Wednesday, 10 June 2015
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, Customs Bill 2014 - Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken at 12.45 p.m. and to adjourn no later than 3 p.m.; No. 2, Children (Amendment) Bill 2015 - Report and Final Stages, to be taken at 3 p.m. and to adjourn no later than 5 p.m., No. 3, Private Members' business, Moore Street Area Renewal and Development Bill 2015 - Second Stage, to be taken at 5 p.m. and to conclude no later than 7 p.m.; No. 4, Statute Law Revision Bill 2015 - Committee Stage, to be taken at 7 p.m. and to adjourn no later than 9 p.m., if not previously concluded; and No. 5, motion regarding the approval by Seanad Éireann of the Draft Commission of Investigation (Irish Bank Resolution Corporation) Order 2015, to be taken at 9 p.m. and to conclude no later than 11 p.m., with contributions from group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes each, all other Senators' contributions not to exceed five minutes each, and the Minister to be called on to reply to the debate not later than 10.55 p.m.
As we have approximately four weeks left, I ask the Leader to provide a schedule of the proposed legislation between now and the summer recess so that we have something definitive for the next four weeks or so.
I express my alarm at the increase in hospital waiting lists, particularly in my county and city of Cork. The figures published by the National Treatment Purchase Fund and acknowledged by the HSE indicate that more than 13,000 people, primarily in Cork city and county, are waiting for more than 12 months to see a consultant in the three Cork hospitals, the South Infirmary, the Mercy Hospital and CUH. Some of them have been waiting for as long as 18 months. Even having seen a consultant there is a further delay of 12 month or 15 months - sometimes up to two years - to get the surgery done, including hip replacement and knee surgery.
I ask the Leader to have the issue of the National Treatment Purchase Fund, which has basically been stood down by the current Government, looked at again. It is an appalling vista to have thousands of people waiting first to see a consultant and then to have their operation. That is not acceptable in this day and age and many of these people are elderly. The National Treatment Purchase Fund was established to address a bottleneck in our health service with people waiting for operations. It allowed operations to be done in Northern Ireland and Great Britain and the system should be revisited. Instead of getting better, the reality is that this time five years ago the then spokesperson for health in opposition, the former Minister for Health, Deputy Reilly, was pontificating that if he was in power, within 12 or 15 months he would have it all sorted out and in fact it is getting worse. The matter must be addressed. I am not proposing an amendment to the Order of Business because I want the Leader to reflect on these waiting list figures with a view to having a full debate on them and the role of the NTPF before the summer recess. I intend to revisit the matter.
I raise the issue of Irish Water and the farcical situation of thousands of homeowners being supplied through lead pipes, which are widely known to contaminate water and have adverse effects on people's health. We have discussed ad nauseamthe funding of Irish Water, rushing to install meters everywhere and putting the cart before the horse. The first thing the public want is good-quality water through good pipes and that is not happening at the moment. There are issues with potable water even in areas such as mine in west County Cork. It is not acceptable that approximately 200,000 households are getting water through the lead pipes.
I urge the Leader to organise a debate on the direction of Irish Water with the Minister responsible, hopefully before the summer recess. A two or three-hour debate in this House would highlight the problems. Things are not getting any better. Approximately €600,000 and possibly up to €750,000 has already been spent. Instead of Irish Water serving the needs of the people, the whole situation is deteriorating. It is wrong to have a total rush to install meters with a view to collecting money rather than ensuring a proper supply of potable water that is lead-free. I hope we can debate these issues in the Chamber and be provided with answers. Otherwise, whether it is next week or the week after, either I or my Leader, Senator Darragh O'Brien, will table amendments to the Order of Business to pressurise for a debate on these very important issues.
On the issue of lead pipes, which came to public attention a short while ago, there is an implication in some of the media reports that Irish Water discovered the problem and wrote to 28,000 households to advise that they had lead pipes that are a health hazard. I find it somewhat disturbing. It is my understanding that lead piping was used to supply households up to the 1970s and even up to the 1980s. This should be the subject of an inquiry, perhaps by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht. The damage done by lead in the water system has been known for decades. It is linked to development issues in children and is also linked to kidney problems, cancer and even to dementia.
I wonder about the role of the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government back in the 1970s and 1980s, and indeed the 1990s and 2000s, when it must have been known that local authorities were installing lead piping in the country even though it was known to be a health hazard.
There is an issue of accountability of local authorities and an issue of the accountability of the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government. Why should it be down to householders to put their hands deep into their pockets to pay for this? That local authorities might be held accountable for doing something that was damaging to public health when they knew better is worthy of investigation.
The ESRI has warned the Government against putting €1.5 billion of a budget boost back into the economy. The good news is that it is lauding the economy's performance and noted that we would have a growth rate of 4% next year and 3.5% the following year, accompanied by significant drops in unemployment - down to 8.3% by 2016. All of this proves that the Government has succeeded significantly in turning the economy around.
I do not accept its advice to Government that we should put our hands in our pockets and let the economy do its job. I do not think the ESRI is aware that this Government and the previous one were forced to take significant amounts of money out of public services that impacted on some of the most vulnerable people in Irish society despite our best efforts to try to preserve basic rates of social welfare. In particular we owe it to people who suffer from disability, for example, who need resources put back into the health budget as my colleague on the other side of the House has said. We also need to support those who need housing, who need education and people with young families who, we know, have suffered from what has happened to this country over many years.
I agree that we should not under any circumstances lead the country into another bubble, but we must restore public services and we can do so without fuelling private debt and without bringing the country into a situation of crisis.
I also raise the issue of lead pipe contamination. Thousands of cases are coming to light, including 84 such cases in Galway. As Irish Water's work continues I am sure more will be discovered.
I am pleased the Government has committed to assist those in financial need to carry out remedial work.I also call on the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government to come to the House because it is important we get clarification on how we are going to deal with lead pipe contamination and what exact measures the Government intends to put in place to deal with the serious health issue for children, the elderly with underlying health issues and pregnant women. The health implications are significant and we need the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government to come to the House to debate the matter.
I wish to speak about an article that is being widely reported in today's media about the presentation given to Amnesty International's seminar yesterday by the master of the National Maternity Hospital, Dr. Rhona Mahony. If anyone knows anything about pregnancy and pre-natal practice, it is she. She is certainly an expert on the subject. It confirmed the fears I had about the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill when it came to this Chamber. I could not vote for the Bill at the time because I felt it did not go far enough in that it did not give the necessary protections I believed should have been afforded, especially to women who suffer a fatal foetal abnormality or women who become pregnant due to rape or incest.
The latest figures indicate that ten women a day must travel from this country to England to seek the necessary medical treatment, which is absolutely outrageous in this day and age. The country has moved on a considerable amount since the 1980s but the Legislature has not moved with the times on the issue. There is no reason in the world a woman diagnosed with a fatal foetal abnormality should be forced to bring her pregnancy to full term. It is an absolutely cruel practice, one we should not force on any woman. Legislation covering such matters in this country result in discrimination against women, especially those who come from poorer and more deprived areas who possibly cannot afford to make the trip to England and who are forced to self-medicate. Women buy all sorts of experimental drugs and take the treatment into their own hands at home without proper medical supervision. We should be able to have a mature debate in this House on the eighth amendment. Before the Government’s term ends it should put a referendum on it to the people. Most people are sensible when it comes to rape, incest and fatal foetal abnormality and they are matters on which we should legislate.
I support Senator O’Donovan’s point on hospital waiting lists. There is now a major problem in that regard. Part of the problem is due to the lack of long-term planning, in particular from 2003 on when we did not employ enough consultants. The last time I inquired about the matter when the HSE attended the Committee on Health and Children, it was confirmed that more than 325 consultant vacancies existed out of a total of 2,500 posts. I agree with what Senator O’Donovan said about the National Treatment Purchase Fund. We should look seriously at the matter again, in particular in cases where people have been waiting for a considerable period. However, if that option is chosen, it must be done properly. There was a case in the South Infirmary-Victoria Hospital where people were referred to a private hospital for consultation and reports were made but then the HSE consultants had to review the patients before they could carry out the procedures. That should not have been done. If such an approach is taken, it should be done properly in the way it was done previously where people were assessed and operations were carried out in the private sector. That option needs to be reconsidered and it would be appropriate to have a debate on the matter in the House.
I agree with what my colleague said about a debate on the Amnesty International report. A presentation was made to the Committee On Health and Children yesterday but I decided not to take part in it because I had not fully read the report. Parts of the report have been taken out of context, which is unfortunate because it gives a very false impression of the medical services that are available in this country for women. It is wrong that such an impression is given. I raised the matter with the head of Amnesty International in this country after the meeting. I accept issues arise that need to be dealt with, in particular that of fatal foetal abnormalities. I worry about the accuracy of some aspects of a report based on interviewing only 60 people and I have concerns about it from that point of view.
Senator O’Donovan and Senator Hildegarde Naughton both raised the issue of lead piping. It is something that has been known about for some time. The Government is not responsible for it as it dates back to the previous century when lead piping was used extensively in buildings. It is very important that the matter would be rectified. I hope the Government will introduce some form of grant system to allow householders who are affected by the situation. We should have a debate on the matter and other issues regarding water transportation. For instance, asbestos pipes were used in the 1970s. The Castlerea regional scheme had asbestos piping from the Longford Springs to Ballintubber and surrounding areas. The matter was brought to my attention a long time ago by people in that area who were concerned. They were assured that asbestos would not be carried in the water but it is a health issue and the Government should examine it.
Even though a report was published on the fluoridation of water, I have strong reservations on the matter. I chaired a committee in the Department of Health which was mainly composed of dentists and professors of dentistry which came out in favour of adding fluoride to water. Since then, however, I have developed strong reservations on the matter. Why would one add something to a product that is beautiful and clear? Fluoride is a drug. It is a dangerous chemical. It is used to protect teeth and it is said that the addition of it to water has been a wonderful success in this respect. However, it is also being given to animals in drinking water. I have strong reservations on the matter and I would like to see some international studies on the issue. Most countries are discontinuing water fluoridation. The problem is that each administration administers fluoride in its own way and there is no overall consistency in the approach taken. Some people might dump a tonne of it into the water while others put in less. It is a very inexact, unregulated system. It would be worthwhile if the Leader of the House could give Members an opportunity to debate water. I hope Irish Water gets involved in the wider debate. The company has enough people working for it in its public relations and communications area for it to listen to the words spoken in Seanad Éireann, and in Dáil Éireann for that matter.
I do not wish to hear about IBRC, Bank of Ireland, Allied Irish Banks or any of those valueless banks for which we paid millions, and are still paying millions, through the universal social charge, in order that they could stay alive. Let us all talk about the real bank, which is the post office. I want the Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection to come to the House to explain about the new social welfare forms. I want them withdrawn. The Irish Postmasters Union said that all post offices will be under threat of closure if social protection transaction business is taken away. We really need to take this on board because savings and savings certificates in the post office are probably the most valuable savings people have in any bank in Ireland because the post office does not rob people and then come back and ask people to pay for the robbery. I request that the forms would be reissued and that the Minister would come to the House to confirm that is the case. Social welfare payments account for more than 30% of transactions and if they are removed, the core business is gone.While I acknowledge what the Minister of State at the Department of Social Protection, Deputy Kevin Humphreys, has said on the matter, we should be treating the post office network as a national asset by taking its social and community value into account. The Oireachtas should provide the powers required to keep our post offices alive and to extend its range of functions, which currently include banking and payment of motor tax, drivers licence fees, insurance and pensions.
The Irish people do not have great faith in the prospect of good politics or good banking. We are good politicians in this House, and this is the forum from which we can support our post offices, as the most valuable resource in every town, county and urban area in Ireland. We should be extending them and giving them more powers rather than shutting them down and capitulating to the banks. I urge Senators to support me in introducing a framework that would allow the post office network to remain independent and to grow under the Houses of the Oireachtas. I want to amend the Order of Business to debate this issue with the Minister.
I second Senator O'Donnell's amendment to the Order of Business. I met representatives of the Irish Postmasters Union yesterday. The form shows clear bias towards financial institutions over post offices. It directs people to use a financial institution instead of a post office. That flies in the face of the assurances given by the Ministers for Social Protection and Communications, Energy and Natural Resources that there is no inherent bias towards financial institutions when it comes to social welfare payments, and that post offices and banks are treated equally. That is simply not the case. If Senators read the forms they will see what they are telling people. They even state that it is in individuals' interest to go to financial institutions. That is even worse than a clear bias because if people withdraw from their post offices and go to financial institutions, there will be job losses and closures of post offices. Post offices have already closed in many rural areas. I need not rehearse the argument about the impact on rural communities and even urban centres, where post offices provide a crucial social service.
In regard to the one parent family changes which come into effect in July, the SPARK organisation is protesting outside Leinster House today. These changes will drive more families and, especially, women into poverty. I was in this Chamber in 2012 when the Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection said she would not implement these changes until proper social and affordable, or Scandinavian as she put it, child care was available to the citizens of this State.
She has not provided those services but she is proceeding with the cuts anyway. Shame on her. When she is here to debate the post office network, I hope that she will also deal with this crucial issue before the change is implemented on 2 July. I will be joining the protestors from SPARK when they are demonstrating against a cruel cut to those who head one parent families.
I welcome the announcement on Monday that €2.7 million is being made available from the Dormant Accounts Fund to support people with disabilities and for substance abuse prevention initiatives. A funding scheme of €1 million is also being made available for home carers. I particularly welcome the inclusion of health related supports aimed at assisting young people with a disability or with autism who are making the transition from secondary school to the next stage of their lives. As this can be an anxious period for the individuals and families concerned, the additional health related assistance is very welcome. The focus on advancing best practice in residential services is important and it has become topical in recent months. I have worked on this matter at local and national levels because it is of the upmost importance that residential services meet HIQA standards in terms of providing the best possible care for service users.
Tá mé ag seasamh i dtosach báire le haird a tharraingt ar an gceist atá ag teacht chun cinn inniu maidir leis an seirbhís aeir ar a bheidh cur i láthair againn ó mhuintir Inis Mór agus muintir na n-oileán go deimhin in Árainn. I wish to highlight the issues associated with living on an island off the coast of Ireland and call for a debate on policy on the islands in general. Today we are hearing a presentation from the Aran Islands air service action group, which is concerned that the islands' air services are under attack. This brings into focus the issue of living on the islands of our coast. It appears the new programme will not include a Leader company with the specific purpose of supporting the islands. The islands face specific infrastructure and transport difficulties, and I would welcome a debate on them.
I agree with my colleague, Senator Cullinane, on SPARK and the cuts to lone parent payments. A protest is also being held by the Dublin greyhound owners and breeders association. I have previously called for a debate on the greyhound industry because it has been some time since our last debate on the matter. The association is concerned that the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine and the Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Tom Hayes, have dropped the ball on the greyhound industry. It is currently in free-fall, with owners and breeders leaving the game in their droves. They believe that the board is being filled with political appointments and that the Minister is proposing to sell the greyhound racing stadium in Harold's Cross while keeping others open, even though it makes a profit. Concerns were also expressed about the lack of financial transparency from the board, the fact that the 2013 accounts have not yet been made available and irregularities in the industry in terms of substances used by unscrupulous trainers. This debate is long overdue and the Minister of State, Deputy Tom Hayes, should come to the House at the earliest opportunity for a full and honest discussion on the future of the greyhound industry in Ireland.
The issue of obesity has been raised on many occasions in this House. A recent report on food provision in post-primary schools prepared by the Irish Heart Foundation contained some worrying findings, including the high availability of unhealthy foods, but it also identified ground-breaking approaches to providing nutritious food in schools. Secondary schools can play a key role in improving children's health and well being by providing nutritious food options, which are essential for growth, development and protection against heart disease. The wide-ranging report found that food products with high levels of fat, sugar and salt were available in more than half of the 39 schools surveyed and that 40% of schools did not provide free drinking water, which was only marginally more widely available than Coca Cola and other energy dense soft drinks. This report deserves debate and it would be appropriate to have a debate with the Minister for Education and Skills on the provision of appropriate food in schools as part of the fight against obesity.The Leader might consider this more appropriate for the Minister for Health but both the Department of Health and the Department of Education and Skills should take a keen interest in this report.
Will the Leader arrange a debate over the next few weeks, perhaps before the end of the month or in early July, with the Minister for Finance specifically to discuss certain taxation issues? Capital gains tax is now becoming the focus of attention for many people. The rate, which was 20%, has been increased by the Minister to 33%, which is close to where it was many years ago. In those times, indexation was allowed, meaning that this is currently a very penal tax that is impacting fairly seriously on people, and particularly those who have suffered losses. This has become a very convoluted area that must be simplified, and I hope we might be able to have a debate on the issue.
At the same time we could examine capital acquisitions tax. As a result of current house prices, where parents or grandparents try to assist children or grandchildren by leaving them a house or something else, many of those people may be unable to hold on to the house because of the taxation liability that comes with it. The thresholds have been reduced very significantly by more than half in recent years since the economic collapse. Now that we see a move towards recompensing the public service, it is very important that people in the private sector are not left to pick up the bill by continuing to wear the austerity measures imposed on citizenry over the past six or seven years.
Will the Leader consider having a debate about the KBB? When the Leader and I were growing up, it was the KGB and now it is the KBB. We saw yesterday the choreography that took place between the master of one of our maternity hospitals, Amnesty International and a UN committee. Two of those organisations would see themselves as being strong advocates for human rights. Nevertheless, when it comes to the most vulnerable sector of all, they take an anti-human rights approach and go back to medieval practices which they are trying to promote. We should have a debate on all those who are part of the KBB. It is interesting that the Irish Council for Civil Liberties has not yet come out about it. It also received money from Atlantic Philanthropies, as has Amnesty International. I know the conditionality was that it would promote abortion in this country. This area needs to be exposed and the people need to be fully aware when they make decisions on these issues if that choice is put before them in future. They need to know the background of those who are promoting these issues, and people should choose in an informed way.
I seek a debate on the centralisation of services brought about by the previous Government. This is something we need to revisit as centralisation has proven to be a disaster over recent years. What was wrong with the operation of the medical card system under the health boards? There was nothing wrong with it and it worked very well. It is now a disaster. I know a mature student in Dublin with absolutely no income and he has been fighting for 15 months with the primary care reimbursement service to get a medical card to which he is entitled. He had to send the service a solicitor's letter recently.
We can consider SUSI, the education grant system. There was nothing wrong with the way it was operating when the process was local, and it ran smoothly. I know a man who has been waiting seven months for a grant to which he is entitled but he cannot get it. We can see what we did with the HSE when we formed it in favour of the old health boards. Once we got rid of the old health boards, we took away local power from the people. A former Minister for Health, Deputy James Reilly, promised to get rid of the HSE. For the ordinary person, this meant that the decision-makers and fat cats in the HSE would be eliminated. He only got rid of the board of directors and what has changed since then? Absolutely nothing. We are still seeing what used to happen with the board of directors in place. When the board was in place, the executive closed the accident and emergency department in Roscommon but with a new board in place, the executive is threatening to close the accident and emergency department in Portlaoise. There is a psychiatric unit in Castlerea that has housed 23 patients for the past 15 to 20 years and they are happy and content in that place but the HSE has decided that these people - some of whom have no advocates to speak for them - are not in the right place. The HSE believes they might be better off in private nursing homes.
All this has proven to be a disaster and centralisation should be included in any debate we have. I ask the Leader to seriously consider my request.
The Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, said that if we show him the blockages in a system, the Government would unblock them with respect to jobs, businesses or people's livelihoods. There are certainly blockages in the system and Irish Water is presenting a serious blockage if it is affecting business. We have a worrying issue developing in Oranmore, as Irish Water has stated it is to start pipe rehabilitation and water works next Monday, without any consultation with local business. We are talking about a peak time for businesses. There was a meeting last evening involving 50 businesses and there was another meeting a few days before that. These businesses are now considering an injunction as well as protest to prevent the works going ahead next Monday. This is ridiculous as there is no need for it. We want reasonable communication and consultation about the timing of works. That is all that has been asked for. Irish Water has taken a bullying approach and has sent people with no decision-making power to the site. I call for a meeting between Mr. John Tierney and a business delegation in Oranmore. It is pretty bad when I have to stand up in our Seanad to do that because we are not getting direct communication.
I also call for the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Bruton, to examine the blockages in the system. Retaining jobs is just as important as creating a job. If these works go ahead in the peak season in Oranmore, we will see full-time jobs become part-time jobs, at a minimum. People with rates bills of €127,000 - as put on the record yesterday - will have to call people who have booked holidays or a few days off to say there could be a rock blaster outside the door at 7 a.m. That is no way to treat people, and especially the business people or residents of Oranmore. Everyone should have a say.
I call on Mr. Tierney, the chief executive officer of Irish Water, to get real and negotiate rather than have the company take a bullying approach. That is the approach Irish Water has used and, mark my words, if it does this in Oranmore and get away with it, the company will do it elsewhere. I am standing with the people on this.
I am calling for a debate on zero-hour contracts as there is no doubt such contracts are bad for the Exchequer. There is a swindle of Irish taxpayers by multi-million euro companies that is going completely under the radar. This relates to large companies using zero-hour contracts to employ staff who in turn must supplement their incomes through social welfare benefits. Zero-hour contracts are not just bad for the country's living standards, they are also bad for the Exchequer, as low pay is a drain on public finances. If we consider the wages of people on zero-hour contracts, they must be routinely topped up by the Government through the payment of in-work benefits. I am firmly of the view that low pay must be supported but on the flip side, the taxpayer is subsidising the wage bills of large private companies. Their actions are driving up benefits bills and are making it more difficult for us to reduce the deficit in public finances.
Low pay, as part of the zero-hour contract issue, stifles our economy and stunts taxes coming to the Exchequer. This results in more Government borrowing, which we simply cannot afford. In effect, it is the taxpayer who is indirectly supplementing the incomes of the low-paid while subsidising the wage bill of employers. It sickens me to see companies that pimp the green colour on brands doing this. It is time for them to show some patriotism and give regular contracted hours to staff. There should be a fair day's pay for a fair day's work.
I support the ongoing campaign by Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell in regard to An Post. I support the Senator's call for the Minister for Social Protection to appear before the Seanad to discuss her role in this regard.
We have a Minister who has responsibility for rural affairs, a concept which commenced at the time of setting up the Department that I fully supported. One really has to ask the following questions. Is it relevant? Is there any use in having such a Department and Minister if the holder of the office is not in a position to ensure that vital rural development services, such as the post office network, are not only fully retained but expanded? The development of this country is an issue that we have raised here before. Do we want balanced regional development? Do we simply want an ever-expanding Dublin at the cost of rural Ireland? The post office network must be retained and expanded as part of a functioning rural and provincial Ireland.
Yes, I formally second it if it has not been seconded already.
I support Senator Ó Clochartaigh's comments on the greyhound industry. Many months ago we both spoke on the matter here and we were promised that a further debate would take place. I know that the Minister and his junior Minister are very busy in the Department but it is necessary that we debate the greyhound industry. It is an important rural industry which employs thousands of people in all of its facets. Therefore, we must retain, support and maintain the industry and its integrity. I would like to hear an update from the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine or his Minister of State, Deputy Tom Hayes, on the many areas of concern within the industry. Last September or October we debated the matter so it is time to air it again. There are problems but there is no point in brushing them under the carpet. The Seanad can have a calm and reflective debate on the subject. I know the Leader is interested in the industry and, therefore, I call on him to arrange for either the Minister or his Minister of State, Deputy Hayes, to come in here to update us on their ongoing inquiries. Let us hear from them as soon as possible. I hope they will be in a position to allay our concerns.
I support Senator Walsh's comments on the activism of organisations, such as Amnesty International, in pushing for abortion. Sadly, Amnesty International has lost many of its loyal supporters who previously viewed it as an impartial and reliable voice that acted on behalf of the most vulnerable and forgotten members of society. Frankly, the organisation has become distracted from its important work of supporting victims and prisoners of conscience to join this very troubling and corrupted version of human rights that it now proposes. That is a real shame for an organisation which had such great origins and did so much good work in the past.
I call for a debate on the manner in which the Government pursues projects that involve compulsory purchase. I specifically have in mind the Dublin to Galway greenway project. It is proposed to have a cycle path along disused rail tracks and through open country. I am concerned about the latter aspect which involves the use of a path through open country. Earlier this year I became aware that the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport officials, involved with the project, had threatened to use compulsory purchase order legislation to acquire land for the initiative. Much of the land for the part of the project that stretches from Dublin to Ballinasloe was secured through transfers of ground that belonged to Waterways Ireland and the pubic transport authorities. However, the final stretch of the route is from Loughrea to Galway city which cuts through family farms. In such cases it is outrageous to use threats of compulsory purchase proceedings.
A CPO is a draconian intervention against a private individual's constitutionally protected property rights. Therefore, it should be used sparingly and only for vital and national infrastructural projects which, to my mind, does not include a cycle path. A far better way to proceed is through negotiation and consultation. Where a proposed route dissects a family farm and thereby reduces the value of the land, compensation should be payable. However, the duty of the State does not end there. The Department must ensure that other measures are taken to ensure that farmers are confident that their business will not be negatively impacted and that their privacy will be respected. I am not satisfied that this is the case. I know from my conversations with landowners affected by the proposal that the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport has conducted discussions by dictating to farmers to take the "compo" for their land or it will be subject to a CPO.
Farmers have concerns about privacy, safety and the impacts on their business. The land strips on the greenway average 10 m in width and the proposed route cuts right across farms, in many cases. The route will run close to dwellings, near farmyards and through productive farming land. One farmer that I spoke to pointed out that the planned route dissects his land. He said that his dairy herd will have to cross the greenway four times which will add to his workload as he will have to clean it up every time his crows cross the greenway. There are obviously safety concerns where livestock comes into contact with the public. Other farmers face having a public right of way running close to their private dwellings. They are right to insist that they are entitled to more than just monetary compensation. Safety measures and measures to protect privacy are also vital.
I hope that the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport will engage in meaningful consultation, including agreeing to enhanced fencing for safety purposes and screening measures to protect privacy. These are not unreasonable demands.
I support the campaign by Senator O'Donnell to retain the vitally important post office network. As we speak and posture, services in Donegal have been centralised. Why have sub-post offices been closed in Donegal and centralised in Letterkenny? It is because the Department of Social Welfare will not roll out Government transactions through the post office network and, thus, support the network. It is essential that the Minister comes in here to debate the matter. The post office network, as we know it, is at a crossroads and continues to face huge financial challenges.
I ask the Leader what suggestions have been put forward to handle pre-budget statements, submissions or discussions here in the House. At the moment all of the interest or sectoral groups are lobbying and holding briefing sessions within the Oireachtas, and outside of the Oireachtas, in regard to what they seek in the forthcoming budget. When will we have those discussions? We should have those discussions prior to the summer recess. I call for time to be made available to debate the matter with each Department with the Cabinet Minister being present for such discussions.
I wish to refer to the saga that has spilled over today again and I refer to the Football Association of Ireland and John Delaney. I understand that the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Transport and Communications is due to meet today and may discuss the issue. The debate is much ado about nothing and is a diversionary tactic. People just want to focus attention on the chief executive of the Football Association of Ireland who, through his office, obtained a grant or loan payment or whatever from FIFA.
The only difficulty is that the sum was not larger. If it were, then the taxpayer would not have been exposed, to the extent that we have been, to fund sporting projects up and down the country. I am chairman of my local soccer club. Therefore, I can say, without qualification, that the work that John Delaney and the FAI have done to benefit grassroots soccer and under age soccer is undisputed. The money that was obtained was verified and outlined in the financial statements and annual accounts in the years concerned. The attention that has been given to the matter is a diversionary tactic and is wrong. Instead, politicians here, the people of this country and the media should get behind the Irish team who will play an important game against Scotland next Saturday.
There are other political questions about money, which has been taken from the taxpayer and is in the IBRC, that the Government does not want to discuss. A view has been adopted to direct attention at John Delaney and the FAI in order to make him a scapegoat. That is a wrong thing to do.
I draw the House's attention to a new law that has been introduced in France that will force the big supermarkets to give unsold food to charities. I do not believe there is need for the same legislation in Ireland because the vast majority of supermarkets already give unsold food to charities. It is interesting to see how much unsold food there is and how much food is thrown away when people are hungry in various parts of France.It may well happen in some cases, but to the best of my knowledge supermarkets here give their surplus food to various charities. The reason I mention this is that some products have a "best before" date rather than a "use by" date. I mentioned this issue here previously, but I have not seen anything being done about it. The "best before" term should not be used. We should use the term "use by". I remember an occasion in one of our supermarkets where a customer complained new potatoes she was buying on a Saturday had a "best before" Sunday date. I went to our supplier and asked about this and he told me they were best before that date and should be used within 24 hours of being picked. However, that did not mean there was anything wrong with them or that they were damaged. If a person was to get them at their best for taste, that is what the "best before" date meant.
I do not believe we need legislation, but I would like to encourage the disuse of the term "best before" and the use of the term "use by". On that basis we would have less waste of good food and surplus food would be used by people who need it.
I welcome the Government's national strategy on reducing exposure to lead in drinking water. We know how harmful lead can be. The strategy sets out a long-term plan to raise awareness of the legacy issue in this regard, which affects up to 200,000 homes throughout the State, and plans to support the replacement of lead piping in homes and other buildings. I understand Irish Water has already written to 655 households on this issue. I came across a case in Tralee recently where a whole estate was affected. The issue was raised by a Deputy at a hospital meeting I was attending. This issue is widespread. It is dynamite. Lead is particularly harmful to pregnant women, infants and young children. I welcome the strategy and welcome the commitment of Irish Water to replace lead piping from boundaries to the water main provided householders replace lead piping within their boundaries.
I wish to make two happy announcements. I welcome the fact that a further American football game, between Boston College and Georgia Tech, will take place in Dublin next September. American college football is not just making a name for itself but is making a second home for itself here. This should be welcomed by all involved in tourism and sport.
Second, Dublin is the chosen destination for the International Air Transport Association's annual general meeting next year. This is one of the most prestigious events on the travel calendar. The AGM will be hosted in the RDS from 1 to 3 June next year. This trade association gathering of the world's airlines will attract more than 1,200 delegates to our capital city and, hopefully, some of them will visit the north east also. It is estimated this meeting is worth €1.6 million to the local economy.
The acting leader of the Opposition, Senator O'Donovan, raised the issue of the schedule for the rest of the term. I will make available to the leader and the Whip what we have to date. We used to meet with the Leader and the Whip every week, but that practice has not continued. I have no problem in regard to providing the information.
In regard to the need to reconsider the National Treatment Purchase Fund, the Government has taken strong measures and formed an emergency department task force in December 2014 to provide focus and momentum for dealing with challenges presented by overcrowding. An additional €74 million was provided and ring-fenced for this. Some €44 million was allocated to the nursing homes support scheme and €30 million to cover the cost of additional transitional care beds. This additional funding comes on top of measures already taken in budget 2015, when the Government provided €25 million to support services that provide alternatives to relieve the pressure on acute hospitals. An implementation plan is being reviewed by the leadership of the HSE, completed yesterday, and it is anticipated this will be agreed and that the implementation steering group will be formed by the end of the week, with an initial meeting of the group to take place within the next ten days. Therefore, a number of actions are being taken to address the waiting list situation and the unacceptable trolley situation.
Senators O'Donovan, Hayden, Naughton, Coghlan and Leyden raised the issue of lead piping. I am glad there have been many good and new schemes in Roscommon to provide a good water supply for the people there. These are long overdue as Roscommon was neglected over many years
Senator O'Donovan also raised issues relating to Irish Water. We have an Irish Water clinic here each week at which people can discuss individual problems with Irish Water and Members should consider attending that. Senator Healy Eames should consider that in regard to the problem she highlighted. We have a mechanism whereby such issues can be raised by Members on a weekly basis and that forum should be used in that regard.
Senator Hayden raised the ESRI report, which certainly shows a robust recovery in domestic demand and also shows a strong export situation. The Government has been strong on the economy and has tried to ensure we continue the progress made to date. This has been Government policy, particularly of the Ministers for Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputies Noonan and Howlin.
Senators Heffernan, Mullen and Walsh raised to the Amnesty International report in reference to abortion. A number of Members raised this matter on yesterday's Order of Business also and I do not propose to deal with it again today. Senator Leyden raised the question of fluoride in water. The recent report issued suggested there is no evidence that fluoride creates a health hazard. I understand people disagree with that and Senator O'Brien raised the matter on a number of occasions.
Senator O'Donnell asked about the future of the post office network. We all support a strong post office network. However, An Post needs to start moving to generate new business, because that is what is required. People will decide how they want to receive payments.
The majority of clients claiming the State pension for the first time choose to have it paid directly into an account. The majority of existing pensioners are already receiving their welfare payments by direct lodgement. Those who receive payments in cash will continue to receive them. I hope more will decide to use post offices, but it is a decision to be taken by the people concerned. I mentioned yesterday when this matter was raised that we had held a debate in the House on 2 April on the issue of post office payments and the letter that had issued prior to that date.
When the Minister of State, Deputy Kevin Humphreys, came to the House on 2 April, there were six speakers on the issue. Many more spoke about it today. I wonder whether those who have spoken today actually spoke on 2 April when the Minister of State was present.
There are smart aleck comments from the Senator when he is here. However, he is not here that often.
The Senator also referred to SPARK, Single Parents Acting for the Rights of Kids. This matter was raised by Senator Mary White yesterday and dealt with on the Order of Business.
Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh referred to the policy on the islands. We will consider having a debate on that issue.
Regarding the greyhound industry, an issue also raised by Senator Paul Bradford, we had a debate on it last September. I understand the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine also had a debate on it. However, we will try to facilitate a further debate, if Members deem it to be necessary.
Senator Michael Mullins spoke about the need for more nutritious foods for children in schools, particularly to combat diabetes and obesity. He also referred to the report of the Irish Heart Foundation and suggested we have a debate on the matter. I will certainly try to schedule such a debate. We have had a number of debates on the issue, but the Senator suggests the Minister for Education and Skills would be the appropriate person to deal with it. I will, therefore, try to facilitate such a debate.
Senator Jim Walsh spoke about the need to look again at capital gains tax and capital acquisitions tax, which have increased significantly in recent years. I am sure the Minister for Finance will examine the matter in the budget proposals, but I suggest it be discussed at the finance committee to which pre-budget submissions are made. Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill also raised the question of pre-budget discussions. Such submissions are dealt with mainly by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform.
Senator John Kelly spoke about the need for greater decentralisation of services. He specifically mentioned post office services and items in the health sector such as medical cards. This has been Government policy on medical cards and other services, including applications for student grants. It has taken time for the services to bed down, but the position has improved significantly this year in comparison to the past few years.
The matter raised by Senator Fidelma Healy Eames could be raised as a Commencement matter or else she could deal directly with Irish Water staff who are in the Houses of the Oireachtas on a weekly basis.
Senator Lorraine Higgins raised the issue of zero hour contracts. We have dealt with the Low Pay Commission and there was a Bill in the House only last week to try to deal with the matter which is under constant scrutiny by the Government and particularly the Minister of State at the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Gerald Nash.
I have dealt with the matters raised by Senator Paul Bradford, including the post office network and the greyhound industry.
Senator Rónán Mullen referred to the provision of greenways throughout the country. This has been very important in promoting tourism, but I note the Senator's point in questioning the use of compulsory purchase orders which are used sparingly by local authorities. That is the case in this regard also.
Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill referred to the Football Association of Ireland. I do not intend to become involved in that matter. It is something the relevant Oireachtas joint committee might be dealing with.
Senator Feargal Quinn spoke about large supermarkets giving unsold food to charities, a point he has raised previously. I am aware that many Irish supermarkets do this. The point the Senator makes is a good one, that the emphasis should be on the use by rather than the best before date. This is something that should be done.
Senator Terry Brennan mentioned the American football game to be held in September. This is of tremendous benefit to tourism and gives great exposure to the country in the United States. The Senator has also highlighted the fact that the annual general meeting of the International Air Transport Association will be held in Dublin next year, with over 1,200 delegates attending. These events are welcome and promote tourism. Again, this emphasises the significant increase in tourism which we have experienced in the first quarter of the year, during which tourist figures increased by more than 13%.
In that regard, I do not propose to deal with the post office issue today. We have a lengthy business schedule and even though she was in the House on 2 April, I will certainly endeavour to have the Minister for Social Protection come to the House as soon as possible to discuss the post office network and social welfare payments. However, I cannot accede to the Senator's request today because, as is clear from the schedule, the House will sit until 11 p.m.
Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business, "That a debate with the Minister for Social Protection on the need to withdraw forms which involve the transfer of the financial arrangements of social welfare recipients from the post office to the bank be taken today." Is the amendment being pressed?