Thursday, 12 November 2015
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, Finance (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2015 - Second Stage, to be taken at 12.45 p.m., with the time allocated to group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and all other Members not to exceed five minutes.
I ask the Leader to organise a debate on the home repossession rate. It has been reported today that 4,500 homes were repossessed in 2015. This is on top of over 7,000 homes that were repossessed. The amazing thing about this is the lack of joined-up thinking in the Government. The banks that own these homes are repossessing them. The banks are owned by the Irish people. We bailed them out yet they are now putting people out of their homes and putting them on the public purse in terms of rent supplement and finding accommodation for people.
That is why we have a homeless crisis. The Government, which owns NAMA which is Senator Coghlan's favourite organisation, is selling and approving the sale of houses on the instructions of receivers. They are being sold on the public market.They are being purchased not by the Government to relieve the housing crisis but by private investors. That is the epitome of a lack of joined-up thinking.
I also seek a debate on the issue of leave of absence within the Garda. This year, 1,050 gardaí have taken leave of absence from the force. The force strength is 12,000 so almost one in 12 gardaí are on a leave of absence. As Senator Paul Coghlan knows, there are 295 gardaí in Kerry, so that is the equivalent of three counties in Ireland being without gardaí for some or all of the year. We must address that situation. There is a simple solution to the problem of gardaí being on leave of absence. We use it in respect of teachers and nurses. It means asking retired gardaí if they wish to go on a substitute or replacement list. They would be informed of leave of absence in various Garda divisions and they could opt to substitute for the people concerned. It is a commonsense solution to this problem in the Garda. I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on that issue.
It is a commonsense solution but, as the Leader knows, commonsense is not very common. We do this for nurses and teachers. Last year, 1,090 gardaí took leave of absence and I have given the figure for this year. Gardaí are as entitled as anybody else to take leave of absence but we solve the problem in other branches of the public sector by bringing in substitutes. We need a similar solution in respect of the Garda.
There is a huge problem with crime, both in rural areas and in Dublin. The fact that over 1,000 gardaí were on leave of absence during 2015 means we require a solution to this problem. Perhaps the Minister would come to House to discuss what can be done. This problem will not go away, but we have a solution with regard to the teachers and nurses through the use of substitutes. We must do the same for the Garda and ensure there is a replacement or substitute list composed of retired gardaí so the force can be at full strength. That is not the 12,000 which the Government says is available. When one subtracts the 1,050 gardaí who are on leave of absence, what is available is just over 10,000 in 2015. We are seeking to be helpful to the Government. Instead of raising problems and giving it headaches, we ask it to take on this proposal.
Senator Daly is engaging in the collective amnesia which we have seen very regularly from Fianna Fáil. It is trying to disown all responsibility for NAMA and, indeed, for the economic crash that necessitated its establishment by Fianna Fáil.
It would be most helpful if the Senator would just let me speak. I let him speak even though I did not agree with what he said. However, I join Senator Daly in calling for a debate on policing. We would do well to examine constructive ideas on improving the quality of policing. Yesterday, the justice committee had a two and a half hour meeting with the Garda Commissioner, Ms Nóirín O'Sullivan, in the course of which she answered a huge number of questions on an array of issues around policing. They covered a wide range of pressing matters, including gangland crime, drugs policy, firearms and so forth. There is a great deal of material from that meeting which we could explore further in a debate in this House on policing. In addition, when will the policing authority Bill finally be passed? It is an urgent Bill.
With regard to legislation, when is the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill due back before the House? It passed Second Stage in the Seanad and there are only five weeks for the legislative programme up to Christmas. I am hopeful, as are other colleagues, that the Bill could be passed by this House by Christmas at the latest, so it can progress through the Dáil in advance of the general election. It is a very important and reforming Bill which, among other things, reforms the law on prostitution. It is important that it is passed. In addition, the Equality (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, which was initiated in the Seanad and seeks to amend section 37 to prevent discrimination against gay and lesbian people in the teaching profession, is another Bill that I hope will be passed by the Dáil by Christmas. It has been passed by this House.
I am delighted that today I will chair an event in the Abbey Theatre, "Waking the Feminists", which has been prompted by concerns about the role of women in the arts but will also have the broader remit of examining gender equality generally. Our colleague, Senator Mac Conghail, will speak at it too. It is an important discussion in the week in which the "Hearing Women's Voices?" report found that women make up only 28% of the voices heard on peak time current affairs radio programmes. It is another indication of the lack of visibility of women in the public space or sphere.
Perhaps we could have a debate in the House on gender equality at some point. Given the legislative programme it might be difficult to find the time, but in recent months there has been much momentum behind the campaign to repeal the eighth amendment, which I have been happy to support for many years. It would be good to debate the repeal of the eighth amendment, the need for gender equality in the arts and in other areas of public life, and the gender quota legislation, about which issues have been raised in recent weeks. That was very important legislation that was initiated in this House. I hope we can have that debate in due course.
We were unable to find out the name of the woman who was seriously injured in the crash on the M50 yesterday, but I am sure we will find it out later. We wish her a speedy recovery. I do not underestimate the impact on her and I extend my sympathy, but in the wider context the road was closed for seven hours. Perhaps the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, will examine how the Garda, the National Roads Authority, NRA, tow trucks and so forth respond. This should not be a recurring situation. Other countries have motorways carrying heavy traffic into cities but they are not shut down for such long periods. While I extend my sympathy to the person who really bears the consequences of yesterday, we do not need a repeat of that situation.
I commend the Irish MEPs, Matt Carthy, Marian Harkin and Brian Hayes, for finally getting Mr. Draghi to answer questions about the Irish bailout and the problems that arose. The conditions that Mr. Draghi set, that only 15 minutes would be allowed for the debate, are unacceptable for the Irish parliamentary democracy, as was the conduct of Mr. Trichet, both at the banking inquiry and in saying to our Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, that if he burned the bondholders, "a bomb will go off in Dublin". These organisations must be made democratically accountable. The best description I have heard of the hearings is that Mr. Trichet and Mr. Draghi, inadvertently I presume, are recruiting agents for euroscepticism. Their contempt for elected representatives in the European Parliament and in this Parliament is unacceptable. They need to have manners put on them in the way they conduct their business.
The Single Supervisory Mechanism was finally put in place in November 2014, approximately 20 years after the euro started to create problems for the member states. The faults in the euro do not lie in the parliaments, the people or in regarding the Greeks as too lazy and so forth, but in the design faults in Frankfurt and Brussels. The people who are supposed to address those problems ought to have more cognisance of what is happening under their noses and cease this condescension towards the parliaments of the member states, unless they are really seeking to ensure that the United Kingdom will vote to leave. The conduct I saw at the hearings is unacceptable. I commend our MEPs for doing their best this morning.
I also regret that the chairman of the banking inquiry does not wish to meet them. Deputy Ciarán Lynch should have met the MEPs. They were trying to make up for a fault in the way in which we proceeded, but Marian Harkin, MEP, said the chairman refused to meet them. Our current relationships with Europe are at a most unsatisfactory level. It is about time some people at the Commission and in Frankfurt took their alienation of people throughout the European Union, including in Greece, Portugal and Italy, much more seriously.
I support Senator Bacik's call for a debate on gender equality. When the Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, announced his new cabinet it was 50% male and 50% female. When he was asked why he had done that, he said, "because it's 2015".There could be no better answer than that and he is right. Moreover, others may soon follow his fine example. I am not familiar with his politics and do not know what else he may do, will do or has promised to do, but that is a good start. Despite the welcome gender quota legislation which started its passage in this House and, of course, has led to some difficulties, although not really that many, there will continue to be a debate required about gender equality and it would be appropriate for Members to have it in this House.
I add my voice in support of the announcement on rents and the difficulties of homelessness. The encouraging of builders to build where houses specifically are needed in Cork and Dublin is welcome, as, of course, is the freeze on rent reviews for four years in order that they do not take place within a single year but over a two-year period, as well as the various other measures. I pay tribute to the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly, his team and the Government as a whole for persisting in dealing with what is a complex matter.
I also welcome the announcement to be made this afternoon by the Government on the new jobs plan for the next three years, in which 266,000 jobs have been programmed or promised. Moreover, although people stated it would not happen, 120,000 jobs have already been created in the past three years. If the Leader considers that it is at all possible, I seek an opportunity to have a debate on this issue because while it has been successful, this new plan concentrates on regionality. For people like me who live in the north west, it is required urgently that we focus on the regions and that locations in the Dublin-Cork-Galway triangle, if one likes, not be the only places in which jobs can be introduced or encouraged. I acknowledge that Senator Ivana Bacik has referred to the shortage of time, but if there is an opportunity to have a debate on the new plan being launched today, I would welcome having such a debate.
In the light of the comments made by Senators Ivana Bacik and Susan O'Keeffe, I recommend to Members of all genders that they see the movie "Suffragette" which is being shown in Irish cinemas. It traces in a fictional way, albeit with a factual background, the struggle of women in the earlier part of the last century to achieve the vote. While people now take this for granted, the movie is a timely reminder of the harassment and persecution of women by the British establishment, as well as in Ireland where there were active suffragettes. Meryl Streep plays a cameo role as Emmeline Pankhurst who, of course, was the leader of the suffragettes. While it is an educational movie in one sense, it is also highly entertaining and deeply moving. In the context of the earlier remarks, I highly recommend that if Members are planning to go to the cinema, they see "Suffragette".
My main reason for contributing is to welcome the statement made by the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Alex White, on the ongoing discussions on whether certain sports events should be listed for terrestrial viewing. I found his statement interesting in the light of the success of TV3 in literally wresting from RTE the rights to show the Six Nations rugby internationals from 2018 onwards, which goes to show how competitive the television landscape in Ireland has become. However, in the light of that development, the Minister made a statement earlier this year that he was considering the designation of three sports events as being free to air, in other words, to ensure Irish television viewers would not be obliged to pay to watch them. There are quite a number of sports events so designated such as the all-Ireland football finals. However, it is interesting that of the three he is considering, one is the aforementioned Six Nations championship, but the other two are women-based, one being the senior ladies football final and the other the senior camogie final. I call on the head of sport in RTE, Ryle Nugent, to try to change the policy of RTE television specifically, rather than RTE radio, whereby every newscast, particularly at the weekend, starts with the results of English premier league matches. Last Sunday was a particular example. If the Cathaoirleach will indulge me for one moment, I attended the Connacht senior ladies football final in the wonderful facilities of Kilglass outside Rooskey, County Roscommon, where Kilkerrin-Clonberne of County Galway played Kiltubrid of County Leitrim, the Leitrim senior champions based down the road from where I live. Not a single line appeared in the television sports results that night about the Connacht provincial decider, but all of the Premiership results were given first. I do not suggest they should not be given, but they were given first, followed by all of the domestic sports results, excluding the result of the women's football game. This is not the first time this has happened and, as the national broadcaster, RTE should take on the responsibility and be more inclusive in the results it broadcasts on air. It is not simply because it happened to involve a team from my home county; this is a consistent policy in RTE.
I hope somebody in RTE is listening to me. I acknowledge that RTE radio has a different policy and always ensures Irish sports results are given first. I hope the Leader might comment on this issue. Unfortunately, it is not a matter for the Minister-----
I was recently struck by the issue of retirement. People obviously reach retirement age, although some argue it is too young, but that well known, good, able-bodied man with great advice and expertise, Chief Superintendent Pat McGee, retired and he-----
I will make the point generally. It would be wonderful if it was possible to make available through a forum of some kind the advice and expertise of senior people who had retired from the force, especially those who had served in Border areas for a long time and were familiar with the criminal mind, having gone through so many court cases, prosecutions and so on. Society does not do well in losing all of that valuable advice. While Senator Mark Daly perhaps went a lot further, the Government is trying to recruit many more gardaí. There will be 300 recruits next year and the force is being built up all the time. As the Garda Commissioner noted yesterday, there is now a commitment to the training college at Templemore which the previous Government closed and so on. While the Government is improving matters considerably in that regard as the economy recovers, it would be wonderful if it was possible to do something to provide a forum to avail of the advice and expertise of former senior people in the force, especially in the Border regions.
For many years the students of Ireland have had the benefit of being able to avail of a J1 visa in the United States. I have just read that, from henceforth, a J1 visa will not be issued unless one has already secured a job before leaving Ireland. I am unsure as to from where this change has come or whether it only applies to Ireland, but it is obviously an American decision. Given the history of so many young people who spent a year or part of a year in the United States and who returned with enthusiasm and an understanding of a competitive market, it has done a world of good for Irish students. Howsoever the decision has been made, I hope it can be either reversed or reconsidered. If the only way in which one can get a job is by writing ahead of time to secure it, it appears this will be a disadvantage from Ireland's perspective.
I will mention one other point about the sale of 80% of the Avoca chain to an American company. While most people might view this from the perspective of it being another Irish company going out of Irish hands, I consider it to be a great success that an Irish family business has been able to develop to such an extent that Americans have shown their desire to invest in it. I believe there is a balance to be achieved in each of these areas. However, Avoca is a company that deserves a great deal of praise, as does the Pratt family who developed and ran it. That the family have now decided to step out of 80% of it and hand it over to an American company is something of which we should be proud. Senator Mooney is the expert on radio and television. What I am going to say is most unimportant, namely, I get upset when I hear on radio and television, and sometimes in the other House as well whatever about this House, the inability to pronounce Northern Ireland. It seems to sound like "Nordren" Ireland every time. With a little publicity we could teach announcers, broadcasters and Members that the name of the state we used to call the Six Counties is Northern Ireland not "Nordren" Ireland. If we could manage that it would be a very small achievement but it would make my day.
Recently, we have seen many people object to paying water charges. They have every right to object. Couples object because it would cost them an extra €160 a year net, when one takes the water conservation grant into account. Single people object to paying €60 when one takes the grant into consideration. Others who have nothing to pay also object. The main protagonists are acting on the basis of what water rates could be in perhaps five years' time.
However, we have a bigger problem in this country that is affecting families, namely, the exorbitant cost of car insurance, home insurance and health insurance. All of those costs appear to have increased this year by between 25% and 30% with no explanation. Car insurance has increased by €300 this year. I know several people who paid €450 last year and their car depreciated in the year, they had no claim, no penalty points and with no explanation whatsoever, they have been asked to pay €750 this year. A constituent of mine who claimed on their home insurance for a broken iPad was paid only €150 when the excess was taken into account and his insurance went up by €300. When he questioned his insurers he was told that if he paid back the €150 his premium would be reduced by €300.
Something is going on that is not being monitored. There is no evidence to suggest that the increase in premia are due to higher payouts of compensation. In fact, there is a difference of €1 billion between the premium income and the published awards. To address this problem the Government set up the Motor Insurance Advisory Board in 1984. It last reported to Government in 2004. It was shut down and the responsibility was transferred to the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport. If one goes to the Department's website, there is no section dealing with motor insurance policy. It appears there is no monitoring body and consequently insurance companies can hike up policies indiscriminately. They show no loyalty to their customers. It is important that people shop around and that the Leader would call on the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to come to the House to have a debate on this issue with a view to re-establishing the Motor Insurance Advisory Board.
I ask the Leader to make contact with the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly, with regard to the implementation of the Urban Regeneration and Housing Act 2015, which was a welcome measure introduced by the Government to kick-start regeneration in the housing market in remote parts of Ireland. I am concerned in particular that some councils are ignoring this legislative directive willy-nilly. Section 29 has been amended to deal with the question of unsold or unfinished houses. The application of the new scheme provided for has the support of the Construction Industry Federation.
Two instances have been brought to my attention where Cork County Council has ignored the Minister's directive and the legislation. That probably applies to other county councils as well. I am not referring to developments in Dublin but to a small village in west Cork that is trying to survive and where two pubs and a shop have been closed. A small builder with eight employed decided to take the risk of finishing a small estate that was uncompleted. The planning contributions as set out by the CIF, as indicated in this legislation under section 29, are being ignored by the planning authority and by the council as a whole. That is unfair because this man took the risk of going into an unfinished estate of approximately 20 houses where none of the houses were sold. Approximately ten of the houses were completed but this man's company went into liquidation. The developer, who was sucked into NAMA, did not pay a bob, yet the person in question is being penalised because he is being asked to pay the extra money. He is being told that each local authority has discretion.
I will give the Leader the information I have on this case and ask him to make contact on my behalf with the Minister to say that if this is happening it is both wrong under the law and it is unfair. It might also be happening in other local authorities. In effect, it is kicking those small builders in parts of Dublin outside Dublin city and Cork city who are trying to make a small village look a bit better, finish a few houses and try to sell them. That is not the intention of the Act and it certainly is not in the spirit of the Act.
I support Senator Bacik and Senator Daly who asked for a debate with the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Fitzgerald, on policing, in particular some of the issues that have been raised about covering substitute leave. I am conscious that in recent years during our economic difficulties, great effort and resources were put into encouraging people to leave the public service. As a result, many very experienced gardaí left.
The retirement age of gardaí is something that must be examined. We are losing much experience built up over the years at far too early an age. We must keep some experienced personnel on board for a longer period. The entire area must be examined. I heard a statistic a couple of years ago that in a very busy station in the city of Dublin, the most experienced officer had a mere seven years service. We have lost much valuable experience from the Garda Síochána at management level also.
I very much support the comments of Senator Mooney on coverage of ladies' sporting events by RTE. There should be equality. I have no issue with English soccer getting coverage because there is much support and a huge interest in this country for soccer as long as there is equality of coverage for our national games and in particular for ladies' games.
I welcome the Government approval of new patient safety measures and that a simplified complaints procedure will be put in place. Currently, patients find the complaints system complicated and they are often sent to a variety of agencies. Under the new system, the individual will make a complaint to a particular hospital or care agency and if he or she is not satisfied then he or she will have an opportunity to go to the health ombudsman. The change is very much to be welcomed because many patients experience difficulties in the health system in this country and if they make a complaint they want to get a response promptly and efficiently. The new system, which is less complicated, will bring a better and more speedy response. I hope it will also help to improve the health service when the providers know that the patient will get a prompt response.
I refer to Nos. 11 and 14, which are on the Order Paper since June. Both of them relate to our brothers and sisters who operate in local authorities, county councillors.I know there is an upcoming election and that people do not want to rock the boat for those in the Lower House but our brothers and sisters in local authorities deserve our care. We will be knocking on their doors soon enough. They deserve our care and a debate on this issue.
-----to prepare a report and the Tánaiste has said that she would bring such a report, if I prepared it, to the Cabinet. I have been frustrated at every turn. I have written to everybody and asked for submissions. I am receiving e-mails from councillors every day of the week advising me what this or that Senator told them, or of which newsletter they got from this or that Senator. Not one Senator has written to me on the issue of PRSI. It is a God damn outrage.
My question for the Leader is a simple one. Will I be treated with the dignity to which I am entitled as a Member of the Oireachtas and be given the information I requested? That is my first question. Second, will two items on the clár, motion No. 11, dated 17 June, and motion No. 14-----
There are other names to those motions but I would be the lead one. Fianna Fáil supported me on motion No. 11 and all our names are appended to motion No. 14. Lets not be afraid. Let us discuss this issue openly.
I add my voice in support of what was said by two of my colleagues. The first being Senator Paul Coghlan who made his remarks and paid tributes. I appreciate the Cathaoirleach's comment that we are not allowed name individuals but others have paid tribute to chief superintendent Pat McGee for this outstanding work in Dundalk. I would like to add my voice-----
-----in support of what has been said with respect to senior gardaí. I wholeheartedly agree with Senator Paul Coghlan that it should be possible, through some mechanism, to be able to contact members who served in the higher ranks of the Garda and who have experience with regard to activities in my area, particularly along the Border area. I thank the chief superintendent and pay tribute to him for his outstanding work.
I would add my voice in support of Senator Mooney's comments on the coverage of sport. He mentioned women's sport and I agree with him on that. I received support from many Senators last year when I asked that equal coverage be given to the Special Olympics and the Paralympics as they took place. It broke my heart to see the Paralymics follow the Olympic Games in London and not receive any live coverage. I agree with what Senator Mooney said about women's soccer. I found it very disrespectful when members of the team opposing Dundalk were on the pitch during the second half of the women's game while it was still going on. Women deserve respect and equality when it comes to sport.
Will the Leader to arrange a debate on the subject of sport? I raised a matter on the Order of Business earlier in the week and was ruled out of order because I paid tribute to a certain football team which won the cup and league, doing the double, and it also won them last year. I do not see why we cannot pay tribute to people who are outstanding in a sport or in a team. I am not mentioning them.
Senator Kelly raised the question of the cost of insurance, which is a serious matter. Ivan Yates has written a very good article on this issue in today's edition of the Irish Independent. Quite a number of claims are being submitted to insurance companies and they are reacting to them but many of them are under question. Some people claim that insurance companies pay out too quickly and do not challenge some cases that may be fraudulent. Some people can claim within two years of an accident occurring. I am aware of a case involving a scratch that was made to a car last Christmas and a claim is being submitted, without any medical evidence, against a family. The insurance company will probably pay out in that case because it is cheaper for it to do so than to go court. The young person involved is paying a motor insurance premium of €5,000 a year. That is very difficult for him. We need to have a debate on this issue. The Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, as opposed to the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, deals with the insurance industry.
With respect to the emergency in terms of accommodation and the number of buildings that are vacant throughout the country, I was amazed the Government, when it decided to extend certainty with regard to rents, gave landlords an opportunity to raise rents before such legislation is brought in. Such legislation would normally be introduced as an emergency measure, be passed through both Houses of the Oireachtas and signed by the President the next day, but for some unknown reason, the Government is warning landlords to put up the rent they charge now or they will not have an opportunity to put it up again.
I am. In 1932 when Fianna Fáil came into power, we had massive building programme throughout the country. We took the issue on board. The money was not there but we were able to do it. I put a suggestion to the Government and the Minister that there are numerous well equipped and well trained builders who are unemployed and such ability could be mobilised through the local authorities which have the land and the engineers------
Many of them are underutilised in that many of the engineers do not have the amount of work to do that they should have. Most of them have been transferred to deal with water services. Good quality engineers and builders could have direct labour contracts. We have electricians, plumbers, plasters-----
I am. We have to be innovative in area. Builders will not build now because the profit to be made in building is nil at this stage. It is cheaper to buy a house than to build one. We need to have a fresh look at this issue and a radical approach needs to be taken. It is a national emergency when there are people living on the streets of Dublin and people living in emergency accommodation and no action is being taken to alleviate the situation. Action must be taken.
I raise the issue of the necessity to always keep liquid laundry detergent capsules away from children. This is a serious issue. Members may have read in the newspapers in the past fortnight of the quick reaction of a young mother from Dunleer in County Louth in taking her young child, who had access to laundry detergent and nearly died, to hospital. The mother took her child to Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda and, thankfully, the child recovered. Liquid laundry deterrent capsules are products to help people use just the right amount of detergent for their washing needs. While they are safe when used as intended and as outlined on the product package, I advocate storing them in a safe place, out of the reach from children. The manufacturers state that on their packaging.More than that is needed. I wonder how many householders read what is printed on packages. There must be some other way of identifying the danger involved. I suggest a notice be placed on the washing machine or permanently on a wall in the room where clothes are washed. I call for the introduction of an educational programme to raise awareness among the hundreds of thousands who use laundry detergent capsules on a daily basis, particularly where small children can access them. We must do something about the problem through an educational programme or whatever else.
Crime is a constant worry in all communities and we need a general debate on the issue in the Seanad. Obviously, we must seek more resources for the Garda and look at how the force carries out its business. In my county of Meath, at the start of the Government's term, the Garda Commissioner, for their own reasons, decided to merge two Garda districts. The Garda district of east Meath which covered the stations at Laytown and Duleek was merged with the district that included Ashbourne, Dunboyne and Dunshaughlin. That merger has had an extremely negative effect on policing in the area. I know that it is a question of resources and prioritisation. However, there seems to be a crime wave in the eastern part of Meath, including burglaries, arson and many other crimes. I have full respect for An Garda Síochána and recognise that it carries out seriously important work, but there are not enough gardaí to do the job following a huge cut in Garda numbers in County Meath in the past four years. There is also a problem with the structure of the force. Garda districts need to be updated to reflect the change in population patterns. Gardaí located at one end of the county should not have to deal with crimes that take place at the other end. We need to look at county boundaries correlating with Garda divisions because there are anomalies. Gardaí in big towns are unable to cross county boundaries to deal with crimes. Therefore, gardaí must come from another town much further way. This is very common in east, south and north Meath. I seek a full debate to allow Senators to make their input as national legislators and members of local joint policing committees. What is happening cannot continue. People are living in fear of criminals and, in many cases, gardaí must work in fear, especially following what happened recently. We pay tribute to all members of the force, particularly its fallen members who gave up their lives to protect their communities. Unfortunately, there have been too many garda deaths during the years. The issue of crime must be examined again because the public simply cannot tolerate what is happening. I do not think the Garda can continue to work in these conditions. We need massive investment in manpower. We must also re-examine the structures of An Garda Síochána to make sure they reflect the reality of life in Ireland, including the motorway network and urban and rural settlement patterns.
I support what Senator John Kelly said about the spectrum of price increases in health, home and motor insurance. Unfortunately, whatever gains will accrue to the average family from budgetary changes will be swept away by the increase in the price of insurance. During the years we have ignored the fact that there is a need for a renewed war on the cost of living. It is important that the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, in particular, look at the various price increases in these important areas. Obviously, the Minister for Health should tackle the cost of health insurance. We have discussed the insurance industry here ad nauseam. All of these cost increases have hit the pockets of the average citizen hard; we must, therefore, contain increases to the maximum extent possible.
I will comment briefly on the policing service. I appreciate that we can look at the concept of early retirement and try to make changes in that regard, but I wish to ask a question that I have asked previously. What has happened to the Garda Reserve? It was set up a number of years ago with a fanfare of trumpets, but it is hard to know visiibly whether it is up and running. Young people showed a significant degree of interest in joining. It might be helpful, therefore, to ask the Minister for Justice and Equality to come to discuss the issue. There is great scope for the Garda Reserve to be of tremendous benefit from the perspectives of traffic management and rural and community policing and I want to know if the Minister plans to expand and develop it. It seems to be stuck in no man's land. We have heard from some members that they had difficulty in finding - let us be honest about it - a degree of acceptance for the work that they do. We need to thrash out the matter and have a constructive debate on it in order that the force will be used more effectively.
I support the comments on rural crime made by Senator Thomas Byrne and agree with him that we urgently need to have a debate on crime which I know is a problem in urban and rural areas. It was very discouraging to see a serial burglar being released by the courts recently against all of the advice of the Garda at the time. Such a decision calls into question how connected many members of the Judiciary are with reality. We should, therefore debate the matter.
I support the comments made by Senator Sean D. Barrett. I join him in extending get well wishes to the woman who was seriously injured on the M50 yesterday. The incident brings into focus the gridlock generated across the city when a problem occurs on the M50. I would like to return to a proposal made a decade ago. The then Minister with responsibility for transport looked at proposals to provide an outer orbital route from Naas to Drogheda to take a lot of traffic travelling north away from the M50. That proposal needs to be reconsidered. We need to show more vision when it comes to planning transport infrastructure. I was unimpressed by some of the people from the transportation authorities who made excuses and claimed that there was gridlock in every city. That shows their laissez-faireapproach which has not served us well. There is the same attitude in much of the public service but particularly in the Department of Finance and the Central Bank and very definitely in the Office of the Financial Regulator. Such an attitude contributed enormously to the economic crash.
I agree with the request made by Senator Ivana Bacik. I also wish her well in her role as chairperson of the feminist group of the Abbey Theatre. I suggest she conduct a litmus test on the genuineness of those feminists. Earlier Senator Susan O'Keeffe spoke about gender equality. A great litmus test to distinguish between pseudo and genuine feminists is whether they oppose gendercide. Nothing diminishes the role of women more than for baby girls to be aborted even before they see the light of day. Very few feminists inside and outside this House have objected to that practice.
As I did yesterday, I seek a debate on the abortion issue. I agree with Senator Susan O'Keeffe who sought a debate on the repeal of the eight amendment and call on the Leader to arrange same. There is an onus on those who are proposing the repeal of the eight amendment to talk about the procedures to be used to kill a baby because that is what abortion is about.
I join other colleagues in calling for debates on policing and a number of other issues. I also seek a debate on the Garda Reserve, to which Senator Paul Bradford alluded. I support the Garda Reserve and think it should be expanded. Its role should be increased within An Garda Síochána in the context of community policing, etc.
I fully support the concept of gender equality and that there should be positive discrimination in that regard. However, to suggest a certain percentage of plays should be by female authors is a little ridiculous. The creative arts should be based on merit, not on gender.
Senator Craughwell commented on councillors' pay and conditions, in particular PRSI. He is aware, as are all Members of the House, that an all-party group is in existence and is attempting to increase the pay and conditions of councillors, including their PRSI entitlements. That is ongoing. I am confident that we will make progress as an all-party group. I do not only represent the 193 independent councillors in this House, I represent approximately 1,100 other councillors-----
I commend Senator Craughwell for the effort he has made during his short time in this House on behalf of the electorate of the majority of the Members of the Seanad. I will assist him, as I am sure my other colleagues will, in whatever way I can with the particular issues that he has raised. I compliment the Senator.
Today is a very special day in the history of Galway city and county. Today we present our case in Dublin Castle for the European Capital of Culture. Galway Chamber of Commerce has shown leadership extraordinaireand agreed to a 3% increase in rates on the basis that it will be ringfenced for cultural activities. To other cities and counties around the country, I say "Follow that". I commend Professor Pat Dolan of NUIG for his academic leadership, when he speaks about-----
It is a positive thing. He speaks about the human cost of the economic recovery. Not enough research is done in that area. He says what really matters is the lived experience of our families, communities and people with disabilities. I could not agree with him more.
There have been 4,500 repossession orders this year in Ireland, 307 of which were in Galway. This is foolishly adding to the homelessness toll. If that is not lived experience that will go deep into the psyche of our families and our children, then what is?
I have a question on this. Can the Leader confirm that judges are allowed to adjudicate on home repossession cases involving banks in which they have personal financial interests? This is a serious question. If that is true, as a matter of urgency, I want the Leader to ask the Minister for Justice and Equality to ensure that as a matter of good practice, judges disclose any connections or personal interest they have with banks in cases they are adjudicating on. There is a precedent in this area. Judges do not adjudicate in cases involving companies in which they have shares. It is in the public interest that members of our Judiciary do not adjudicate on cases involving banks unless, at the very least, they have disclosed their own personal financial interests.
It is a question that I hope the Leader can answer today. If he cannot, I understand that and I ask that he come back to the House with an answer on this issue. It is something that has come to me of late in the context of so many repossessions and it is of deep concern to our families and communities around the country because we need trust. We need to trust.
Senator Daly raised the issue of home repossession rates and other matters relating to housing. As I mentioned yesterday, the Residential Tenancies (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill will come before the House on Committee Stage next week. We will be able to debate all the proposals that have been mentioned over the last number of days on housing and rents. I will allow as much time as possible to complete Committee Stage of the Bill on Tuesday, 17 November. If it goes too late, we will continue on Wednesday, 18 November and we will get it out of the way and have Report Stage on Tuesday, 24 November. We will hopefully have it out of this House by Tuesday and I am sure the Dáil will deal with it expeditiously within a number of days and that the Bill will be enacted.
On the issue of landlords increasing rent, there are some unscrupulous landlords that may put up their prices but there is an obligation on them to give 28 days' notice to tenants if they do so. Perhaps this legislation will be enacted within 28 days. That remains to be seen but I want to point that out to Members.
Senator Daly raised the question of gardaí taking leave of absence which was also raised by other Senators. The Senator mentioned that approximately 1,000 gardaí were on leave of absence. I hope he is not suggesting that they are not entitled to leave of absence-----
I thought he did. I remind the Senator that there has been a significant decrease in the number of gardaí in the last number of years. If the training college is closed down and there are no gardaí coming on board, obviously that is what will happen. That is what his Government did. This Government has reopened Templemore. We have 550-----
-----in order to combat crime whether in urban or rural areas.
Senator Bacik called for a debate on policing and mentioned that the Garda Commissioner was before the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality yesterday for a number of hours. A number of the points that have been raised in this House were actually made at that meeting. I suggest that Members look at the minutes of the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality. They may get answers to a number of questions that have been posed.
Senator Bacik raised the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill. I understand that we will probably have it in this House in the next few weeks. The Government is drafting quite a number of amendments to the Bill and I hope to have it through this House by Christmas. I am not saying that will happen but I am hopeful that it will.
Senator Bacik is attending a conference on gender equality in the Abbey Theatre today. There are a number of others who I would like to send to it. They would be well qualified judging by their appearances here in this House.
Senator Barrett raised the closure of the M50 due to an accident and we wish the lady who was seriously injured a speedy recovery. I agree with the Senator - the Minister has also said it - that there is a need to review the response policies in such incidents. This is a point that has been raised by other Senators.
I note Senator Barrett's point about the arrogance of the ECB and the contempt that it has shown to MEPs and the suggestion that agencies such as it are recruiting agents for euroscepticism.I could not agree with him more.
Senator O'Keeffe raised the issue of rents and housing. As I mentioned earlier, this can be discussed during the residential tenancies Bill next week. She also raised the Action Plan for Jobs and we will try to have the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Richard Bruton, in the House to discuss it. There have been positive job indicators over the past number of days, especially in Cork with 1,000 jobs announced as well as 300 jobs in Dublin. As Senator O'Keeffe rightly pointed out, the Action Plan for Jobs is now focused on the regions. Up to 70% of all jobs created last year were outside of Dublin, a point missed by many people.
Senator Mooney raised the issue of free-to-air viewing, as well as RTE's policy of giving English Premier League results before those of our national games and how, in many instances, it excludes women's sports. There was no excuse for excluding the recent women's provincial football results. I agree with him on the need for the equality of coverage by the national broadcaster.
Senator Quinn raised the issue of the new provisions for J1 visas which may have a disadvantage for young people going to America. The Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade has expressed concerns in that regard but I will bring this to his attention. Senator Quinn also welcomed the sale of Avoca, an Irish company, which has done so well over the years. It is welcome to see an American company buying it and it shows the success of this company. Irish companies in general have succeeded and we wish the new owners well.
As for the pronunciation of Northern Ireland, I do not know if I said it right. I would have said North of Ireland. I note the Senator’s point in that regard.
Senators Kelly and Bradford highlighted the rise in the cost of motor, home and other insurance premia. Senator Kelly called for the motor insurance advisory board to be reactivated. I agree with him that there is a need for an investigation. I know the relevant joint Oireachtas committee has called for an investigation. I will endeavour to have the Minister come to the House to discuss this matter.
Senator O'Donovan raised councils ignoring provisions of the Urban Regeneration and Housing Act 2015. He said he would give me the details, which I will pass on to the Minister. Senator Mullins raised new patient safety measures, which are to be welcomed. Hopefully, these will improve the health services and how people are treated.
Senator Craughwell raised Nos. 11 and 14 on the Order Paper. Senator Wilson replied in a positive manner and mentioned there has been an all-party approach to PRSI and councillors.
I appreciate the fact Senator Craughwell has been appointed a rapporteur on PRSI for councillors. I am sure he will do an excellent job on that. As I said, the all-party group met with the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly, on this and made a strong case for the matter, as well as for remuneration for councillors. We all know that councillors across the country have had their representational areas increase significantly. Some local authorities are now larger than constituencies and councillors are genuinely suffering as a result of this. However, that is not popular to say in the media but it is true. Councillors now have to travel long distances to meetings to represent their constituents. They will have the full support of every Member in getting fair pay for what they do. They are doing the work of Oireachtas Members in many cases, as well as having the same workloads.
Senator Moran raised the issue of retired gardaí having a role, a point with which I agree. I also agree with the need for equality in the broadcasting of women's sports where RTE and other outlets are concerned. On her own town, Dundalk, which she rightly mentions at every possible opportunity, it has had excellent news on jobs and sport over the past several months. We wish the town well.
Senator Leyden raised the issue of insurance companies paying out on claims too soon. That is a matter that can be addressed when there is an investigation into, and debate, on the insurance industry. The points he raised on landlords and social housing can be raised during the debate next week on the residential tenancies Bill.
Senator Brennan highlighted the issue of liquid laundry capsules and the need for vigilance. It is a good point in that there is a need to keep these capsules out of the reach of children. In most houses, I am sure they are probably in a cupboard under the sink or next to the washing machine, giving easy access to young children. Senator Brennan made a good safety point.
Senator Byrne raised the issue of the amalgamation of certain divisions in the Garda Síochána. As he knows, the amalgamation of divisions is an operational matter for the Garda Commissioner. I agree with him, however, that there should be no demarcation where crime is concerned. As regards following up people into other divisions, that is a matter that should be examined if there is a major problem with it. I am sure it is under review by the Commissioner also.
Senator Walsh also made those points and raised the question of bail. The Government is considering the whole question of bail. It is a pressing problem but I will not comment on any specific items. I agree with the sentiments expressed by Senator Walsh on this.
As I mentioned to Senator Daly on Garda numbers, the Government is acutely aware of it and that is why Templemore College was reopened. There are plans for an additional 600 gardaí on the streets. Senator Bradford asked about the Garda Reserve. To the best of my information, I understand it is up and running and there has been a significant increase in its numbers. I will come back to the Senator on the actual details on that.
Senator Walsh raised quite a number of items. The Minister is acutely aware of transport planning and traffic patterns and it is under review. Senator Walsh also called for a debate on the repeal of the eighth amendment. I do not think we will be able to have that debate in the House before Christmas.
Senator Wilson raised the issue of gender equality and the arts and that it should be based on merit.I take the Senator's point in respect of that matter. However, other people have different opinions. I also take the Senator's very valid points he made in respect of councillor representation and councillors' pay.
Senator Healy Eames raised a point touched upon by Senator Naughten yesterday, namely, the EU Capital of Culture and the presentation that will be made on behalf of Galway today. I assure the Senator that there will be very stiff competition because there will be another application from the Three Sisters 2020 project relating to Waterford, Wexford and Kilkenny.
In respect of judges with personal interests in banks, I would have thought that any judges with such interests would disqualify themselves from any cases in which they might be involved. However, I will certainly inquire further with the Minister in respect of this matter. I respect the independence of the Judiciary and I am sure that any judge who has a personal interest in any matter would disqualify himself or herself.