Wednesday, 17 June 2015
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, National Minimum Wage (Low Pay Commission) Bill 2015 – Report and Final Stages, to be taken at 12.45 p.m. and to adjourn no later than 3 p.m., if not previously concluded; No. 2, statements on tackling obesity in Ireland, to be taken at 3 p.m. and to conclude no later than 5 p.m., with contributions from group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes, all other Senators' contributions not to exceed five minutes and the Minister to be called on to reply to the debate at 4.50 p.m.; No. 68, motion 17, to be taken at 5 p.m. and to conclude no later than 7 p.m.; No. 3, Garda Síochána (Policing Authority and Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2015 – Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken at 7.30 p.m. and to adjourn no later than 9.30 p.m., if not previously concluded.
The issue of the sustainability of our post offices has been raised by a number of Senators over the last few weeks. We have raised it on a few occasions, and Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell raised it yesterday. I am sure we have all received correspondence and copies of the forms the Department of Social Protection is issuing. Anyone who looks at this fairly will see clearly that the Department of Social Protection is showing a clear preference for any social welfare payments to be made to what it calls financial institutions, or banks. At the very end of the form, it states that should the recipient not have a bank account, he or she should give their post office details.
We all want a sustainable post office network. This is a major part of post offices' function across urban and rural Ireland and they provide a very good service. They are the front line for many social welfare payments and they also provide an anti-fraud function because the staff know the customers who come in to collect payments. It is quite disturbing, after all the discussions we have had with the Irish Postmasters' Union and all the discussions the Minister has had, that the Department of Social Protection would issue these forms directing people to give bank account details.
We need a sustainable post office system. If more and more people move away from it, we will be talking about more closures in a few years' time. I ask the Leader to use his office to raise this matter with the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton, should he agree with me, and I am sure he does. We want a sustainable post office network and the Department should not be showing a preference for our banking institutions above our post office. Senator Kelly has also raised this matter. I ask the Leader and all Members to raise this issue, particularly with the Government parties and the Minister with responsibility for this, Deputy Joan Burton. Perhaps we could have a discussion on the matter in the next week or so.
We have all read interviews recently about Michael Lyster and the event he experienced just a few weeks ago. He took ill and had a heart attack and his wife saved his life using CPR. He is a very prominent person.His wife's interview was excellent, as was his, and I wish him a full recovery. It brings me back to a matter that has been raised here on a number of occasions by Senator Quinn and others, including me, about the provision of defibrillators around our towns and cities. The provision is sparse and is being carried out on a voluntary basis. There is no plan from a Department of Health perspective even on their provision in our schools. I have asked before and I ask again that the Minister for Health or a Minister of State at the Department attend the House to address this specific issue. Let us help to provide a plan for the provision of defibrillators. More than that, I am firmly of the view that CPR should be taught in schools. If it is age-appropriate, it could be left to secondary school, with transition year being, perhaps, the ideal time to do it. It could be provided as part of the physical education curriculum. It is a skill all of us should have. I hate to say that I do not have it myself, but I will make it my business to take a CPR course over the summer. I am involved in the regional drugs task force in north Dublin, all of the staff of which are trained. If we could get our school children and students trained, it would be useful. I ask that we have a discussion on CPR and defibrillators. I will write to the Minister to suggest that it be taught in schools by experts as part of the curriculum. Students in transition year are 14 or 15 years of age and are well able for it. Let us see if that is possible.
Colleagues of mine will be moving amendments to the Order of Business today. Senator Mark Daly will be moving one on collusion, while Senator Terry Leyden will be moving the other.
We all spoke yesterday about the tragedy in Berkeley in California. Now that more details have come out about the students and the horrific and appalling deaths and injuries they suffered, I express again my condolences to their families and communities in south Dublin, to the student community at University College Dublin and Dún Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology, and to St. Mary's in Rathmines, which some of them attended. It is appropriate that flags on all State buildings are flying at half mast today and that we had a minute's silence yesterday in the House.
There have been calls for a debate on the matters arising from the Clerys shop closure on Friday. It was raised this morning as a Commencement matter and many of us raised it yesterday on the Order of Business also. While I welcome the very active engagement of the Minister of State, Deputy Gerald Nash, on the issue and the active engagement of the Department of Social Protection with the staff of Clerys, we should have a debate on the repercussions and on what can be done to prevent something like this from happening again. We should discuss how we can strengthen our legislation on redundancy and insolvency. I ask for that debate again. I welcome the fact that it appears the concession holders will have access to their stock, although it is limited. At least that one thing is being done.
I commend the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre on the great work it has been doing in providing front-line services to victims and survivors of rape and sexual abuse. I attended the launch of its annual report for 2014 this morning. The figures published for 2014 show an increase of 30% in first-time callers to its national 24-hour helpline. There was an increase of 14% in calls relating to adult rape compared to the 2013 figures. The Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, spoke at the launch and outlined a series of Bills she proposes to introduce before the end of the year. While we will have the Second Stage debate in September or October on the sex offences Bill which the Minister hopes to publish before the end of July, I ask the Leader for a debate on victims' rights prior to the introduction of the victims' rights Bill that the Minister proposes to introduce and also prior to the signing of the Istanbul convention, which she is hopeful we can finally sign as a State this year.
I ask the Leader to make time for a debate on child marriage. Senator van Turnhout and I have been working on this, and we had a Private Members' debate on the matter. An interdepartmental working group is looking at the ending of the facility to contract a child marriage in Ireland. It is a timely topic to raise today, given that yesterday was the day of the African child. The focus internationally among NGOs and development agencies is on seeking to ensure that child marriage is ended in Africa, where tens of millions of girls are subjected to early and forced marriage while they are still children. It is obviously a hugely pressing issue in many countries and we need to take a lead in Ireland on ending the practice of child marriage.
It is very difficult to continue as usual in ordinary business when we are dealing with a tragedy such as that which happened in Berkeley in California. All I can say is that we hope those who are injured will make a recovery and that we extend our deepest sympathies to the families and friends of the six young people who have died. I thank the emergency services in America, which have been very effective. The tragedy highlights the trust we place in our architects and designers to ensure that when they build, they do so securely. While an inquiry is under way at the moment, it seems to be very difficult to extend buildings and verandas with timber. I am rather surprised at the lack of quality building in that area. Those young people would have had complete faith in the security of a building of that nature and would not have thought twice about being out there. It is a tragedy and a shame that standards are not as high in America as one would expect.
I propose to amend the Order of Business to include No. 16 on the Order Paper, a motion that Seanad Éireann oppose the closure of the Rosalie unit in County Roscommon, which cares for psychiatric patients, including those with Alzheimer's disease and dementia. The matter was raised at a public meeting last Thursday night. It is a very serious situation which affects 23 patients, who are mostly psychiatric patients but include those with Alzheimer's disease and dementia, and who were previously patients of the closed St. Patrick's hospital in Castlerea. There is tremendous support for the patients and residents of what is their home and a great deal of attention is being given to them. Very significant information was provided at the meeting by Mr. Liam Walsh, whose mother, Breda, is a resident. He explained clearly how upset everyone is that they will lose their home. It is frankly an eviction by the HSE without any care or consideration. The only hope is in the ministerial responsibility which attaches to the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch. I appeal to her, through Senator John Kelly, who I understand is agreeable that the motion be moved today, to attend the House today or tomorrow to outline the situation and to halt the eviction of these 23 people. It is a form of euthanasia to do what the HSE is doing. It is a most uncaring example of what the HSE is responsible for. At the end of the day, the Minister of State has ministerial responsibility in this regard. I ask the Leader of the House to accede to the proposal to amend the Order of Business.
I raise a matter which was raised in the House last week regarding the carrying out by Irish Water of refurbishment works in the Oranmore area. There was a great deal of concern in the business community in Oranmore at the fact that the works were taking place during the peak summer season. Last Friday, Oireachtas Members representing the Galway area met with Irish Water and representatives of the Oranmore Community Development Association to come up with ways to restructure the essential works. I am glad to say that Irish Water has since announced a rescheduling of the works to accommodate businesses and the schools returning in September. It is an example of what can be done when agencies engage in an effective manner with local communities. These works, which will cost €5.7 million, are critical infrastructure works which need to take place in the area. It is important because similar projects will be taking place at 840 locations around the country. This is an example of how Irish Water should engage with those communities to listen to their concerns so that this important work can be carried out. I commend to all parties the resolution of the issue surrounding the works in the Oranmore area.
I would like to follow on from what Senator Bacik said about the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre's annual report, which was launched today. While I support the call for a debate on victims' rights, I would like to go further by asking for a debate on the services that are available to victims of sexual assault. Such a debate is necessary in light not only of the report that has been published today, but also last week's revelation by Rape Crisis Network Ireland that following a cut in its core funding, it is concerned that it will not be able to maintain or continue its services. We do not want to see survivors of abuse abandoned, particularly in light of some of the figures presented by the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre today. Senator Bacik mentioned the 14% increase in calls reporting adult rape. I would also like to mention that there was a 30% increase in first-time callers to the national rape helpline last year, that 55% of genuine calls were first-time contacts and that more than 4,000 repeat contacts were received. Some 104 of the 293 cases in which the reporting status was known were reported to the Garda. We will all agree that these figures highlight the important need for these services, which are invaluable for the victims of sexual assault and rape, to be in place. The need for these services is obvious. At a time when the statistics are so stark and paint such a shocking and harrowing picture of the reality of sexual assault in Ireland, it is clear that we need to invest more funding and resources in rape crisis services than we do at present. We need to move to allay the fears of these services that they are going to be cut further, or that they may have to discontinue. As has been mentioned, we also need to ensure legislation to protect victims is strengthened. We cannot allow core funding for these services to be removed as that would be a major backward step in services for people who have experienced sexual violence. I am calling for a debate on that.
I would also like to support Senator Darragh O'Brien's call for defibrillators to be provided. When I raised this issue previously, I asked about the status of Senator Quinn's Bill. One of my colleagues on Cavan County Council recently got a motion passed that called for the provision of defibrillators in public areas.
I would like to echo Senator Bacik's words. As yesterday went on, we saw the true extent of the horror of what had actually happened in Berkeley, California. A number of students remain in hospital and their lives are still at risk. Our prayers go with them. Ireland is a very small country. A number of the students who died had gone to school in Loreto College in Foxrock, which is in my constituency, and were students in University College Dublin. One of the deceased sat at a debs table with my daughter just last year and debated with her in a college society. That is the extent of the hurt that exists in the Dún Laoghaire area today.
One point came to my attention in the media coverage. There is compulsory medical insurance with the J1 visa, but it might not be enough to cover the hospital costs of some of the students who remain in hospital with severe illnesses who may take months to recover. Indeed, they may never fully recover. I made this point previously when other tragedies have occurred. I would like the issue of whether we have a fund to cover situations like this to be raised with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. The last thing a family needs in this type of situation is to be worried about whether it has the resources to cover hospital bills. I ask the Leader to raise this issue as a formal question with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Do we or do we not have this type of resource within the Department?
I would like to bring to the attention of the House the comments made by the Minister, Deputy Kelly, at yesterday's Generation Rent conference organised by Threshold. The Minister said he would focus his efforts on bringing rent certainty to the rental market. Over the last 12 months, we have all seen stories about the extreme increases in rents. I was delighted to learn that the Minister, Deputy Kelly, has spoken about measures to link rent increases to an independent index, such as the consumer price index. I was also pleased to discover he is willing to look at rental accommodation standards. Perhaps we could have a debate on the rental sector and on rent increases at a future date.
I would like to ask the Leader to organise a debate on collusion between the British security forces and the Ulster Volunteer Force and other loyalist paramilitary groups in the North. An excellent recent documentary on RTE showed that gangs of murderers were sponsored by the British state. They were basically death squads. This state-sponsored terror was orchestrated with the full knowledge of Downing Street, Westminster and the British Government. The time for soft diplomacy is over. Frederick Douglass said that "power concedes nothing without a demand".
In Downing Street tomorrow, the Taoiseach will meet David Cameron, who could release all the files on the collusion allegations with a stroke of a pen. There are many horrific cases, but the most horrific is the case of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings, which was the biggest mass murder in the history of this State. Even though the Barron report showed that the bombings could not have been carried out without the assistance of people in the British military, David Cameron is refusing to hand over files that would show the British state had nothing to do with it. If I were accused of the biggest mass murder in the history of this country, I would want to clear my name. If I were David Cameron, that is what I would do. If I were the Prime Minister of England, I would do that. Even though European courts and UN bodies have said the British state needs to carry out investigations, they have refused to do so. As a former Secretary General of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade put it, first they deny, then they cover up and years afterwards they eventually apologise. Soft diplomacy is not good enough. The Taoiseach needs to demand that those files be handed over so we can prosecute those who perpetrated the biggest mass murder in the history of this island. I ask the Leader to organise a debate on this matter. Indeed, I propose that motion 18 on the Order Paper be moved and be taken before No. 1. I hope there will be all-party support in this House on the issue, as there was in the Dáil.
I think we should have a debate on the report on the cost of medical indemnity insurance, in relation to the medical profession, which was launched by the Joint Committee on Health and Children this morning. The major problems being faced by people who are working in the private health care sector in this country mean that some positions cannot be filled. The annual professional indemnity insurance premium for a medical consultant is now €104,000. People might say this does not concern us, but it really does. I remind the House that 40% of all elective surgery in this country is done in the private health care sector. If positions in the private sector cannot be filled, that work will come back into the public sector, where there is already a shortage of medical expertise in some areas. We need to have a debate on this area, in which major reform is needed. The report sets out a number of key issues, one of which is the introduction of periodic payments in relation to claims to make sure people who have suffered as a result of an error or a mistake that was made get compensation at an early stage. I am thinking particularly of maternity cases, where the moneys are used to help and assist the family in dealing with the difficulties it has to deal with. The report also deals with the need for pre-action protocols to be introduced within the legal profession in dealing with cases. A number of other major issues are raised in the report. I think it would be helpful if the report were to be debated, rather than merely going on the shelf with many other reports. It is important for the proposals set out in the report to be implemented. If we take on board what is set out in this report, it will have benefits for all of us. I ask the Leader to consider making time available for a debate on this report.
I want to join Senator Hayden in speaking about the horrendous tragedy in Berkeley, which has led to the loss of the lives of a number of students. We must seek guarantees on the care and welfare of those who will be left with life-changing injuries.
I would like to advise the Leader that today, I will lay before the House a motion calling for the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government or the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, or both, to be brought to this House to discuss the representational payment provided for councillors for undertaking their work in our local authorities.In recent months, I have raised this issue and that of the class K PRSI tax, which is definitely not any form of insurance.
The dogs in the street are barking that a general election is coming and, as such, I believe the time has come-----
I believe the time has come to address this issue head on and in the open before the end of this Government. Since I last raised the issue, things have changed. I have taken legal advice and am now clear as to where the target is in dealing with the representational payment once and for all. During the debate on the National Minimum Wage (Low Pay Commission) Bill on 12 June, my colleague, Senator Landy, addressed the fact that 25% or more of our councillors-----
I am placing the Leader on notice because there will be an amendment to the Order of Business tomorrow. I know the Cathaoirleach is deeply committed to our councillors and will do everything he can to try to facilitate this.
I know the Leader will do likewise, and I expect all-party support for the issue. I am bringing this up now because I want to circulate the motion today and I welcome amendments from anybody in the House. Tomorrow I will propose an amendment to the Order of Business.
This is urgent because, although the Lansdowne Road agreement has just been finalised and unions are about to vote on it, we have left one of the lowest paid sectors in the country out of it, namely our county councillors. They are our constituents and, yes, we will be calling on them for votes. The least we might do is represent their interests in this House. To do that, we will need to bring in both the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, who holds the purse strings. Both the Leader and the Whip on the Fine Gael side have spoken of their dismay at the way in which councillors are being treated in respect of payments. I ask that when this motion comes to the House, all Senators see to it that we have cross-party support and a debate with the Minister. I thank the Cathaoirleach for his indulgence.
The new social welfare forms designed by the Department are showing a clear bias towards banks over post offices and should be scrapped. Our views have been made quite clear to the Minister for Social Protection.
Senator O'Brien's recommendation that transition year students get CPR training is a brilliant idea. I ask the Leader that we make representations to the Minister for Education and Skills on this issue. It is very logical and has not even been thrown into the mix.
I agree with Senator Leyden on his proposed amendment to the Order of Business. It is ludicrous that the HSE can now allow patients who have been in what they call a family home for 20 years to be discommoded. It is wrong. When these facilities were set up back in the 1980s, the document by which the HSE was guided was called Planning for the Future. When patients were not suitable for day care centres and hostels, they were put into these facilities. It is amazing that, 20-odd years on, there is a new document called A Vision for Change which states that what happened under Planning for the Future was wrong. I have asked the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, if patients who are to be taken out of those facilities and put into private nursing homes can now sue the HSE for wrongful placement. I think that is the way to go. The HSE needs to be questioned on some of its decisions. If this goes ahead, it will be nothing short of eviction of the patients.
Ba mhaith liom tagairt a dhéanamh d'athrú atá ar an sceideal le haghaidh amárach.
I am giving advance notice, no more than Senator Craughwell. I am quite concerned about the fact that the Petroleum (Exploration and Extraction) Safety (Amendment) Bill will be before us tomorrow. I am raising the issue today as I believe an amendment to the schedule is required. We are being told it has to be rushed through because of the transposition of an EU directive. In many other debates, we have been told of transpositions of EU directives which have been waiting for quite a long time and for which there is no major rush. I do not know what the rush about this Bill is.
It is totally unacceptable that we are expected to debate the Bill tomorrow when we will not receive it until tomorrow morning. I understand we are getting a briefing note from the Department. None the less, it is unacceptable that we are not being given an opportunity to examine the implications of the legislation. Many of us in the House have little faith in that industry and its way of proceeding. However, we do know that it certainly does a lot of long-term planning, so I cannot understand the rush with the legislation. I ask that it be deferred until next week.
I would like to echo colleagues' sentiments about the tragedy in Berkeley. I convey my deepest condolences to all involved.
At a meeting of the joint policing committee in Galway on Monday, I raised the issue of the new rostering regime in An Garda Síochána. The chief superintendent in Galway agreed that there are major issues around this system. It was brought in on a pilot basis for a year and is particularly unsuitable for rural areas. My understanding is that they have gone from four shifts to five, so that the same number of gardaí is being spread across different shifts. This is leaving rural Garda stations with gardaí in them at night until 4 a.m. or 5 a.m., when they cannot do any follow-up on cases or call people and, when they are needed for essential services during the day, gardaí are not available. As the Commissioner will be reviewing that roster system, we should have an input into the debate by making our thoughts known to the Minister, so that a submission can be put forward to the Commissioner.
I ask the Leader to organise a debate on the interim report by Bobby Kerr on the future of the post offices. I heard Mr. Kerr give a very positive interview on RTE radio yesterday about how the post offices can grow and develop new services. A disproportionate amount of business is being done by relatively few of the country's 1,100 post offices. Two thirds of all transactions are being done by 300 post offices, while another 48% account for just 12% of total business. The business development group has established areas for further exploration, including the possibility of increased capability in financial services, given that the banks are withdrawing their branches in many rural areas.
Other areas such as HSE payments, motor tax payments, CAO and exam fees and local authority payments are all opportunities for the post office network. We all want to see the post offices retained, but this can only happen if new business opportunities are developed. The post office structure in its current form will not survive.
The retention of the Department of Social Protection payments system is vital. I agree with colleagues who have suggested that the Department appears to be encouraging people to receive their payments through banks rather than post offices. All Government agencies should be trying to safeguard our post office network, and the interim report published by Mr. Kerr is a first step. We should debate the issues here, as further good suggestions may come from the House as to how we should ensure the post office network is retained as far as is practicable.
I second the amendment to the Order of Business proposed by my colleague Senator Mark Daly.
I join with other colleagues in paying tribute to those who lost their lives in Berkeley, California, yesterday, and to those who have been seriously injured.Our thoughts are with their families at this time. It is a horrific tragedy and one can only imagine what the families are going through. I join my colleagues in remembering them this morning.
I endorse the comments by the leader of my party in the House, Senator Darragh O'Brien, on defibrillators this morning. It is an issue I have raised with others in the House on a number of occasions. I was present when a late colleague of ours passed away suddenly and have no doubt that if a defibrillator had been on the premises at the time, his chances of survival would have been greatly enhanced. I also agree with Senator Darragh O'Brien's proposal that CPR be taught in all of our secondary schools and PLCs. I understand it is part of the curriculum in our Youthreach training centres nationally, which is very much to be welcomed.
On Senator Craughwell's proposal on the representation allowance and other pay and conditions of councillors, I note that, along with many other Members, I have raised this issue previously. On behalf of the Fianna Fáil Party, I have prepared legislation in this regard. However, I agreed not to pursue the legislation because a decision was taken in the House that the issue would be approached on an all-party basis.
Indeed, a motion proposed by colleagues on my side of the House was unanimously supported and graciously accepted by the Leader. I have said on a number of occasions what we must do if we are to achieve anything for councillors, about whom we are all very concerned, given that most of us have been councillors ourselves and appreciate their workload. That workload has been enhanced by the changes on foot of Putting People First, which was passed by both Houses.
I appeal again for unity in this regard to ensure that we take an all-parties-and-none approach to the issue. It is only that way that we will achieve what we all want to achieve. Solo runs achieve nothing in my experience. Let us work together on this issue to hopefully achieve something for the councillors.
I raise a number of issues relating to the nursing homes sector which need to be addressed immediately in the interests of the work and services they provide not only to occupants and service users but also to the State. In particular, we require a debate as a matter of urgency, and for time to be set aside for the Minister for Health to attend the House to discuss issues relating to the national treatment purchase fund, NTPF, the acute lack of nurses in the private sector and the inordinate period of time patients are waiting to have their Fair Deal applications processed.
On the NTPF, we need a debate on how allocations for patients are determined. An east Galway constituent who runs a nursing home in a rural town raised the matter with me recently. She is being awarded €800 per patient by the NTPF whereas a comparable nursing home in Dublin receives almost double what she does, even though both nursing homes are subject to the same standards of care. As such, this issue in particular warrants further discussion. On the acute lack of nurses for the private sector, nursing homes are having huge problems trying to source suitably qualified nurses, who are fundamental to the proper running of their premises. Emigration has seen many young nurses leave Ireland while, unfortunately, the sourcing of foreign nurses has become cumbersome and protracted given how applications are processed. We are facing a crisis if this issue is not resolved, as it will result in the reduction of beds in homes. It will also have a detrimental effect on those in care, increase pressure on already in-demand community services and have a negative impact on local economies, of which these centres of care are key drivers. With regard to the inordinate period of time patients are waiting to have their Fair Deal applications processed, which can be up to one year in some cases, the Minister for Health must intervene forthwith to expedite the process. It is unfair on everybody, including nursing home owners, patients and their families. On that basis, we must set aside time for the Minister for Health to come to the House to discuss these matters at length.
On behalf of all those in Dublin and Dublin south as well as across Ireland, we extend our sympathies to the families of the six young Irish people who had a brutal death in Berkeley practically 48 hours ago. When I came back from a meeting last night, I saw on Sky News how the timber of the balcony had completely broken. It was a brutal and instant fall and a totally wrong construction. There will be an investigation, but no words are adequate to say how everyone in Ireland is traumatised and has sympathy for the young people who remain in hospital, some with brain damage. These were young people on the crest of a wave in their lives, on the cusp of entering into life and off to enjoy themselves. I believe Senator Jim D'Arcy's son is in Berkeley also, while my own niece is in San Francisco. Thousands of young Irish people have the pleasure of going out and participating and seeing the world in California, and when something like this happens there are no words. I am glad the national flag is flying at half mast and that the Taoiseach has spoken out to express the feelings of the Government.
In The Irish Timestoday, Carl O'Brien has an article on the cuts to the lone parent allowance by the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton. I have spoken about this before, but I understand that Deputy Burton is meeting Karen Kiernan of One Family today to discuss these savage cuts. I put on the record again that this is the most gendered cut in the history of the Irish State. Of all lone parents, 98% are women. That this cut is being made by a cold-hearted woman is hard to believe. Apparently, her bureaucrats are advising her that this will encourage lone parents to participate in the economy. However, in a very striking letter last week, Professor Kathleen Lynch of UCD's school of social justice said that cuts in respect of this group of young people have not worked out positively. It is literally taking away their bread, given that the latest figures from the CSO indicate that two thirds of lone parents live in deprivation and suffer the highest poverty rates. What kind of country is it at all? The Minister, Deputy Joan Burton, is the one who is really cold-hearted. I call for a positive response from the meeting reported today in The Irish Timeswith Karen Kiernan of One Family, and I compliment Louise Bayliss of SPARK, which supports single parents. We had an excellent protest outside.
I second Senator Terry Leyden's proposal to amend the Order of Business today.
As regards the serious matter raised today by Senator Mark Daly, we discussed it yesterday in his absence. It was raised by several of us and Senators Ó Murchú and Leyden spoke on it on the other side of the House. The collusion is beyond all doubt. That is established. We all praised the wonderful programme we saw they other night. What happened in the past was atrocious. The Taoiseach is meeting the British Prime Minister, Mr. Cameron, tomorrow and undoubtedly this matter was already set to be discussed. I am a member of committee A of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly and we have discussed the matter also and made recommendations. The point is that we are all agreed.
We should not in any way try to upstage what the councillors, through their own executives and their trade associations, are engaged in. I am going to shut up with that. I totally agree with what Senator Wilson has said. The Senator knows what we are doing and what we have done.
Do I detect a slightly condescending tone from Senator Coghlan in respect of matters in this House around collusion and councillors? Things have not improved on either front. Let us call a spade a spade. Action is needed on the collusion issue and on councillors. On the issue of councillors, political representation is vital to our citizens at all levels. I was a councillor, as were many others in this House. We have failed our councillors in one essential way. They get no pension rights. They-----
I want to finish. Their service should always be recognised. They deserve equality. Let us do something besides just agreeing with each other on this issue and let us move this on, as Senator Wilson said.
With respect to the Leader, the Seanad schedule should reflect matters of urgency in this country and one-parent families are going to get the hatchet on 2 July. Up to now, they have been getting allowances for children up to 14 years of age. It is now being reduced to seven years of age. How can a single parent go out to work or keep up their education and leave seven year olds untended? I voted on that side of the House because the Minister, Deputy Burton, promised us a Scandinavian child care model. I was in Finland looking at that model three weeks ago. It will never happen in this country. We are miles away from it. Let us stop hanging our women and our children out to dry. Some 500,000 children in this country are in single-parent families. Is there any more important job in this country than rearing children, the future adults and citizens of this country? Let us call a spade a spade. I expect to see a debate in this House with the Minister, Deputy Burton, next week on the single parent cuts coming down the line and I want to see them reversed.
We all value our children, particularly the children who died in Berkeley. I want especially to remember Eoghan Culligan from Rathfarnham, my own area. Ballyboden-St. Enda's, our local GAA club, put out a great tribute to him, saying that he was one of its star GAA players. I also sympathise with his parents, Gerry and Marie, his brothers Stephen and Andrew, and his girlfriend. I want to remember them all, and the families of all the children. The last speaker spoke about valuing our children and it is very important to value our children, both living and dead.
I was a councillor for 20 years. Everyone on this side of the House has been speaking for councillors. I have asked for a debate on this, and the Leader will verify that when he replies. Another former councillor, Senator Denis Landy, also asked for a debate on that, prior to Senator Coghlan asking for one.
He did. The Senator should ask our Leader. No better men than our Leader, Senator Maurice Cummins, and Senator Paul Coghlan, for supporting the rights of councillors. Having spent 20 years on a council and having sat on the Local Authorities Members Association, I can tell Senators that those of us on this side of the House will not stop. The Senator is dead right; councillors must have rights. Rights were taken from them, which was wrong-----
I want to include in the debate the fact that 293 cases were reported to the Rape Crisis Network, of which 104 went to the Garda. Charges are pending on five cases, seven cases were dropped, only four went to trial, and only three convictions were made. What we want to include-----
I offer my sympathies to the families of those young people who lost their lives in Berkeley. Senator White said my son is in Berkeley. Indeed he is, and the hour spent trying to contact him was very long, but when that was done, my heart went out to the families who have suffered the unbearable loss of their beautiful young children. I know the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade will do this anyway but I ask the Leader to ask him to continue to provide every possible assistance to those families at this horrendous time.
I refer to what the former Irish Farmers' Association president, Padraig Walshe, said yesterday, having been a victim of rural crime on his farm in Durrow, County Laois. He said that farmers are in great danger from criminals coming onto their farms. He finds it very disheartening for farmers to see their hard-earned farm equipment being stolen by these groups. We have had a great deal of cattle and sheep rustling in County Louth over the past year in places like Knockbridge, Ravensdale and Cooley. I am pleased that the number of gardaí in training has increased and more gardaí are being deployed. I ask the Leader to ask the Minister to come to the House to discuss this issue and how the Garda will be deployed in these situations.
Several Members who were not present yesterday and who did not speak of their sadness at the tragic events in Berkeley, which led to the deaths of six of our young, bright people, with several more of them injured, spoke today. Our hearts go out to all the bereaved families and those injured and to their many young friends, who are there and who must be very traumatised.I note Senator Jim D'Arcy's comments, in particular given he had a son there. I can assure him staff of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, who are on the ground there since yesterday, will be providing any and every assistance they possibly can in order to assist the families and the boys and girls who are out there at the current time.
Senator Darragh O'Brien raised the question of the sustainability of our post offices. I would agree with him that these forms have caused major concern within the post office network. In terms of context, there have been 24 net post office closures since this Government took office compared to 197 between 2006 and 2010. The Minister, Deputy White, on behalf of the Government, launched a post office network business development group, as Senator Mullins mentioned, to explore commercial and public service opportunities in order to secure the future of the post office network. The group published an interim report for consultation yesterday which found that a disproportionate amount of business is conducted in relatively few of the country's 1,440 post offices. Two thirds of all the transactions are conducted in only 300 post offices while another 48% of post offices account for 12% of total business. Changing consumer preferences mean that many consumers no longer go to the post office, which means post offices must continue to diversify and modernise in order to provide the services that will attract customers. Maintaining relevance is certainly a challenge to the post office network. The work of the business development group represents the best possible opportunity to place the post office network on a sustainable footing into the future. It has made many proposals which should be examined because we believe it is in the best interest of rural Ireland that all of those post offices are maintained. However, they need to be supported by the local communities in all those areas. I certainly take on board the point made by the Senator in regard to the forms. We have already made representations to the Minister on that and it was the subject of a commencement debate last week.
Regarding the provision of defibrillators, Senator Quinn had a Bill on that issue in the House over two years ago. There was a subsequent report, either from HIQA or the HSE, which related mainly to cost. However, what cost can we put on a life? The point the Senator makes in regard to CPR is a good one. As Senator Wilson mentioned, training in CPR is already provided by Youthreach and also by some schools. I believe it should be part of the curriculum, especially in transition year, for students to be trained in CPR. I will certainly bring that matter to the attention of the Minister for Education and Skills because it is sensible that our young people would know how to do CPR. The Senator mentioned how important it was in the specific case of Michael Lyster because, without those skills which his wife had, he certainly would not be with us now. It is very important.
Senator Bacik called for a debate on the repercussions arising from the situation at Clerys. We discussed this on the Order of Business yesterday and it was the subject of a Commencement debate this morning. I am happy that the concession holders will receive their stock but they are not receiving their money, which was held in trust for them. That is a very important issue which will have to be dealt with. The Senator mentioned that the sex offenders Bill will come in during July and she also called for debates on victims' rights and on child marriage, which we will try to arrange.
Senator Leyden referred to the Rosalie unit in Castlerea and called for an amendment to the Order of Business. That matter was raised by Senator Kelly at his parliamentary party and by Deputy Feighan at our parliamentary party. The Government would fully support that motion before us. We will accept that motion without debate and we have no problem in doing so.
Senator Naughton spoke about Irish Water and the problems in Oranmore which were mentioned in the House last week. As she rightly said, negotiations took place between everybody involved, which is the way everything should be done. The works were rescheduled and this €5.7 million critical infrastructure project will now go ahead.
Senator Reilly called for a debate on the victims of sexual assaults. She mentioned the cuts to the Rape Crisis Centre which were mentioned yesterday on the Order of Business. However, it is only fair to point out the Dublin centre did not have any cut this year.
Senator Hayden referred to the rental sector. We have had a few debates on housing and the rental sector but, in view of the Minister's new proposals, we will try to arrange another debate on that.
In the absence of Senator Daly yesterday, a number of Senators raised the question of collusion and the RTE documentary, which we praised. I also mentioned yesterday that I was part of that module of the Barron report. Everything that was in that RTE documentary was part of the Barron report, which the Government and all parties supported. I can say that the Government supports fully what is contained in the motion and I am accepting that motion without debate today. It is only going along with Government policy. As I said yesterday, the Government, as it has done to date, will be pressing for these documents to be made available and we will continue to press for them to be published. In addition, despite the apology made by Prime Minister Cameron, the Government still insists on a public inquiry into the death of Pat Finucane. Let us not play politics with this, and I am not suggesting anyone is playing politics with this. We have a unity of purpose in this regard and let us continue in that way. We support fully that the motion be taken without debate here today.
Senator Colm Burke raised the report of the Joint Committee on Health on the cost of professional indemnity insurance. We will try to arrange a debate on that.
With the amount of debates I will be trying to arrange between now and the end of July, we will certainly have a busy time, given the amount of legislation we also have.
Senator Craughwell and other Senators got very exercised about an amendment to the Order of Business which will be proposed tomorrow by Senator Craughwell. I like to deal with things as we get them and not to have advance notice of them.
The representation allowance for councillors is very inadequate, and there is no question about it. I know the Whips of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Labour met with the representation association for councillors recently.
Representations have been made to the Minister of State, Deputy Coffey, and a meeting has taken place with him, and it is intended to have a meeting with the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Kelly, on the matter. I believe a meeting will also have to be held with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, who controls the purse strings.
It is important that we would have unity of purpose in this regard.There is no doubt councillors the length and breadth of the country have a significantly increased workload because of the larger areas created prior to the most recent local elections. They certainly need to be recompensed in a proper manner. The PRSI issue also affects those such as retained firemen and others who pay the class K contribution. It is a matter which will have to be addressed not only for councillors, but for many other people who pay.
Senator Ó Clochartaigh asked about the transposition of an EU directive and the petroleum extraction legislation. It is intended that it will be taken tomorrow. At the Cabinet meeting yesterday, the Government agreed the publication of the petroleum (exploration and extraction) safety (amendment) Bill.
That is an option for the House. I am only outlining the options available to Members of the House.
The rostering system for the Garda Síochána is an operational matter for the Garda Commissioner. I am sure the Senator's points will be relayed by the superintendent involved and any other superintendents throughout the country who may have problems with the rostering system.
It is an operational matter and not a matter for the Minister.
Senator Mullins spoke about post offices and I have referred to this matter. Senator Wilson spoke about the representation allowance, which I have addressed. Senator Higgins called for a debate on the problems in the nursing home sector. We will try to have the Minister for Health in the House to address this matter.
Senators White, Reilly and others spoke about cuts affecting lone parent families. A meeting will take place with the Minister today and I hope that as a result of this we will have some progress on the matter.
I must deal with the amendment that No. 68, motion 16, be taken today without debate before No. 1. Is that agreed? Agreed. Senator Mark Daly moved an amendment to the Order of Business that No. 68, motion 18, be taken without debate before No. 1. Is that agreed? Agreed.