Tuesday, 29 September 2015
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, statements on the Ireland 2016 Schools Programme to be taken at 5 p.m. and to conclude not later than 7 p.m., with the contributions from group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes, those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes, and the Minister to be called on to reply at 6.50 p.m.
I welcome the publication of the figure of €27 billion over the next number of years and eagerly await all the pre-election promises. One hopes that the litany of broken promises does not follow if the Government is returned to power. One of the details that has emerged is that there will be approximately €18 million for the refurbishment of Garda stations. It has not been missed by the public that the closure by the Government of 139 Garda stations throughout the country has saved just €500,000. I am sure the Leader would agree that the value of rural Ireland far outweighs the price or cost of €500,000 and I wonder if the capital plan will adequately address the contempt with which the Government has pursued the facilitation of rural decline over the past four years. I very much hope it does because the €30 million announced at the National Ploughing Championships last week was nothing short of an insult to the people of rural and regional Ireland.
I would like to propose an amendment to the Order of Business that the Minister for Health, Deputy Varadkar, comes to the House and explains to Members and to the people of Ireland who is driving the bus in the Department of Health. It seems that, reminiscent of the Fennelly report, he intends to threaten the sacking of individuals if improvements are not made in the numbers on trolleys throughout the country. Indeed, August, traditionally a quiet month, saw the largest number of patients on trolleys throughout the country. One wonders how many there will be in January unless the Government takes the reins, stops being a commentator on the Department of Health and realises that it is the Minister who is supposed to be driving that bus. There has been a 400% increase in those waiting for more than a year and a 65% increase in my county of Sligo. The Minister, instead of threatening to fire people who are on his staff, should consider his own position and perhaps resign because the buck stops with him.I wished him well on the day he took over here because I felt he had the ability and the direct speaking style to get to the bottom of the problem. Sadly, as a commentator this man is much more of a pundit than a player.
I ask that the Minister be brought to the House today. That is an amendment to the Order of Business. The Minister should address his failure to acknowledge his position as the person in command of the health service. I would like him to outline for us what will be done to mitigate the disaster which has seen record numbers on waiting lists and trolleys in recent months.
I welcome strongly today's announcement of a six-year capital investment plan that will extend from 2016 to 2021. I do not think there is any way to portray this as anything other than good news, no matter how the Opposition may try. A significant investment of €27 billion will be made over a six-year period. We are seeing really positive plans under a whole range of headings. In the transport area, the metro north project, which includes a link to the airport, and the cross-city Luas project will be developed. The importance of cross-Border co-operation is evident in the allocation of €31 million for heritage and cultural investment. We are seeing significant provision being made for demographic increases in the education sector, with 19,000 additional primary school places to be provided by 2018. Major investments are to be made in justice, housing and health as well. I do not think there is any way to portray this as anything other than good news. It is extremely welcome. I do not doubt that over the coming weeks, we will be in a position to tease out some of the detail of the capital investment plan and debate it further. This morning's announcement was accompanied by further good news on unemployment. It was announced today that the unemployment figure has decreased to 9.4%. As colleagues of mine have pointed out, there are 30,000 more people at work this year than there were this time last year. It is a very significant reduction. Of course we hope that trend will continue.
I would like to speak about commemoration, which is a theme to which we will return this afternoon when we debate the 1916 centenary commemorations. I commend Trinity College on the moving ceremony it held on Saturday - it was also attended by my colleague, Senator Barrett - at which a memorial stone commemorating the Trinity staff, students and alumni who died in the First World War was unveiled. The stone in question, which honours the memories of nearly 500 men and - I understand - one woman, is in the Front Square of Trinity, which means anyone can go to see it. While their names are etched on a hall of honour in the 1937 reading room, as it is known, for a long time many people did not know it was there as it was not advertised by the college and it was perhaps neglected in the way that we neglected so much of the history of the many thousands of Irish men and women who died in the First World War. It was very moving to hear pen profiles of some of the deceased being read by the presidents of the graduate students union and the students union at this really important event.
I ask the Leader for a debate when we get time, but in advance of the general election, on the issue of the eighth amendment. I was delighted to participate last Saturday in a demonstration organised by the Abortion Rights Campaign and the Coalition to Repeal the 8th Amendment. I was one of many thousands of people who took to the streets to call for the repeal of the eighth amendment. I think there is a growing momentum of people, individually and in groups, who have come out recently in favour of repealing the eighth amendment.
I would like to give a general welcome to the Government's capital proposals. As I was listening to RTE on the wireless this morning, I thought it was quite unusual that there was a degree of accord between financial commentators and political pundits in welcoming the plan and finding very little indeed they could cavil about. I particularly welcome the introduction of metro north in a modified form. I hope this will go through. Many years ago, Senator Quinn and I introduced measures here to facilitate the development of a metro. After considerable consideration and discussion, the then Government agreed to introduce a metro, but it became a casualty of the financial difficulties in which the country found itself.However, it became a casualty of the financial difficulties in which the country found itself. I very much welcome the fact that it may go ahead in some limited form. The person who briefed Senator Quinn and me most extensively on this matter was Mr. Cormac Rabbitte, a very brilliant transport engineer, and he has not given up. In the past few days, I received an update on metro Dublin development, and they are making a pre-application to An Bord Pleanála under the Railways Act. I very much hope the Government will examine it, given that it seems to fit in very well with the partial plan the Government already has and would provide Dublin with an extensive and comprehensive metro service, which would be very welcome.
We are the only European capital that has no underground, and it would be the answer to so many of our transport problems. Dublin is messing around with cycle lanes and banning cars. I had to go all the way around the world to get here today because College Green is closed except to buses. It is lunatic. Shortly, I will be imprisoned in my house in North Great George's Street unable to get out with the car. An underground which would bring me here would be a great personal benefit to me but also to the city and the country.
I was somewhat amused to read about the Minister of State, Deputy Dara Murphy and his taxi. It is the greatest load of rubbish I have ever heard in my life. A Minister of State was driving in a car to the airport to make a political appointment in Brussels, or wherever it was. The car broke down, and he talked to a taxi driver. There is some kind of confusion about it, and the fare was very large - €350, which I would not be mad about paying. Gardaí were contacted about the failure of the car and they offered to drive him to the airport. Perfectly right. They are servants of the State, and if there was no demand for their services in the local area it was appropriate for them to ensure the Minister of State got to his appointment on time. I salute the gardaí for their correct action and I deplore the tittle tattle in the media about it. It was a perfectly appropriate use of State resources.
I welcome the capital plan for 2016 to 2021 that was announced today. It is advance planning over five years. Some €46 million was allocated for Garda vehicles and €205 million for Garda technology. In this country, we still display paper tax, insurance and NCT discs on our cars. That was all right when we did not have the major technology or the facility to photocopy and make fraudulent tax and insurance discs to display. The torches gardaí flash on a car to verify that tax and insurance discs are in order are gone out. The UK and many countries have moved on towards the modern system of automatic numberplate recognition and I ask the Minister to consider it, and not only for financial and cost-saving reasons. A conservative estimate of the cost of procuring, posting and administering of discs is €10 million per year. It is also estimated that fraud adds a minimum of €40 to the cost of the average insurance policy.
There are 136 Garda traffic corps vehicles on the road, of which 80% are already equipped with automatic number plate recognition, which means we are 80% of the way there. Could we go the whole hog and enable gardaí to use smartphones to check tax and NCT compliance? The general trend in every country is that way. Mr. Conor Faughnan of the Automobile Association, AA, has already called for this. Will the Minister equip each garda with a hand-held device? It would be not only for number plate recognition. Another Senator spoke about Garda stations and rural post offices closing down. One can have an office in one's car with a hand-held phone.Every garda should have in their possession automatic number plate recognition plus modern technology to do their reports online. I welcome the announcement by the Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald. It was the biggest announcement in the history of the State for-----
I am particularly pleased that Senator Bacik referred to the memorial unveiled in Trinity College because there is a very interesting article in today's "Irishman's Diary" about the lack of memorials in Catholic churches in Ireland. This was not about the political situation, as such. It was primarily because there was no tradition in Catholic churches of such tablets being put up, whereas they were quite abundant in Protestant churches. In both the Church of Ireland and the Methodist churches in my home town of Drumshanbo, there are several tablets commemorating local soldiers who died in the First World War. While I do not know the name of the lady in Trinity College, the reference in the article to Catholic churches having commemorative tablets is a specific reference to St. Mary's on Haddington Road, which has a memorial to 92 Irish men who died in the First World War and one woman, Iza Mahony, who was a volunteer nurse. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a hanam agus na hanamacha eile.
My main reason in rising, apart from that slight diversion, is to ask the Leader whether we could have some debate on homelessness, which has now come centre stage. It looks like the Government is kicking to touch on it. I agree with Fr. McVerry's proposal that a national emergency be declared. Everybody who is involved in helping the homeless has been pointing out increasingly that this crisis is unprecedented. While I appreciate that the Minister, Deputy Kelly, is going to fly the flag and fight the good fight, there is an obvious need to pull together the various State agencies involved and that the public, rather than the political family, sees that something practical is being done that will work.
Fr. McVerry made a comparison with the case of foot and mouth disease, where we moved very quickly to address the issue by bringing the various State agencies together. We have also, in this House and the other House, passed emergency legislation from both this Government and the previous one in respect of the banking system. The Government of the day can do it if it wants. It seems that the will is not there and that there is just public relations going on. As this Government gets closer to the election, it is upping the PR machine. I am asking for a debate on this, even if it means the Minister coming before the House to outline what he is doing or not doing, because he made a comment last night on television that there was no difficulty-----
I want to raise an issue of concern relating to Bus Éireann. In my county of Roscommon, most of the established bus operators lost their runs this summer following a tender process. These operators had a relationship built up with the special needs students they were bringing to school and now the students are being asked to get to know the new bus operators. They might have great difficulty with this.
The tender process involves the price, the route, and how the bus is cleaned both outside and inside. I am aware of one bus operator who lost his run because he was 1 cent per mile more expensive than the next man. Another bus operator, with whom I am well acquainted, was told he had the best price but he lost the run because he did not score 100% on how he cleans his bus outside and inside or whatever. Last year he gave the exact same explanation of how he cleans his bus inside and outside and he scored 100%. He copied it from last year and they downgraded him to 66% and he lost the run.There seems to be no transparency as to how bus operators are selected. The very notion that a special relationship is built between the operator and the student is not even a consideration. It seems that how a bus is cleaned inside and outside is more important, which is crazy. I would like the Leader to bring this to the attention of the Minister for Education and Skills so that we can see what kind of transparency can be brought to these issues.
I hope the transport plans announced today will be some advance on Transport 21, which was announced approximately ten years ago by the last Government. I see a headline today, "Revealed: The 19-Minute Journey from Dublin City to the Airport by Metro." Buses, without subsidy, can currently go from the airport to Lucan or Sandymount in 20 minutes, so I do not know what this is supposed to serve. These projects tend to be dominated by engineers who spend all the money. The country was bankrupted before, and we would want to be pretty careful; the devil will be in the detail. What has been published so far seems to be a reheated version of a plan that was not much good when we saw it the first time approximately ten years ago.
I note the proposal by Ernst & Young in the Sunday Independentthat it will drop degree requirements for people studying to be auditors and accountants. The rest of us have a rather different view of auditors and accountants. Next year, the Irish Auditing and Accounting Supervisory Authority takes over the supervision of standards in accountancy and auditing from Chartered Accountants Ireland. That transfer will take place in June. It would be ill-advised, given the problems we have had with auditing in the financial and building society sector, as well as in banking, to have any changes to reduce the qualifications of auditors before the transfer to the Irish Auditing and Accounting Supervisory Authority. It is a matter of a regret that it has taken so long since the financial crisis to transfer the supervision of accountants from their own body to an independent statutory body, the Irish Auditing and Accounting Supervisory Authority.
Yesterday was national Tidy Towns day, with more than 850 communities taking part in what is now a major national competition. The overall winner was Letterkenny in County Donegal, and I happened to be there yesterday when the announcement was made. The town has participated in the competition for 57 years, culminating in yesterday's marvellous achievement, which arose from a consistent effort from the local community. Clonegal in County Carlow is Ireland's tidiest village, while Listowel in County Kerry is Ireland's tidiest small town. Westport in County Mayo won the category of Ireland's tidiest large town. I congratulate everybody in the many towns and villages that have participated on an annual basis but have not won. I come from Carlingford, which was an overall winner 20 years ago but is still participating. The people are trying to improve the lives of the community and our towns and villages for the many visitors who come to us.
We speak about volunteerism in this Chamber fairly often, and there are not many greater examples of it than this competition. We can think of communities doing their best to improve facilities - for themselves, primarily, but for visitors as well - for more than 50 years, or five generations. These people love their towns and villages. We must also acknowledge what this has done for tourism in the four corners of this country. People like to visit, stand, stare and admire these towns and villages, so I congratulate one and all for participating. The competition started with 50 participants in the first year.Yesterday, the number of participants was in excess of 850 throughout the length and breadth of the country, and all are to be congratulated.
I join other colleagues who paid tribute to our former colleague, Jimmy Harte, on his retirement. I wish him and his family the very best for the future. He was a very gentle, quietly-spoken man, but he got his message across on many occasions. He will be truly missed by us all.
Rural Ireland has been in the national media in recent weeks. The attack on rural Ireland not only by the Government but by criminal gangs has been raised in every council chamber in the country and in this Chamber for many years. I am sad to report that not a lot of action has taken place to address these concerns. We learned in today's media of the statement by the Minister of Justice and Equality that the closure of more than 100 rural Garda stations has saved a mere €500,000. This is on top of the closure of many post offices. In my county town of Cavan, the most modern army barracks in Europe and the only purpose-built army barracks in the State was closed. It is costing more to maintain the building now than it was to run it when it was at full capacity. This is a terrible indictment of the Government.
To my amazement, I find myself in total agreement with Senator Cáit Keane regarding her proposal on number plate identification. I will go one step further: in an effort to combat and crack down on rural crime, if investment were made in smart technology on every rural road in Ireland, the Garda Síochána would be in a position to pick up number plates that were not valid. A signal could be sent to the gardaí in close proximity and they could apprehend such vehicles. This is where investment should be made. Unfortunately, the Garda stations that are now closed will never be opened regardless of who is in government. This is my firm belief. We should invest in this technology. Senator Feargal Quinn has mentioned in the past that such camera technology is in existence in rural parts of countries such as France, as well as on main highways, and it can record the speed at which a car is travelling. Surely it is not beyond the realm of possibility to put this infrastructure in rural Ireland to assist the Garda in identifying the criminal gangs coming down from major cities to rob our vulnerable people.
I very much welcome the capital plan for the next five and a half years, which was announced today with a significant investment of €27 billion. Obviously, this will restore, I hope, all of the jobs lost during the recession and address many of the infrastructural deficits we have. To pick up on the arguments made by Senators Diarmuid Wilson and Cáit Keane, the only way we will beat the criminals in today's world, who are very sophisticated, is with technology. I welcome the fact more than €200 million is in the plan for investment in technology. Good technology and Garda vehicles will go a long way towards tackling the problem of rural crime. We must ensure Garda stations have technology and facilities. Recently I visited the Garda station in Ballinasloe and I was horrified to see how primitive the conditions were and the poor facilities for the detention of prisoners.If that is replicated throughout the country, we need significant investment in existing Garda stations.
I welcome the fact that during the lifetime of this capital plan, 45,000 jobs will be created in construction. That will get the construction sector off its knees, so to speak, and give it a badly-needed boost.
The Fine Gael-Labour Party Government is to be applauded on the progress made over the past four and a half years. Having got the country up off its knees, it now has an ambitious programme to drive forward the recovery and ensure that we never again get ourselves into the position we have been in for the past seven or eight years.
I welcome the announcement today of the rural economic development zones and the allocation of funding for same. In County Galway alone, €207,500 was allocated, with €60,000 being allocated to Ballinasloe Area Community Development, which submitted a fantastic application. That €60,000 will help it put together a plan that will drive economic recovery, particularly in the retail sector in towns like Ballinasloe and others towns in east Galway.
It is interesting to hear a debate already starting. Senator Norris referred to the underground railway that was proclaimed at least ten years ago. Senator Barrett asked us to consider the development taking place in terms of privatising transport from the airport. There is little doubt that that has worked very well. It is a debate we should be having, and when I hear Senator Norris expressing concern about what is happening in College Green, it is a debate that needs to take place because we have not had that debate. Those decisions are being made without understanding that.
Senator Cáit Keane referred to the Garda using technology to check car tax, insurance and licences. I am not sure it is the job of the Garda to check tax and insurance. Modern technology enables us to do that in a much more efficient way.
I saw a huge traffic jam recently where gardaí had stopped traffic on the north side of the city. It must have gone back 2 km or 3 km while they checked insurance and the tax discs. That can be done readily nowadays, and it is being done, with a smartphone. We should investigate the possibility of doing something like that because there is little doubt that it does not make sense for the Garda to be doing it.
Two figures were published today. First, the number of burglaries has increased by 8.4% this year on last year and, second, incidents of stealing from shops have increased by 11.2%. I do not know if that is related to Garda stations being closed but it is the sort of topic we should be debating in this House. I ask the Leader to find time for a debate on that in the near future.
The ploughing championships last week were a wonderful success. I spoke yesterday to a group of young students in Trinity College about entrepreneurship. The ploughing championships came about from an idea Anna May McHugh had 52 years ago. That lady is not a young entrepreneur, although she may have been at that time. The ploughing championships were a wonderful success. I was delighted to see that the French Government gave her an award last week because of that success, and I would like to congratulate her.
I welcome Senator MacSharry back from his purgatory in the bunker. It is good to see him back on his feet in this Chamber. He was always something of a dancer. He talks about pundits and players but, given his own acting ability, he endeavours to play both roles.
Of course. One is allowed a little poetic licence. I too welcome the superb capital plan and genuinely feel that people will pay much more attention to Senator David Norris's welcome of it than they will to Senator Marc MacSharry's false criticism. I do not want to go on about the capital plan; it speaks for itself, and others have referred to it. Today, I would like to mention briefly three items concerning our farming community on which we may be able to have some discussion in due course, when time permits. I believe increased funding must be allocated for agri-environment schemes with full payments to all GLAS and AEOS participants; there must be an extra allocation for areas of cultural constraint to reverse the cuts of previous budgets and support farming in marginal areas; and finally, there should be a modest increase to the National Parks and Wildlife Service, NPWS, to pay farmers for restrictions resulting from land designation where such restrictions are not covered by GLAS. Perhaps these matters can be covered in a pre-budget statement or, if not, perhaps the Leader would allow for a debate on agricultural matters.
This morning I heard on the news that foreign citizens who are in this country on visas of one sort or another for education or training purposes are queueing around the block waiting for access to the Department of Justice and Equality to renew their visas. I cannot for the life of me understand, particularly in the context of students, the reason the international office in each college cannot be called upon to administer visas. If they collect the relevant information, surely the visas can be administered in a one-stop shop within the universities that the students are attending. Last week a deputation from China, which included the secretary from the department of education in China, visited the Oireachtas. One of their grave concerns was that their citizens who come to Ireland as students have to queue up for hours, and sometimes overnight, in order to get their visas renewed. This is wrong.
I draw attention to the few miserable shillings saved by closing half the Garda stations in the country. In Stepaside, where I live, which is not exactly rural Ireland, we are inundated with burglaries. The loss of that Garda station has been of massive import. I am sure that much more than €500,000 worth of Garda time has been spent on investigating the burglaries that have taken place. I ask the Leader to ask the Minister for Justice and Equality whether there is a case to be made for reviewing the closure of some of the Garda stations with a view to reopening them.
If any of us were asked how much money be saved by the closure of the Garda stations, very few would have guessed that the figure would be as low as €500,000. It is an indictment of Government policy. We have heard in recent days about the plans to revitalise rural Ireland and investment to refurbish our towns and so on. It is important that significant detail is provided and that there is significant investment. In March, a journalist, Richard Curran, hosted an excellent documentary on the battle for rural Ireland. It showed the stark reality of the challenges our small towns and villages are facing.
I am glad we are going to have a debate on the migrant crisis on Thursday. I am not sure the Government is firing on all cylinders on this issue. It is right and proper that the Minister for Justice and Equality take that debate, but there are related issues that need to be dealt with by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, such as whether safe havens will be established in the Middle East for persecuted minorities - not just Christian minorities, but other minorities.The challenges faced by particular groups must be looked at now as well. It cannot be separated from the question of or absorption into the country of very hard pressed people who are fleeing war. They need to be helped and supported. At the same time we must look at what is going to be done to assist persecuted minorities and what our policy is, for example, on Syria and on regime change or otherwise in Syria. I would like to be hearing much more from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade on Ireland's policy on these matters.
I would also like to hear about the recent attendance by the Minister for Justice and Equality at a conference in Paris on the persecuted groups and the challenges facing particular ethnic communities. As far as I am aware there was no media coverage of her participation at the conference. We do not know what she said and we do not know what the Irish Government's policy is. I would like to hear about that matter on Thursday but we need to hear from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade as well.
I note Senator Bacik's attempt to interpret there being some kind of a momentum to secure further legalised abortion in Ireland. This is largely a media swell rather than a groundswell as the rather modest turnout at last weekend's protest showed. It is time that she told us what she and fellow abortion supporters think about the absolutely grisly realities being pursued.
Yes but I want to build a background to my question. The exchange demonstrates why we cannot have a mature debate on these very important issues. People start roaring, shouting and throwing personal abuse at people just because they oppose the position that people take.
A torrent of abuse was directed at my colleague because of a position that they do not share. Personal abuse is never appropriate. If that is the level of argument that this House is able to generate then I do not think it is worth engaging at all.
I welcome the Cabinet's expenditure programme that was outlined today which gives money to the badly-needed upgrade of the Dunkettle interchange in Cork. The measure will remove the last set of traffic lights from Cork to Belfast when completed which is a good thing and can only be welcomed. The location is a real bottleneck and holds up the full development of the city and port of Cork. The measure is very welcome.
No. 69 on the clár relates to the report of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children on the cost of medical indemnity insurance. It would be good if we could discuss the report and other health insurance costs which all add to the pressure on the health service and the cost of private health insurance. We have had the announcement, over the past day or so, by VHI of another increase in the cost of providing health insurance. We should not be surprised by it because the price of health care increases almost on a monthly basis.
Now that the great hopes for universal health care and Dutch health models, Australian models and Canadian models have all been consigned to the dustbin of manifestos, we have to recognise that we are left with a tweaking of the current health system. With proper structural change and investment the system certainly can work. It is the cost of the provision of that service, the cost of not just insurance but of consultancy and so much more, which needs to be tackled.On more than an annual basis the insurance providers seek an increase, it is acceded to and the taxpayer and citizen has to foot the bill. We need to look into the reason health insurance is costing so much. No. 69 could form part of that debate. It is clear we are not going to move to any new model of health care provision in the medium or distant future. We are stuck with the model we have and we must try to make it work and affordable. We must also tackle the cost issue. It would be helpful if the Leader could arrange a debate in this regard in respect of which, as I said, No. 69 could be a helpful introduction.
Many Members have raised the issue of the capital plan, the aim of which is to secure recovery and ensure all regions share in the benefits. The €27 billion investment plan for Ireland is essential to the restoration by 2018 of all the jobs lost during the recession and a reduction in the unemployment rate to 6% by 2020. This is affordable, achievable and consistent with the Government's plan to eliminate Government borrowing by 2018. It was necessary throughout the financial crisis to keep spending under control. To restore our national finances to stability we used every innovative way we could to raise additional capital to invest in Ireland's recovery. The proposed new investment in roads, public transport, education, health care, flood risk, enterprise and policing is designed to alleviate growing pressures in the economy which hold back recovery. The recovery is not yet complete and we must continue to manage the national finances carefully or risk falling back. The Government could not afford to include everything we wanted in this plan but it represents the best of what can be delivered with the available resources. As a Government we have no intention of going back to the bad old days of boom and bust. The days of blank cheques are well gone.
This capital investment plan provides approximately €42 billion of State-backed investment in capital projects. As I mentioned, the Exchequer is providing €27 billion for investment in national projects. Support will also be provided from the ERDF and Europe. Under the plan, more than 45,000 construction-related jobs will be created in projects throughout the country, including new road infrastructure, new schools and a new modern metro system in Dublin, as referred to on the Order of Business by several Members. It also provides more investment in enterprise support services, which were also mentioned on the Order of Business.
Garda technology was also mentioned by several Members, including Senator MacSharry. In addition to the investment already made available in this area over the past year, further investment in Garda vehicles and technology to address the many issues raised today by Members is being provided. Senator MacSharry also proposed an amendment to the Order of Business seeking that the Minister for Health, Deputy Varadkar, come to the House today. I do not propose to accede to the Senator's request as the Minister for Health, Deputy Varadkar, was in the House only half an hour ago to address two items raised by his colleagues. I am sure that if the Senator seeks to address the issue by way of Commencement debate the Minister will be willing to come to the House to respond to it.
Senator Bacik also spoke of the benefits of investment in the capital plan and noted that the unemployment rate is down to 9.4%. Who would have believed when unemployment was up in excess of 15% that it would be down to 9.4% in such a short time? Senator Bacik also complimented Trinity College, Dublin, on its recent remembrance ceremony in respect of over 500 former staff and students who died in the First World War.Senator Bacik also called for a debate on the repeal of the eighth amendment. This obviously will be a subject during the election campaign and I do not wish to have that campaign started in the House any time soon, considering that the election still is a number of months away. Senator Norris welcomed the metro scheme, and I note his comments in that regard, as well as his comments about the Minister of State, Deputy Dara Murphy. Senator Keane welcomed investment in Garda technology and noted the importance of the elimination of the paper trail where insurance and tax discs are concerned and how smart technology could be used to detect defaulters. Senator Mooney called for a debate on the homeless, while noting the comments of the Minister, as well as those of his own party spokesperson, on last evening's television debate. I agree with him on the need for a debate in this House and will try to arrange it with the Minister of State with responsibility for housing. Senator Kelly raised the tendering process for various bus routes and the need for greater transparency in this regard. Senator Barrett questioned the value for money of the metro to the airport, which probably was contrary to what Senator Norris mentioned. Senator Barrett also highlighted the supervision of standards in accountancy and the need to maintain qualifications. I could not agree more with the Senator; there is a need to maintain standards in this area, especially in view of what the country has gone through over the past decade. Senator Brennan spoke about the national Tidy Towns day and congratulated the overall winner, Letterkenny, as well as all the winners in this great competition, and complimented the voluntary effort of all concerned. I also wish to compliment RTE's "Nationwide" programme on its excellent coverage of the event and to give due recognition to everyone involved in this competition.
Senator Wilson raised the issue of rural Ireland and the marauding gangs that are plundering it, while welcoming the new resources for the Garda and noting the need for smart technology and additional Garda vehicles, which will be addressed in the capital plan. Senator Mullins spoke on the ambitious plan for recovery and welcomed the funding of development moneys for towns such as Ballinasloe. Senator Quinn also spoke on the theme of smart technology for the Garda and noted that burglaries have increased by 8%. He is quite correct in this regard, and that is the reason the Minister will come to the House soon to introduce a new burglary Bill. Members will have an opportunity to discuss this issue with the Minister at that time. Senator Quinn also lauded the organisers of the National Ploughing Championship, which was an absolutely wonderful success and has been for many years. I join with the Senator in complimenting all involved. Senator Paul Coghlan called for greater funding for agricultural investment, particularly in the agri-environment services and for the National Parks and Wildlife Service. I am sure many of these issues will be referred to in the budget.
Senator Craughwell raised the issue of the administration of visas and the delays and the inconvenience that are caused to so many people in Burgh Quay in particular. I agree with him that something radical must be done to address it, because what is happening there at present should not be allowed to continue. I certainly will bring this matter to the attention of the Minister. As for Garda stations, I note that more than 90% of the stations that were closed were one-man operated stations in which gardaí were present for a maximum of one to two hours per day. However, I agree with the Senator that in the case of Stepaside, it is a different ball game. Senator Mullen discussed the challenges for small towns, which I am sure will be addressed in the budget. He also called for a debate on Syria. The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade attended the House some months ago on that topic, but I agree that he should return. I am sure that he would be willing to have a further debate on Syria, particularly regarding the persecution of minorities and the political situation.
Senator Gilroy welcomed the capital plan and its benefits for Cork and many other areas. In Waterford, the combination of funding contained in this plan and other funding from the European Regional Development Fund, ERDF, and local authorities will help to underpin a €35 million investment plan that includes the regeneration of Tramore and Waterford city and further development of the Deise greenway. The money will be welcome in my county.
Senator Bradford mentioned an item on the Order Paper, the report on the cost of medical indemnity insurance. Rather than noting the report, he has called for a debate. I will try to arrange for one with the Minister in early course.
Senator MacSharry has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business, "That a debate with the Minister for Health on his role in addressing the increase in waiting lists in accident and emergency services and in the health service in general be taken today." Is the amendment being pressed?