Thursday, 19 November 2015
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, the National Cultural Institutions (National Concert Hall) Bill 2015 - Committee Stage (resumed), to be taken at 12.45 p.m. and to conclude no later than 1.30 p.m., if not previously concluded; and No. 2, the Legal Services Regulation Bill 2011 - Committee Stage, to be taken at 1.30 p.m.
Everyone in the House has expressed their sympathies to the people of France on the tragic events in Paris, but the Government has said there is no increased risk of a terrorist attack in Ireland, something that is not borne out by the fact that three people from this country died fighting in Syria. The intelligence reports are that 30 people are currently fighting there and we know that the modus operandiof ISIS is for returning fighters to attack their home countries. We also know they are being encouraged to attack their neighbouring countries.
The UK estimates are that 2,000 UK residents have gone to fight in Syria, 500 of whom left this year. We know they will come back and their job will be to cause terror in England as well as here. Sending our troops abroad to bolster returning French troops is not prudent or wise. For the Government to say there is no increased risk of attack in Ireland does not lend itself to the security of the State. The Government needs to explain why it would send our troops abroad when, quite evidently, they will be required at home.
The Leader two weeks ago quite generously said he would facilitate a debate on a united Ireland. A study was launched yesterday in the Harvard Club in Manhattan, Modelling Irish Unification, done by a leading academic from the University of British Columbia who is the director of the Institute for European studies. It examined three different scenarios regarding unification, as well as regulation, tax harmonisation, the benefits in terms of cost reductions in transportation, currency issues and how the economy in the North would receive a 4% to 7.5% boost in its GDP if unification took place.
The study also showed that over an eight-year period there would be a €36.5 billion increase in productivity in the North and on the island. A "Prime Time" survey showed that 80% of people in the South are in favour of unification in their lifetime, that is, over the next two decades. I thank the Leader for organising and facilitating the debate on this. Our job is to argue for and against the proposition. I am favour of it and all political parties on both sides of the House state their aim is to achieve peaceful unification, as per Articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution and the Good Friday Agreement.
We need to examine studies such as that launched yesterday in America and determine how we can work towards the aims of Articles 2 and 3 and the Good Friday Agreement. It will not just happen; we have to make it happen. We have to do so in a constructive way and engage with all parties to ensure that what is being done will be done correctly. I, Congressman Brendan Boyle and his brother, who is a State Representative for Pennsylvania, will hold a number of events throughout the US to help with this issue. We need a discussion and debate on it because, as "Prime Time" showed, the people in the South are in favour of unification.
On Tuesday, we all expressed our deep horror and condemnation of the attacks on Paris.We will all have been watching with great interest the developments in Paris since then, the raids in the suburb of Saint-Denis yesterday and the resulting arrests. The debate which people sought on Tuesday, and which I said, as Deputy Leader, I would be happy to try to facilitate, on the greater security issues given rise to by the Paris attacks, is one we should have in the new year. We should seek to put in context our concerns about these appalling attacks and the ripple effect they have had in terms of heightened security fears, with flights being diverted and matches being cancelled across Europe in recent days since the attacks.
In two weeks time there will be a major conference in Paris on climate change. I am very hopeful we will have passed the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Bill by then. On Committee Stage the Minister agreed to take some important amendments which Senator Barrett had tabled with the purpose of ensuring the Seanad would have scrutiny over the annual development plans and the five-year plans on carbon emissions. I am hopeful we will see those amendments before the House on Report Stage and I would like the Leader to confirm the date for the Report Stage debate.
I would like to request two debates on different matters which, given the legislative schedule, we will not have time to facilitate before Christmas but which we might have in the new year. The first is on women in the arts, arising from the experience I had last Thursday chairing the extraordinary debate in the Abbey Theatre, Waking the Feminists. It would be good to have the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Heather Humphreys, in the House in the new year for a more general debate on gender and the arts. I would also like a debate on drugs policy. The Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality has recommended that a new approach be taken to possession of small quantities of drugs for personal use and that a harm reduction or health-based approach be taken in line with that adopted in Portugal. The Minister of State, Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, has expressed support for a similar model and it would be very helpful to have the Minister here in the new year to discuss his proposals and the recommendations of the Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality.
I propose an amendment to the Order of Business, that No. 14 be taken before No. 1 to introduce the Gradam an Uachtaráin Bill. It would be worthwhile to have a debate on the film industry, which has earned €70 million in recent years. Ardmore and Ashford studios have had major success and Wicklow's position as the Hollywood of Ireland has been given a major boost by Wicklow County Council's decision to allow for a 100% reduction in development contributions for film studio infrastructure. While we have generous incentives in Ireland, is it worth considering whether we can do more to attract this lucrative, job-creating industry which does a world of good for Ireland?
Senator Barrett mentioned the accident on the M50 during the week in which a woman died, and last night there was another accident on the M50 in which a man was killed. Our sympathy goes to both families. We have not found a way to reopen the M50 in a short time. Senator Barrett said it was closed for six hours after the accident due to the technical methods we use. In other countries, by using photographs and other methods, they are able to reopen roads within an hour. We could do something on this basis. We must do something about it. It would be worthwhile to have a debate and to draw the Minister’s attention to it.
Last week, the Members in Opposition raised the issues of single farm payments and all the different farm schemes and accused the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine of not making payments to farmers. Does the Leader have an update on the matter and what farm scheme payments have been made? Could we invite the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine to the House to outline the new farm inspection schemes announced by Commissioner Hogan that will be introduced in 2016? I welcome what Commissioner Hogan is trying to do to reduce bureaucracy and farmers’ fears that inspections will be reduced from 5% to 1%.
One of the important aspects of Tuesday's agreement in Stormont is that the Northern Ireland Assembly will be given powers to reduce the corporation tax rate to 12.5% to bring it level with that of the Republic. While there has been a mixed response to it, overall it should be a positive development for the all-island economy. We will be able to attract investment to the island, which can only benefit us, and I say this as somebody who comes from the Border counties. Could the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Bruton, come before the House to outline the implications for the reduction in the 12.5% tax rate and the latest Government spin on the jobs plan? I do not know if we have plan No. 55 or No. 56 since the Government was formed. It would be interesting to hear if anything positive is to come out of it. Due to the imminent reduction in corporation tax in 2018, the Achilles' heel, despite the positives for the all-island economy, is that the Border region may be squeezed as a result and industry and jobs sucked into the conurbations of the north east and Belfast in the same way as they have been sucked into the greater Dublin region to the detriment of other parts of the country, despite the Government’s statistics. I have raised the issue with the Minister in the House and he has refuted it. When anybody raises the question of the dispersal of jobs to the regions, the Government response is that job development is not confined Dublin. However, the perception is that it is confined mainly to Dublin and, outside of it, to Galway, Limerick and Cork.
There is a need for the creation of a cross-Border enterprise agency that would provide incentives to industry thinking of locating in Ireland, particularly after 2018, and that would make the Border regions more attractive. A wide schedule of initiatives could be brought into place, including road and industrial infrastructure, apart from any tax breaks or other incentives that could be given through the local enterprise offices that are part of local authorities. The future of the Border regions could be under threat in terms of attracting jobs once there is an all-island economy which would have a level playing field regarding corporation tax, which is a major plank of Government policy, and one which we would all defend to ensure there is more foreign direct investment. I ask that the Minister, Deputy Bruton, would come before the House to outline the impact of the 12.5% corporation tax rate and the issues I have raised alongside it.
Many of the detractors of this House often say it is a talking shop in which nothing ever gets done, that we raise issues on the Order of Business which disappear into the dim and distant future. I want to instance a development yesterday which proves the worth of the House, and I thank the Members involved. During the past 12 months I have raised in the House and at the Committee on the Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht the condition of our National Library. As part of a delegation from the committee, I visited the National Library and saw the poor conditions in which our national archives were kept. Yesterday, following representations we made in the House through the Leader and through the committee, the Minister, Deputy Heather Humphreys, announced €10 million for the refurbishment and upgrade of the National Library.The money will be used to upgrade the visitor reading area, improve conditions in the archive and improve access and security as well as accessibility between the various buildings owned by the National Library on Kildare Street.
The Government recognised that work was required on the National Library of Ireland. The Minister informed the House that she would provide funding for such work when the economy improved. She fulfilled her promise yesterday when she announced a capital investment of €10 million in the National Library. Having raised the issue in the House, Senators can now see the results. I commend the Minister and thank the Leader for his perseverance on this issue in the past 12 or 18 months. I am proud to have played a part in securing the National Archives and National Library for future generations.
I have pointed out on a number of occasions the way in which business in the House is unravelling. On the commencement of the Order of Business, 12 Senators were present, although the figure has since increased to approximately 15. There is not much point in trying to do something before the election, but we should address the issue after the election. I note that No. 3, the Government's Privacy Bill, appears to have moved up the Order Paper. Does this indicate a serious intention on the part of the Government to address the issue of privacy? I would very much welcome if we took this practical step.
I concur with Senator Landy's comments on the National Library, which is an issue I have been raising for some time. Having made a deposit of papers with the National Library, I am naturally concerned about the way in which they are conserved. I spoke at a meeting on Molesworth Street last week to discuss the National Archives when the matter was still a cause of great concern. The announcement that €10 million will be made available to the National Library sends out a very good signal and I express my gratitude for it. While I am not sure it was made entirely as a result of the intervention of Senators, we can take a small bow for having been part of the process. We may not have been entirely responsible but we were certainly partly responsible.
I, too, welcome the announcement yesterday that funding of €10 million will be provided for the National Library of Ireland. It is fitting and appropriate that this investment be made to preserve the National Archives and restore the iconic National Library of Ireland building to its former glory for future generations.
I support Senator Mooney's call for the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Richard Bruton, to come before the House. The discussion should include the Action Plan for Jobs. This has been a significant week as, for the first time since 2008, unemployment has fallen below 9% from its peak of 15.1%. In addition, the number of people who are unemployed has fallen below 200,000 for the first time since 2008 and employment has grown in all eight regions. Surprisingly, the growth in jobs in the Border region stands at 12%, which is good news. In addition, approximately 56,000 additional jobs were created in the past 12 months and the number of people in part-time employment fell in the past 12 months, with the result that the number of people in full-time employment increased by 59,400.
Much work remains to be done. The roll-out of the regional action plans is a positive development, but if we are to remove a further 3% or 4% from the unemployment rate, which remains stubborn, we must ensure the regional action plans kick in and are effective. I very much welcome the launch of the regional action plan for the west on Monday last. I call for a debate with the Minister on how these plans can be maximised in order that jobs can be extended into more peripheral regions of the west and elsewhere. I have in mind towns that have suffered badly in the past decade, such as Ballinasloe, County Galway, where a thousand industrial jobs were lost in the past ten years. The regional action plan for jobs for the west must make a difference to places such as Ballinasloe. We should also discuss with the Minister ways in which we can ensure that IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland prioritise investment in regions that have lost out.
I welcome the announcement yesterday by the Minister of State with responsibility for European affairs that €1.2 billion of European Union Structural Funds will be spent in Ireland in the period from 2014 to 2020. This includes €469 million from the European Regional Development Fund and €542 from European Social Fund co-funded programmes. This is a significant development, which I hope will assist in reducing unemployment to below 4% by 2020.
Is dócha gur cheart aitheantas a thabhairt ar maidin don fhógra atá déanta ag Peter Robinson go bhfuil sé i gceist aige na bróga a chrochadh suas ó thaobh cúrsaí polaitíochta de. In the context of the statement issued this morning by the Northern Ireland First Minister, Mr. Peter Robinson, that he will resign his position as leader of the Democratic Unionist Party and, as such, leave the political stage, it is important to acknowledge the very important role he and the Deputy First Minister, Mr. Martin McGuinness, played in recent weeks in helping to forge a political conclusion to the talks at Stormont. It is also important to note that the claims made some weeks ago that politicians in the North could not work together to forge deals have been shown to be completely unfounded by the deal reached this week. This agreement was forged between the DUP and Sinn Féin before being presented to both Governments, which is very different from what happened on previous occasions. It is by no means an ideal conclusion to the discussions, as Sinn Féin is not happy with many of the elements of the deal. However, when one acknowledges that the Tory Government in Westminster is trying to impose a high level of austerity on the North and notes the lack of tax-generating powers devolved to the Northern institutions, one must welcome the positive aspects of the deal. It is equally interesting to note some of the political rhetoric we heard at the time of the crisis that resulted in the commencement of the talks. Certain leaders of political parties on this side of the Border stated at the time that the Assembly should be brought down. Great leadership has been shown and we should acknowledge the role played by both the main parties in the North in that regard. The debate on this new agreement will be very important.
I encourage Senators to attend a presentation at 1 p.m. in the AV room to launch the Irish appeal for the release of Arnaldo Otegi and other Basque political prisoners. This is a very important issue on which the Seanad should be much more vocal. Many political prisoners from the Basque country face very difficult circumstances, including being kept away from their families and friends, and are subjected to conditions to which they should not be subjected. It would be useful if Senators attended the briefing. I also call for a debate on this issue at a future date.
I also note the announcement of the impending resignation of the First Minister of the Northern Ireland Assembly, Mr. Peter Robinson. I met Mr. Robinson last year and found him to be very courteous and respectful. He should be given credit for moving the Democratic Unionist Party from a policy of "Never, never, never" to one under which, for the most part, his party has had a respectful relationship with the Nationalist community and has been very productive.
I also echo the welcome for the announcement of the Stormont agreement yesterday. It is to be welcomed that the institutions did not collapse. It is in this context that I ask the Leader for a debate on the issues surrounding the agreement, because a number of concerns remain outstanding. I note with great disappointment that despite the issues that have been agreed, agreement has not been reached on one issue, namely, the issue of the past. Yet again, victims whose loved ones were murdered as a result of the conflict in the North have had accountability and justice denied to them.I refer to families such as those affected in Ballymurphy, on Bloody Sunday, in the Dublin-Monaghan bombings, and the families of the late Paul Quinn and the late Pat Finucane. We need collectively to find a way to address these issues and not let the hurt and pain of the void left by no mechanism fester any longer. There are also other concerns around the implementation of austerity measures which, in my opinion, cannot be solely laid at the door of the British Government. However, for the most part, I welcome the fact that agreement has been reached, although we probably need to pay more attention to the detail within it.
I join Senator Cahill in wishing the First Minister, Mr. Peter Robinson, the very best for his impending retirement. He made a major contribution to the peace process on our island and he certainly has come a long way since the infamous incursion into Clontibret in the 1980s. I very much wish him and his family well in his impending retirement.
I join Senator Mooney in calling for the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation to come to the House to discuss the jobs situation, particularly in the Border counties. I note the comments of Senator Michael Mullins that there has been a 12% increase in job creation in the Border counties over the past number of years - 12% of zero is not much of an increase. That debate is long overdue. I would welcome the Minister into the House to discuss positive discrimination towards the Border region, which has been ravaged by unemployment for decades. In welcoming the decision to reduce the corporation tax rate from 2018 in the North of Ireland, I note that could have consequences, particularly for the Border region, as outlined by Senator Mooney. I would very much welcome that debate.
I propose an amendment to the Order of Business, that No. 13 be taken before No. 1 today.
I echo Senators Cahill and Ó Clochartaigh in praising the work of the First Minister, Mr. Peter Robinson, in bringing the peace process forward in this country. In addition to going to Clontibret, as Senator Wilson stated, I met him twice in Dublin Castle so he comes South on more peaceful visits. At the installation of President Michael D. Higgins, I, like Senator Cahill, found him to be a quiet and courteous man, and very attached to the peace process. He was working on behalf of the Unionist working class community which had been neglected by excessive concentration on the constitutional issue. Like Senator Wilson, I wish him a return to full good health, a happy retirement and the thanks of the House. A thought occurred to me that perhaps he was a quiet-spoken person because he was the Reverend Ian Paisley's deputy for 17 years. I presume that may account for his certain quiet voice and reticence in public speaking at times.
On the Order of Business, I ask that instead of Committee Stage of the Legal Services Regulations Bill 2011, we take Second Stage. It is four years since we discussed the matter. The passage of time indicates that we should revisit these issues. It is also a completely different Bill from the one we discussed four years ago. It has 75 pages and 220 amendments, approximately three quarters of which have been tabled by the Minister herself. There is no urgency about this matter. The Government has delayed long enough in reforming the legal profession and there are no reforms proposed in the Bill. There are no roles for MABS, citizens advice centres, the consumer commission, FLAC, or university economic departments. Instead, there is an amazing section 34 where the staff of the Law Society and the Bar Council join the new body. Those who have been preventing reform are invited in, and they are given pensions under section 30. I do not know what follows next - compulsory jobs in the Department of Health for the tobacco industry or compulsory jobs in the Road Safety Authority for speeding drivers. It is bizarre to bring those who have been preventing reform for the past 38 years into the new body with pensions. Large chunks of this Bill are bizarre. It is so long since we considered it properly that we should take Second Stage and then deal with Committee Stage later. I second Senator Quinn's proposal to amend the Order of Business.
I second the amendment proposed by my colleague, Senator Wilson.
I will comment on what my good colleague, Senator Barrett, has said regarding the legal services Bill. This Bill was mooted four years ago. If we are being honest in this House, it was basically set aside until the Law Society, of which, I confess, I am a paid-up member, and the Bar Council in one sense bullied their way with the then Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Shatter. It is going in the direction of a concoction of a Bill that is not good for the public at large. Whether one is a solicitor or a barrister, one serves the people and there must be rules and regulations. I agree with much of what Senator Barrett said about it being so long since the Bill was mooted. The Bill that was first published four years ago and the one that is appearing now, as amended in the Dáil and with amendments today, are so different that it is like comparing chalk with cheese. We should take a step back on this for fear of not getting it right.
We have been waiting probably 50 years for a Bill to reform how legal services are provided. We are coming up to Christmas and the end of term, and with an election coming, it appears there is a rush by the Government to get this done, irrespective of what the outcomes will be. If we get the wrong outcomes, the public, the citizens, whether unemployed, working class or well-off, in west Cork, Donegal or on the streets of Dublin, are the ones who will suffer from rushed legislation. We should stand back. If we have to sit a few days extra coming up to Christmas or sit a week earlier in the new year, I am in favour of that because rushing this through at this stage, having regard to the fact that it has been parked up for four years, does not make sense at all.
It is important that we have a debate in this House as soon as possible on the agreement in the North which has been reached by all parties and by both Governments. It is obviously good news that the institutions will remain in place. It is also good news that additional funding has been agreed - £550 million to help the most vulnerable citizens in the North. I note that as a result of the agreement, which was reached between Sinn Féin and the DUP and both Governments - both Governments were part of the negotiations and the talks - there is no increase in tuition fees, no bedroom tax and no water charges, and there is £585 million of additional funding to support the most vulnerable. I agree with Senator Cahill that we cannot merely put the blame for the welfare reform cuts and the fact that we do not have enough protections in this regard on the shoulders of the British Government. The Irish Government was also part of the negotiations. The Irish Government was not part of working with Sinn Féin to get a better deal for citizens in the North. The Government is co-guarantor of the agreement and it must take responsibility as well.
My party has in the past called for the First Minister and Deputy First Minister to address the Seanad. It would be good if that could be achieved. I support the call from a number of Senators for that debate because it is a good agreement in as far as it goes. It is a step in the right direction. It protects the institutions and democracy in the North which is what we all want to see achieved, but there are some very tough decisions that will have to be made by everybody in the context of that agreement. We, in Sinn Féin, have not shirked our responsibilities. It would be a very useful debate to have in the near future.
I want to raise a question and look for answers from the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Richard Bruton. On 20 October, the Enterprise Ireland chief executive, Ms Julie Sinnamon, presented her annual report for 2014.She advised us that indigenous companies now employ 180,000 people, comprising 156,000 full-time and 23,000 part-time employees. The total expenditure of indigenous companies on payroll, goods and services reached almost €23 billion last year. We need an urgent debate on this.
We are delighted to have multinationals. God only knows where poor old Ireland would be without them but, in these days and years, they want to set up only in Dublin, Cork and Limerick. Therefore, we need to develop indigenous companies on a more regional basis. As stated previously, I know from experience - and anything that is written by people in business - that those in the Departments of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation and Finance have not got a clue what it is like to run a business. The only people who create jobs in this country are those who set up new businesses.
I asked for the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation to be invited before us to discuss female entrepreneurs. Female and male entrepreneurs require the same things; they need a supportive environment and incentives, particularly those relating to tax, to encourage them to start businesses. We are no longer competing with Britain. It is now more attractive for Irish people to set up in Britain.
Mr. Brian Caulfield, chairman of the Irish Venture Capital Association, has dismissed as irrelevant the cut in capital gains tax from 33% to 20% on selling a business because it is limited to the first €1 million. He argued that the Government should have moved to make the capital gains tax regime much more competitive and pointed to the United Kingdom. We are absolutely not on an even playing field with the United Kingdom. There is a need for an urgent discussion in the House with the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Bruton, on the encouragement of indigenous companies and entrepreneurs. How are we to deal with a possible British exit from the European Union and the issue of corporation tax? I am delighted to have been part of the group pushing for a corporation tax rate of 12.5% for the North. My friend who died two years ago, Sir George Quigley, was the key driver of the campaign to have the same rate in both the North and the South. I am positive it would be good for business throughout the whole island.
It is all about the multinationals. They are fêted, honoured and glorified such that the indigenous companies do not get to play on a level playing field. We cannot be dependent on the multinationals in the way we were previously. That is the bottom line.
I join colleagues who wished First Minister Robinson well. In recent times, he has played a very considerable role in the politics of the island and we thank him for that. We wish whoever will be his successor the very best of luck.
It is obvious that the arrangement arrived at in recent days is helpful and progressive. Senator Cahill mentioned the legacy issues. Until they are dealt with, the North and the Republic will continue to be haunted by the past. On this side of the Border, we are not very good at getting rid of the past. Dealing with legacy issues is very important and there will be no long-term settlement across the island until this is done.
I support - if necessary, I will second - the proposal of Senator Barrett that the Legal Services Regulation Bill 2011 not proceed to Committee Stage and instead be recommitted to Second Stage. We are dealing with an entirely new Bill. Sometimes a throwaway phrase sums it all up. When the Minister for Justice and Equality was questioned about the opposition to the amendments and accused of completely watering down Deputy Shatter's Bill, she said her proposals were pragmatic. We all know what that means when it comes from a politician; it means he or she is just trying to find a short-term solution to get over the difficulties. It might be a pragmatic solution but it is not what people wanted, nor is it what was demanded of us by the troika. It is only a fortnight ago that the troika was in town. Once again, it reminded the Government that we have major issues with legal structures that need to be addressed. Surely the purpose of the legislation should be to ensure we have the very best people practising law and that citizens can access the legal system in a fair and reasonable fashion. Where disputes and difficulties emerge, there should be proper, independent structures in place to deal with them. The amendments presented to us go completely against that set of necessary parameters. If the Minister wants to defend her ideas, that is fair enough. However, she should be publishing and introducing a new Bill. It is completely wrong that we are dealing with well over 100 amendments that absolutely overturn the purpose of the Bill, as published. We will proceed later today to take what is called Committee Stage but I am of the view that we must return to the drawing board. That may be disappointing but we have been waiting four years for this legislation. As Senator O'Donovan said, the public has been waiting for many decades for the legal system to be restructured. I acknowledge it is not the Leader's call. He is just told to squash the Bill through using the numbers available to him. However, it is bad practice and bad law. An improperly amended Bill is far from what was intended or necessary for the people of this island.
In the past couple of days, it was great to read that Ireland would benefit to the tune of €1.2 billion from 2015 to 2020 owing to an injection of EU Structural Funds. This funding will be used to promote research and development, investment and the competitiveness of the business sector. It will also be used to combat long-term and youth unemployment and social exclusion. It will further be used to promote an environmentally-friendly and resource-efficient economy. It has been my wish for in excess of 30 years to have the Narrow Water bridge constructed between Northern Ireland and the village of Omeath. It would be an icon of true peace in the country. I hope and believe the project will be put back on the table and completed in the not-too-distant future. What a benefit it would be to Newry and Mourne District Council, Louth County Council and the overall economy of the Cooley Peninsula.
I welcome the Bill on extending the electorate for Seanad by-elections to members of local authorities brought forward by Senator Wilson. I did not previously have the opportunity to welcome Senator Cahill. I congratulate her on her election to the House. She will be a very important addition to the Seanad. Nonetheless, those of us who intend to seek re-election here will be going around the country very shortly to canvass county councillors. It seems that once they have a chance to elect one, they should also have an opportunity to fill vacancies as they arise. It should not be an exclusive function of Members of the Oireachtas. In saying that, I do not in any way denigrate anybody who has been elected under the old system. However, I believe Senator Wilson is on the right track.
I ask the Leader to arrange for the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Bruton, to come before the House to discuss industrial job creation in the mid-west, particularly along the Shannon Estuary. As Members will know, that estuary, apart from the one in Rotterdam, is probably the best natural deep harbour in Europe. It does not have any of the waiting times associated with the bigger European ports.I was a director of the port company for over 16 years and am very familiar with the attributes and assets of the Shannon Estuary. Some of the biggest industries in Ireland have located in the region such as Aughinish Alumina and the power stations at Moneypoint and Tarbert. Unfortunately, there have been serious disappointments of late. In the past five to six years in particular a number of major initiatives came to nought or appear to be coming to nought. Will the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation intervene and relaunch the Shannon Estuary task force which went out of existence about four or five years ago? It would timely, as we head into a general election and things are generally on the rise, that we would attract some of the major heavy industries that all of a sudden seem to want to congregate in Third World countries and eastern Europe. We should bring them to the west coast of Ireland which is a direct route to the Americas, is within easy access of all the European ports and does not have any of the complicated delay times and tidal problems that are associated with the more congested ports of Europe.
This week RTE's "Prime Time" programme was on an important investigation into new drugs that are currently legal due to the Misuse of Drugs Act being outdated. I was surprised to learn that the Garda cannot pursue a prosecution for the sale and possession of many of these so-called legal highs. We urgently need to update the Misuse of Drugs Act to quash the new drugs emerging on the market. It is quite clear that these new synthetic drugs that have emerged on the market are potentially dangerous and are very much an unknown quantity. From many of the accounts that were given on the RTE programme, the effects such drugs can have on individuals are frightening. We simply do not know their impact but they are clearly not positive. The Garda is currently powerless to pursue a prosecution for the sale and possession of these drugs. Therefore, we need to empower and support the Garda wherever possible. It is quite clear that drugs such as Clockwork Orange, which was discussed on the show, will be considered illegal once the Act is updated. One does not need to be a rocket scientist or medical doctor to tell from the accounts that were given by people who became dependent on these drugs that they should be illegal. I know that a lot of legislation must pass through the Houses before Christmas, so if it is not planned to update the legislation this side of Christmas, I would certainly like to see it take place early in the new session of the Seanad and Dáil.
I was impressed by Senator Daly's expertise in the area of security and the risks facing this country. I assure him that I have the utmost confidence in, and in everything that is being done by, the security forces and Defence Forces. The Defence Forces are a lot better equipped and knowledgeable about security and security risk than people realise. Last evening I attended a function with the Defence Forces. The quality and expertise of the individuals in all areas of the Defence Forces is underestimated by public. At the function I heard presentations by personnel in the Air Corps, the Naval Service and the Army. One would be proud to listen to these people express their opinions on the work they do on our behalf, not alone here in Ireland but also throughout the world on peacekeeping missions. I do not think they get the credit that they deserve.
I can assure Senator Daly that the forces are very strong on security, in particular. The necessary resources will be provided to the Defence Forces to increase the potential for the security area to develop.
In terms of a debate on a united Ireland, I do not think we will have such a debate before Christmas. We will try to have it early in the New Year.
Senator Bacik mentioned terrorism and the disruption in many spheres caused by the terrorist attacks in Paris, something we are seeing as we go along. The Senator asked about the Climate Change Bill. We will take Report Stage of the Bill on Wednesday next. The Senator also called for a debate on gender equality in the arts. We will probably have that debate in the New Year.
Senator Bacik called for a debate on drugs which was also sought by Senator Noone. I agree with Senator Noone that the Misuse of Drugs Act needs to be updated. I can remember that we debated the issue legal highs not so long ago and Senator Wilson raised the matter in this House five or six years ago. Different types of legal highs are continually being introduced. As a consequence, we need constantly to update the Misuse of Drugs Act to enable the Garda to act. I am sure the Government will address the matter in the very near future because it needs to be done. We must review the legislation continually because of the way those who import drugs and manufacture legal highs change the names of their products which makes it difficult for the Garda to act as we all want it to.
Senator Quinn proposed an amendment to the Order of Business. He requested that No. 14 be taken before No. 1 to allow him to publish his Bill which will be debated at a later stage. I have no problem accepting that amendment to the Order of Business.
Senator Quinn also called for a debate on the film industry. We have seen tremendous success in the sector, and what Wicklow County Council has done about development charges is an example to all bodies and such initiative should be encouraged. I do not think we have had a debate on the film industry in the House in a long time. I will try to facilitate such a debate early in the New Year.
Senator Quinn also called for a review of road closures after serious accidents. I have spoken to the Minister and know he hopes to address the matter. It is crazy to have roads closed for five or six hours following an accident, no matter how serious. There are operational matters which require photographs to be taken and vehicles to be moved but not that there would be such long delays. The Minister is looking at the matter and he will deal with it in the near future.
Senator O'Neill mentioned farm payments. The issue was raised last week by Senator MacSharry who suggested that the farmers concerned were not being paid. That was the information he had been given and people were not getting their farm payments. I am happy to clarify that matter for the Senator and all other Senators. I can confirm that advance payments of the basic payment scheme and greening payment began issuing in Ireland on 16 October 2015, which is the earliest that payments for these scheme can commence under the governing EU regulations. In addition, I can confirm that the level of the advance payment was set at 70% for 2015 rather than 50% heretofore. The increase in the advance payment for 2015 is due in particular to the difficulties encountered in the dairying and pigmeat sectors. Therefore it was a response by Government to the issue. To date, 107,900 farmers have received basic payment scheme payments totalling €680.6 million. The greening payment is a new payment for farmers this year. While the amount due under the greening scheme is calculated as a separate payment, it is paid in the one payment with the basic payment scheme payments. Payment of the areas of natural constraints scheme payments commenced on schedule on 23 September. There are no advance payments under this scheme. To date, 82,240 farmers have received payments totalling €175 million.In Sligo - the Senator referred to this last week - more than 3,500 out of 3,840 farmers with entitlements under the BPS have been paid and 300 farmers out of 4,000 have received their ANC payment. That is a comprehensive reply. The Department may only issue payments in respect of applications that are clear under the BPS and ANC regulations. Outstanding cases are mainly under query with the applicants concerned. The queries include incomplete applications, over-claims and dual claims in respect of BPS and stocking density. The matter of farm payments is being addressed comprehensively by the Minister and the Department.
Senators Mooney, Wilson and others raised the proposed new corporation tax rate of 12.5% for Northern Ireland and called on the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation to come to the House to address the implications of that for the Border area, in particular, in the context of job creation. While I agree with Senator Mooney that the perception is that all new jobs are going to Dublin, the fact is 70% of the jobs that have been created this year have gone to the regions. That is difficult to believe because the perception would have been that everything was going to Dublin. However, this is not the case.
I agree we should have a debate on the matter and I will try to get the Minister to come before the House for that purpose.
Senators White and Mullins has also asked for a debate with the Minister on the Action Plan for Jobs and the regional plans that have been announced. The action plan has been one of the major positive achievements of the Government with the unemployment rate now under 9%. That is a wonderful achievement given from where we have come with more than 15.5% of the population unemployed when the Government took office. Let us hope that we can continue to improve this rate. At just under 9%, it is still too high. We have a great deal more to do in respect of this matter.
Senators Landy, Norris and Mullins referred to the proposed €10 million refurbishment of the National Library. That should be welcomed by all. The Minister for the Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht has honoured her commitment to the House and to all those who have pressed for such investment to protect our natural heritage and she should be complimented in this regard.
Senators Mullins and Brennan referred to the €1.2 billion injection of EU Structural Funds, which is welcome.
Senators Ó Clochartaigh, Cahill, Barrett and Bradford raised the impending resignation of Peter Robinson and complimented him on his work on the peace process. They also welcomed the agreement reached in recent days. I do not know whether Senators Ó Clochartaigh and Cullinane were present yesterday but we all welcomed the fact that the institutions would be up and running again. Senator Mooney and I also referred to the British Irish Parliamentary Assembly meeting which took place earlier this week. Politicians from Scotland, Wales and England pointed out that Northern Ireland is in receipt of 23% more in subsidies than they are and they are beginning to kick on that matter. While Senator Cullinane may say the Tory Government is imposing austerity on the people in the North, the people of Wales, England and Scotland are putting down a marker in that regard as well.
I am only outlining what the Senator raised yesterday.
Senator Cahill also sought a debate on the agreement. Like Senator Bradford, she noted it was regrettable that some legacy issues were not addressed. I will try to have the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade in before the Christmas but, as the Acting Leader mentioned, a great deal of legislation will be brought before the House in the coming weeks.
Senator Wilson proposed an amendment to the Order of Business to the effect that "That No. 13 be taken before No. 1". This matter was also alluded to by Senator O'Sullivan. No. 13 deals with giving councillors a vote in by-elections as well as Seanad elections and I hope the Minister will consider the Bill seriously. I have no problem in acceding to the request for an amendment to allow Senator Wilson to proceed with the Bill.
I note the points of Senators Barrett and Bradford regarding the Legal Services Bill. It is very much different from the version introduced in the Dáil in 2011, but the legislation only came into this House for Second Stage on 13 May 2015. I sympathise with the issues raised by both Senators regarding the tone of the Bill, which has changed. The Minister held briefing sessions for all Members and the invitation was taken up by some. However, I am sure we will have a comprehensive debate on the many amendments that have been tabled. I assure Members that there will be no question of ramming the Bill through the House. We will have ample opportunity. We will see how we get on later and we can arrange to discuss it on many other days. We will progress it as much as we can this evening and I will allow as much time as necessary to debate the legislation. There will be no question of rushing it or guillotining it, within reason. If there is a filibuster regarding some sections or issues, that will be a different ballgame. The Bill will be debated for as long as necessary and as long as those who table amendments are happy with the answers they get. I will do everything to have the Bill dealt with comprehensively, as should be the case with every item of legislation.
Senator O'Donovan raised the same issue and stated there is an urgent need for reform of legal services, which is long overdue. That is why I emphasise that as much time as necessary will be given to the legislation.
Senator White complimented the growth and success of indigenous industries. She is correct that they represent the strength of our economy. With regard to the issue she raised about capital gains tax, the Finance Bill will be before the House in early December and she can raise it with the Minister for Finance at that time.
Senator Brennan asked whether the Narrow Water bridge project will be resurrected. I am not sure and, therefore, I cannot say whether the project will proceed.
Senator O'Sullivan referred to the development of the Shannon Estuary. He is correct that it is a wonderful area.We have deeper water in the Shannon Estuary than anywhere else. I understand a harbours Bill is due before Christmas as well, so that may provide ample opportunity to deal with the specific item.
Senator Feargal Quinn has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That No. 14 be taken before No. 1." The Leader has indicated he is prepared to accept this. Is the amendment agreed? Agreed.
Senator Diarmuid Wilson has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That No. 13 be taken before No. 1." The Leader has indicated that he is also prepared to accept this amendment. Is the amendment agreed? Agreed.