Wednesday, 30 September 2015
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, pre-budget statements, to be taken at 1 p.m. and to conclude at no later than 3 p.m., with contributions from group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes each, those from all other Senators not to exceed five minutes each, and the Minister to be called on to reply at 2 50 p.m.; No. 2, Minerals Development Bill 2015 - Committee Stage, to be taken at 3 p.m. and to adjourn at no later than 5 p.m., if not previously concluded; and No. 3, Private Members' business, Longer Healthy Living Bill 2015 - Second Stage, to be taken at 5 p.m., with the time allocated to this debate not to exceed two hours.
While we will not oppose the Order of Business, I would like a debate to be held early next week regarding rural Ireland and rural regeneration. We welcome the many announcements that have been made in the course of the past 24 hours on the so-called capital programme, and certain programmes seem to be supported on a regional basis, but the absence of a strategic approach to empowering rural and regional Ireland to perform to its potential is worrying. This was exemplified last week in one announcement that seemed to show complete contempt for rural Ireland, with the insult of some €30 million. When I heard about it on the radio I wondered whether it was just for Sligo and, if so, I would have been disappointed with such a small amount. The stark reality of the contempt for rural Ireland soon became crystal clear on last Wednesday's "Morning Ireland," as we heard that the €30 million was for the entire country and would be spent over the course of six years. That is a whopping €190,000 each for Sligo, Leitrim, Tipperary, and every county in Ireland that has suffered desolation and wipe-out at this Government's hands in its actions on rural and regional Ireland.
We could debate rural crime in particular. The Government closed 139 Garda stations. Yesterday we heard that a whopping €500,000 was saved with that great move. What value have we taken from our rural communities? Yesterday we heard of the shocking crime perpetrated on a family in Tipperary by a Dublin gang. Some 30,000 such burglaries have taken place in the past 12 months, a 10% increase. Many of them occurred in rural Ireland.I could give an example in Dromore West, County Sligo, in which in the early evening, while most of the family were at mass, the lady of the house was tied up and the house ransacked in search of money. Members have seen the announcements of the past couple of days to much fanfare, all of which are welcome. While any announcements regarding investment are welcome, they lack the strategic approach that is required to acknowledge the potential of rural and regional Ireland and to acknowledge the desolation they have suffered from many Governments it must be said but in particular from the current Administration in recent years. When the great account of ignoring rural Ireland is written, no Government will escape but this Government and its actions since 2011 surely will command the most damning chapters in that regard. I therefore call for a debate at the earliest possible opportunity, albeit not today because my party does not wish to be disruptive. I call for a debate in the House on rural and regional Ireland, on the Government's lack of a strategic approach to acknowledging its potential to act as a contributor to the national effort and the lack of a strategic level of focus in recent capital and other investment announcements.
First, on behalf of the Labour group, I thank the many colleagues from across the House who expressed their good wishes to Senator Harte on his retirement. I am aware of how much his family appreciated it, as did all members of the Labour group, but his family has specifically asked me to pass on their appreciation and to thank all Members again in this regard. Members will miss him in the Chamber and in the House.
Yesterday, many colleagues spoke in welcome of the capital investment plan and I welcomed the increased investment in education, housing, health and transport. However, I wish to welcome specifically the allocations for justice, which are very important but perhaps not as high profile as the others. The announcement of funding for a new family and children's court complex at Hammond Lane, Dublin, is important, welcome and long overdue, as facilities in the area of family and child care law are very poor. In addition, given the concerns many colleagues have expressed on rural crime, the announcement of €46 million in additional funding for new Garda vehicles is welcome, as is the €205 million for information technology improvements for the Garda and for a new forensic science laboratory, all of which will greatly help in the prosecution and investigation of crime.
I ask the Leader for a debate on childhood obesity and on healthy eating and nutrition for children. I am grateful to Senator van Turnhout, who has convened a children's future health group supported by the Irish Heart Foundation, Barnardos and the Children's Rights Alliance among others. Yesterday, it heard some alarming facts and figures about the incidence of childhood obesity and the sort of measures that might be adopted to tackle it. Members might usefully have a debate on that subject in the coming months to try to bring that message to a wider audience and to debate in a constructive fashion the sort of measures that could be adopted by the Government to tackle this growing health issue.
Finally, I note Members will debate a motion tomorrow on Syria and the issue of migration. This morning, the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality heard some highly informative presentations from the Refugee Appeals Commissioner and the head of the Department of Justice and Equality's immigration service on how the resettlement and relocation of migrants from Syria will be managed logistically on foot of the welcome Government announcement that Ireland will take 4,000 refugees and I look forward to that debate.
News emerged last night of how it may be necessary to vacate a large number of homes in the Dublin docklands area or how their owners may be obliged to pay a large sum of money because they were built, I think in 2006, but now turn out to be a fire hazard. The cost to the individuals living in those homes will be approximately €20,000 each and they simply cannot afford to pay this. The reason I raise this matter is that this is not the first time this has happened. It happened last year or two years ago, when it was necessary to vacate a large number of homes in north Dublin at an extremely heavy cost to the State. There is an answer to this issue, which I supported when it was put forward to the Minister by a well-known legal expert in this area, which is to have some form of insurance on new homes being built. Consequently, even years afterwards, up to ten to 30 years hence, were it to turn out that those homes were built incorrectly, they then would be covered by insurance. The Minister showed no enthusiasm for it and nor did others who were approached because they thought it would increase the cost considerably. However, given the news that emerged last night of what is happening in the Dublin docklands and the large number of home owners who must either pay a large sum of money or vacate their homes, this is something that must be done. I welcome the opportunity to have a debate on this matter in the near future.
Another issue to which I have not really received an answer is the question of Seanad reform. I asked what is happening with Seanad reform both last week and two weeks ago. Members received a promise from the Taoiseach that action would take place and he then brought former Senators Maurice Manning and Joe O'Toole into the Chamber to put that reform programme before Members. While there was a good debate on it, Members have heard nothing more since. They had hoped something would happen before an election but while one does not know when the election will take place, it appears as though nothing will happen until the next Government takes office. On that basis, I urge the Leader to find time in order that something be done about that.
My final point pertains to genetically modified organisms. Northern Ireland has now banned their production and importation and while it may well be right, and there certainly are two views on this issue, a debate is needed on the issue but none has been held on genetically modified organisms here for years. There is little doubt but the world has changed over the past century and many successful scientific developments in food have meant that people who otherwise would have starved are not starving now. I do not suggest we should automatically do what Northern Ireland is doing and ban the production and importation of genetically modified organisms, but there should at least be a discussion and this House is the perfect place in which to have it. I urge the Leader to find time for such a debate in the next few weeks.
I am greatly disturbed, as I am sure are most, if not all, Members by today's reminder that all local radio stations nationwide have an annual levy of 2% of their turnover imposed on them. As Members are aware, RTE receives a licence fee but those public service broadcasters get nothing for it. In addition, all these local radio stations provide a great deal of news programming, are significant providers of public services but receive nothing in turn.
I do not believe, with respect, that RTE deserves this type of monopoly-like treatment. It does a major disservice to the public and to their local radio stations and is crying out for redress. I call on the Leader to try to bring in the Minister, Deputy White, who is a reasonable man. He has called for some debate on this issue and perhaps Members could speed up matters. I reiterate it seems ridiculous that they are providing such a service as public service broadcasters. RTE of course is charged with public service broadcasting, which is part of its legal remit, but I note it gets all of the licence fee, with nothing coming out either from it or the levy for the other public service broadcasters. The playing pitch should be levelled and serious attention should be given to this matter.
I acknowledge I have referred to this previously but I wish to refer briefly to the 39 works of art that were taken out of Killarney House and stored prior to renovations. I am looking at Senator Sheahan and I am sure he is as concerned as I am. Two items turned up in an auction and I believe were recovered. I had thought the other 37 works of art had been recovered but what has happened to them? This matter must be investigated as well. Were they removed from State storage, have they been recovered and what is the position? I do not know but Members probably read about it this morning. While I do not know how accurate the report is, it is a matter that must be investigated.
I raised the issue of inheritance tax in the Seanad a number of months ago and have had many conversations with people who are affected by the tax in the Dublin Rathdown constituency in which I live. Many residents have expressed anger at the current penal inheritance tax regime and have shown grave concern at the manner in which grieving families are being treated as a result.
On 25 August there was standing room only at a public meeting I organised in Mount Merrion community centre entitled, "Cut the Inheritance Tax", where attendees asked for an urgent review of the tax. Ireland has one of the harshest inheritance tax regimes in the world, with Dubliners in particular heavily penalised by the tax. In 2014 Revenue collected €168.3 million inheritance tax from Dublin-based taxpayers. This is more than 50% of the total inheritance tax of €327 million collected nationally in the year. A number of people who attended the public meeting asked for a petition to be sent to the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, to cut the inheritance tax in the upcoming budget. We have effortlessly received 1,000 signatures. After I finish I will go to the Minister's office to hand him all of the signatures I have received. One woman who signed the petition gave her rationale by stating she signed it because she thinks it is very unfair that people work and save all their lives to provide for their families and even after their death, the Government still takes taxes from them and their loved ones. Another comment was that a family home should not be sold for tax payments as parents have worked hard and long and paid enough tax throughout their lives to leave their children with something at the end, and that it is a complete disgrace that a home full of memories would have to be sold to pay the tax.
I call on the Minister, Deputy Noonan, to address this issue immediately. This tax is wrong. It is unfair and it has already been abolished in numerous countries, such as Austria, Norway and Sweden, as it is deemed to be double taxation. Ireland needs to follow suit urgently.
Is it possible to bring to the House the Minister for Health to debate the HSE's recruitment of nurses from abroad? The HSE is in Britain and further afield trying to entice nurses back to the health service here by offering them inducements. I call for a debate because hundreds of people in this country left the nursing profession for various reasons, such as raising families. They are trying to get back into the nursing profession but finding it almost impossible. I am told they find An Bord Altranais less than co-operative. Much of the issue is with regard to paperwork and bureaucracy. I call for a debate and for the Minister to give a directive. We have qualified people here who have been out of the service for a number of years and wish to come back. Their families are reared. This is where we should target the recruitment. It should also be part of it.
I have the anecdotal case of a paediatric nurse who is needed in Kerry General Hospital. She has been out of the service for number of years and needs retraining and reassessment, which can only be done in Crumlin children's hospital, but that hospital will not do it because she will not work there. It is crazy. I cannot understand why there are such draconian measures whereby the hospital in Crumlin will not give her the reassessment or retraining to work in Kerry General Hospital. Will the Leader invite the Minister for Health to come to the house to debate this? Nurses are needed and they are here in this country and want to get back into the service. We should entice them and give them any help to do so.
He was an unobtrusive man but he had a very shrewd political intellect. Of course he came from a distinguished political dynasty. I wish him well in his retirement.
With regard to the question of genetically modified food, which was raised by my colleague and friend, Senator Feargal Quinn, it is very interesting that the North of Ireland has decided to ban it. This places us in a particular situation. I have always felt that with regard to EU policies there is much more in common between the agricultural community North and South than there was between that in Northern Ireland and England. It would be a pity if we did not explore the area with a view to banning it in the South. We had discussions on this and I was strongly reprimanded by an old colleague of mine, Professor David McConnell in Trinity. He had all this science but I had my science as well and the conclusions are ambiguous. What is not ambiguous is the criminal behaviour of some of the genetically modified food corporations such as Monsanto. It has a really disastrous record around the world. We need to be very careful. Laying aside the scientific evidence for a moment, or forever in fact, if we look at the practical market opportunities most European countries accept genetically modified food. Ireland does not and we are unique in this. If we maintain this we will have an established niche market for green uncontaminated foods. We should think long and hard before we give away this opportunity.
I support Senator Mary White in her call for a debate on inheritance tax. She is probably onto a winner. In June I read that the Minister or his advisers stated he was considering something. I hope there will be a positive response. He stated something about widening the bands. It was the case a child could inherit more than €500,000 and the rest was taxed at 22% whereas now the threshold is down to €225,000 and the rest is taxed at 33%. Deputy Alan Farrell and Senator Catherine Noone have also spoken about this. Many people are speaking about it and I hope it will be successful. I also advocate it. Fair play to Senator White for raising it, as have Deputy Alan Farrell and Senator Catherine Noone. I hope the Minister, Deputy Noonan, will hear it loud and clear.
I wish to speak about human trafficking, the arrest made in Donegal this morning and the freeing of six people. Slave labour and the sex trade are still going on. I call for a debate on the draft national action plan on human trafficking. A review was carried out on the national action plan on human trafficking in 2011 when the Government came into office, but a new plan is in the process of being drafted. Denise Charlton of the Immigrant Council of Ireland has called for action on this issue. I compliment the Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald, on publishing the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill last week. It is part of it. Committee D of the British Irish Parliamentary Assembly reported on human trafficking, and publication of the national action plan is a follow-up to this. It is timely to call for a debate on it in the Seanad.
Education grants are an ongoing issue at present. If a young person is living at home, and when I say "young" I do not mean students straight out of school but those aged over 23, the means of the parents are taken into consideration, but if they are out of the home it is the student's independent means that are taken into account. I would like a debate on education grants as a whole to see how students are treated. Grants are one thing, but there is also a standing fee put on by the college. I call for a debate on this, if the Leader will facilitate it.
I call for a debate on the capital programme announced yesterday by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. It is important from the outset to state any increased capital spending is to be welcomed because we have been starved of capital funding, not only from the Government but from the previous Government because of what happened in the economy.We need to see more capital investment and to make sure that our roads and the social and economic infrastructure of this State are world class. For that to happen, we must have investment. However, there is no doubt that there is a veneer of electioneering going on with all of these announcements. The Government owes it to all of us in the Opposition to bring those plans into Seanad Éireann and Dáil Éireann and allow us to properly debate the issues and examine closely what has been announced. If one considers what has been announced for my own city and county of Waterford, one realises that they are mostly projects that were announced previously and are in the pipeline. They have been repackaged and sold as new projects when in fact the funding or commitment is not new at all. Obviously, everything that has been announced is good news, but to be fair to the Oireachtas and the Seanad in particular, we must be given an opportunity to debate the capital plan with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform to ascertain his exact plans and to determine what additional funding will be provided over and above what was already earmarked. If we are to continue with this process over the coming weeks and months, with everything being seen from an election perspective, then the best thing the Government could do, given all of the current speculation, is to call a general election before the end of the year. That is obviously a matter for the Government, but I would like to call for that debate, given that there was a high-profile launch and press conference yesterday by a number of Ministers. They must come into the Chambers to which they are accountable and debate the issues with us.
While I support Senator MacSharry's call for a debate on rural Ireland, I take serious issue with his criticism of the Government, especially considering the unholy mess it inherited, the lack of funding available to it on taking office and the fact that during all of the years of the boom, very little was done to improve life in rural Ireland. I welcome the fact that funding of €30 million was announced last week. While I accept that it is not enough, it is a start, and will assist many worthwhile projects in rural Ireland. The five-year capital programme announced yesterday will have an impact on the rural parts of our country. Many roads, schools and Garda stations will benefit from funding under the programme.
I would point out to Senator MacSharry that rural Ireland is fighting back and that many organisations and community groups around the country are putting plans together to revitalise their areas. They are trying to develop local festivals to make their areas attractive to visitors, for example. There is a lot of very positive work going on. The Government has a duty to support those communities and is doing so. The Government is investing, for example, in town enhancement schemes, and I see that in my own town of Ballinasloe, where Irish Water is making a major investment in the water and sewage systems, to be followed by an overall town enhancement plan.
I also welcome the announcement yesterday by the Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Ann Phelan, that €3.7 million will be made available for rural economic development zone pilot projects. Places like Ballinasloe, Gort, Tuam, Carraroe, Glenamaddy and Oranmore will benefit from such projects, which represent a start in getting positive things happening in rural Ireland. I accept that there are many challenges for rural Ireland. We want to see more jobs in rural Ireland and would like to see IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland focus much more on decentralisation to Ireland's rural towns, thus spreading the benefits of the economic recovery more widely.
I heard on the news this morning that we are projected to have growth of 6% this year and 4.5% next year. That will have a knock-on effect in rural Ireland. I am very encouraged, having heard from several small builders and tradesmen that in the last six months they have seen a significant increase in activity. The fight back has started and things are moving in the right direction. It is up to the Government to ensure that the effects of the economic improvement are felt in all regions, particularly in the small towns and villages of rural Ireland.
Night after night on our television screens we see the plight of wretched people running from their respective war-torn countries, but I am absolutely shocked at the level of racist comment that I am beginning to hear around the country. Indeed, yesterday a man stood outside the gates of Leinster House with a sign saying "No more refugees." Many of us will have visited New York at some stage in our lives and seen Ellis Island. I wonder how we would have felt back in the 1800s if there was somebody standing on Ellis Island with a sign saying "Go away."
We populated countries as far away as Australia, Canada and the United States of America. One will find Irish people and Irish pubs all over the world. These people are not coming to this country because they want to come. They are coming because they have nowhere else to go. It poses huge problems for us but I am happy to congratulate the Irish Congress of Trade Unions for offering its training centres throughout the country to provide training, socialisation and language programmes for the refugees coming to this country. We should acknowledge that offer.
One of the most serious issues for those coming here will be the fact that they left their country with nothing. They left without paperwork and so forth, so there will have to be fairly stringent recognition of prior learning. If somebody comes into the country and presents as a doctor or engineer, how do we verify that? I recall many years ago a butcher operating as an orthopaedic surgeon for a number of years in one of our main hospitals. That is an issue that must be borne in mind.
Finally, on the issue of planning, we have a construction industry that is on its knees, although it is beginning to recover now. I will acknowledge the work of this Government in reviving the economy, but the planning system needs examination. I am calling for a debate on planning, particularly with regard to the notion of planning for local need only. There are people with money at the moment who are prepared to build houses in rural parts of Ireland but they are being blocked purely on the basis of the local need condition. One must question where we are going with planning in that regard. I ask for a debate on the issue in order to try to lay down some ground rules regarding what constitutes local need, because it appears that it differs from one place to another. I ask the Leader to consider such a debate.
I support the call for a debate about rural Ireland and particularly about the funding for rural regeneration that was announced last week. That announcement was a slap in the face for rural Ireland. I worked out that it would not provide a decent wheelbarrow per parish, never mind rural regeneration. There are houses in the middle of towns and villages across the country that are vacant and falling down. If we are serious about housing and rural regeneration, that is something that must be addressed with investment rather than some of the harebrained schemes being proposed by the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government.
I also wish to refer to the capital programme that was announced yesterday. A lot of it is stuff we have heard before; it has simply been repackaged and presented as something new. People from my area are sick and tired of hearing about the Adare bypass. We have been hearing about it for the last 20 years or more, but I welcome the fact that apparently we will see it come to fruition this time. The biggest infrastructural project that must be undertaken in this country - the lack of which is holding my region back - is a motorway that connects Limerick and Cork. These are our second and third largest cities and the fact that they are not connected via a motorway is something that sticks in the craw of those living in the region and holds the region back, particularly in Limerick city and its hinterland. In order to attract investment, we need that kind of connectivity. Yet again, however, such a motorway has not been announced. I have presented a motorway project to the Minister, a different form of public-private partnership that could have delivered that infrastructure, and I am very disappointed that it was not included in the capital programme announced yesterday.
Regarding the issue raised by Senator Paul Coghlan earlier, I spoke to staff at my local radio station recently. Local radio stations are competing on a very uneven playing field in the context of the national broadcaster and its receipt of television licence fee funding. The service provided by Live95 FM in Limerick, particularly by Joe Nash, with his "Limerick Today" programme, and by Liam Aherne, who covers sport, is second to none.They support local communities and promote local festivals and initiatives across the board. They give airtime to issues of huge concern to people in local areas that the national media, and RTE in particular, do not appear to give a blind bit of notice to. The broadcasting charge is something the Minister, Deputy Alex White, will have to tackle. I support Senator Paul Coghlan's call to have the Minister attend the House for that debate.
I join my colleague Senator Marc MacSharry in requesting from the Leader a debate on rural Ireland for the reasons that have been outlined by colleagues on all sides of the House over the last number of years, but in particular for those outlined over the last number of months. I support Senator Paul Coghlan in his comments about local radio stations. It is unacceptable that they are operating on a shoestring budget while providing an excellent service. I agree totally with Senator James Heffernan that they should be allocated a percentage of the licence fee that is collected by the State. It is also interesting to note that on the meagre budget they have, they must pay 2% to maintain a regulator for local broadcasting stations. That is not acceptable. At least that should be paid for directly by the State. I would welcome a debate on this issue. Their association made a presentation to the Fianna Fáil think-in in Sutton and it would be worthwhile to circulate it to colleagues in the House.
I ask the Leader if it is the intention of the Government to hold a by-election to fill the vacancy that has come about following the regrettable resignation of our colleague Senator Jimmy Harte. I issue a little advice to the Taoiseach through the Leader that, given the record of achievement, in inverted commas, of the European agriculture Commissioner, the former Deputy Phil Hogan, as a Minister, it would not be wise to take his advice on when to go to the country. He has made a total hames of everything he has touched to date. That is just a bit of friendly advice.
I subscribe to and support Senator Heffernan's comments on local radio. We must really examine the concept of the television licence, how it is used and how it could best be distributed. The Minister, Deputy Alex White, has presumably kicked to touch the whole issue of a broadcasting fee, but the current pot of people's money is entirely consigned to one supposed national broadcaster while local radio and other national radio stations go unfunded. Debate, consideration and a change of emphasis are needed.
I support the Senator also on the gaping hole in the new national development plan as far as people in the Cork-Limerick region are concerned. Certainly, the development of a Cork-Limerick motorway is essential from a regional and rural planning perspective. I heard the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, on the radio this morning talking about the fact that the project would cost €800 million, which is admittedly a sizeable sum. However, it is a project we need. If alternative funding mechanisms must be found, we must investigate those possibilities. The rail link to the airport will not carry a passenger until 2027. Apart from those two particular projects, we should have a debate - if there is time in terms of the longevity of the House - to discuss how we actually spend these national moneys and why it takes so long to build these important national infrastructure projects. I heard the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, explain yesterday about the planning process, which takes so long.
Under current rules and regulations, that is how it happens. It is very difficult to accept that it will be almost six years before the first physical piece of work commences on the rail link infrastructure. Forgetting the politics - because politicians and Governments will come and go - when a substantial block of money seems to be available for a national project, it is depressing to think it will be six or seven years before any work starts. We must look at fast-tracking significant infrastructural projects. If changes of legislation or of emphasis are required, so be it. It speaks volumes about how wrongly we plan and deliver things that we are willing to accept that it will be 2027, when all of us will be long gone from the House, before the first passenger will travel on that link. Surely infrastructural development must be facilitated in a different fashion. It is simply not good enough that a project that is wanted now will not happen for more than a decade. Rather than discussing a particular project, we should try to debate with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Brendan Howlin, and the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, how we can speed things up to deliver on this plan and make it work quickly. The airport link is the ultimate example, but there are other projects, including bypasses, tunnels and bridges. If it can be done in Canada and Australia five times more quickly, we should catch up.
I support Senator Mary White in her comments and general campaign on inheritance tax. It is something about which I spoke previously. In fairness to Senator Mary White, she highlights how effective the Opposition can be in her campaign on the issue. She had a very good meeting on it and has got a great deal of publicity - fair play to her. It is not uniquely a Dublin issue, as it affects people throughout the country, but it has a big impact in Dublin. Generally, the feeling among experts is that we need to increase the threshold and the bands. If one looks at what people used to pay before the changes and what they pay now, some have experienced a tenfold increase on a house that does not have a huge price. Around €400,000 is not the average price, but it is certainly not a crazy price for a house in Dublin. On such a house, inheritance tax has gone from around €4,000 or €5,000 to €30,000 or €40,000. There will either be a substantial change or no change at all because of the way the markets work on things like this. If it were to be done incrementally, people would hold off on transactions. I am hopeful that in the budget there will be a substantial change to inheritance tax. I also thank Senator Keane for mentioning my previous reference to the issue.
Like others, I support a debate in the House on rural Ireland and rural issues. The farmer is the backbone of rural Ireland, and farmers have many issues. One of them is the fair deal scheme. Fair deal operates on the basis that, unless a farmer transferred his land more than five years before he enters a nursing home, it is assessed against him for the duration of his stay. If the farmer goes into a nursing home prematurely and is there for ten or 15 years, he might lose his land entirely to the fair deal scheme. The strange thing is that one would think that, if the farmer transferred his land four and a half years prior to going into a nursing home, after the end of the five-year period, which would be six months into his stay, he would no longer have his land assessed, but that is not the case. If one goes into a nursing home one day before the five-year period is up, one's land is assessed against one for the rest of one's living days. It is something we should debate with the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch. If people's family homes are assessed in respect of only three years, income from land should also be assessed in respect of only three years. It is something that warrants a debate in the House.I ask that the Leader, at some stage before the budget, bring in the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, so we can have a discussion on this. There is merit in it on behalf of farmers.
Senator MacSharry and several Senators called for a debate on rural Ireland and I will certainly try to arrange that with the Minister of State, Deputy Ann Phelan, in early course. The €30 million scheme announced last week is of course only one in a myriad of finance projects being put into rural Ireland through various grants. I am sure that can be discussed during the debate. I will not get into tit-for-tat with Senator MacSharry on the number of Garda stations and post offices closed down under Fianna Fáil's watch. It would be very embarrassing for him so I will not get into it.
Senator Bacik welcomed the justice allocations under the capital plan and, in particular, two elements that were sought in this House only yesterday. They related to the €205 million that will be put into smart technology for gardaí in order to combat rural crime, as well as crime elsewhere in the country. Senator Bacik also called for a debate on childhood obesity. That was debated previously but we can certainly arrange another discussion on the measures to address that very important issue.
Senator Quinn called for an insurance scheme for new homes in light of the developments that we read in today's newspapers about a number of homes having difficulties relating to fire regulations. I hope to have a debate on housing and the issue could be discussed at that time.
I have nothing further to tell the House about Seanad reform. We had former Senators Manning and O'Toole before the House and my information after that was that the Taoiseach would set up an implementation body to give life to what was in the report. I have not heard anything further. I do not know if the implementation body has been set up or if that is imminent but I will try to find out what is happening. I would not hold my breath at this stage.
Senator Norris also spoke about genetically modified food and we will try to get the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine to come to the House. I am sure he would be quite willing to have a debate on the issue. Senator Coghlan and quite a number of other Senators, including Senators Wilson and Bradford, spoke about the plight of local radio stations. I know representatives of the stations are in Buswell's now highlighting their case. They seem to be at a disadvantage, particularly with respect to the licence fee. The Senators asked that the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Alex White, come here to address the matter. I will ask him to take part in a debate. Local radio stations are certainly providing an excellent service nationwide, and they are to be complimented on that. They should not be at the disadvantage at which they currently seem to be.
Senator Coghlan also spoke about the theft of paintings from Killarney House and wondered where the remaining paintings are. Although I cannot tell him that, I am sure many people are trying to find them. It is certainly a serious matter that these valuable paintings have gone missing. Senators White, Keane and Noone spoke about inheritance tax. We will be discussing pre-budget submissions from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m and I understand the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, will attend. The Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, or the Minister of State, Deputy Harris, may also attend as well, so that will be the ideal opportunity to raise this matter. As has been highlighted, the Minister gave an indication last June that he intended to address this matter in the budget. The Senators might not have much longer to wait and see what comes up with regard to inheritance tax.
Senator Sheahan spoke about obstacles for employment for nurses, which should be removed, and I agree with the Senator that any obstacles should be addressed. Perhaps he could raise this as a Commencement matter and get a reply from the Minister for Health. My understanding is that 500 extra nurses have come to the system since last year, along with over 140 consultants. We need many more, as the Minister has acknowledged.
Senator Keane spoke about human trafficking while calling for a debate on the national plan. As she mentioned, the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill 2015 will be dealt with soon, as that has been published as a Seanad Bill. It will come to us soon and we will have the opportunity to debate the issue in early course. Senator Keane also called for a debate on education grants. Senator Cullinane spoke about the capital programme, suggesting there is a veneer of electioneering. The capital programme comes out every four or five years and this is no different to any other capital programme. It highlights the €27 billion that will be made available, with €42 billion there in total when one considers European grants, etc. Of course, everybody wants a project in their own area. Senators Heffernan and Bradford have called for the Limerick to Cork motorway, for example. There are motorways to Dublin from the cities but they do not go between the other big cities of Galway, Limerick, Cork and Waterford. The choice has to be made between projects. Although that example is not in the current plan, there will be a mid-term review of the capital plan.
Senator Mullins spoke about rural Ireland, suggesting that it is fighting back. He spoke about the money available for town enhancement plans and schemes in rural Ireland, which are being well received. He also noted the 6% growth in the economy, with many small builders and craftsmen beginning to get back work, leading to more activity in the construction area in particular. The capital plan also includes many projects, leading to estimates of more than 42,000 extra jobs in the construction sector over the next number of years. It is good news for small towns in rural Ireland as well as cities.
Senator Craughwell raised the plight of refugees and welcomed the Irish Congress of Trade Unions offering services and facilities in that regard. As the Senator knows, we will have a motion relating to the Syrian issue in the House tomorrow and there will be ample opportunity to discuss the matter. The Senator also called for a debate on planning, which we will try to facilitate. As I mentioned, Senator Heffernan spoke about rural Ireland and the need for a Limerick to Cork motorway. He raised that matter in the House previously. He also asked for a level playing pitch for local radio stations, which other Members also addressed.
Senator Wilson asked about the by-election and the motion was passed in the House last week. I understand the Minister will move the writ at the weekend. It is the intention that a by-election will take place fairly soon. Senator Bradford spoke about the television licence, local radio and a Cork to Limerick motorway, highlighting the need to expedite these projects. I could not agree more with him. If legislation is required to fast-track major projects announced in the capital plan, it should come about. Delays such as those mentioned by the Senator, which have happened over the years, should not be allowed to continue. We need to get on with the job and expedite these projects.
I note Senator Noone's comments on inheritance tax. Senator Kelly also spoke about rural Ireland issues, particularly anomalies that may exist in the fair deal scheme. The Senator could raise it as a Commencement issue so it could be addressed by the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, at another time.