Wednesday, 6 May 2015
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 64, motion 15, to be taken at 4.45 p.m., with the time allocated for the debate not to exceed two hours; and No. 1, statements on the spring economic statement, to be taken at 7 p.m. and to adjourn not later than 9 p.m., if not previously concluded.
I acknowledge the good debate we had yesterday evening on Seanad reform and the work done by the group headed by Dr. Maurice Manning. I hope that some of the group's recommendations will see the light of day and that we will have an opportunity to discuss proposals in detail as they are brought forward. I also acknowledge the Leader's efforts to facilitate debates on a variety of topics, which reflect well on the Seanad.
Today the Cabinet discussed the issue of Irish Water and the additional powers for the collection of moneys owed to a utility company. This takes us down a dangerous road. It is one thing to give those powers to a State agency such as the Revenue Commissioners but it is an entirely different matter to give them to a utility company, albeit a semi-State body, which could ultimately be privatised. This proposal undermines the role of the State and gives alarming powers to an agency that lacks democratic accountability.
This evening's debate on the Spring Economic Statement will be useful but we need a wider debate on the issues arising. I ask the Leader to provide an opportunity for the House to reflect on a vision for Ireland over the next ten years. This would include where we go as a country, how we spend any money saved from the economic recovery and how we deal with public and private debt. Households throughout the country are dealing with the alarming consequences of private debt. Even individuals who are not in negative equity are finding it difficult to manage other types of debt.We are in a country which is coming out of an austerity programme but a large proportion of the population are not sharing the fruits of economic recovery. It is being felt here in Dublin but it not being felt across the rest of the country. Job creation is not being appreciated or seen in many parts of our country. Towns are on their knees and shops are continuing to close in rural areas. We have to define a vision for Ireland and the Seanad could play a role in that. I ask the Leader to reflect on it and perhaps over the coming weeks to have a day long debate on that particular issue. It would be an open ended debate with each Member being given at least 20 minutes to make a contribution which the Government would find informative and which would play a part in defining the Seanad and its role. It is a new recourse but it is one that should be used.
I apologise for going on, but tomorrow's election in the North and in Britain is a defining election and it will have massive implications for this State. I ask the Leader to facilitate a debate in the coming weeks on the outcome of that election, when a new Government is formed, given its implications for the European project and North-South relations.
I also commend the Leader on organising the debate last night in the House on Seanad reform. It was an excellent debate and one in which so many people wanted to participate resulting in us having to extend the time by 15 or 20 minutes. What came out of the debate was a desire to look into and scrutinise in more detail the legislation that Dr. Manning, Mr. Joe O'Toole, Mr. Pat Magner and their committee are preparing and which they announced yesterday they were publishing. This is the detailed legislation to give effect to the recommendations of their working group on Seanad reform. I would very much like to have the opportunity in early course to debate the Bill, once we have all seen a copy of it. I am sure the Leader will facilitate that further debate. The big concern we all had, as Senator Cummins put it so eloquently, was that we want this to be the last report on Seanad reform. We want to see its recommendations acted upon and given effect. I would therefore like us to have that debate in the coming weeks.
I also welcome the debate tonight on the spring economic statement. That sort of openended debate is important.
I want to ask the Leader for a debate on the report that has come out today on the projections for obesity levels in Ireland. Quite a number of colleagues have spoken eloquently on this issue for some time now, but this report sets out starkly the projected rise in obesity levels in Ireland. There are some very troubling figures, particularly when we compare Irish projections to the projections of other European countries. The Netherlands is a leader in terms of reducing levels of obesity among current generations and is projected to reduce them in the future. There are some very clear issues on which focus is required at a legislative and policy making level. These include exercise levels, physical education for school children and teenagers, access to junk food and easy access to food with high levels of sugar, fats and salt. We have already done good work in the Seanad, in the public consultation committee, on lifestyle factors and their effect on cancer prevention. We should also have a debate in early course on this particular report and on what can be done to tackle obesity and, in particular, to prevent this dreadful rise that is projected to happen among our children.
I ask the Leader for another debate on commemorations in the coming months. We have had some debates on this already but it would be useful to have another debate, perhaps in the early part of the autumn, as we see the Government's programme for commemorations for 2016 taking shape. I am minded to ask for the debate in light of yesterday's moving and poignant ecumenical service in memory of the children killed during the Rising. It seems no one is quite sure how many children were killed during the week of the Easter Rising in 1916 but, thanks to the work of Joe Duffy and others, we know that it was approximately 40 children. These children had been largely written out of history. No photographs remain of them. It was moving to see the remembrance service for them yesterday, which the President and Sabina Higgins both attended. I would like us to have a debate on commemorations which takes into account the tragedies of those who were killed, particularly the children, but also the social and economic context for the Rising as well as the military endeavours during it.
I ask for a debate on the performance and evidence given by Monsieur Trichet last week. It was the most extraordinary performance by Tricky Dicky Trichet. He was elevated up on a platform.The subservient minions of the banking inquiry were seated much lower. He had no difficulty looking down his nose at them. He was introduced in the most submissive and obsequious way as Monsieur le Président. He was totally supercilious. He did nothing wrong; he was not responsible for anything at all. He was just an outside observer. Who on earth would believe that hogwash? Then there was a kind of laudatory editorial in The Irish Times.This is someone who did nothing wrong. He just landed this country in the manure. That is what he did and let us talk about it.
The man gave advice. Anyone giving advice with a bludgeon visible behind him and carrying a blunderbuss in the other hand, one would be inclined to take his or her advice. He said that he said nothing about the bondholders, but he did say the world knew and every central banker knew. Why did he keep his mouth shut? Does anyone believe he kept his mouth shut? I certainly do not. The late Brian Lenihan is on record as saying that he was told by the ECB that he could not burn the bondholders. Mr. Trichet said there was no phone call and that he does not know how he spun such a line. I do not believe Mr. Trichet, nor do I believe a single solitary word from his mouth. It is time we analysed what he did have to say in this country. Basically, it appears that he changed his mind. He told Brian Lenihan in the morning that he could burn the bondholders but by the evening he said no he could not, but that was to save the German and French banks. Of course it was; even an idiot could see that.
On the continuing saga of the referendum, there was more debate on it on television last night. The "Yes" side put up a fine performance but I did not know where the "No" side were coming from because there was a lot of guff spoken about single fathers. Apparently, there are 500,000 of them according to Mr. Waters, which sounds a bit odd but I do not know. I am not guilty. I am not a single father. The participants spoke about equality and said everyone should relax because there were equality provisions in the Constitution. Indeed, there are. I know about them, do I not? They were there when I sued this country on the subject of the criminalisation of homosexual behaviour between adults in private. Those equality provisions existed but they did not prevent the High Court and the Supreme Court saying that despite these equality provisions, there was nothing whatever wrong with putting persons like myself in jail for periods ranging between ten years to life imprisonment. How much use were the equality provisions on that occasion?
I will follow on from what Senator Bacik said about the obesity epidemic. I am one of the people who has bored everyone for the past four years with talk of this matter. As the Senator said, the latest figures released by the World Health Organization show Ireland is on course to become the most obese country in Europe by 2030. Professor Donal O'Shea, whom most people will have heard speak on this issue, has said that Ireland is in a worse health crisis than HIV-AIDS in the 1980s and cholera in the 1800s. The new figures predict that 89% of Irish men will be overweight or obese by 2030 which puts them at the top of an overweight table of 53 countries. In the same category, it is predicted that 85% of Irish women will be overweight or obese. Even though it is a forecast, the figures are startling even if they are halfway correct. As far as childhood obesity is concerned, Irish children, especially in the lower socio-economic groups, are in effect being poisoned with high fat, high salt and, above all else, high sugar content in their foods. Legislative action must be taken as a matter of urgency to tackle this time bomb.
When the plastic bag levy was introduced, it immediately changed consumer behaviour. The use of plastic bags decreased by approximately 90% and well over €200 million was generated. The funding was subsequently invested in additional bottle banks and other environmentally friendly measures. By the same token, the introduction of a health related food and drinks levy would have a positive impact on the consumption of junk food. International surveys and research have shown this to be true. Meanwhile, the tax would generate much needed revenue for additional medical services and therapies for patients who suffer from chronic obesity related illnesses such as diabetes. As a State, we cannot afford such a situation to continue and I predict it will only get worse. I would welcome, as suggested by Senator Bacik, a debate on the issue in general but in particular on policy and the need for legislative measures to be introduced.
Will the Leader of the House consider arranging a rolling debate on the proposals contained in the 2015 Seanad reform document? The time allotted yesterday to discuss the document was limited.No one had any great satisfaction in having four minutes or six minutes to outline a complex Bill, the hard copy of which was circulated yesterday, which meant there was not much time to study it. The Association of County and City Councils represents 1,000 councillors. The councillors are the most disenfranchised group in this. The association was established in 1947. The rights were developed over that period and they have exercised them with great caution, as everyone elected from the panels to the House knows. To get a vote is worth 1,000 votes in power. I ran for the Seanad in 1992 on the administrative panel and in 1997 I ran on the industrial and commercial panel, but failed to get elected on both occasions. I was elected to the Dáil when I first ran in 1977 and was elected five times subsequently. Comparing the Dáil and Seanad, in my experience it is much more difficult to get elected to this House.
Since Senator Cummins took over as Leader of the House, he has done his utmost to expand and develop the role of the House, including innovations with the Leas-Chathaoirleach, with people making submissions and other ideas the Leader has regarding European legislation. Those are all very positive things that can be done within this House.
With respect to the diaspora, my five siblings went abroad. My eldest sister died, but I have another two siblings in England and two brothers in America, who vote. My sister, brother and their families will be voting in tomorrow's general election in Britain. That is where they pay their taxes. Their local MP represents them, comes to their houses and canvasses them, as Deputies do here. In all the years I have been talking to them, they never once asked to be represented here. They are represented by us anyway. Let us be honest about it. Many Senators get calls, letters and other representations from abroad, and what do they do? They act on them.
There are grounds to have a rolling debate. As Senator Bacik said, the Bill that is to come should be debated. I do not know who is introducing it because they have no rights themselves.
To publish it, even. Perhaps the Leader of the House is to publish it. I would recommend to him that we should analyse that Bill in detail before it is published. The most charming part of the Bill is the proposal for an ongoing committee, sitting every month, reporting to the Government in perpetuity, this great group with Dr. Maurice Manning, Mr. Joe O'Toole and others. That is rather nice job creation for someone. It is rather inventive, to say the least, to put that in, but that would be a matter for the Government to decide.
I again very much welcome the living city initiative. I may have asked the Leader this already. It might be useful in due course when we have some more information about these special regeneration areas in Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Galway, Waterford and Kilkenny and we have the maps to have a debate if Members were interested. It is a tremendous initiative for owner-occupiers of properties originally built for use as residences prior to 1915. Many of these are well worth preserving and enhancing and for that reason alone it is welcome. There is also a retail-commercial element, which I would like to see spelt out more. I note the scheme will last for five years. I would like to see the scheme extended to many other towns and cities if possible, but those details can wait for a debate if the Leader thinks well of it and if there is enough demand for it.
I agree somewhat with Senator Bacik in regard to the proposed Seanad ballot paper - perhaps not the ballot paper. I was amused that we might have to download the ballot paper. I think they could get into trouble on that one, but enough of that. In regard to the Bill that the three wise men - it is a committee of more than the three wise men - have proposed for publication, without discussing the Bill, because I presume the Bill will need to be sponsored by the Government, I would like a discussion which might be a follow-on from yesterday, as Senator Bacik suggested, because we were curtailed somewhat on time.We might want to speak more on that subject. I did not have the time to mention a few items that I wanted to include. The former Senators' objective is worthwhile. The report is generally good but I see two huge snags in what it proposes. They could be spelled out further together with other snags other Members may have with a view to directing the measure if we were to have a discussion on the proposed Bill without dealing formally with it. I recommend that to the Leader. Also, a debate in due course in the autumn on the proposed commemorations would be worthwhile.
Cuirim fáilte roimh na moltaí a d'fhoilsigh an tAire Oideachais agus Scileanna, an Teachta O'Sullivan, agus an tAire Stáit, an Teachta Joe McHugh, inné maidir le cúrsaí oideachais Gaeltachta. Níl iontu ag an bpoinnte seo ach moltaí ach fáiltím rompu. Tá na moltaí atá ann dearfach agus téann siad cuid mhaith den bhealach i dtreo na rudaí atá ag teastáil ó phobal na Gaeltachta ó thaobh chúrsaí oideachais. Tá sé tábhachtach go mbeadh an pobal ag labhairt faoi na moltaí seo ach sílim go mbeidh sé fíor-thábhachtach go mbeidh acmhainní agus tacaíocht ar fáil ón Roinn nuair a bheas na moltaí sin pléite leis an bpobal.
I would like us to have a debate on how it would be possible to dismantle Irish Water. We have seen the carrot and stick approach adopted by the Government to Irish Water. The second part of the process, namely-----
-----the carrot of offering people a conservation grant has not worked and now the Government is using the stick and saying that if people do not play ball that it will put its hands into their pockets and take the money out of their bank accounts or social welfare payments. What is missing in its approach is an understanding that many people do not have the means to pay this unjust charge. That is the reality the Government does not seem to want to consider. It is disgraceful that the Minister, Deputy Kelly, and the Government are examining the possibility of taking these costs from people through the draconian means proposed. It would be much more suitable for us to have a debate on how to dismantle Irish Water and put in place a proper public utility that can deliver the needs of the Irish people, rather than putting in water meters at a huge expense to the public. I note that the plan for installing them in Galway city will be rolled out during the next few weeks. Instead of jailing people, the Government is now talking of putting its hands in the pockets of people who cannot afford to pay any more. The reason people have not signed up to Irish Water is that they do not have faith in it, they do not have faith in the Government's Irish Water policy and, in many cases, they are unable to pay for the extra costs of water, having paid for it through other mechanisms in the taxation system. A debate on the abolition of Irish Water would be a useful one to have in this House.
I am not sure where to start or how to address what I am about to talk about but I will follow on from the comments of Senator Bacik said and Senator Noone on the report from the World Health Organization that came out this morning. I was mad as hell when I read it this morning and I have listened to commentaries on the radio today about obesity levels and where they are headed in Ireland. The report cited a likely increase from 23% to 57% in the incidence of obesity among women and a likely increase from 26% to 48% in the incidence among men. The incidence of obesity is likely to explode in 2030 not only in Ireland but throughout Europe and rest of the world. Senator Bacik spoke about having a debate on the issue but we do not need another bloody debate. We have had report after report, including Healthy Ireland; Health Eating Active Living; Action for Life - Action for Everybody, Growing Up in Ireland, Senior Cycle Physical Education and Junior Cycle Physical Education and my own Points for Life initiative which I introduced in this House three and a half years ago. Where did I get with it? Probably nowhere, other than that I got the NTSC and the Department of Education and Skills to allow me to run a pilot programme at primary level involving four schools. My report proved what we already know, not only for the past four years but for the past 15 years, which is how the health of this nation is going.The Department of Health is spending up to €15 billion a year, but what will the figure be in 2030? It will probably be €20 billion. We do not have a clue what we are doing to address the issue of physical activity and well-being and the obesity epidemic about which we have been told today. According to the report, there are too many obstacles and road blocks and it is time for action, not words. It has been proved in all reports that physical exercise reduces the level of cardiovascular disease and increases mental well-being, yet we are doing nothing to deal with the issue. In the Healthy Ireland initiative the need for cross-departmental support is mentioned. To be honest, that is an absolute joke. The Sport Ireland Bill 2014 is passing through the House and perhaps will be passed tomorrow. It is an opportunity to take some action under the umbrella of Sport Ireland. One invests to succeed. Sport Ireland could help us to deliver in communities, schools and voluntary clubs a really good action plan. I receive letters and e-mails on a regular basis, including one today, from schools which are dealing with problems with gymnasiums and have halls, perhaps, 9 m by 19 m, for 600 schoolchildren. They are on the following lines: "Eamonn, we have been applying for sports capital grants for the past 15 months or perhaps 15 years and cannot get anywhere." We really have to take action on this issue. The problem should be nipped in the bud in the case of children, as otherwise we are facing a lost generation. If serious action is not taken now, we will be in serious trouble by 2030.
I seek a debate on the issue of online gambling and betting as a number of young people are in serious debt as a result of this facility being available to them. The betting companies do not care how much money a person loses or how much debt he or she gets into. On the other hand, if a person was to win a large amount of money online, they could shut down his or her account but do not mind bankrupting him or her. There is no watchdog to protect people and we have no way of knowing how big the problem is. I seek a debate on the issue in the House. With cross-party support, perhaps we might arrive at solutions and recommendations to alleviate the pain of some of those affected by it.
Following on from what Senator Eamonn Coghlan said about the level of obesity among the population, I draw the attention of the House to an incident that occurred at the weekend. Prior to the under-21 football final between Tipperary and Tyrone the intermediate ladies football final took place between my county of Limerick and Offaly which Offaly won. It is the treatment of the ladies involved prior to the game that I wish to highlight. They show the same dedication in training as everybody else, yet they had to tog out at a location ten minutes away from the pitch by bus. They were not allowed to bring their gear bags into the ground. The half-time team talk took place in a hallway in which people were preparing food. The ladies concerned who have given so much of their time to playing for their counties did not receive as much as the match programme, even though they were playing in an all-Ireland final. That is not good enough at a time when we have such good female role models in sport. Katie Taylor is an obvious one, as is Anna Geary, the captain of the Cork camogie team who has received four all-star awards and has four all-Ireland medals and who announced her retirement at the weekend. I wish her the best of luck. What I have mentioned does not encourage anybody to become involved in sport.
What I really want to talk about is the march that took place at the weekend involving foreign language students in Ireland to learn English. There are English language schools located all over the capital city to which we invite people from all over the world to come to learn English and then relate their positive experiences here.Many of these students have clubbed together thousands of euro in their countries by going cap in hand to neighbours, friends and relatives to raise the money to go to the schools and, when they get there, the schools can close overnight with no protection for these students who are coming here to learn English. The person who organised that march at the weekend stated she had worked as an English language teacher all over the world and that while the schools are poorly regulated everywhere, Ireland is the worst in the world and we need regulation. These schools are often operated by charlatans and fly-by-nights, and while the tutors in these schools are offered some protection, there is no recompense at all for any of the students. This is not a problem that has arisen recently. This dates back a couple of years. When Deputy Ruairí Quinn was Minister, I brought it to his attention as well. Often many of these students are forced into working in poorly paid employment, for example, as au pairs, where their conditions of work are poor to say the least, and they do not seem to have anywhere to turn or to go to. Perhaps it is because they cannot vote that people are not making a big noise about it, but it certainly does nothing to enhance our reputation as a country abroad when this kind of thing happens. I seek a debate in this House with the Minister for Education and Skills to see what is being done to regulate these types of schools.
I support the comments of my colleagues on the obesity issue. There should be a debate but it should be the commencement of putting together a practical action plan to address this issue. The figures revealed today in the WHO report are both frightening and startling, and the consequences, if we leave it unaddressed, are horrendous. Dr. Francis Finucane, a consultant endocrinologist at University Hospital Galway, suggests that the position will get worse and that if we leave matters as they are, we will be similar to the United States where one in three of those born since 2000 will have diabetes by the time they reach the age of 50. It is time to take all those reports to which Senator Eamonn Coghlan referred and start condensing them down to practical workable solutions. I agree with the Senator on the need for more investment in sports facilities in schools. There are significant sporting facilities in every rural community, town and village in this country but these are totally under-utilised. The challenge is how we can encourage more young people to use those facilities.
I refer to another significant report that was published today by Amnesty International on the unthinkable atrocities being waged against civilians in Syria's second city of Aleppo. The report alleges that the Syrian Government forces and many rebel groups are committing war crimes every day. President Assad's Government stepped up its bombardment of Aleppo in recent weeks in response to a rebel offensive. A local journalist told the BBC that she heard the screams of children and saw rescuers struggling to pull victims from the rubble. The Amnesty report stated that Syrian Government aircraft launched continual attacks using barrel bombs, oil barrels, fuel tanks and gas cylinders packed with explosives and targeted 14 public markets, 12 transportation hubs, 23 mosques, 17 hospital and medical centres and three schools, and there have been in excess of 3,000 fatalities. Over a year ago, a UN resolution calling for an end to human rights abuses, specifically barrel bombs, was passed but the Government of Assad failed to comply with that resolution. Since then the international community has turned its back on the Aleppo civilians. I call on our Government to keep on at the United Nations and our counterparts in Europe to apply pressure to the Assad Government to desist and adhere to the United Nations resolution.What is happening in Syria warrants another debate in the House with the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade at a convenient time because the atrocities highlighted in today's report are unspeakable and must be addressed. If war crimes are being committed, there is an obligation on the international community to pursue that issue to the international courts.
I support Deputy Eamonn Coghlan on all the magnificent work he has done since he was elected to this House. I read part of the report online but there is a shortcut in it to many of the reports that have been published already. If much of that groundwork were implemented, it would be welcome and would contribute to the work done by Senator Eamonn Coghlan, as mentioned by Senators Catherine Noone, Michael Mullins and everyone in the House who has raised it. However, Senator Coghlan has done a good deal of the work.
I raise the issue of the collection of the water rates. If people can afford to pay and will not pay, they are breaking the law. I do not know a Member on any side of the House who would say that people like the Anti-Austerity Alliance or Sinn Féin Deputies and others cannot afford to pay their water charges. It is no different than any other charge. We have to pay for a plumber, a carpenter and so on. The announcement today is about keeping people who will not pay their water charges out of jail. There will be a different approach now to people who will not pay the charge and those who cannot afford to pay. Generous allowances will be made, and that will be looked at. It is time we said that those who cannot afford to pay this charge will not be asked to pay it.
Our jails are full of people who have not paid their licence, carpenter or plumber, and if we did not introduce this law, the others to whom I refer would end up in jail. We want criminals and people who burgle and terrorise people at gunpoint in jail. I visited a house in Rathfarnham where people yielding a gun and three knives came in to rob the occupants. Those are the people we want in jail, and a minimum threshold in that regard.
I call for a debate on child care. Caring for children is important. Abuse of children is an important issue to be addressed. They are different, but they are all about children. Before the budget we should make sure that every Department, and future Departments, will ensure that child care is put at the top of the agenda. I read a tweet last night from Gerry Adams which said:
Time 4 sleep. Thoughts r with Jock Davidson's family. Oiche mhaith.That was on the same day his own brother lost his appeal against a conviction for child abuse in the North. There was no oíche mhaith or tweet about why someone would do something like that to their daughter.
You have made your point. I think when the Cathaoirleach is not here Members take advantage of my indulgence. I am very fair to people.When Senators get two minutes they ask for four minutes and when they get four minutes they want five minutes. That is not begging my indulgence; it is taking advantage of my generosity in the Chair.
I call Senator Brennan. I called him earlier but he was absent.
This morning I attended a meeting of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Transport and Communications which was addressed by the assistant Garda Commissioner, Mr. John Twomey. He instanced that changes to road traffic legislation have led to a significant improvement in road safety since 2005, when there were 396 road deaths as compared with 195 in 2014. That means there has been a reduction of more than 50% between 2005 and last year. Despite recent increases in 2013 and 2014, there has been a reduction in fatalities, with 50 deaths on Irish road to date this year, a decrease of 13 over the same period last year.
Without doubt, road safety is critical. In my opinion, and as stated by the assistant commissioner, we must all take responsibility for the issue. I hope the number of fatalities can be reduced further. I commend the Garda on its efforts to reduce the number of fatalities on the roads. I call for a debate in the Seanad on how we, as a body, can help reduce further the number of fatalities on the roads of this country.
I pay tribute to Phil Farrington who, sadly, died on 3 May aged 94 years. He served in France and Germany and helped to liberate the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Earlier this week he died at a home for Second World War veterans in Dublin. If one remembers, the call to pardon such soldiers began in the Seanad when we spoke to the then Minister for Defence, Deputy Alan Shatter. Thank goodness the Government pardoned all these soldiers.
I remind Senators and put on record the fact that Phil Farrington and thousands of Irish soldiers were dismissed en masse from the Irish Army because they joined the British Army, in their view, to defend us, the Irish, from the greatest threat which was posed by the Nazis who wanted to take over the country, our lives and society. These people were blacklisted, branded deserters, denied social welfare and public sector jobs, and their wives and children were treated with disdain for their entire lives. Today, I pay tribute to this man who was one of the few remaining soldiers to survive. His grandson has recalled that the effect of being ostracised by the State still had an impact right up to Phil's death, which is very sad. Thank God, the soldiers were pardoned during our time in the Seanad.
I heard Senator Eamonn Coghlan's impassioned speech on the issue of obesity and his call for action. I have read the newspaper article which stated that Ireland is set to be the most obese country in Europe. Normally, cool and wonderful trends start on the west coast of America which take four to five years to reach England and then Ireland. My goodness, the obesity trend has rushed across the Atlantic and, boy, have we embraced it. I agree with what the Senator had to say on the matter. I do not know what Minister we need to bring in to the House for a debate. I suggest that the Department of Education and Skills puts healthy cooking on the school curriculum five days a week, as a matter of urgency.
The curriculum should include lessons on how to cook, not out of boxes and packets, but healthy inexpensive food that will keep people healthy and well. The Department should convey that obesity affects one's mental health.It will affect physical health, self-esteem and ruin the coffers of the State in years to come. We must do something about this. I wholeheartedly support Senator Coghlan's statement in that regard.
Senator Ó Domhnaill referred to Seanad reform proposals. As the Leas-Chathaoirleach stated, we will be having further debates on the proposals before we deal with any Bill. I have copies of the draft Bill, which were furnished to me by Dr. Manning yesterday. It is a draft Bill and has not been published. I gave an indication that the House will have a further more lengthy debate on the topic. Yesterday's discussion was only a preliminary one on the report. I assure the Senator that there will be a further debate in the House in the near future.
Senator Ó Clochartaigh raised the matter of Irish Water. We cannot have a situation where one person is paying for water while a neighbour is not. There is a distinction between people who cannot pay and those who will not pay and it will be addressed in the legislation and proposals that come from the Government. In regard to dismantling Irish Water, I assure Senator Ó Clochartaigh that it is not on the agenda. The provision of a safe, clean water supply for all the people of Ireland is what is required and it will be provided. Brave steps have been taken by the Government to ensure that people have clean drinking water and that the supply for industry will be available. We have a situation where we are near capacity in Dublin in terms of the water supply and that will be addressed also.
Senator Ó Domhnaill also asked for a debate on a vision for Ireland for the next ten years. We can start with that vision tonight when we speak about the spring economic statement, which addresses the economic situation over the coming years. Listening to Senator Ó Domhnaill towards the end of his contribution, one might have been led to think the country should close up shop given all the negativity one heard. We have no intention of doing that. Calling for 20 minute contributions from Members, I found it difficult at times to get five minutes from some.
Senators Ivana Bacik, Catherine Noone, Eamonn Coghlan, Michael Mullins, Cáit Keane, Mary Ann O'Brien and others referred to the projections on obesity, which are very troubling. As Senator Eamonn Coghlan said in a passionate contribution, there is nothing new in the figures. It is something that has been discussed for years. We have enough reports and what we need now is action. The Senator is right, as are all the speakers. Senator Noone has spoken on several occasions on the subject also. We need legislative action if necessary.
We are spending €15 billion on our health service, but it will be double that if we fail to tackle the whole problem of obesity. Physical exercise is very important. Senator Eamonn Coghlan should make those points on the Sport Ireland Bill also. He made the very good suggestion that Sport Ireland could be given some responsibility in the area of promoting physical exercise in schools in particular. It is something that will have to be addressed. I will ask the Minister for Health to come to the House to debate the issue with us. He has been here previously, but I will ask him to come in again in view of the recent report.
Senator David Norris referred to the evidence given by Mr. Jean-Claude Trichet to the banking inquiry. I am sure it will be considered at length by the inquiry committee. We can have a debate on the committee's findings when it publishes its report. I note also Senator Norris's points in regard to the referendum on marriage equality.He has made similar points over recent days.
Senator Noone referred to the recent report on obesity levels and called for legislative action to deal with the issue. Senator Leyden referred to yesterday’s debate on Seanad reform. As I stated already, it was a preliminary discussion. I note his views on the diaspora, representation with taxation and other related issues which can be raised in our next debate on this matter.
Senator Paul Coghlan referred to the living cities initiative. This is an exciting scheme which will help rejuvenate certain areas in our cities. If there are further calls for a debate on the scheme, I am sure we can facilitate one. The scheme was launched by the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, today. It provides property tax incentives for certain regeneration areas, as designated by the Minister, in Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Galway, Waterford and Kilkenny. The maps and boundaries of these areas can be found on the websites of the respective local authorities. The two types of relief are an owner-occupier residential element for properties originally built for use as a private dwelling prior to 1915 and a retail-commercial element. The scheme will last for five years from the day it is commenced by order of the Minister for Finance.
I dealt with the matter raised by Senator Ó Clochartaigh regarding Irish Water. I have also already addressed the matter raised by Senator Eamonn Coghlan on sport in schools. He has made proposals himself on this issue. There has been a successful pilot project but the time for talking is gone. We need action on this matter.
Senator Kelly raised the issue of online gambling and betting. In this session there was a comprehensive debate over several days on the Betting (Amendment) Bill. The gambling control Bill is also to be brought before the House soon. I share the Senator’s concerns about this matter.
Senator Heffernan referred to the provision of changing facilities for women at sporting venues. The same facilities should be provided for both sportsmen and sportswomen. Why arrange games with ladies togging off and having team talks in different areas to the main changing facilities? It does not make sense. Whoever arranged those fixtures has something to answer for in that regard.
The regulation of English language schools was raised by Senator Mooney last week and again yesterday, as well as by other Members. It is a matter of great importance because the reputation of the country is at stake where education is concerned. The Department of Education and Skills has worked closely with the Department of Justice and Equality and other stakeholders to assist and co-ordinate a sympathetic response through the task force formed for students affected by the closure of private language colleges.
The two Departments have also produced a package of reforms to the student immigration system for international education which will be brought to the Government for its approval in the next two weeks. These reforms will drive restructuring of the sector which will improve the overall quality offered to international students and protection for learners. They will also enhance Ireland’s reputation and reduce the negative impact on the Irish labour market and social protection costs. These are all strongly in line with the goals of Ireland’s international education strategy. When we have this report and the reforms are decided on by the Government in the next two weeks, we will have a debate on the matter in the House. Senator Michael Mullins raised the issue of the atrocities in Aleppo and the recent report by Amnesty International which was shocking. The use of barrel bombs is a despicable act. I can assure him that the Government will keep pressure on our EU compatriots and the UN to take action against the Assad government because what is happening is absolutely atrocious.
Senator Cáit Keane explained what is proposed in terms of people who will not pay for water. She called for a debate on child care. She also called for Sinn Féin to deal with the issue of child abuse which it has not dealt with as yet.
Senator Terry Brennan raised the issue of the reduction in the number of fatalities on Irish roads and outlined that we all have a responsibility in this area. He commended the Garda and the Road Safety Authority on their actions.
Senator Mary Ann O'Brien paid tribute to Phil Farrington, a veteran of the Second World War, who has died at the age of 94. As she rightly pointed out, it was right and proper that he and his colleagues were granted a pardon by the then Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Alan Shatter, and the Government. I extend my condolences to the Farrington family.
In terms of the spring economic statement I do not think I gave the times for speakers. The contributions of group spokespersons shall not exceed eight minutes and those of all other Senators shall not exceed six minutes.