Tuesday, 15 December 2015
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, Appropriation Bill 2015 (Certified Money Bill) - all Stages, to be taken at 1.45 p.m. and brought to a conclusion not later than 2.45 p.m. by one question which shall be put from the Chair and which shall, in relation to recommendations, include only those set down or accepted by the Government, with the time allocated for Second Stage contributions by group spokespersons not to exceed six minutes, those of all other Senators not to exceed four minutes and the Minister to be called on to reply for five minutes not later than 2.40 p.m; No. 2, motion for earlier signature of the Appropriation Bill 2015, without debate, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 1; No. 3, Private Members' business, Seanad Electoral Reform Bill 2013 - Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken at 3 p.m. and to be brought to a conclusion not later than 3.30 p.m. by one question, which shall be put from the Chair; No. 4, Health Insurance (Amendment) Bill 2015 - Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken at 3.30 p.m. and to be brought to a conclusion not later than 4 p.m. by one question, which shall be put from the Chair; No. 5, Legal Services Regulation Bill 2011, amendments from Dáil Éireann, to be taken at 4 p.m and to conclude not later than 4.30 p.m.; and No. 6, Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Bill 2013 - Report and Final Stages, to be taken at 4.30 p.m. and to be brought to a conclusion not later than 7.30 p.m. by one question which shall be put from the Chair and which shall, in relation to amendments, include only those set down or accepted by the Government.
With regard to No. 1, we have allocated one hour for this Bill as all Stages were completed in the other House in less than 40 minutes.
It is an understatement to say the ongoing images being transmitted on our television screens on the flooding of the Shannon, from Lough Allen right down to, and more acutely on, the third lake on the Shannon, Lough Derg, are raising considerable concern. One has only got to look at the images coming out of Athlone and further down river, and in south Galway, at the devastation that has been caused. The IFA yesterday indicated that a further 10,000 acres of farmland have now been flooded. It is past time that the Government took remedial action. The multi-agency approach should be abandoned immediately. My party would propose that there would be one co-ordinating agency set up, similar to what has happened in Holland where they got rid of all the agencies involved with their flooding problems, and that the Taoiseach should chair that co-ordinating body as a matter of urgency.
I, therefore, am proposing an amendment to the Order of Business that the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly, come before the House to outline exactly the Government's proposals. The message, whatever it is in Government Buildings, is not getting through to the general population and it certainly is not getting through to the business people and residents of Leitrim village, Carrick-on-Shannon, Athlone and all down along the river as a result of what is happening with the ESB and the weir at Parteen. All of this is affecting the entire country - this is not a sectional issue - and in any other country, it would be deemed a national crisis. It is heartbreaking to see the interviews with residents in the most beautiful of homes and the water damage that is being done that will probably result in the houses never being restored to their former glory.
I want to get some indication from the Leader as to when the Minister for Justice and Equality will come before the House because it would afford an opportunity to highlight the dramatic increase in crime in Dublin, coupled with the Government's policy of slashing Garda numbers which has resulted in many living in fear in their own homes, in businesses under continuous threat of theft and anti-social behaviour on the streets. The most recent crime statistics show burglaries in Dublin were up almost 15%, year-on-year, rape and sexual assaults up 15.4% and public order offences up 8.4%.
We, on this side of the House, would submit that this cannot continue. In fact, Dublin has almost 700 fewer gardaí this year compared to 2010. Fianna Fáil will reverse this unimaginative and dangerous policy of the Government over the past five years. We will not only restore the totality of the Garda force to 14,000 but also establish a dedicated Garda public order unit for the city centre to combat drug dealing and anti-social behaviour on the capital's main commercial streets. When will there be an opportunity for us to outline these policies in more detail in the House before the Minister for Justice and Equality?
We have had the Minister for Justice and Equality in this House on a wide variety of legislation in the past few weeks, and this week is no exception. The Leader will respond in terms of the justice debates, but I merely note that we will have the Minister in tomorrow on the Garda Síochána (Policing Authority and Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, the Prisons Bill 2015 and the Criminal Justice (Burglary of Dwellings) Bill, all of which are being taken tomorrow. In light of the recent study showing the 70% recidivism rate for burglary offences, our debate on the burglary Bill will be even more welcome. Many of us spoke on that Bill last week when it came before the House on Second Stage.
It is a targeted Bill aimed, in particular, at tackling high recidivism rates for burglary offences. It is ironic to hear Fianna Fáil speaking about reversing Government policy. Government policy is to recruit more gardaí. There is more recruitment now for gardaí. Let us not forget it was Fianna Fáil in government that stopped recruitment.
I commend the incredible work being done by so many, both in a professional capacity and in a voluntary capacity, in terms of the flood defences around the country.It is very moving to see the incredible work being done by local councils, the Defence Forces, local businesses and local communities in seeking to lessen the impact of the flooding. I know that all would wish to join me in commending their great work.
I welcome the fact that the nurses strike has been called off. I welcome also the jobs announcements - an issue we often overlook - of recent days. Hundreds of jobs have been announced this morning and yesterday morning.
I welcome the news that at today's Cabinet meeting a change was agreed to the current marriage exemption for children under the age of 18. This change has been agreed on foot of a motion raised in this House by me, on behalf of Labour Party Senators, proposing the motion, and seconded by Senator Jillian van Turnhout who had also raised the issue. We had tabled this motion because of concerns arising that a large number of exemptions were being granted to the general rule that children cannot enter marriages in Ireland. We asked the Minister on 25 June 2014 to look at sections 31 and 33 of the Family Law Act 1995 with a view to ending the practice of allowing exemptions from the rule that parties to a marriage must be over the age of 18 years. On that date we set out our serious concerns about the possibility of coercion or of children being forced into marriage at a young age. We noted that approximately 30 weddings had been contracted in Ireland in 2012 where either or both parties were under the age of 18 years.
Quite a number of exemptions are being granted in the High Court. These applications are carried out in camera. We do not have any data on who is applying or the context of the applications but we did refer to a High Court judgment from 2013 where Mr. Justice McMenamin had referred, with concern, to the practice of young people being coerced in some way into marriage contracts. I am delighted the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton, who, on foot of our motion, set up an interdepartmental working group, has brought before the Cabinet a proposal to end the practice. It is a good day for the Seanad to see a change in policy as a result of a motion tabled in this House. I commend Labour Women who first raised this as an issue with me and, Senator Jillian van Turnhout, who had also raised the issue. It is an important child protection issue and a good step forward for children's rights.
On my way to work this morning I passed Firhouse, an area of Tallaght, and I thought that is where Ibrahim Halawa should be still celebrating his 20th birthday with his family. Instead Ibrahim Halawa spent his 20th birthday in the notorious Wadi Al-Natrun prison in Egypt in a squalid, overcrowded cell where he is locked up in inhuman conditions. He lacks medical treatment. Letters from him describe regular beatings, being stripped naked in front of inmates and guards and being hit with metal chains. There is insufficient access to daylight and exercise, and journalists report that a recent letter stated that he is merely waiting in a queue for "my turn" on death row.
His family claims he has fainted on four occasions in recent weeks as his condition weakens. The Irish citizen, Ibrahim Halawa, has spent more than 800 days in pre-trial detention in Europe for allegedly taking part in an anti-Government protest in Cairo, though his lawyers say there is a lack of evidence on these charges. I spoke with them this week.
In the past 800 days there have been continual adjournments of Ibrahim Halawa's trial. Today was the tenth time he was to be brought to trial. On the ninth time the trial was adjourned due to a judicial ruling that all 494 defendants must be present for the trial to proceed, a couple of them were not present due to illness. Today we have just received word that they have adjourned the trial again. It is reported that this is because one of the 494 defendants was not in court today. It has now been postponed until next Saturday, 19 December.
I ask the Leader to convey to our Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Flanagan, that I and no doubt many other Senators are deeply concerned for Ibrahim Halawa's welfare and that more must be done now to secure his release. Further action is required. It is time to secure Ibrahim Halawa's freedom and bring him home.
I welcome the €1 million investment in Ireland's Ancient East to complement what has already been allocated and, in particular, the €50,000 for Louth Adventures.Ireland's Ancient East stretches from Carlingford to Cork and, much like the Wild Atlantic Way, it seeks to give visitors a unique experience with 5,000 years of Irish history. In the next round of funding, I would like to see the Táin saga of Cúchulainn, the greatest saga in Europe, and the images it evokes developed. Cúchulainn, who was from the Castletown area of Dundalk and known as Setanta as a young man, is Ireland's greatest hero. Funnily, Deputy Fitzpatrick, who was born and bred in Castletown and, like Cúchulainn, is a great sportsman and legend, is hoping to keep his seat. He has worked hard to assist in bringing more than 2,000 jobs to Dundalk through foreign direct investment, FDI.
It is not easy to get in, but Senator Zappone spoke from the heart when referring to a crisis about which we must do something. Ibrahim has been in that jail for 800 days and there is no sign of a fair trial.
The crisis that Senator Mooney mentioned was that of the Shannon and the floods. After last weekend, we know that no single body is responsible for the Shannon. A Shannon river basin authority is necessary. It should be able to handle everything for the relevant local authorities, including flood relief, in the years ahead. Last week, I mentioned the Netherlands. That country is below sea level but has no problems with that because it took the step of setting up a single authority to do something about it. Let us ensure that the Government does not sit back and, as we did six years ago, hope that this does not happen again.
I wish to draw the House's attention to the World Bank's annual report, Doing Business, which was issued recently. Ireland has moved up to 17th place out of 189 countries. That is not very good, but it is still much better than others. Britain is No. 6. We have slipped back six places under the heading of starting a new business. We have been aware of this, yet we have done nothing about it despite something being possible. In Ireland, starting a business takes four procedures and six days and costs €130. In New Zealand, which is the top ranked country in terms of the ease of starting a business, it takes just one procedure and half a day, and costs less than €100. We can do this, but we need to set our minds to it and determine what to do. The job creation of recent years has been successful, but this needs a determined effort. One approach would be to encourage entrepreneurship and make it easier to start a new business. If we can do this, we will be able to rise to the top and beat countries like New Zealand and Singapore, which are way ahead of us and able to attract attention and business.
Over the weekend, I was watching the ongoing reports on what was happening at the Paris climate change conference. The moment the green hammer came down - I think it was at 6.07 p.m. - to say that 196 of the world's nations had reached an agreement on how to regulate climate change was incredible. It has been hailed as one of the greatest diplomatic successes of this century and, indeed, the last, particularly after the Copenhagen talks collapsed in bitterness and disarray. At the end of the day, the answer to what we are seeing in terms of the Shannon and all the other issues, such as flooding, rising sea levels, heatwaves and so forth, lies in international co-operation.
I would also like to raise two points about what is happening, particularly in the Shannon. It is appalling to see people's homes and their lands being flooded. I took the train back from Galway the weekend before last and the level of flooding was unbelievable. It was shocking. There are impacts on people's farmland and animals as well, not just on people's homes. The first issue is that for too long we have allowed people to build on floodplains, and that is clearly something that has to stop. Second, even where successive governments have taken measures to tackle flooding, in the Dargle area in Dublin, for example, people in those homes still cannot get insurance. There is no obligation on insurance companies to take into account any of the flood defence mechanisms that have been put in place. I have done some investigation into this with Dublin City Council, which confirmed what I had been told by residents: they cannot get insurance, despite the fact that millions of State money has been spent on putting in place very effective flood defences.
There is a need to have some type of State-backed insurance policy for people who have been the victims of flooding. This is the situation in many other countries, but in Ireland, the insurance industry is purely commercial. The bottom line is that people whose homes have been flooded even once have a duty to declare it and may never get insured. That is an appalling situation, and one that needs to be addressed.
I call for a debate on health care. The Leader arranged for a debate a few weeks ago. Unfortunately, that was only 45 minutes long and it was not sufficient to critique the Government's failed health service plan and policies. Even top officials in the HSE over the weekend were talking about a lack of vision, a lack of resources and a lack of capacity. We saw from the now-averted nurses' strike that we have very real problems on the front line in our health service. None of that happened by accident. It happened through five budgets supported by all the Members on the Government benches who took money and capacity out of our health services. Our hospitals, primary care, mental health services and supports for people with disabilities were all stripped of resources and hacked away at over the past five years.
Today, Sinn Féin launched its Better for Health policy document, which is the first time any party has set out a costed plan for universal healthcare. Obviously during the course of the election campaign, we will go toe-to-toe with the Government parties and others on that. The Government has now abandoned its policy of universal health insurance, and very senior officials in the HSE are now saying what many of us in the Opposition had been saying for a long time, namely, that the Government and the country is rudderless when it comes to health care and that there is no leadership coming from the Government, the Minister or the Department. It is very serious and is having an impact on patient care. The crisis has driven up waiting times in many specialties, including in Waterford, the Leader's own area, where key services, such as opthalmology, ENT and others, are at crisis point. People are waiting two years and more to see an orthopaedic consultant. That is the direct outworking of the failed policies of this Government and the five budgets the Leader and his colleagues supported over the past five years. I call for a debate on these issues
-----and we should allow people then to have their say. Obviously during the election campaign, that will happen, but there is a crisis now that needs to be dealt with.The 45-minute debate we had a couple of weeks ago was insufficient to deal with the real crisis we have at the moment.
I would love to have a debate on health with Sinn Féin, which does not want anyone in the health service to be paid more than €100,000 at a time when one of the biggest problems in the health service is the difficulty recruiting consultants..
-----before it starts mouthing off about what it will do. Sinn Féin has made out that consultants are being paid too much. We have a big challenge in this country with the recruitment of medical staff. One of the challenges we are going to have to face over the next four or five years is the appropriate remuneration for people who have worked to get to the grade they are in and who can provide the expertise that is required in areas like orthopaedics and ear, nose and throat. The whole transplant area is of particular concern. Approximately 150 kidney transplants are done in this country each year, whereas more than 300 such procedures are done annually in Norway, which has a similar population. The reason for this discrepancy is that we cannot get the consultants we require to provide the service we want to provide.
I want to speak about last week's incident when two Members of the Oireachtas were conveyed to Limerick Prison to avoid having to pay fines. It is important to outline for the public that the attachment of earnings legislation comes into place on 11 January next. The day when those who fail to pay the fines imposed on them for committing crimes are carted off to prison will be behind us from that date because the courts will have the power to make an order to have the payment come from the earnings of such people. This is a welcome development, particularly at a time when over 50% of those admitted to our prisons are admitted for non-payment of fines. Approximately 89,000 warrants are with the Garda to be executed for non-payment of fines. We should have implemented this significant change a long time ago. I am delighted this measure is coming into place on 11 January next. Members of the Oireachtas who want to break the law from now on have to realise that the fines imposed on them will be taken from their earnings. This will prevent the time of the Garda, the Prison Service and the Courts Service from being wasted as it was last week. It is a welcome development.
I second the proposal on the Order of Business that has been made by Senator Mooney.
I do not think the Minister for Health is doing his job. He has been a complete failure since he was appointed. I know he was put in there to bury his political ambition to become the leader of Fine Gael. The Taoiseach's decision to appoint him to the Department for Health has been very successful from that perspective because he has proven to be a complete and utter disaster in that role. This was evident once again last night when it was decided to postpone elective surgery that was due to take place today. People were waiting and ready to have their operations, but they were all cancelled because the HSE and the Minister would not make an agreement with Liam Doran and the nurses. They subsequently got a great deal, and now there are claims coming in. I heard Mr. Bell of SIPTU on the radio today saying that the ambulance drivers, attendants, doctors and everyone else he represents who is involved in accident and emergency all want whatever the nurses are getting.
I will put this into context. The former Minister for Health, Deputy Reilly, and the Taoiseach closed the accident and emergency unit at Roscommon acute general hospital. If that unit were available now - it was very successful when it was open - it would take pressure off Galway. Its closure is one of the greatest failures of the Government. The people of County Roscommon were lied to and betrayed by those who gave a commitment prior to the 2011 general election. The commitment in question resulted in the election of two Fine Gael Deputies in the Roscommon-South Leitrim constituency. Given the chaos that will ensue in the future in the whole hospital system, the Minister would be better engaged going to the accident and emergency department at University Hospital Galway and other such departments throughout the country to study what is happening on the ground and to see how things can be improved. There is no reason a patient who needs attention and immediate treatment cannot be brought directly to a bed in a hospital if a doctor feels that person should qualify. That is happening without going through the accident and emergency process in some hospitals where there is a relationship between the consultants and the general practitioners.This is an old system which needs to be changed but the Minister will certainly not change anything. It is a complete failure on his part to have allowed the strike to be settled last night when so many people were waiting for surgery today. It is an absolute disaster and will lead to further damage to the health service.
I wish to associate myself with Senator Zappone's comments this morning. Cúchulainn was born in County Galway and, for Senator Jim D'Arcy's information, moved to Dundalk later.
At the weekend, the newspapers carried a further report on the "Prime Time" programme. I have had a number of calls from county councillors who feel they have been totally undermined and that their honesty and integrity have been called into question. I would ask that this House take a vote of confidence in the good people who are out there trying to serve their communities and do the best they can. Some individuals are now saying that the houses being flooded throughout the country are the result of some councillors taking backhanders to give planning permission for building on flood plains. I do not believe that is a fair comment in respect of those who have tried to serve their communities well over the years.
Like my colleague, Senator Jim D'Arcy, I welcome the additional funding for the Ireland's Ancient East project announced by the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Donohoe, along with the Minister of State, Deputy Michael Ring. There is a total of €1 million in a further phase of funding for capital projects. The funding is being provided through Fáilte Ireland's "new ideas in ancient spaces" capital grant scheme. It is for a further 13 projects within the Ireland's Ancient East initiative. It begins in the medieval town of Carlingford, my own home town, and extends through Meath and the midlands to Kilkenny, Waterford and finally Cobh in County Cork. The second phase of investment brings the total funding under the "new ideas in ancient spaces" initiative to a total of €2.26 million and comes ahead of a new signage scheme to brand the region, which is due to be rolled out early next year. A further phase of funding in capital support for the initiative is expected again next year. I welcome this initiative. It will indeed enhance the tourism potential of the east coast and will create more jobs.
I welcome the climate change agreement reached by 195 countries. It will require compliance and quantification, not just having regard to the legislation. Both of those elements were missing from the climate change legislation we debated in this House. I also welcome the support from all sides to the effect that the Seanad should have a role in these matters. The original Bill specified the Dáil only.
On climate change and flooding, we need to debate hydroelectric power. We have had the incident in which Cork was flooded extensively by the ESB, which was judged in one court case to be 70% responsible. It is extremely strange to see a man from the ESB announcing the amount of flooding he intends to cause every day by opening the Parteen Weir. How did we get into that situation? The Shannon scheme and other hydroelectric schemes were of huge benefit to the country. I do not know how they are being managed such that they have now become a source of fear among people in respect of the flooding of their houses and farms.
Judge William Hamill wrote in The Irish Timeson Saturday that there are now 142,521 motoring-related warrants not executed. He sees honest people being punished while those who act dishonestly usually escape. Some 8,000 warrants refer to drink driving and 3,000 of those to drink driving charges for which people did not appear in court.We need a debate on the implications of what the learned judge said about the non-enforcement of road safety measures at a time when we are all trying to reduce from 160 or so the number of people who are killed on Irish roads every year.
I support Senator Zappone's call for the release of Ibrahim Halawa. It has got to a stage now where everyone in Ireland supports that call, which has been made by many politicians. It seems to have fallen on deaf ears, however. I wish the House to be aware that Seán Kelly, MEP, will table a motion in the European Parliament this week proposing a resolution calling for Mr. Halawa's release. The proposed resolution cites article 10 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which considers that everyone is entitled, in full equality, to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal in the determination of his or her rights. Ibrahim Halawa has not got that but he deserves it. Hopefully, the European Parliament will pass the resolution this week and be listened to. The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Charles Flanagan, is blue in the face going back and forth trying to resolve this matter. Led by the Minister, the Government made representations only this month. The EU-level resolution aims to further strengthen our calls for fairness and a resolution. Only two weeks ago, Seán Kelly, MEP, welcomed Egypt's facilitation of consular access which Mr. Halawa did not have to that time. He was denied even that much. He now has consular access to the Irish Government and access to his own legal representation. His family lives very close to me in Firhouse. I support Senator Zappone's call, which I know is not the first of its kind. Hopefully, it will be the last and Seán Kelly, MEP, will be listened to in the European Parliament and things will work out from there.
I agree with my colleague, Senator Leyden, that there are manifest failures in the health service whereby we had a Minister who was unfit to be put into the position in the first instance and we now have a Minister who is running the service from the commentary box and is not actually dealing with the issues. However, it is not the only area in which the Government is in serious dereliction of its duty. Last Thursday, the Master of the High Court highlighted an area where the failure to address the concerns of people who are finding themselves before the courts, brought there by the banks, is a scandal. The Master did the State some service by highlighting the case of a person whose house could have been sold for €90,000 but was subsequently sold off as part of a bulk lot to an equity fund. It transpires that only approximately €60,000 was obtained and the person is responsible for the difference. Therefore, the failure of the State to address this is adding to the crises people are experiencing. It is indicative of the Personal Insolvency (Amendment) Act under which a veto was given to the banks and the bankruptcy legislation in respect of which the former Minister, Deputy Shatter, spent two to three years vacillating before introducing an inadequate Act which we argued against in the House. It has now taken Deputy Penrose to prompt the Government into doing what it should have done four or five years ago, namely, introduce a one-year bankruptcy period to meet the current unprecedented situation.
That is not to mention homelessness at all. Every Member could speak about the housing situation in his or her own county. In my home town, New Ross, there are more than 600 people on the local authority waiting list. I spent 30 years on the local authority and it was never within an ass's roar of that number. The maximum number we ever had was between 100 and 150. This year, the Government has not allocated a single house to the town, which is an absolute disgrace. People working in low-paid employment cannot qualify for council houses. We are creating a situation in which the few houses that are being built are being occupied either by people on social welfare or elderly individuals. Everybody recognises that there is a social necessity to have a good social mix in public housing schemes.It has been a failure of the Government, and while it might create controversies about rent and rent controls, these are minuscule compared with what needs to be done. Houses need to be built and, unfortunately, the Government has refused to do it. I hope it will not be returned to office and that the next Government will make it a priority.
I join with colleagues regarding concerns about the health service. The HSE director general, Tony O'Brien, gave a comprehensive account of what is wrong with it and the Minister agreed with him. That is great. As Senator Walsh has pointed out, he is the commentator in chief on the Government's behalf.
From the way he talks about the health service, one would swear he was not a player. He seems to get an easy time on radio, as if he were just one of the talking heads who are invited into studios to discuss the health service and not the man in charge of it.
I, too, raise concerns about Ibrahim Halawa. This is the tenth time his court case has been postponed. Some 493 other people are on trial with him at the same time. It is a mass trial. He has been held in captivity for over 852 days and has not been afforded a fair trial. The concern is about the Irish Government's activities, or lack thereof. As I have said many times before, Egyptian law 140 allows for a prisoner to be repatriated to his home country before a trial. Although the Government and Minister said it could not be done, they silently supported a law 140 application in February. They forgot to tell anybody about it. During the summer, they repeatedly said they could not enforce law 140 or ask the Egyptian President to invoke it until after a trial. Now, they have admitted it could be done but have said it would not be the best possible course of action. Given the trend of what the Government has said about the case during the past 12 months, it is shocking that it has been inconsistent.
The Minister was here last week. The fact that the case is to be heard next Saturday is a cause of concern. There is grave concern that a death sentence could be passed, as has happened in other cases. The Government seems unaware that, unlike in the case of Peter Greste, an Australian national whose release was secured by the Australian Prime Minister before his trial, if Ibrahim Halawa is found guilty and sentenced to death, law 140 may not be applicable, given that it applies only in cases in which the sentence can be carried out in the jurisdiction to which a person is repatriated. The Government does not seem to be concerned about it or aware of it. Ibrahim Halawa has been tortured and kept in detention for a long time. Last Sunday was his 20th birthday and he has been in jail since he was 17. The myriad UN declarations and conventions the Egyptian Government has breached is astonishing. More astonishing is the fact that the Irish Government has been so silent.
I join Senator Zappone and other colleagues who have deplored the fact that Ibrahim Halawa is still in detention and that his trial has been postponed yet again. He went into prison as a 17 year old and has reached his 20th birthday. However, I deplore the political football Senator Daly is attempting to make of the issue. The Government is doing everything possible at the highest level. The Taoiseach has spoken to the Egyptian President and the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade is in regular contact with his opposite number.
It is clear that the Government is not doing everything possible. The Members opposite voted against hearing from Ibrahim Halawa's legal team at the foreign affairs committee last week. For the committee not to want to hear the legal team's opinion is unprecedented.
Our embassy staff and diplomatic team in Egypt are giving every possible assistance to Ibrahim. We all want to see him home in Dublin, back in education and with his family, quickly. Hopefully, the trial will go ahead next Saturday.However, we also have to be concerned as to what happens after the trial. For that reason, I believe the Government has done everything right by not burning all its bridges. It is fine for an Opposition spokesman to castigate the Government but the Government has to deal with the Egyptian Government in respect of this case and the proper line is being taken. Hopefully there will be a very successful outcome to this case in the very near future.
I join with colleagues in paying tribute to everybody who helped the many flood victims throughout the country in the past couple of weeks. However, we need to get the message out that towns and villages are open for business. Unfortunately, many people stayed away from shops in towns over the weekend because of a perception that every place was flooded. Traders throughout the country want to get the message out that, in the main, businesses are open.
There is a lot of work to be done when the floods have receded and we need the 300 schemes in line for funding under the CFRAM programme to be expedited. As Senator Hayden said, we also need to have a discussion on flood insurance. It is an absolute shame that, where major moneys have been expended and good defences put in place, insurance companies have not recognised it. I was pleased that the Minister of State, Deputy Harris, spoke extensively about this over the weekend and I welcome his determination to address this issue.
Senator Mooney said the multi-agency approach to flooding had not worked and should be abandoned in favour of a single agency approach. Senator Quinn agreed and also called for a Shannon river basin authority. The Minister of State, Deputy Harris, spoke comprehensively on the situation and the Government is doing everything possible. The money, some €430 million, is in place through the capital plan for flood defences.
Senator Quinn also mentioned the success of Holland and he is quite right. Holland is spending €1 billion per annum on flood defences. Whether we can afford anything like that is very questionable indeed and to compare us to Holland is a little unfair. We should join with Senator Bacik and others in complimenting all the volunteers, the local authority workers and the emergency services for the work they are doing in communities throughout the country which have been hit so badly by flooding.
Senator Mooney also spoke about the fact that there were fewer gardaí, with over 700 fewer in Dublin. We will have the Minister for Justice and Equality in the House on a number of Bills this week, with particular reference to the burglary Bill, of which we had Second Stage and of which we will have Committee and Remaining Stages this week. There will be ample time to debate the issue with the Minister. It is, however, a bit rich for Senator Mooney to talk about 700 gardaí fewer in Dublin when his party closed down Templemore and there was no more recruitment of gardaí.
That is because of the policies the Senator's party pursued in government, which included closing down the Garda Training College in Templemore and stopping recruitment. We have already recruited 1,100 more gardaí and we will do a lot more in the coming years because we have rectified the economy.It is still fragile-----
Senator Bacik said that the minimum age for marriage would now be 18 following a Cabinet decision today, which she welcomed. She also complimented all of the volunteers working on the flooding.
Senators Zappone, Quinn, Keane, Daly and Mullins referred to Ibrahim Halawa. The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade gave a comprehensive update last week on his case. The Government is doing everything possible to secure his release. As Senator Mullins mentioned, it is regrettable that Senator Daly, as he did last week, is trying to make a political football of this issue.
Senators Jim D'Arcy and Brennan spoke about the €1 million in funding for Ireland's Ancient East. Senator Jim D'Arcy hoped that the Táin saga would feature in the second tranche of funds that will become available. I welcome the €145,000 that has been allocated to Waterford's Viking Triangle and interpretative centre. It has been welcomed by all.
Senator Quinn spoke about a Shannon river basin authority. He also mentioned that Ireland is 17th of 189 nations when it comes to starting one's own business. There is a need for improvement in that. The Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Bruton, has a tremendous record on job creation. There was another announcement of hundreds of jobs today, with 500 proposed in PricewaterhouseCoopers. There have been many other jobs announcements over the last number of weeks.
Senator Hayden welcomed the conclusion of the climate change talks, as did Senator Barrett. She also outlined the need for a State-backed insurance scheme for flooding victims.
Senator Cullinane produced the Sinn Féin proposals on universal health care. I look forward to reading the document. I hope it will be better than the fictional budget policy document that he produced earlier in the year and that he usually produces before the budget.
Senator Colm Burke spoke about consultants' pay and Sinn Féin's policy on that. He questioned how we can recruit consultants. He also referred to attachments of earnings and the Fines (Payment and Recovery) Bill.Under that legislation, which will come into force on 11 January 2016, moneys may be deducted from salaries and social welfare payments instead of sending people to prison for non-payment of fines.
Senator Leyden welcomed the deal with nurses while warning it may cause problems in the future in other areas and outlining the need for reform of the emergency department sector.
Senator Craughwell referred to the RTE programme last week which investigated corrupt practices by public representatives. I agree with the Senator that the vast majority of councillors are decent, hard-working people concerned with helping their communities. The actions of certain individuals, as revealed on the programme, are regrettable.
Senator Barrett referred to the revelation that a large number of motoring warrants are not executed and called for a debate on road safety. The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport has outlined a number of measures relating to road safety, including new provisions concerning drug driving, which he proposes to bring to the Houses in January. We will debate all the issues at that time.
Senator Keane again raised the situation of Ibrahim Halawa. I understand Mr. Seán Kelly, MEP, with the support of all Irish MEPs, has tabled a motion at the European Parliament calling for Ibrahim's release from prison in Egypt.
Senator Walsh commented on views expressed by the Master of the High Court, a man who has opinions on many issues. In respect of the law on bankruptcy, this Government has already reduced the discharge period from seven years to three years. The Bankruptcy (Amendment) Bill, which is currently making its way through the Dáil, will further reduce it to one year. The Senator also referred yet again to his time as a local authority member. I do not know how things operate at all in New Ross without him. He might have to consider going back there.
Senator Mullins spoke about the towns and villages that have been affected by flooding in recent days and emphasised that they remain open for business. The people living in those places deserve our support and it is an issue that should be highlighted.
I do not propose to accept the amendment to the Order of Business.
Senator Paschal Mooney has moved an amendment to the Order of Business, "That a debate with the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government to outline his proposals in regard to flooding in the Shannon Basin be taken today." Is the amendment being pressed?
- Sean Barrett
- Gerard Craughwell
- David Cullinane
- Mark Daly
- Terry Leyden
- Paschal Mooney
- Labhrás Ó Murchú
- Darragh O'Brien
- Denis O'Donovan
- Kathryn Reilly
- Jim Walsh
- Diarmuid Wilson
- Ivana Bacik
- Terry Brennan
- Colm Burke
- Máiría Cahill
- Eamonn Coghlan
- Paul Coghlan
- Michael Comiskey
- Martin Conway
- Maurice Cummins
- Jim D'Arcy
- John Gilroy
- Aideen Hayden
- Imelda Henry
- Lorraine Higgins
- Caít Keane
- John Kelly
- Marie Moloney
- Michael Mullins
- Hildegarde Naughton
- Catherine Noone
- Pat O'Neill
- Tom Shehan
- Jillian van Turnhout
- Katherine Zappone