Seanad debates

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

10:30 am

Photo of Maurice CumminsMaurice Cummins (Fine Gael)
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It is proposed to take No. 1, Consumer Protection (Regulation of Credit Servicing Firms) Bill 2015 - Second Stage, to be taken at 12.45 p.m. and to be adjourned not later than 3 p.m., if not previously concluded, with contributions from group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes; No. 2, Petroleum (Exploration and Extraction) Safety Bill 2015 - Order for Second Stage and Second Stage, to be taken at 3 p.m. and to be adjourned not later than 5 p.m., if not previously concluded, with contributions from group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes; and No. 67, motion 18, to be taken at 5 p.m. and to conclude not later than 7 p.m.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Leader for outlining the business. I propose an amendment to the Order of Business, namely that No. 19 be taken before No. 1. Many colleagues across the House have discussed this. No one could agree that it is right or proper that a Government agency, Tusla, has cut funding for Rape Crisis Network Ireland and is seeking to introduce quite stringent changes regarding how rape crisis centres operate. According to what the rape crisis centres and Rape Crisis Network Ireland are saying, the agency is seeking to change the manner in which they do their job. All of us agree that the statistics are shocking. One in five girls and one in six boys in Ireland has been a victim of sexual abuse. In a modern society and republic where we care about our citizens, particularly the most vulnerable and those who have suffered from sexual abuse — the statistics do not lie — it is just wrong for a Government to stand over a decision to cut the funding of Rape Crisis Network Ireland. My motion, which I have signed on behalf of my group, along with colleagues in the Independent benches, whom I thank in this regard, will allow the Seanad to state it does not agree with the cut in funding for Rape Crisis Network Ireland. We should speak with one voice on this. I ask the Leader to amend the Order of Business to have No. 19 taken before No. 1 and accept the motion. I will be pushing this to a vote. I ask the Leader to assert the independence of the Seanad as a democratically elected arm of the Oireachtas.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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On a point of clarification, is the Senator referring to No. 67, motion 19?

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Fianna Fail)
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Yes. One would think I would get it right at this stage, having been here for four years, but I am still learning. Every day is a schoolday.It is a very serious issue and we should not stand over cuts to Rape Crisis Network Ireland. Many Senators from across the House have put their names to this motion and I thank them for doing so. The Leader should accept it.

I looked back at my file and saw that I have been raising the issue of the MS drug Fampyra since February 2014. I have been writing back and forth to the Minister for Health and to the previous Minister and have raised the issue on numerous occasions in this House, as have Senators Craughwell and Barrett. Other Members of this House, including my colleagues, have raised it. After 18 months or more of raising this issue, Fampyra is not available to 3,000 MS sufferers who benefit from this drug. This is a drug that improves people's mobility and has allowed people to go back to work. It costs approximately €270 per month. The Leader has given responses before, that had been given to him by the Department of Health saying that it was assessing the situation and the drugs company was going to send in another submission, which it has already done. That goes back to April and May 2015.

We marked World MS Day on 27 May. The day is about access to drugs and how we can improve the quality of life of people with MS yet the country, Government and Department do not allow 3,000 people who benefit from this drug to access it. A man in my constituency who brought this matter to my attention is no longer working. He is back in a wheelchair. I have heard numerous cases. The Minister and the HSE know all about it because people are writing to the Minister telling him that they can no longer work, drive a car or walk. They are telling him that they can no longer do the basic things because the Minister will not allow them access to a drug that is proven to work for about one third of MS sufferers. I again ask the Leader to use his good offices to get back in touch with the Minister, whom I e-mailed again last week and the week before. I have been writing to him and the Department since February 2014 but have been getting nowhere. It is not right and is bureaucracy gone mad.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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The Senator is way over time.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Fianna Fail)
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I will raise this issue every day from now on until this drug is released to the people who need it. The Leader has been very fair on these matters previously so I ask him to use his good offices to get the Government to get the finger out and allow this drug to be given to people who need it to improve their quality of life.

Photo of Aideen HaydenAideen Hayden (Labour)
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Senator Darragh O'Brien said the motion on the reinstatement of funding for Rape Crisis Network Ireland has the support of many Members across the House. I want to put on the record that I was not approached and asked to sign such a motion.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Fianna Fail)
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It was circulated.

Photo of Aideen HaydenAideen Hayden (Labour)
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The issue of funding for Rape Crisis Network Ireland arose last year. It was due to the action of this side of the House that funding was restored. It was due to the action of a number of people, particularly Senators Bacik and van Turnhout, who made much of Rape Crisis Network Ireland and the great work it does. If Senator O'Brien wants to achieve something for Rape Crisis Network Ireland that is fair enough but if he simply wants to position Fianna Fáil as champions on the issue then that is a different matter.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Fianna Fail)
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Oh please. It was circulated to your group's leader.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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Senator Hayden without interruption.

Photo of Aideen HaydenAideen Hayden (Labour)
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I read my e-mails. All I can say is that Rape Crisis Network Ireland is an issue that concerns Members on every side of this House. I want to achieve something for Rape Crisis Network Ireland, which is why I will do my best in whatever way I can. This does not mean parading the issue in the House when I know very well that there are-----

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Fianna Fail)
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Is the Senator saying I should not raise it?

Photo of Aideen HaydenAideen Hayden (Labour)
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I am entitled to have my say as well.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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Senator Hayden without interruption.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Fianna Fail)
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Ask her to mind her language.

Photo of Aideen HaydenAideen Hayden (Labour)
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For the record, this side of the House has not been found wanting in defending Rape Crisis Network Ireland.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Fianna Fail)
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I am afraid it would not agree with you on that.

Photo of Aideen HaydenAideen Hayden (Labour)
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Many of my colleagues have worked very hard on behalf of Rape Crisis Network Ireland.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Fianna Fail)
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Support the motion.

Photo of Aideen HaydenAideen Hayden (Labour)
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I will not be supporting this motion because I question the reason Senator Darragh O'Brien is doing this.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Fianna Fail)
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That is outrageous.

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

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Fianna Fail)
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A motion was circulated.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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Senator Hayden without interruption.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Fianna Fail)
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If you do not want to support it, do not support it so, good luck. Do your thing. Do whatever you want.

Photo of Aideen HaydenAideen Hayden (Labour)
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I am not the only person who did not receive it.

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

Photo of Aideen HaydenAideen Hayden (Labour)
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I have two questions for the Leader. The first relates to a report today from the Central Bank which found that seven banks have failed to protect customers in mortgage arrears in a number of areas. It is very distressing to read the findings of the report. This matter needs to be taken further on two levels. I would like to hear the Minister for Finance give us his views on the report and what action the Central Bank intends to take. The Office of the Financial Services Ombudsman has been especially lacking in terms of dealing with the worries of those in mortgage arrears and has taken a very limited view of its own remit. I would like this to be brought forward for discussion.

I also wish to mention patients left on trolleys in the accident and emergency department in Beaumont Hospital. The country-specific recommendations for Ireland indicated that we are spending more and getting less for our money. There is a real issue here in terms of patients in accident and emergency departments both in terms of their health and safety and the health and safety of nurses, doctors and other members of staff who work in the sector. Such staff must work in situations where dangerous patients are left in situations where they damage themselves and those who work in the sector. Could I ask for a debate with the Minister for Health on this issue? I would very much like to hear his proposals for the health sector, particularly this issue.

I congratulate one of our former colleagues, Eugene Regan, who has been appointed to the European Court of Justice. He is a former Member of this House and a notable barrister and this House should pass on our congratulations.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Fianna Fail)
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Questions need to answered about that appointment. The Minister should come in.

Photo of Aideen HaydenAideen Hayden (Labour)
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Is the Senator seriously suggesting that he is not a fit person for that role?

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Fianna Fail)
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Absolutely. Questions need to be answered about that. Talk about transparency.

Photo of Jillian van TurnhoutJillian van Turnhout (Independent)
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I am happy to add my name to the motion. I did not receive the e-mail. I have double checked and I did not receive it. I applaud the work of Ireland's top EU civil servant, Catherine Day, who has announced her retirement from the European Commission as of the end of August. She is an unsung hero for us as Irish citizens but also for the EU, particularly when she championed the enlargement of the EU and its role. I congratulate and welcome Alexander Italianer who will take up the position in August. I suggest that we invite Catherine Day to address the House. Perhaps that could be considered-----

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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The Senator can bring that issue to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges.

Photo of Jillian van TurnhoutJillian van Turnhout (Independent)
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I will do so.

Could we have a debate at the earliest opportunity on the Government working group report on direct provision? It has been widely reported on in the newspapers. Senators and Deputies may be the last people to receive this 360-page report. My understanding is that it is going to Cabinet next Tuesday. Given the work we have done on a cross-party basis on direct provision - the working group was a culmination of the work we did - could we have a debate at the earliest opportunity on this report?

I wish to raise the issue of the Gender Recognition Bill, which is going through the Dáil at the moment. I remain concerned about the exclusion of children from the Bill. We had a good debate in the Seanad in February. We were told that we were on our own on that issue. However, when the Bill went to the Dáil, many Deputies joined in the call regarding the importance of ensuring that children are recognised. We were very quick in expressing our views on the marriage equality referendum, which I was glad to applaud but we cannot forget that the people of Ireland also voted for children's rights. The Supreme Court cleared its way for passage into the Constitution after two and a half years of legal wrangling.

This is our first opportunity to show that we understand what is meant by children's rights. This is one area of legislation in which we should ensure that we see children as rights holders. They should not have to wait until they are 18 to have their rights recognised in this regard. They are rights holders. I considered there was a clear compromise in having a interim gender recognition certificate. It is an issue I will continue to fight for. The Bill will come back to this House given the amendments that have been made as it goes through the Dáil. I put on the record that I will continue to fight for the children of Ireland and their families who are looking for this gender recognition certificate.

Photo of Paschal MooneyPaschal Mooney (Fianna Fail)
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I second the amendment to the Order of Business by Senator Darragh O'Brien in respect of funding cuts to Rape Crisis Network Ireland. I do not understand where this Government is coming from.Why does it constantly seem to undermine NGOs that are doing an extraordinary job across the whole field of human endeavour? It is not just about the rape crisis centres, which we are discussing this morning; it will be another agency tomorrow. I am getting requests, as I am sure other Members are, for funding from a variety of groups, the most recent being, Women's Aid, which has had its funding cut. What is the Government about? Does it care about the vulnerable people in our society? All we keep hearing about is the spin about the economy recovering. Tell that to the victims of rape, who are going to rape crisis centres for counselling, help and other support only to be told they cannot be seen today and it might be next week because the funding has been cut and they cannot provide the services required. I will not go on and on about this. Shame on the Government.

Photo of Aideen HaydenAideen Hayden (Labour)
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If the Senator had wanted our support he should have circulated the motion to us.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Fianna Fail)
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It was circulated and I ask Senator Hayden to support it. It is on the floor of the House.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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No crossfire this morning please.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Fianna Fail)
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I am just answering a question. It is there for them.

Photo of Michael MullinsMichael Mullins (Fine Gael)
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I share Senator Hayden's concerns about the Central Bank report on the seven banks that are breaking the rules on how they treat people in arrears. It is disturbing to hear that banks are continuing with legal action to repossess homes even though they had agreed a revised deal with a struggling homeowner. Other banks are taking away Central Bank protection from mortgage customers because they did not agree to a repayment schedule over the phone.

What was disturbing about the interview I heard this morning with a representative of the Central Bank was that no stern action appears to be planned. The banks were to be contacted and told to correct their misdemeanours, which is very limited action and the Central Bank needs to adopt a much tougher stance on those seven banks. They were not named and I believe they should be named and shamed.

I welcome the announcement that the Minister for Health, Deputy Varadkar, is preparing a new campaign to get workplaces to become more active by encouraging the public sector, which employs just short of 300,000 people, to develop healthy workplace policies. Public sector companies and agencies, which employ 15% of the total workforce, will be encouraged to make their workplace a healthier place and get staff to be more active under the new plans to involve active travel. It will also try to get employees involved in walking, running and other activities, and exercise groups as well as promoting healthy eating options in staff canteens. This is very welcome.

However, I also appeal to the private sector and in particular large employers to follow this line and to start to develop healthy workplaces promoting healthy food options in canteens as well as promoting exercise, walking and cycling groups within large enterprises. We all know the problems we have with obesity and ill health. The more we can promote healthy opportunities in all workplaces, the better for the Exchequer. It should also help to ease considerably the strain on the health budget.

Photo of David CullinaneDavid Cullinane (Sinn Fein)
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I join Senator Mullins in raising the seven mortgage lenders who have been found to be in breach of the code of conduct on mortgage arrears following expressions by the Central Bank of Ireland. As we know that framework was introduced in 2011 to ensure that the banks would play ball with the almost 120,000 residential mortgage holders who are in arrears. Despite the concerns expressed by Senator Mullins, the problem with the Government's approach is that it is all tea and sympathy when it comes to people who are in mortgage arrears but it has done precious little about putting in place policies and supports for people who are in mortgage arrears. It has continued to allow the banks to have an absolute veto on what is happening.

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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That day is gone.

Photo of David CullinaneDavid Cullinane (Sinn Fein)
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Here we go again with Government Ministers and Senators passing the buck to the Central Bank and others. Of course they have a role and they have expressed clear concerns about the breach of fair process, which was the very essence of the CCMA framework in the first place. Today The Irish Timesreported: "Lenders also continued to seek additional ad-hoc payments from borrowers on top of agreed revised repayments without formally assessing their ability to make these additional payments."

A number of weeks ago I was outside the courthouse in Waterford when more than 30 families were before the courts over potential repossessions. Again the banks were not playing ball with those families. These are people who have tried their best. They have gone through MABS and gone through the process. They are paying what they can yet the banks are going for repossession. There is no write down, no proper restructuring and none of the options the Government claims are available, such as split-mortgages and mortgage to rent. Those options are not available to people because the banks are simply not using them. Until the Government faces up to that reality and faces down the banks, into which we invested huge amounts of money, and properly represents those people who are in mortgage arrears, we will continue to have these problems.

My message to Government Senators and Ministers is for them to offer less tea and sympathy and show more action. They should put in place the policies for which they are paid to ensure that those in mortgage arrears get at least a fair crack of the whip and are properly represented because the Government has failed them up to now.

Photo of Mary MoranMary Moran (Labour)
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I have received representations from parents who will be affected by this week's changes to the one-parent family payment. I highlight mothers and fathers who are engaged in employment below the threshold of the 19 hours necessary to avail of family income supplement.

I am aware of a specific case where a parent works for 15 hours spread over a five-day week in a local schools as a bus escort. As a result they cannot avail of jobseeker's benefit for the days not in work as their employment is spread over the five days. They cannot avail of FIS because they are at 15 hours and there is no prospect of increased hours due to the nature of their work despite the fact that they have offered to work the additional four hours on a voluntary basis. This parent is just below the threshold to qualify for FIS which would significantly increase their weekly income by almost €200 while continuing employment. The individual wants to work, but in this situation they may be better off on jobseeker's benefit where they can avail of courses and training to reskill or upskill.

I understand this is a particular case, but I know it is replicated across many counties, particularly with working parents employed on low-hours contracts in schools or other employment. We need to use common sense in such cases where a parent wants to work.

I propose an amendment to the Order of Business that No. 11 be taken before No. 1 today.

Photo of Gerard CraughwellGerard Craughwell (Independent)
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I support what Senator Darragh O'Brien said about the rape crisis centres. I have no ulterior motive for it. It is a scandal. However, there is a bigger scandal.

Yesterday, Senator Darragh O'Brien attempted to move an amendment to the Order of Business on No. 67, motion 17 which deals with the one-parent family payment. Last night I watched Vincent Browne's show, during which he mentioned that out of 120 Government Deputies and Senators, not one was available to come on the programme to defend this scurrilous cut. I call on the Leader to be brave and organise a debate in the House before this change comes in. Let us discuss the exact implications for the lone parents. We hear a lot of old bleeding-heart stuff here about our concern for children and for the poverty-stricken in this country. I would love somebody on the Government side to have the courage to stand up here and explain how this will benefit the poverty-stricken of this country.

Tomorrow I will move the same amendment to the Order of Business as Senator Darragh O'Brien did and I ask the Government to respond with courage this time. If they are not able to face Vincent Browne, they should try facing the Opposition on it.

Photo of Caít KeaneCaít Keane (Fine Gael)
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I wish to speak on the issue of the banks that Senator Mullins raised. I reassure the Opposition because of the steps the Government has taken, the Governor of the Central Bank was able to come out and say what he said. However, as Senator Mullins said, I noticed he was weak in his implementation of the powers he has been given by the Government.

In 2011 the mortgage arrears resolution process was introduced.In July 2013 it was strengthened by a detailed definition of what constitutes co-operation and non-co-operation. With the powers that the Central Bank has been given by this Government the Governor is now able to wake up, whereas heretofore one could say the Central Bank was asleep when it should have been maintaining oversight. I listened to what he said this morning and was most disappointed to hear that seven institutions are not co-operating as required by this Government. He should name and shame these institutions and take them to task immediately. The regulator now has the powers to do it and he should do it.

An alternative motion was proposed on the cut to the funding of the Rape Crisis Network. Only last week, when the funding was cut, I raised the issue myself in the Seanad. I asked for a debate and I am still asking for a debate as that is the way to ensure that funding is reinstated. It was not the Minister who made the cut. When I was on the council we were always looking for devolution of powers and power was devolved to the Tusla board which made the decision. I think it was the wrong decision and many in this House think it was the wrong decision. I asked why the decision was made but have not been given an explanation. I want a debate on it. Rest assured that we on this side of the House are just as concerned about rape as Members on the other. When I spoke on this subject I gave the statistics and pointed to the failings of every organisation in this area.

Photo of Paul BradfordPaul Bradford (Independent)
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I ask the Leader for a debate on care of the elderly. I sound like a long-playing record on this because I have made this request on many occasions down the years. I do so today, however, in the context of the recently issued report by ALONE which clearly demonstrates that up to one third of people who are currently in nursing homes do not need to be there, should not be there and would be much happier and more fulfilled in their own communities with their own families, friends and neighbours. It is a question of putting in place the resources, which may be significantly less than what is currently invested in fair deal and other such schemes. If we were more generous and caring with the carer's allowance and made a change to the rules and regulations of that particular scheme, and if we looked at schemes such as the home help scheme, the public health scheme and public health nurses, we could ensure that up to one third of people currently in nursing homes are with their families and in their communities. Everybody would win and it would be a win for society. We are becoming fixated in Europe with the concept of long-term residential care but that it is a "shady pines" solution for the elderly.

The majority of our elderly citizens can be looked after, provided for and supported in their homes and communities by a tweaking of the schemes which we have at the moment. It would probably save the taxpayer money as well, as the cost of the nursing homes scheme to the State is €1,200 per week while we simultaneously turn down carer's allowance claims of €200 per week for flimsy reasons. I ask the Leader to arrange this debate, either with the Minister for Social Protection, the Minister of State with responsibility for older people or a combination of the two. We need to look at a much more holistic way of looking after the elderly and we should have an aspiration for our elderly above and beyond simply providing nursing home beds.

Photo of John GilroyJohn Gilroy (Labour)
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I second the amendment tabled by Senator Mary Moran. However, there is an onus on speakers in the House to put accurate information on the public record. Two speakers on the Opposition side said there were cuts to the rape crisis centre but there have been no cuts to any rape crisis centre.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Fianna Fail)
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I said it was Rape Crisis Network Ireland.

Photo of John GilroyJohn Gilroy (Labour)
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The Senator said that but two other speakers on the Opposition benches certainly said "rape crisis centre". It is the network and we must distinguish what the network does from what the rape crisis centres do. Rape Crisis Network Ireland does not offer frontline services but is a representative body of 14 rape crisis centres. Tusla said on 11 June this year that it will maintain the €4 million grant aid to the rape crisis centres and increase by €500,000 the resources being put into them. I want to make sure there is no misunderstanding because I have a sneaking suspicion that the information being put on the public record is not an error. It is important we clarify the role of the Rape Crisis Network and that of the rape crisis centres.

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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I support colleagues in the motion about the Rape Crisis Network. The Senator will be able to watch a programme tonight about the work of the Rape Crisis Network in Kerry, the valuable work it does and how its funding is being cut.

Photo of John GilroyJohn Gilroy (Labour)
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That is the rape crisis centre. Can the Senator put accurate information on the record?

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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As Senator Gilroy will know, the situation is dire and every time there is a trial reported in the newspapers or on television, as we will see tomorrow in relation to Father Brendan Smyth, Cardinal Brady and others, it means the victims relive their experience. The Rape Crisis Network and those who support it have been damaged and have suffered from a grievous crime and for the Government to do this is an attack on the most vulnerable.

Photo of John GilroyJohn Gilroy (Labour)
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Facts do not seem to matter on the Opposition side.

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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The Labour Party is used to breaking promises and Senator Gilroy is used to defending the indefensible but when he sees the Rape Crisis Network in Kerry he will hear about the loss of funding when all they have to do is look at the person to the left, to the right, to the front or to the back to see a victim.

Photo of John GilroyJohn Gilroy (Labour)
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One day Senator Daly will come in here and give factual information.

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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That will be the day.

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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Senator Gilroy is defending the indefensible, as usual, and talks out of both sides of his mouth. Others had Commencement matters relating to this issue but we will see how they vote because how they vote on questions relating to the most vulnerable is the most important thing. Actions speak louder than words. When the motion comes up I hope Members opposite will reflect on it. The most vulnerable people in society are being attacked by the Government and their funding is being cut, as we saw with lone parents and others, but the Labour Party continues to tout the line that social welfare has not been cut. We know from lone parents and others that they are suffering a cut on Thursday.

Photo of John GilroyJohn Gilroy (Labour)
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Accuracy and honesty do not matter in this House. Nonsense repeated is still nonsense.

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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I am asking for a debate and I look forward to hearing from Government Members opposite, especially those in the Labour Party who talk on the radio on the one hand while, on the other, vote against the Rape Crisis Network and other organisations which provide so much valuable support to the most vulnerable people.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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The Senator is way over time. He should resume his seat.

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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These people have suffered and will continue to suffer if this Government goes ahead with its cuts.

Photo of Marie MoloneyMarie Moloney (Labour)
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What did Fianna Fáil do?

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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I share the concerns of other Senators over the Central Bank's report on mortgage lending and the lending institutions in question not behaving as they should. I am also concerned at banks involving people in needless paper work and causing unnecessary delays where loans sanctioned for very necessary developments to get our economy moving again and provide more jobs are being thwarted by the banks.We will have more about that on another day.

I join with Senator Hayden in congratulating and sending our good wishes to Eugene Regan who is a man of outstanding ability, as we know, and one of the great senior counsels of our time. He is a former Member of this House who served with great distinction. It behoves us to wish him well. He will be an outstanding member of the European Court of Justice.

Photo of Colm BurkeColm Burke (Fine Gael)
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I wish to raise two matters. Following on from Senator Bradford's contribution about nursing homes, the annual cost for the fair deal scheme is €993 million or very close to €1 billion. I have highlighted this issue previously in the House. We face major long-term challenges in this regard. Every year more than 20,000 people will reach the age of 65 and the number of over-65s will continue to grow in the future. We should have a debate about long-term planning in this area. I wish to highlight the problems faced by nursing homes in hiring nursing staff. People who want to work in this country are facing delays in being registered with An Bord Altranais, with delays in some cases of up to six months. This is an urgent matter.

I wish to raise an issue related to housing. A person known to me has applied for housing assist under the HAP scheme, which is assistance from the local authority. The person has been told that because one person in the household has an income and the other person is in receipt of social welfare their combined incomes do not qualify for assistance. However, the same local authority will not grant them assistance to buy a house because social welfare income is not taken into account when applying for a mortgage. They are caught in the middle. They will not be granted assistance because their combined incomes are too high but on the other hand they will not be given assistance because their income is under-qualified.

We need a resolution to this problem. These people are trying to provide for themselves and their family and the system is not providing for them. They either fit into one category or the other but in this case they are fitting into neither. This is wrong and they are being sidelined by the system. The irregularity needs to be resolved. I ask the Leader to bring it to the attention of the Minister. I intend following up on the matter but it would be helpful if the Leader would also bring it to the attention of the Minister.

Photo of Marie MoloneyMarie Moloney (Labour)
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Last week I raised the issue of the rape crisis centres and the Rape Crisis Network Ireland. The rape crisis centres are independent of Rape Crisis Network Ireland. They are funded directly. I have it in writing that the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Reilly, requested that Tusla give particular priority to protecting front-line services. In that context funding for the 16 rape crisis centres nationwide which provide services directly to rape survivors has been protected for 2015. Almost €4 million in funding is dedicated to rape crisis centres in 2015. No rape crisis centres are to be closed.

However, I agree that we should have a debate on the network, which is independent. It collates data. Of the 16 rape crisis centres, only eleven use Rape Crisis Network Ireland while the remainder collate their own data. They can explain that for themselves. We must have a debate to allow the Minister to explain the reasoning behind the policy. However, we should not accept an hour of statements but rather we should have a proper debate into which every one of us can have an input. I reiterate my call of last week for a constructive debate with time for all Members to speak.

Photo of Maurice CumminsMaurice Cummins (Fine Gael)
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I will begin with the point raised by Senator Darragh O'Brien about Rape Crisis Network Ireland and to which Senators Gilroy and Moloney quite rightly referred. The Government is committed to supporting the work of the rape crisis centres around the country because they provide invaluable support to people at an extremely traumatic and vulnerable time. I understand that Tusla has confirmed that funding for the 16 rape crisis centres has been protected in 2015. Some people on the other side of the House are mixing up rape crisis centres with Rape Crisis Network Ireland, but not Senator O'Brien-----

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Fianna Fail)
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I led on it.

Photo of Maurice CumminsMaurice Cummins (Fine Gael)
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Several other Senators mentioned rape crisis centres. I think they should know what they are speaking about.

Photo of Paschal MooneyPaschal Mooney (Fianna Fail)
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On a point of order.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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I will allow Senator Mooney on a point of order.

Photo of Paschal MooneyPaschal Mooney (Fianna Fail)
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Tusla has proposed new contracts for rape crisis centres which put at risk the autonomy of rape crisis centres.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Fianna Fail)
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That was the context in which it was raised.

Photo of Maurice CumminsMaurice Cummins (Fine Gael)
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Difficult funding decisions have had to be made by Tusla with regard to funding or service provision. I understand that Rape Crisis Network Ireland, which is the representative body for rape crisis centres, as opposed to the service-provider, has had its funding ceased. The priority of both the Minister and Tusla was to protect front-line services within the funding available. The funding to Rape Crisis Network Ireland was in respect of the maintenance of a database incorporating data gathered and recorded by rape crisis workers who deal with the survivors of sexual abuse. Tusla had concerns about the database, in particular the fact that the data collected by RCNI from rape crisis centres is not readily available to Tusla and not fully representative of all services dealing with sexual abuse. As part of its statutory responsibilities for the provision of services to victims of domestic, sexual and gender-based violence, including information capability, a decision was taken to produce the data in-house in the future.

Tusla is developing a national specialist service for all sexual, domestic and gender-based violence services, to enable better outcomes for children and adults who survive such violence. It has appointed a national manager and eight additional staff to ensure a single line of accountability for all resources in this important area. It is very important that people realise the difference between the network and what is being done by the network, especially in this specific instance and by the rape crisis centres. Some speakers mixed up the situation and it is very important that it is clarified.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Fianna Fail)
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We are so lucky to have Senator Gilroy here to show us the right path on every issue.

Photo of Maurice CumminsMaurice Cummins (Fine Gael)
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Some people on the other side of the House have a habit of throwing out facts that are not correct-----

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Fianna Fail)
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Nothing I said was-----

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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No interruptions.

Photo of Maurice CumminsMaurice Cummins (Fine Gael)
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-----and they do not understand the issue, unfortunately. I think the comprehensive reply I have given clarifies the situation. However, I will take on board what Senator Moloney asked for last week. I have asked the Minister to come to the House for a debate on it. He was not available this week. I had provisionally arranged for him to come this evening but he cannot be here. I hope we can arrange a debate at an early date.

I will bring the issue of the Fampyra drug to the attention of the Minister. I gave several comprehensive reports on that matter on previous occasions but we will follow it up.

Senators Hayden, Mullins, Keane, Coghlan and Cullinane asked about the Central Bank report and the banks' treatment of people in mortgage arrears. That treatment is not acceptable and there is a need for the Central Bank to use the powers available to it to take these banks to task.I remind the other side of the House that the Government has removed the bank veto. The Central Bank needs to take its responsibility very seriously and take action against the banks who are not playing ball on mortgage arrears.

Senator Hayden and Senator Paul Coghlan congratulated former Senator, Eugene Regan, on his appointment to the European Court of Justice. Former Senator Regan was an excellent Member of this House for a number of years and I congratulate him on his appointment. I am sure he will make an excellent judge in the European court.

Senator van Turnhout referred to the retirement of Catherine Day, a senior Irish civil servant in the EU. I note the points she will bring to the attention of the CPP in terms of inviting Catherine Day to address the House. It would be an excellent opportunity for the House to have her inform us on all the things that go on in the EU at senior civil service level. The report on direct provision will be going to Cabinet on Tuesday next and I will try to arrange a debate with the Minister after that. As Senator van Turnhout mentioned, we have debated the issue in this House on a number of occasions.

Senator Mullins referred to the Central Bank report, to which I have already alluded. He also welcomed the new healthy workplace initiative introduced by the Minister for Health, Deputy Varadkar.

Senator Moran raised the plight of one-parent families. She mentioned a specific case which could be dealt with by means of a Commencement matter. I accept the amendment proposed to the Order of Business to the effect that No. 11 would be taken before No. 1.

Senator Keane also spoke about the Central Bank, an issue I have addressed. Senator Bradford raised the care of the elderly and the recent report by Alone. He called for a debate on the matter. I will try to arrange it with the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch.

Senator Colm Burke raised the expenditure of €1 billion on the fair deal scheme, which is a significant sum. He also spoke about the need to address the delay in people trying to get on the nursing board register. He referred also to housing funding and anomalies in the system. If he tables the issue as a Commencement debate matter I am sure the Minister of State, Deputy Coffey, or the Minister, Deputy Kelly, will come to the House to address the matter. I think I have addressed the majority, if not all, the issues Members raised.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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Senator Darragh O’Brien has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: “That No. 67, non-Government motion No. 19, be taken without debate before No. 1.” Is the amendment being pressed?

Amendment put:

The Seanad divided: Tá, 14; Níl, 19.



Tellers: Tá, Senators Paschal Mooney and Diarmuid Wilson; Níl, Senators Paul Coghlan and Aideen Hayden.

Amendment declared lost.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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Senator Mary Moran has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That No. 11 be taken before No. 1." The Leader has indicated that he wishes to accept the motion. Is the amendment agreed to? Agreed.

Order of Business, as amended, agreed to.