try to define it. I would appreciate if the Leader would consider that issue and come back to me on it.

Photo of John KellyJohn Kelly (Labour)
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I was out of the country when the findings of Dominic McGinn SC were brought to Cabinet in respect of the murder of Fr. Niall Molloy. I am disappointed at his recommendation. Having said that, I am not surprised, because the only remit Dominic McGinn was given was to review a botched Garda investigation file. In his findings he said there were serious shortcomings in that investigation. To my amazement, he has recommended that no further action be taken because the time span, 30 years, is too long. There are people still alive who can bring closure to this case. Forty-three years after the fact we are still looking for answers with regard to the murder of Jean McConville, which I agree with.

In the next couple of weeks the Minister for Justice and Equality will recommend a Presidential pardon for a Tipperary man, Harry Gleeson, for the murder of Moll McCarthy in Tipperary in 1940, on foot of a subsequently discovery that he was wrongfully hanged. The notion that we cannot do anything about the Fr. Niall Molloy case 30 years on is flabbergasting. Something very corrupt took place here, to the degree that the most notorious criminal in the country at the time, Martin Cahill, saw fit to break into the Attorney General's office and rob the Fr. Niall Molloy file and use it to do a deal with the Garda not to extradite John Traynor, one of his criminal allies, from the UK. If that does not say it all about what is going on in this case and the corruption involved in it, I do not know what does.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

Photo of John KellyJohn Kelly (Labour)
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I ask the Minister for Justice and Equality to initiate a full commission of inquiry into the murder of Fr. Niall Molloy to bring closure, fairness and justice to the Molloy family, because to date this has not happened.

Photo of Diarmuid WilsonDiarmuid Wilson (Fianna Fail)
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I agree with Senator Ivana Bacik that we should have a debate fairly soon on the proposals regarding Seanad reform. I have not had an opportunity to read the report in full, but I have looked at the recommendations and I have issues with some of them. I look forward to an opportunity to put those concerns on the record.

I agree with everything Senator Paul Coghlan has said. He has been raising this issue for some time, along with myself and many other colleagues, not only in this Seanad but in the previous Seanad. As the Senator has said, we have people at the front line of our democracy, who have been drastically reduced in number and who are finding that the workload has increased dramatically. However, their recompense and the facilities afforded to our councillors have not kept up with the demands on their time. That is not only in respect of their wages. There is a major concern that they are being charged PRSI and pension levy but are not entitled to any of the associated benefits when they cease to be members of the local authority. It is a major issue. It might not be popular - I acknowledge Senator Gerard P. Craughwell's comments on Commencement Matters yesterday - but this is an issue that has existed for decades and one that has been put on the back burner by a number of Administrations because it is not popular with the media. The reality is that the media set the agenda as to how the general public feels about politicians in particular, and it is conditioned to feel in a certain way. The people who are at the front line of our democracy are entitled to be paid properly and given the facilities necessary to carry out their democratic function. I call on the Leader to arrange for that debate, and the sooner we have it the better.

Photo of Hildegarde NaughtonHildegarde Naughton (Fine Gael)
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I raise the issue of entrepreneurship and, in particular, commend a new local group in Galway, Startup Galway, whose aim is to build an entrepreneurial ecosystem in the area. Galway has two start-up clusters, one being in the tech sector and the other in the biotech area. It has several national research labs, including the Insight Centre for Data Analytics, formerly known as DERI, and the Irish Marine Institute. This greatly complements the number of researchers and PhD students in our third level institutions. Startup Galway will play a very important role and aims to encourage other start-up businesses in this area. Also on the employment front, I note that businesses are reporting a marked increase in the number of emigrants returning to Ireland to work. The employment market monitor of CPL, one of the largest recruitment agencies in the country, has found that for the first three months of this year the UK, Australia and Canada are the locations from which most Irish workers are returning home to find work here. The director of CPL has said that 63% of companies intend to increase their workforces this year. Given that these people are returning from abroad, they are bringing added expertise to their new positions here. That they are returning to Ireland to get a good job and one they want is encouraging. It shows the positive steps the Government has taken since coming to office that Ireland is now recognised as being the fastest-growing economy in Europe. These figures are encouraging and show that we are back on track. They are based on a solid foundation, not on the property boom of the past decade.

Photo of Aideen HaydenAideen Hayden (Labour)
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I agree with Senator Sean D. Barrett and, like all of us here, extend our sympathy to the Buckley family in Cork on the sad news that the remains found in Glasgow are most likely those of Karen Buckley. I was somewhat surprised to hear that family and friends are engaging in a fund-raising campaign to fund the family.At a time like this, money should not be an issue. I would like the Leader to raise with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade whether it is in a position to provide that type of funding to the family. If it is not, I advocate a special fund that should be available within the Department of Foreign Affairs for deeply upsetting and traumatic cases such as this, in which money is the last thing that people should be thinking about.

I congratulate "The Consumer Show", a programme presented by Keelin Shanley, which last night brought to public attention the issue of people who live in rented accommodation who are the victims of abusive activity by receivers taking rent or possession of properties. We know there are approximately 40,000 buy-to-let properties in significant mortgage arrears at the moment, and some of the case studies last night showed how one tenant arrived home to find the locks changed, while another tenant had her two-year lease completely disregarded and was given seven days to get out of her home the week before Christmas. It is outrageous behaviour. There has been a tendency to think that just because people live in rented homes, they are not as important as the homes of homeowners. That is not the case. One in five families in the country today live in rented homes.

I ask the Leader that we discuss this issue as part of the debate we have consistently called for with the Minister for Finance on the issue of repossessions. Legislation is urgently required to protect tenants who find themselves in this position. I know Senator Barrett has raised the matter on a number of occasions. Receivers are behaving unscrupulously, and the activity must be stopped.

Photo of Michael MullinsMichael Mullins (Fine Gael)
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I join others in extending our heartfelt sympathy and support to the Buckley family from Mourneabbey in County Cork on the tragic death of their beautiful daughter, Karen. It is an awful time for the family and we must commend the police in Glasgow on the amazing speed with which they brought a conclusion to the case.

I support all of Senator Paul Coghlan's comments about the terms and conditions under which the councillors of Ireland work, and it is time we had some discussions with the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly, about the issue. Councillors have an increasing and significant workload, especially as town councils have been abolished.

Throughout Europe today, there is a 24-hour crackdown on speeding, and the House should acknowledge and support the campaign, which is designed to reduce the number of deaths across Europe by 15% by 2020. Of all road deaths, 40% are caused by excessive speed, and we need to keep the issue highlighted and to the forefront of our minds. The other 60% of deaths are caused by other factors such as drink-driving and driving under the influence of drugs. The rising number of road deaths is something we should all be deeply concerned about and I hope today is the first of many days in which we will see a major crackdown on speeding.

On a happier note, I extend sincere congratulations to a young Roscommon man who has achieved national office by becoming the national president of Macra na Feirme. The man is Mr. Seán Finan from Ballinlough, Castlerea, County Roscommon, who is a young beef farmer and a project engineer with Sisk. Macra na Feirme is an organisation that advocates for young people and it has developed many community leaders through the years. Many people in politics gained their knowledge, experience and proficiency in public speaking through Macra na Feirme. I congratulate Mr. Finan and his family. Many Senators may be aware his uncle is Councillor Tom McHugh from Tuam.

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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A fine man.

Photo of Michael MullinsMichael Mullins (Fine Gael)
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I wish Mr. Finan well. He will become the 35th president of Macra na Feirme on 9 May and will hold office for two years. He will be the second Roscommon man to hold the office, as the 22nd president of Macra na Feirme, from 1991 to 1993, was Councillor Laurence Fallon.

Photo of Terry BrennanTerry Brennan (Fine Gael)
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The Ireland's Ancient East tourism plan was launched earlier this week by the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, and the Minister of State, Deputy Michael Ring. The route extends from the Viking city of Waterford through Carlow to Newgrange and the Boyne Valley, where it seems to stop. I come from a medieval town and county, with artifacts and much history, stories and myths, some of which are as old as the Greek Iliad. County Louth should be included, and I hope it will be added to this plan. The Wild Atlantic Way has been a tremendous success and will remain one for years to come. Louth, with its history of Vikings at Annagassan, the round tower at Monasterboice, the kingdom of Oriel and legends such as the Táin Bó Cúailgne, would attract the discerning visitor. These are the places tourists want to visit. I hope we can have a debate on this extension of Ireland's Ancient East to include the historic county of Louth.

I support the call by my colleagues across the House for an examination of councillors' remuneration. Their duties have no doubt increased and they have taken on more responsibility. Many of them are now full-time public representatives at the coalface of democracy. The benefits from what is happening with the economy must be considered for these councillors throughout the country.

Photo of Michael ComiskeyMichael Comiskey (Fine Gael)
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I will speak about a tourism issue as well. Easter has just passed and we are heading into the 2016 commemorations. I have mentioned on more than one occasion that we have a gem in north Leitrim in the form of Seán Mac Diarmada's house. I acknowledge that €150,000 was provided for a car park at the house by the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, and €30,000 has been spent by the Office of Public Works on a new thatched roof. The building is in a remote rural area of north Leitrim, close to Kiltyclogher, and the road to the house is in very poor condition. A little more money should be provided to improve the road, as people are coming to visit the house and there are buses and cars using the route. It is a narrow road in a rural area so it should be improved and have lay-bys added to it. It will of course help the tourism industry in the area. The successful Wild Atlantic Way has just been mentioned. People come from that route to Kiltyclogher and Glenfarne just to see that house, which is close to the Ballroom of Romance, Lissadell House and Hazelwood House. They are in the area and will provide benefit to the rural economy. A little more money would make a significant contribution.

I join colleagues in their call for councillors to be remunerated in a proper way. After the last local elections we lost many councillors around the country, and their numbers are now much smaller; as a result, their workload is much greater. As my colleague Senator Paul Coghlan has stated, they are working seven days a week. We depend on them to liaise with people and they also work through local Deputies. It is important that they be looked after in a proper way. I also congratulate Mr. Seán Finan, who was elected president of Macra na Feirme last week, and I look forward to his taking office in May.

Photo of Catherine NooneCatherine Noone (Fine Gael)
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I highlight this morning's report in The Irish Timeswhich claims that the Luas link from Broombridge to the airport is emerging as the most likely option to be chosen under the north Dublin transport study. This is potentially good news for commuters in and around the Ashtown and Navan Road area, as it will see them having a close, frequent link with the airport and Swords, in addition to the city centre.Historically, the west and north west of the city have been under-served in terms of public transport. I welcome that the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport aims to tackle this situation during his time in office. In this regard, it is important that any potential tunnelling under Glasnevin Cemetery is, given its status, handled with great sensitivity and care and that actual work, beyond consultation, begins before the end of term of this Government. From what I can gather people on the north side of the city are fed up with transport studies, consultation documents, White Papers, Green Papers and so on. What they want to see is shovels on the ground and real progress instead of pipe dreams. The Minister has the opportunity to do this. There is no logistical reason in terms of construction that this project could not be undertaken in parallel with the Luas cross-city project. All told, I welcome the report and hope it is indeed indicative of the Minister's own thoughts on the matter.

Photo of Feargal QuinnFeargal Quinn (Independent)
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Last week, one of the principal surgeons in the transplant unit at Beaumont Hospital resigned. This man, who is well known and highly respected and regarded, has given no explanation for his resignation from this important position. Apparently, there is confusion as to the reason he resigned. If there is a problem in this regard it should be followed up, given the importance of the organ transplant service.

Photo of John CrownJohn Crown (Independent)
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I rise to raise again today an issue I have raised previously, and on which Senator White has proposed legislation, namely, mandatory retirement in the health service. I would like to bring to the attention of my colleagues that a critical person in a specialty in Ireland has reached the age of mandatory retirement and will retire in three weeks time. I had occasion recently to speak to this fine gentleman - I will not mention his name today, although he may wish me to do so over the next week or two - at which time he pointed out to me that he is as productive as he ever was, takes part in as many international meetings as he has ever done and is writing as many papers as he ever did. According to him the hospital is having trouble finding a replacement for him and attempts are being made to replace him with two people, one of which positions remains unfilled. It is a disaster. This man does not want to retire and we need him not to retire. This perfectly fit, healthy, able and incredibly well-trained, talented and well recognised international specialist is being forced to drop his tools and become a dependant on the State. There is an urgency about this.

We have heard in the past of the difficulty filling specialist posts in hospitals, medicine and other areas.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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That is, perhaps, an issue more suitable for discussion as a Commencement matter.

Photo of John CrownJohn Crown (Independent)
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I thank the Cathaoirleach for his advice. This is a matter of which legislators need to be aware. This is not an arcane, theoretical issue of some far distant public policy. Three weeks from now this country will be down one critically important specialist who has not as yet been replaced.

I take this opportunity to comment on the recent, sad loss of Dr. Mary Redmond, founder of the Irish Hospice Movement and an extraordinarily accomplished woman. In addition to her many professional achievements, when she saw a huge gap and need in the development of palliative and hospice services in this country, rather than just wringing her hands about the problem she did something about it. I pay tribute to her and offer my sympathy to her family. Dr. Redmond did this country an extraordinary service.

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

Photo of Maurice CumminsMaurice Cummins (Fine Gael)
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The acting Leader of the Opposition, Senator Leyden, raised the issue of the imminent bus strike. The National Transport Authority, NTA, under legislation, has statutory responsibility for decision-making in regard to how best to balance direct award and tendered PSO bus services. Following a wide-ranging consultation process, the NTA decided in late 2013 that 10% of the existing PSO bus market should be tendered. Up until the recent trade union withdrawal on 30 March, the NTA was proceeding with the public procurement process while participating in an LRC facilitated process to address CIE employee concerns on the implications of this market opening. There has been intensive engagement for some time on employee issues. It is the view of the Government that the LRC discussions will allow employee concerns to be addressed satisfactorily.

The introduction of competitive tendering has the potential to save taxpayers' money, encourage cost competitiveness and enhance service quality. International experience indicates that competitive tendering is beneficial in providing subsidised PSO bus services. Bus Éireann and Dublin Bus will be able to bid in the tendering process when it commences in mid-2015. Last year, in a bid to support the companies, Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann were paid more than €90 million in PSO payments by the taxpayer, over and above the passenger fare income to provide public bus services. A further €90 million in funding was also provided for new buses and the upgrade of the fleet.

The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Donohoe, recently put on record his commitment to securing an increase in the subvention provided to the companies to deliver additional services and increase frequencies for commuters. This year, for the first time since 2008, the level of PSO contribution for bus and rail services is being maintained at the same level as last year. However, taxpayer support for improved bus services should be given in conjunction with a degree of competition. It is disappointing that the NBRU and SIPTU withdrew from the discussions being facilitated by the Labour Relations Commission. These discussions had been aimed at addressing employee concerns about how the tendering of 10% of the routes might impact on them and significant progress was being made. There was particular focus on facilitating the vast majority of employees remaining in either Dublin Bus or Bus Éireann, if either company did not succeed in the tendering process. This was on the basis of growth in the bus frequencies on the routes remaining with Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann. The talks were focused on protecting the terms and conditions of any employees who do not transfer to other operators. It was made clear during the discussions that pension provisions would also be maintained.

The threatened industrial action should be called off, in my opinion. One of the objectives of the LRC negotiations was to enable the vast majority of existing employees to remain within Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann. In addition, the terms, conditions and pension benefits of employees who transferred would be maintained. Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann have the potential for a bright future in the growing PSO market. As said by Senator Leyden, the threatened industrial action can only damage the companies and disrupt services to the travelling public at a crucial time of the year in the context of tourism. I hope that the unions will continue to negotiate with the Labour Relations Commission and dispense with the proposed strike action.

Senator Bacik called for a debate on the Seanad reform report, which debate was also called for in the House yesterday. I will engage with the chairman of the group in relation to a debate on the report in this House taking place during the first week in May. Senator Bacik also referred to the cyberbullying legislation to be tabled by Senator Higgins. The Senator is correct that this is a matter of grave concern for everybody in this House and for the general public. The affect of cyberbullying on young people in particular is dreadful. We have heard of so many incidents in that regard. I welcome that Senator Higgins proposes to introduce legislation which will allow us to discuss this issue in the House.

On the education admissions policy which was also raised yesterday by Senator Jim D'Arcy, I will endeavour to have the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy O'Sullivan, come to the House for a debate on that matter. The Minister will be in the House next week for a debate on another matter.

Senator Barrett and several other Senators expressed their sympathy to the Buckley family on the tragic death of their beautiful daughter.I am sure we would all like to be associated with a vote of sympathy for the Buckley family on the tragic death of their beautiful daughter. We all join the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade in thanking the police in Scotland for their assistance and professionalism in dealing with this very tragic case. Our hearts go out to the Buckley family and all their neighbours in Mourneabbey. The neighbours have been so supportive of the family in recent days.

Senator Barrett referred to bus tendering and favours putting 10% of bus routes out to tender. I note his points on the postal services. They have been raised by the joint committee on several occasions.

Senator Coghlan's intervention on the plight of councillors is timely. There is no doubt that the workload of councillors has increased significantly since the local elections. Councillors' electoral areas are much larger than heretofore. Some stretch as far as 60 miles, which is far broader than many constituencies throughout the country. There are fewer councillors to deal with problems. They have more committee meetings to attend and there is an 80% attendance requirement if they are to receive the representation allowance of €16,500. The allowance is taxable and subject to PRSI and the universal social charge. In many councils, meetings are called during working hours, which discriminates against people who are working and prevents them from attending meetings to represent their constituents. It has been highlighted, and we all know, that conferences have been eliminated, with the exception of training conferences and conferences of the representative associations. Councillors were assured the representation allowance would be increased to compensate them for the undoubted increase in their workload, but this has not happened. As Senators Coghlan, Wilson and others mentioned, this is unfair and unjust. It would not be allowed to happen in any other profession.

The councillors are undoubtedly at the front line of our democracy and the Government needs to treat them with respect, which is not the case at present. I am certainly willing to work with the representative associations to arrange meetings with the Minister, if they so wish, to address their legitimate concerns. I hope and am confident that councillors have the full support of this House in their just endeavours to seek just recompense for the work they are doing. I certainly agree with the sentiments expressed by all councillors. Senator Craughwell mentioned in the Commencement debate yesterday the question of PRSI and the fact that no benefits are derived from it.

Senator Kelly referred to the murder of Fr. Niall Molloy and expressed disappointment over the review of the case. He called for a full commission of inquiry to investigate the event. Obviously, it is matter for the Government and I am sure it will be considered. A commitment was made to have a review and it has taken place.

Senator Wilson mention the plight of councillors, as I stated, and called for a debate on local government reform.

Senator Naughton referred to Startup Galway and to the encouragement of entrepreneurs and start-up companies. She outlined that 63% of companies intend to increase their workforce. She referred to people returning home to take up the jobs and make use of the skills and expertise they gained abroad. This is a very welcome development.

Senator Hayden referred to the help the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade gives people abroad. She referred to repossessions and the protection of tenants and called for a debate on that matter. I am trying to arrange such a debate with the Minister for Finance.

Senator Michael Mullins referred to the 24-hour crackdown on speeding, an EU initiative. The crackdown will occur over the next 24 hours. There is a need for people to be vigilant and to keep road safety to the fore in their minds at all times. The Senator congratulated the new president of Macra na Feirme, as did Senator Comiskey, and she praised the work of the organisation over the years.

Senator Terry Brennan referred to the medieval and beautiful town of Carlingford and expressed the wish that County Louth will not be forgotten in the Ireland's Ancient East scheme that has been announced. I am sure it will not be allowed to happen.

Senator Comiskey referred to the Seán Mac Diarmada house. He has mentioned this on the Order of Business previously. He referred to the need for more improvements to facilitate access to the cottage.

Senator Noone referred to the proposed new Luas line from Broombridge to the airport. I am sure we will have an opportunity to discuss it when the full report is made available.

Senator Feargal Quinn referred to the resignation of the surgeon dealing with organ donation. As the Senator rightly pointed out, the surgeon is an expert in this area and has given wonderful service to the health service over many years. I am not aware of the circumstances of his resignation. I am sure the HSE will be monitoring the situation.

This is related to the point made by Senator Crown, who mentioned the compulsory retirement of an eminent specialist consultant on age grounds. People who are very capable and want to continue should be allowed to continue. I do not know what is preventing the individual in question from continuing but I share Senator Crown's concerns. I hope common sense will prevail. It is not evident on many occasions. I hope eminent staff who wish to continue will be able to do so. As the Senator rightly pointed out, we are having difficulty recruiting people to fill various positions. Therefore, we need to rethink the policy in such circumstances.

We all join Senator Crown in expressing sympathy on the death of Dr. Mary Redmond, the founder of the hospice movement. She did tremendous work throughout the country. She was a solicitor and was on many boards. She will be sadly missed by all who knew her and the whole country.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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I, too, would like to be associated with the expressions of sympathy to the Buckley family from Mourneabbey on their very tragic loss. I thank the Glasgow police for their very efficient handling of the matter.

Order of Business agreed to.

Sitting suspended at 12.30 p.m. and resumed at 12.45 p.m.