Thursday, 8 October 2015
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, motion re arrangements for the sitting of the House next Tuesday, 13 October, to be taken without debate immediately after the Order of Business; and No. 2, statements on Ireland's performance in Horizon 2020 to date, to be taken at 1 p.m. and conclude at 3 p.m., if not previously concluded, with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes and the Minister to be called on to reply not later that 2.55 p.m.
This is the last day ahead of the budget, which is to be announced next Tuesday, on which we will have an Order of Business. It would, be remiss of me, therefore, not to mention some elements of the budget and the arithmetic being used. We had a welcome debate with the Minister of State, Deputy Simon Harris, on the budget and the latitude within the European fiscal framework, with which Ireland has to contend. Depending on whether one is listening to the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council or the Department of Finance, the figure is somewhere between €1.2 billion and €1.5 billion. It, therefore, comes down to choices.
The country is experiencing a number of crises. We have all received representations from individuals who are either homeless or living in accommodation which is inappropriate for raising a family. Today the biggest crisis is that people cannot afford to buy a house or are living in hotel accommodation. That is an indictment of our times and an issue which must be tackled. Unfortunately, this morning we read in the national media that the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government is considering bailing out developers in the budget by way of a differential for those developers who sell below market price where they have a certain number of units to sell. Bailing out developers in Dublin or across the country would be a crying shame and akin to bailing out bondholders. It would have huge economic consequences for the housing market, ultimately lead to pricing individuals out of the market and have other negative knock-on consequences. Apart from the fact that the taxpayer would be paying for it, it would have a ripple effect on the housing market. That would be the wrong road to go down and I call on the Minister for Finance to resist any such attempt.
We need to provide houses, but that can be done through a social housing budget which would allow people to gain access to a local authority house. When the Government took office in 2011, the social housing budget for local authorities was €1 billion. At the end of last year, it was approximately €500 million. A capital programme has been announced, but it is taking much too long to roll it out and make housing available. It would be better for the Government to free up some NAMA properties and make them available to individuals in need of housing.This budget is about choice; the choice to support those who are less well-off versus those who are on higher incomes. We know that only 21.5% of those who earn a salary earn above €50,000. This means that 79% of workers earn below €50,000 with 26% earning below €15,000. We need to recognise these figures in budget 2015 and that it is not all about protecting the sheltered or those who are better off. It is middle Ireland and those who are less well-off who need to be protected in this budget. I hope that when Members of this House scrutinise the budget it will stand up to that scrutiny. According to leaked reports I believe that the budget will not stand up to the scrutiny, even though there is the fiscal latitude to do so. It comes down to choices and on Tuesday, 13 October we will see what the Labour Party influence is on the budget but I would hesitate to say that it would be a positive influence.
This morning I was alarmed that a Labour Party Minister for the environment could stand over a policy which would bail out developers. A party which criticised other parties for supporting developers in the past is now going down the road of providing taxpayers' money to bail out developers and this is the wrong road. It is the wrong way to go and I believe it will lead to major consequences in our housing supply chain in the coming years.
I am referring to social housing, so my advice to the Senator is to hold his fire. I look forward to what he has to say post budget.
I welcome the response received from the Minister of State to last evening’s Private Members’ motion. We are all aware of the difficulties with the State Claims Agency and the lengthy legal difficulties, with which Senator Donovan is more familiar than many of us are. These claims have become bogged down, they are lengthy and costly for people and there can be fault, as we know, on both sides. I welcome the very positive response the motion received from the Minister of State. An assurance was obtained from her that there will be a review of the State Claims Agency and how the claims are handled. I have no doubt that there will be a more user-friendly approach in the future and there will be a prompt no-fault system of settlement and compensation where people will engage with one another and where compromise may be reached in some cases. By engaging with each other, both sides will see the light and matters will be settled. That is the way to go forward and I very much welcome it.
I echo Senator Coghlan's comments. I compliment the Labour Party Senators, in particular Senators Whelan and Landy, and the Minister of State, Deputy Ann Phelan, for agreeing to study the question of legal costs and the substitution of a no-fault system for the adversarial system. It is a most interesting matter as we do have high legal costs in Ireland. A figure in the NTMA annual report 2014 is for an award of €1.9 million to a child who received catastrophic injuries. The legal costs in that case were over €1 million. The Taxing Master reduced those legal costs to €373,500. Does a no-fault system encourage frivolous, vexatious or badly-proven claims? Does the adversarial system curb those? Does the adversarial system cost too much? It is a most interesting reform and I wish that study well.
I wish to extend congratulations to the staff and students of Magee College, Ulster University, Derry, which celebrates 150 years next week. I congratulate their provost, Professor Deirdre Heenan, as they come together to celebrate that anniversary. It is a remarkable college in the history of this country. Members may recall that when the Lockwood committee recommended the closure of Magee College in 1961 - it was then operating as a junior college of Trinity College Dublin - it brought together both sides of the Derry community for the first time. The links in scholarship include such distinguished people as Professor Terence Brown and Professor Aidan Clarke, two well-known people in the humanities. The college now has 4,000 students. One would not dream of closing a university of that size today. The population of Derry has doubled since the 1960s from 54,000 to 108,000.
The Magee College anniversary celebrates a community that came together in a foretaste of many cases of co-operation between both sides of the community in Derry. It showed the way ahead to the power sharing Executive that we have today. It celebrates the rise of Nobel Peace Prize winner, Mr. John Hume, in public life and the period when he had the support of the Unionist Lord Mayor of Londonderry, as it was. It celebrates the success of the north west, under new political arrangements in Northern Ireland and the success of education in the community, and in particular in the city of Derry. It also celebrates the contribution made to this island by the Presbyterian community, the largest denomination of the Protestant community in Northern Ireland. It celebrates a city that was proud to stand by its university when bureaucrats and politicians of a different hue sought to shut it down. The anniversary is a great social, political and educational event that will be celebrated in Derry next week.
I take issue with what Senator Ó Domhnaill said regarding the current housing policy. I do agree and accept that we need to have a more comprehensive debate on the issue of housing but there are a few points to remember. We would now have 25,000 extra social housing units if Fianna Fáil had not rowed back on the Planning and Development Act, Part V, contribution to housing supply. We would not have bankrupt developers had it not been for the collapse of the economy under Fianna Fáil’s leadership. We would not have a banking system now that will not lend to those developers who survived the crash if the banking system had not collapsed under a Fianna Fáil Government.
The bottom line remains, as Governor Honohan said at the finance committee, that there is an equity gap. It is a major issue that developers can only borrow approximately 60% of the funds they need in order to construct the numbers of units we require. The proposal - the accuracy of which we do not know, as I only read about it in this morning's Irish Independent- does suggest that the Government is going to take steps to address the equity gap which developers face. We had a construction sector that constituted 20% of the economy - way over and above a healthy percentage for such a sector in any developed economy - which collapsed to 5%. If that sector is to return to a normal rate of 10% or 11% of the economy then this Government or another is going to have to help it and that is a fact.
There has been no suggestion whatsoever that these proposed measures will take away from the social housing programme. The social housing programme has been announced and funding has been secured. It is the most adventurous social housing programme in the history of the State going back to 1922. It is something that this Government can be very proud of.
I will conclude with some figures from a report issued yesterday by the ESRI. It shows that in some urban schools, and one in particular, up to 12% of the children were experiencing homelessness. This is the situation in a number of urban schools. This is our last opportunity in advance of the budget to ask that a strong message be sent back to those who are controlling the purse strings to ensure that every homeless child gets the education that he or she needs and deserves, and that they do not end up on the streets of education because of their homelessness.
I believe we should have a serious debate in this House, whatever the budget will do next week, regarding the situation of those who are homeless and those who are on housing waiting lists. It is not going to be a quick fix message.Whatever one says about what happened five, ten or 12 years ago, the reality is that this budget and the forthcoming general election, regardless of whether it will be, as Fine Gael wish, on 20 November or as the Labour Party would like to see it in late February or early March, the Labour Party will be judged on the merits of what has been delivered. Let us face reality here. I have been in this House for a long time and I spent some years in this city as a student. I have never seen the homelessness problem in Dublin as serious as it is now. It is at a crisis point. Social housing not just in Dublin but throughout the country has been at a standstill. The number on the housing waiting list is so severe that no measures the Government might introduce in the forthcoming budget will come anywhere near solving it in the short term. Over the past three years, the problem has got more acute.
Throughout the country there are empty houses. NAMA, which in effect is a State agency, has scores of houses and scores of estates that are unfinished. Something serious needs to be done to address the housing crisis. There is no point in saying, "Fianna Fáil did this and we did that." The Government has had almost a five-year tenure. In many instances, both in this House and in the other one, our party has co-operated with and endorsed some of the policies the Government introduced. However, we cannot endorse or condone the serious situation out there with those on housing waiting lists, people living in cars, and people living in bed and breakfasts and hotels in this city. It is a really serious issue that will jump up and bite Fine Gael and the Labour Party in the forthcoming election. It is a very sad situation.
The Government side should reflect on a report on property by Mr. Justice Kenny in the mid-1970s and eke away at the notion of a society with haves and have-nots. The Kenny report was put on the shelf and ignored by the then Fine Gael-Labour Party coalition in the mid-1970s. My party in power ignored it and it may be about time for our society to seriously consider the progression of the whole area of property rights. I am not against that notion, but we must consider the exigencies of the common good and bring a balance to the debate about property. It may be necessary to revisit the Kenny report or even tweak the Constitution to ensure citizens of this country do not face decades without a home, as that would be a society that is going down the wrong road.
I have raised the issue of domestic violence on a number of occasions in the past and I call for a specific debate on it. I hope we can have open and clear debate to allow us to discuss the matter. I know it is a very displeasing and unpleasant topic, but that is why we are here and why we should take the opportunity to discuss this matter. A few months ago a young woman brought the topic into the public spotlight and a major light was shone on domestic violence. I am raising it because the problem is rampant, especially in the economic downturn. We have not stepped up to have a good look at this. I ask for the Minister for Justice and Equality to come to the House to discuss it and see if we can have an impact on it.
I wish to raise the humanitarian crisis in the Middle East and specifically as it affects the Yazidi people in Syria and Iraq. On BBC Radio 4 this morning, a female parliamentarian from Iraq outlined the calamity being faced by those people. Anyone who heard that woman's voice would realise that the world community is letting down a people who are being abused in an abominable way. If possible, we should focus on one specific aspect because they are a people who have been maligned in a most despicable way. I ask for that debate to be held sooner rather than later.
I join colleagues in welcoming yesterday's announcement by the Minister of State, Deputy Ann Phelan, in this House in response to the Private Members' motion tabled by Senators Whelan and Landy. She agreed to review the legal costs associated with the State Claims Agency and also look at the manner in which claimants or potential claimants are dealt with by that agency while protecting the interests of the taxpayer.
I concur with what my party's leader in this House and Senator O'Donovan said about the housing crisis. It is an emergency, as has been stated on many occasions in this House and the Lower House and by those working most closely with the people involved in the crisis. I include in that Senator Hayden and I acknowledge the excellent work she and her agency, Threshold, have done throughout the years.
I ask the Deputy Leader to clarify for the Members of this House and for the nation in general when the Labour Party believes the Taoiseach will call the general election.
They have been joined at the hip in government for the past four and a half years. Both parties gave a commitment that the Government would see out its five-year term. We learn that the Taoiseach's main advisers in pressing him to go to the country in early November are the former Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government and now Commissioner, Mr. Hogan, who incidentally made a hames of everything he touched, from the so-called reform of local government-----
----- to the mess he made of Irish Water. Incidentally, midnight tonight is the deadline for applying to the Department of Social Protection for the so-called conservation grant. It is ironic that more people have applied for the grant than actually paid the water charges. Tens of thousands of people who did not get around to registering with Irish Water but paid their bills will not qualify for the grant while people who got bills, registered with Irish Water and did not pay them, will. That is part of the legacy of one of the Taoiseach's main advisers, Commissioner Hogan.
The other person is the Minister for Finance, who has incidentally cut the Labour Party adrift by arrogantly talking to Independents about the formation of the next Government before the people have had a chance to have their say. As well as crucifying the ordinary people of the country-----
-----he was part of the so-called dream team that nearly wiped out Fine Gael when he led that party into a general election in 2002. I ask the Deputy Leader to clarify the position of Labour. Is she accepting that her party has been cut adrift?
That was a cheap political broadcast.
On the matter of housing and the homeless crisis, it is clear that much work has been done. While there is a long way to go, a plan is being put in place. Like everything that is complicated, it is not simply a matter of finding everybody who does not have a home and saying, "Here, there's a home." Everybody who tries to reduce it to such a simplistic argument is merely insulting not only the people who are trying to solve the crisis but also those people who are homeless. Unfortunately, it takes longer than it appears on paper. This week the Minister, Deputy Kelly, has suggested that if any of the religious with properties that are currently empty want to offer those properties for use on a temporary basis, he and his departmental officials will do everything in their power to assist that use.It seems at least to be a practical suggestion for some of those who are homeless, although it should only be seen as a stop-gap measure.
I welcome today's announcement by the supermarket Lidl, which has joined the campaign for the living wage. This is the kind of campaign that can be a real game changer for the way in which we treat our workers. People need not just enough money to get from A to B, but enough to live. The living wage is an independently approved sum standing currently at €11.50 per hour. It is fair to say that Lidl already pays many of its own employees above that amount but it is now committing that everybody will get it at the very least.
This was one of things the Government pledged. The Labour Party particularly wished to see it being brought forward under the remit of the Minister of State, Deputy Nash. We are not just a country to do business in but a good country in which to live. Even with all the stresses and strains, it is time to say that people matter most. If we can find a way to encourage others to join the living wage campaign, we will have done something very significant for many who are still earning the minimum wage. We can talk about wage cuts and the top earners, yet there are more people earning at the minimum wage than we realise. I congratulate the Minister of State, Deputy Nash, on his work, thank Lidl for joining and hope others will join too.
I am delighted for the workers in Lidl but I think it is somewhat ironic that the Labour Party is welcoming this in the same week the trade union movement is debating whether it should cut its financial links with that party. Mandate, the union that represents a lot of the retail outlets----
Mandate has given it a qualified welcome because Lidl, as everybody knows, does not recognise trade unions. I caution the Labour Party that while it is, of course, great news for the workers in Lidl, there are other issues, as Mandate has pointed out, concerning contracts and terms of employment, which also need to be addressed.
The main reason I rise is that my colleague, the leader of the Fianna Fáil group, has been raising an issue over a number of months regarding vaccination awareness. Specifically, he has raised the Gardasil injection given to young girls between 12 and 17, ostensibly to help them avoid contracting cervical cancer in their later years. We met with a support group whose website is regret.ie. The website contains testimonials from girls who have had the vaccination in Ireland. There are related, international testimonials on a website called sanevax.org.
I am serving notice that Fianna Fáil Senators intend formulating a motion to invite the Minister for Health, Deputy Varadkar, who has refused to meet with this support group, to the House to explain national policy on this vaccination process. At the time of vaccination, the HSE does not provide the patient information leaflet which accompanies this medication to parents. It says the girl should tell her health care provider if she experiences any of the known side effects, of which there are 21. I have testimonials from young girls between 12 and 17 who have been confined to their beds; are in psychiatric units; are suffering from terminal fatigue; or have had their fledgling football and sporting careers disrupted to the point where they can no longer play games - all because of this vaccination.
The medical profession is protecting the pharmaceutical companies by denying there are any adverse side effects. The HSE is acting disgracefully by not providing the information leaflet. If we purchase medicine in a pharmacy, we will get an information leaflet explaining what the medication is, how it is to be used, and what side effects are possible. That information is not being provided to parents before they sign the consent form to allow their young girls - as young as 12 - receive the vaccine. I know of one girl of only 15 years of age who, three days after she got the vaccination, collapsed and is in a psychiatric unit.
This is an appalling vista. I could not believe what I was listening to. The more I have delved into this, the more I believe it is a national disgrace. I am not calling for it to be stopped as it is of benefit but I, along with my colleagues, will continue to ask that the full information is given as provided by the pharmaceutical company itself. That is a basic requirement so that parents can make an informed choice. The HSE has its own old leaflet out there which is only whitewash. This vaccination is obviously having a serious adverse effect on the lives of our young girls, not just in Ireland but worldwide. There are now over 100 at least identified in this----
Thank you. There are at least 100 identified in this country and many more out there. There are parents who probably think their daughter is unique, yet they are part of this growing pattern. I am putting the House on notice that we will table a motion here, which I hope will get all-party support.
Every weekend, sport in Ireland plays a major role in our society. Tonight, Ireland is playing Germany, the world champions, in the Aviva stadium, hopefully qualifying for the European Championships. On Sunday, Ireland plays France, hoping to top the group for the rugby quarter final the following week. Between tonight and Sunday, millions of people and hundreds of thousands of volunteers in their respective villages, towns and communities will be participating in sport. This morning I was at the launch of the Federation of Irish Sport's Manifesto for Irish Sport. While I welcome the news that the Minister of State, Deputy Ring, will be announcing the €41 million for the sports capital programme, on behalf of the Federation of Irish Sport, I am calling for a serious debate in the Seanad. I call on the Government to take sports more seriously than it has been.
The Manifesto for Irish Sport calls on the Government to adopt and implement a serious sports strategy. We know how important it is socially and economically. It recommends the restoration of funding for sport to 2008 levels by 2021 and that we should treat sport on a par with non-profit organisations, by introducing tax relief on donations to sports. The Government should also develop a specialist entity, which would be dedicated to looking after how sports can economically benefit Ireland. There should be an agency for the sports tourism industry. After all, €450 billion worldwide is spent on sport. Ireland can share in a major part of that and give our sportspeople an opportunity to compete on a world level here at home.
I am shocked by the testimony which Senator Mooney has put on the record of this House about the HPV vaccine. My daughter has received that vaccine in the last two years. God almighty, these testimonies are absolutely shocking. It is putting the quality of life of our children and young women at risk. This needs an urgent inquiry. We have got to do something about it.When we, as parents, are advised to vaccinate our children, we trust those responsible for public health measures have done their homework. Did this vaccine receive testimonials such as this in other countries?
I find that shocking. I know that the Deputy Leader is the mother of young children and call on her to take a personal interest in ensuring this issue is investigated and the Minister for Health comes to the House, regardless of whether the budget is to be introduced or a general election held, to discuss it. We cannot sit idly by. I thank Senator Paschal Mooney for bringing the matter to my attention.
I beg the Chair's indulgence to raise another issue. Why is the Taoiseach not setting up a public inquiry into NAMA and the allegations surrounding the deals done in Northern Ireland? Is the Deputy Leader aware of how cynical this seems? NAMA is the largest asset management agency in the world and was set up by the Houses of the Oireachtas. I was here the night the late Brian Lenihan listened to the debate. Surely, it is in our interest to investigate this matter to discover whether there was serious wrongdoing. We are relying on the Northern Ireland Assembly to investigate a matter that affects the people of Ireland. Why is the Taoiseach shoving the issue under the carpet? It seems that is what he is doing. Deputy Mick Wallace has provided incredible evidence, a lot of figures and detail. Will the Deputy Leader explain to the House why the issue is not being investigated by the Taoiseach and the Government, regardless of anything which is more engaging for him coming down the tracks?
I support the call made by my colleague, Senator Michael D'Arcy, for a debate on the issue of domestic violence. Unfortunately, there is no doubt in my mind that the incidence of domestic violence is increasing throughout the country. I, therefore, support the Senator in highlighting the need an urgent debate on the issue.
Today the Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Michael Ring, will have good news for many sports organisations. Some €41 million in sports grants will be distributed the length and breadth of the country, for which the Minister of State is to be commended. This is the fourth year in a row that he is making grants available to many clubs, organisations and groups. Unfortunately, however, it is not possible to provide grant aid for every applicant. Some applications are incomplete or invalid when submitted. I hope my alma mater,Cooley Kickhams in County Louth, which has been unsuccessful in the past is among those to receive a grant. The last grant it received was when the Taoiseach was Minister with responsibility for sport in the mid-1990s. I hope it will be successful in its bid today. It would be remiss of me not to compliment the Minister of State on reintroducing the grants four years ago and the good work done in the past four years.
On Tuesday, 6 October, Daft.iepublished its latest house prices report, which is an analysis of recent trends in the residential sales market in the third quarter of 2015. The report states house prices in Dublin have risen by on average 41% since 2012. The average price of a house in south County Dublin is a staggering €520,000. By contrast, the average price of a house in Cork city is €225,000. There is a clear anti-Dublin bias with regard to inheritance tax. For example, an only child who inherits his or her parents' home, worth €500,000, will be forced to pay €90,000 in inheritance tax. Children who inherit are being forced to sell the family home or borrow money to meet the bill. In 2014 Revenue collected €168 million in inheritance tax from Dublin based taxpayers alone. This represents more than 50% of the total amount collected nationally. The thresholds were reduced to reflect the fall in property prices, but they have not been readjusted since property prices began to rise in Dublin. Current inheritance tax levels constitute an opportunistic grab by the Government. Last week I presented my proposals on this issue to the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, at his Department, with a petition with over 1,000 signatures of people living in Dublin asking for it to be addressed in the coming budget. In 2008 the threshold was €521,000; today it is €250,000. I, therefore, ask the Minister to restore the threshold to its 2008 level of €521,000, on which the tax rate was 20%. Today it is 33%. I, therefore, ask the Minister to restore it to its 2008 level of 20%-----
I am calling on the Minister to adopt the thresholds and rates I propose in the budget. He should, in particular, keep in mind that people living in Dublin are at a disadvantage in comparison with those living in other parts of Ireland.
I have no doubt that the Minister for Finance will have some good news for Senator Mary White in the budget and that there will be some adjustments to the inheritance tax regime to take account of some of the issues she has raised.
It is welcome that Electric Ireland yesterday announced that it was to reduce its electricity unit rate by 2% from 16 November. This is in advance of the increased demand for energy during the winter and will be welcomed by businesses and families. Electric Ireland is the second major company to announce a reduction in recent weeks and I hope others will follow. The Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Alex White, had a series of meetings recently with energy suppliers to discuss the speed at which wholesale energy price reductions were being reflected in household bills. While I welcome the reduction of 2%, a higher reduction is warranted. I hope this is only the start of further reductions.
Would it be possible for the Deputy Leader to organise a debate in the coming weeks with the Minister for Health on the findings of the Healthy Ireland survey which were published in the past few days? It was the first comprehensive national survey conducted since 2007 and produced some interesting findings. It shows that less than one in five people now smokes, that 85% of the population are in good health and that 28% have a long-standing health condition. While obesity figures are levelling out, some 60% of people are overweight, while two thirds of the population do not get enough exercise. We have good levels of mental health which are better among men but major problems that need to be discussed. I refer, in particular, to an issue at University College Hospital Galway where there has been a stand-off with staff recently on concerns about staffing levels and health and safety issues.That issue needs to be teased out further with the Minister. The survey shows that 63% of people who still smoke are planning to quit or considering doing so. There are some very positive findings. I would welcome a good and robust debate on how we could help to move on the positives and address some of the issues that are causing concern to citizens. I would appreciate it if the Leader could organise such a debate in the coming weeks.
I listened with interest to the issue raised by Senator Mary White. A somewhat similar issue is of concern to me. I listened carefully to the concerns expressed by the IFA and others about the operation of the fair deal scheme. The Deputy Leader, Senator Ivana Bacik, is aware that there is a general policy thrust in favour of encouraging younger farmers to take on the responsibilities of the land. There are various additionalities in the farm payments to enable young farmers to take over responsibility on a farm gradually. One inhibitor to younger farmers taking over is the operation of the fair deal scheme. There is a three-year cap on the family home in cases where an older person at home needs long-term care, but it does not apply to non-residential farming assets, which gives rise to a potentially uncapped liability which is effectively undermining the ability of younger farmers to invest and borrow money. One has a situation where people stay out of the fair deal scheme and try to meet the very onerous costs of nursing home care for a parent because they do not know for how long care will be required and they do not want to, in effect, destroy their ability to farm in the future. It seems that something must be done about this. We need a similar cap on the non-residential farming asset, namely, the farm.
It should not be beyond the limits of human ingenuity to come up with a scheme that would not be exploited. For example, the liability of the farm could be capped to three years of nursing home care, perhaps on the condition that the land would be farmed and that if it were to be subdivided among those who would inherit it, it would not be sold for a period of years, or if were within such a period, the liability for nursing home care under the fair deal scheme would kick in. This is something that must be examined in the context of the budget. The IFA has proposed that the three-year cap applying to the principal private residence be extended to income-generating assets. People who do not understand farming think farmers are sitting on massive properties and that this somehow makes them rich. A farm of high value on the market will very often deliver a very modest income to those who farm it. It must be seen as the means of making a modest livelihood rather than some massive asset that puts the farmers concerned on the gravy train. They are far from being on the gravy train. There is a problem and challenge in Galway and wherever there are farm families, in particular in situations where one or more persons hope to get into the business of farming in the future. There is a serious impediment that ought to be addressed in the budget.
Like everyone else, I am delighted to be present on the day the sports capital grants are to be announced. It is a great achievement that the Government can partner many hundreds of sports groups around the country which do so much to help people to improve the levels of their physical activity.
Another sector that is doing exceptionally well is tourism, in particular the hotel and restaurant trades. In recent weeks we were all invited to a briefing across the road by the Restaurants Association of Ireland. It is very keen that an intensive training programme for people within the industry be established, similar to the CERT system, whereby they could be trained to fill the thousands of current vacancies. There will be more vacancies as the industry grows for chefs, sous-chefs and commis chefs and in other positions within the hospitality sector. Thousands of jobs can and will be created, but there is already a skills shortage which will become even greater in the immediate future as demand grows. I, therefore, urge the Government to consider the introduction of such a training programme in the budget to be announced next week. It must provide an incentive for third level institutions to work in this area. The Shannon College of Hotel Management which was part of Aer Rianta has a track record of achieving 100% graduate employment, which is an incredible achievement. Its graduates are sought all over the world as hotel managers. The college produces some of the best hotel managers in the world. There is scope for further courses and further institutions such as the one in Shannon focused on the hospitality sector because we have proved ourselves to be extremely good and capable in the area and should build on that reputation.
I agree with what Senator Rónán Mullen said about the fair deal scheme. As someone who was involved more than ten years ago in forcing the setting up of the scheme, it is one of the difficulties with it where there is total discrimination against those with farmland. I came across one case where a substantial amount of money was required to be paid every month for someone who was in full-time nursing home care. I agree with the Senator and the IFA that the matter must be addressed. It is unfair and unjust and the legislation on the fair deal scheme must be amended. It is something I hope will be addressed in the forthcoming budget. I also understand there might be a requirement for amending legislation. It is wrong that the issue has arisen because the same rules should apply to everyone, but that is not the case for farmers.
Another issue that requires to be addressed also concerns farming. I refer to where a wife has been working at home on a farm but is not entitled to a contributory old age pension. This matter must be addressed as it has not been addressed previously. Such women have been working all their lives and contributing to the work on the farm and the economy, yet they are not entitled to a contributory old age pension in the same way as their husbands. It is another anomaly that must be addressed. I seriously support the IFA in that regard.
Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill referred to the budget. As he said, this is our last Order of Business before the budget announcements next Tuesday. The motion we will take after the Order of Business will re-order our business for Tuesday. Colleagues will wish to know that we will have statements on budget 2016 after the Order of Business on Tuesday from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Many colleagues will wish to raise some of the issues they have raised today in that debate.
Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill raised, in particular, the issues of housing and homelessness. I could not match Senator Aideen Hayden's response to him in terms of its eloquence and her expertise in this area. The great expertise in housing policy that she brings to the debate is acknowledged across the House. I echo her words that the origins of the housing and homelessness crisis lie in the failure to deliver any social housing whatsoever during the lifetime of the previous Fianna Fáil and Progressive Democrats Government and, as she mentioned, the rowing back on Part V of the Act, which would have enabled the provision of 25,000 extra social houses. The ideology of light touch regulation, in particular, bailouts and backhanders is what led us to the crisis. We must be clear about this. As Senator Aideen Hayden said, the Government is committed to the most ambitious social housing programme in the history of the State. The social housing strategy 2020 which was published in November 2014 will deliver an ambitious target of more than 110,000 social housing units by 2020.The priority given to the strategy is evidenced by the additional €2.2 billion announced for it in budget 2015.
A number of colleagues referred to the homelessness crisis, which is, undoubtedly, serious, disturbing and distressing, as we all will acknowledge. I would like to address a number of practical steps being taken to address it, about which colleagues will wish to hear. The problems and the high rates of homelessness arise from the chronic lack of supply of housing which is causing knock-on problems for the property market and wider society. As Senator Susan O'Keeffe pointed out, religious orders that have vacant properties have been invited to provide them. However, other steps are being taken at Government and local authority level. In particular, there is a policy of returning void units to use. Many of us may be surprised by the number of such units that could be brought back into use. For example, Dublin City Council has reported 633 vacant units to date, with a projected total of 765 to year end.
A 2015 allocation of €37.16 million has been confirmed in homeless funding for the Dublin region. The Dublin region homeless executive has confirmed its expenditure to end-August was €33.54 million. Last week the Government approved the immediate initiation of a programme for early delivery of 500 units of modular housing to address the most urgent and pressing needs, while the task force on social housing and homelessness has been established and meets on a weekly basis to oversee identification and delivery of properties to accommodate homeless families in the Dublin region. Colleagues want to know about practical delivery and outputs. This process has overseen the delivery of a NAMA property - an apartment block in south Dublin. It is operating as a 65-unit homeless facility, with a single assessment centre for homeless families. The acquisition of 100 further units to be ring-fenced for homeless units is in progress. There is also a debate about tenancy protection measures and we hope for further announcements.
I am outlining a clear set of practical steps that have been taken. I also have more rhetorical responses, but I am trying to focus on what is being practically delivered to inform colleagues of outputs rather than simply reading about aspirations.
A number of Senators referred to NAMA's role in housing delivery. NAMA funding delivered 40% of the 3,259 new housing units in Dublin in 2014. During the first half of this year, the agency funded the delivery of 50% of new input in Dublin and is on track to deliver 4,500 units in the city by the end of 2016. Clearly, practical steps are being taken and we are seeing outputs. It is important that colleagues be informed when they contribute to this debate. As I said previously, I will look for a comprehensive debate on the issues of housing and homelessness which Senator Aideen Hayden, in particular, has sought for some time.
Senator Paul Coghlan referred to the Private Members' motion tabled by my Labour Party colleagues, Senators John Whelan and Denis Landy, calling on the Government to undertake a review of the State Claims Agency. There was consensus in the House on the need for such a review, given the distressing cases about which we had heard recently where families had been put through lengthy and arduous and confrontational litigation processes, which ended in settlements very late in the day. The State Claims Agency was supposed to address this ossie. As was said, it is good news for the House that following the debate, the Minister of State, Deputy Ann Phelan, committed to undertaking a review of the agency and how it handled claims. She also said the review would consider the introduction of a no fault system with particular principles and proposals that would not increase claim costs or the amounts paid in legal fees at the expense of deserving cases. I commend Senators John Whelan and Denis Landy for raising the issue. I worked with them in drafting the motion. It is the sort of motion that shows the Seanad at its best in terms of delivering change which we hope will follow the review announced by the Minister of State. It is welcome that she took it on board. Senator Sean D. Barrett also welcomed her response. He also noted the 150th anniversary of Magee College in Derry, which has 4,000 students. I am sure all Members will join him in wishing them every success and enjoyment of their celebrations next week. It provides a lesson in cross-community relations north of the Border.
Senator Aideen Hayden referred, again in eloquent terms, to the steps being taken in the construction of social housing. In particular, she noted Governor Honohan's point about the equity gap and the lack of access to finance for developers and the need to tackle this issue. She also referred to the ESRI's study of homelessness. I have addressed the steps being taken to tackle this issue. Clearly, it is a crisis and urgent measures need to be adopted.
Senator Denis O'Donovan raised the issues of homelessness and housing delivery by NAMA in the context of the budget.
Senator Michael D'Arcy called for a debate on the issue of domestic violence and, in particular, the report of the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality in this regard. I am happy to address that issue. The Senator also referred to the plight of the Yazidi community in the Middle East. I raised this issue during our debate on the situation in Syria with the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Sean Sherlock. Like the Senator, I heard the woman MP from the Yazidi community on radio this morning. She is the only Yazidi representative in the Iraqi Parliament. She spoke in graphic and distressing terms about the appalling abuses that were being perpetrated on her community and I have asked the Minister of State to make the community a priority in the allocation of Irish aid in the region and a priority when it comes to determining refugee status in our resettlement programme which is under way.
Senator Diarmuid Wilson also welcomed the SA motion and referred to the housing crisis, an issue I have addressed. He also asked me as leader of the Labour Party in the Seanad for my assessment of a general election announcement. I can only demonstrate the unity between Fine Gael and the Labour Party as I am ad idemwith the Leader, Senator Maurice Cummins, on the issue. Earlier this week he said there would be another four months of sittings and that the general election would be held in February or March 2016.
Senator Susan O'Keeffe also raised the issues of housing and homelessness. She commended Lidl for being the first major employer in Ireland to adopt the living wage, one week after the living wage forum of the Minister of State at the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Gerald Nash. It is welcome that a company that employs 3,800 staff will adopt the living wage of €11.50 per hour. A total of 20% of staff will receive a raise in line with this policy from 1 November. I hope more employers will follow suit. Both the Minister of State and the Tánaiste have welcomed this development.
Senator Paschal Mooney referred to the issue of trade union recognition. I heard Mandate's response. It has members working for Lidl. The Government is bringing forward legislation to meet an important commitment to collective bargaining. That is welcome in the area of trade union recognition. Too little was done by previous Governments on the issue in response to the Supreme Court's decision. We have had debates on it in the House.
With Senator Fidelma Healy Eames, the Senator also raised an issue about the cervical cancer vaccine. I welcome his indication that his party will formulate a motion on the issue. As a parent, I am wary of scaremongering about vaccinations. I do not say any Member is doing this, but, in general, we have to be careful when contesting the issue of vaccination or any vaccination programme without serious medical evidence.
Senator Coghlan wished Ireland well in the match tonight against Germany, as we all do, which is a European championship qualifier, as well as in the rugby match on Sunday. He noted that today is sports capital grants day. All of us are aware that the Minister of State, Deputy Michael Ring, will be making an announcement at 2 p.m. today and we very much welcome that capital programme and the huge benefit it gives to so many clubs across the country.
Senator Healy Eames spoke on the vaccine, which I have addressed, and on NAMA, which I have also addressed.
I have an answer for Senator Healy Eames. I apologise. I had written NAMA as shorthand. Senator Healy Eames raised the other issue, in fact, of NAMA and the Northern Ireland sales. As the Senator will be aware, officials from NAMA appeared before the Committee of Public Accounts to answer further questions of Members of the Oireachtas. The committee has been very much on top of this issue. As anyone who is interested in this matter did, the Senator will have seen the opinion article by Frank Daly of NAMA in The Irish Timesreferring to the committee hearings. In summary, NAMA outlined the sales process to the committee and stated that the sales process was conducted in line with international best practice, that the integrity of the process was fully protected and that all bidders had equal access to information. Anyone can read the transcript. NAMA has also committed to responding to any written questions the Northern Ireland Committee for Finance and Personnel may have regarding the sale which were not covered during the appearances before the Committee of Public Accounts. On 4 September, NAMA responded in detail to the committee's questions. Those full responses, which I am told come to more than 300 pages, although I have not looked at them myself, are available on the NAMA website. They were also provided to the Committee of Public Accounts. Those with an interest in the matter may wish to read that material. The Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, has also received a request from the Northern Ireland committee for any documents relevant to its investigation and Department of Finance officials are currently working on this request. There is a good deal of work under way on investigating the claims and allegations, which remain allegations.
Senator Brennan spoke on the issue of sporting grants, which I have addressed and which we all welcome. Senator White spoke on the daft.iereport and inheritance tax. I thank Senator White for informing us that she presented her proposal and her petition on this issue to the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan. As I stated last week, it is important that colleagues who have constructive proposals for the Minister to consider in the context of the budget to submit them well in advance. I did that with the bike to school scheme. Earlier this year I suggested tax incentives for the purchase of bicycles for school children to cycle to school. I submitted those proposals to the Minister. It is worthwhile for any colleague with views on the budget to present proposals to him. We will await developments on Senator White's proposal.
Senator Mullins suggested adjustments would be made in the budget. I do not know but we can wait and see on Tuesday.
Senator Mullins also spoke on Electric Ireland's reduction in its unit price, which is very welcome, and called for a debate with the Minister for Health on the Healthy Ireland survey. I read those findings with great interest and agree it would be useful to have a debate on them, which would follow on from the work of our public consultation committee on lifestyle factors in cancer. There was some very good news in the survey, as the Senator stated, in terms of smoking and obesity levels but not so good news on a general lack of physical activity, exercise, healthy eating and, in particular, alcohol consumption. We might tease out those issues in a debate. I will ask the Minister to come in to the House for that debate.
Senator Mullen spoke on the fair deal scheme as an inhibitor in terms of farm assets and the IFA proposal. I am sure the Senator has already brought that matter to the attention of the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, as has, I am sure, the IFA in the context of pre-budget deliberations. There will be an opportunity for colleagues to debate the budget in our statements on the budget on Tuesday. We had pre-budget statements already.
Senator Conway spoke on the sports capital grants also and the important benefits they will provide to so many clubs and on job creation and the shortage of trained chefs, which I know is a huge problem. Any friends of mine involved in the restaurant and café sector are well aware of this shortage, which is a huge problem for the hospitality sector. The Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, along with the Minister of State, Deputy Damien English, announced new apprenticeship schemes in July. Colleagues will be aware that 25 new schemes are being established including specific schemes to deal with those shortages in the hospitality and catering industry. The matter is being addressed.
Finally, Senator Burke also mentioned the fair deal scheme and the IFA's position, which I have already addressed, and which I am sure Senator Burke has already raised with the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan.