Tuesday, 19 January 2016
Order of Business
The House will be aware of the controversy arising from tapping of the telephones of journalists, supposedly in the national interest. Those of us who follow American television programmes, will be aware of the term "in the interest of national security". I am a great fan of the series "The Good Wife", which tells the story of a political family in Chicago which is dealing with the courts. The issue of the national interest comes up regularly.
In this context and with regard to the recent controversy involving GSOC, I can refer to what I can only describe as the Taoiseach's crocodile tears, a term which was used by Dearbhail McDonald in the Irish Independent.I commend the article to the Members on the Government side, because she states that effectively, that is all the Taoiseach is doing. The Government is operating under a law, the Communications (Retention of Data) Act 2011, which is a direct implementation of an EU directive that has subsequently been shot down by the European Court. That raises questions. The idea that there should be an independent review is kicking the can down the road, as the Fianna Fáil spokesperson on Justice and Equality said earlier today in the other House. I commend the Leader to convey to the Government that a Fianna Fáil Bill being introduced in the Dáil will effectively provide for oversight in this area so that any attempt to tap a person's telephone, not just of journalists but of private citizens, must go before a court.
In the television programme I mentioned, when the US Government is trying to invoke national security, it must go through the court procedure, because there must be an independent judicial oversight. That is what the Fianna Fáil Bill is about. If the Government has the will to protect the basics of democracy and journalist's sources and so on, as it states in its flaky talk, it can take on board the simple solution we have put forward. The idea that we are running out of time is totally unacceptable. I do not believe it is true. If a Government wants to get legislation through the Oireachtas it will get it through in its own way as it has the majority.
Finally, I cannot sit down without commenting on the television programmes on the homeless crisis. What is extraordinary that in spite of all of the criticism of the previous Fianna Fáil-Green Party Government, more money was spent on homelessness in 2008 that this Government has spent in five years. That is a shocking indictment of the Government's lack of compassion and humanity for the more than 800 families and 1,500 children who find themselves homeless as we speak, but the most recent revelation of 100 complaints to the Dublin Regional Homeless Executive about the standard of accommodation - one would not let pigs live in some of the environments that the poor homeless people are living in. It is past time that going into an election, the Government would act on this issue.
I am sure all Members will want to join in the expression of congratulation to all those involved in the success of Irish film, producers, directors and actors being nominated for the Oscars last week, in particular Lenny Abrahamson for his nomination for best director for "Room", which got four nominations. Brooklyn got three Oscar nominations. It is superb to see such recognition of the enormous talent coming out of Ireland. Having said that, there is a serious issue of State funding. The Irish Film Board raised this on Thursday of last week in anticipation of the nominations coming forward. It organised an event with stakeholders and those working in the industry asking the Government to reverse the spending cuts that were introduced during the crisis and pointing out that funding for the Irish Film Board has been reduced by 40% from the peak in 2008, which represented a peak year in spending, as Senator Mooney might recall. The 2008 peak of €20 million in funding is now down to €11.2 million. Clearly, the immense success of the Irish film industry has been achieved in spite of these funding cuts.However, I support the film board's calls for a review of those cuts.
I support also calls for a debate on the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission's powers of phone surveillance. Serious issues have been raised in respect of the apparent surveillance of journalists' phones without any notification to them by GSOC. I am aware that the Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald, is presenting a review of the issue to Cabinet and we might have a debate on that, if time permits, when we know that response. Clearly, this is another scandal relating to GSOC powers.
I call for a debate on homelessness in light of the revelations in recent days about complaints concerning accommodation which have been made in Dublin, and in light of the excellent RTE programme last night in which some brave families who were homeless effectively filmed themselves in their predicament over a number of months. It was powerful television and it brought home to all of us the real plight of people in homeless situations, but I take issue with Senator Mooney's comments. There was a period of serious neglect in terms of social housing provision; I believe everyone can agree on that. Over a period of many years there has been a lack of funding provided for social housing, and what we are seeing now is the consequence of those years of neglect of this sector.
A motion on the issue of cystic fibrosis and funding for particular medications has been circulated by Senator Daly. Quite a number of colleagues from the Labour Party - and, I am sure, from other parties - have expressed concern to me about the issue and I have asked the Minister for Health for a response on the provision of two drugs in particular, Orkambi and Kalydeco, for those with cystic fibrosis. I have an alternative wording that we might agree on, which I will circulate to group leaders today so that, rather than playing political football with this very serious issue-----
-----we can agree, for the health and safety of cystic fibrosis patients, a factually accurate cross-party motion concerning the provision of important medication. I have spoken with the Leader already about it, but it is an important issue and in the last few weeks of this Seanad's term it would be a very good issue for us to unite on as a House and throw our support behind.
I would like to express my support for Senator Bacik's suggestion that an agreed wording for the motion on cystic fibrosis drugs should be considered by this House, because it is something Seanad Éireann could do very positively. We are not normally a confrontational House, and if we can do something positive for people suffering from this very difficult disease, it would be excellent.
I would also like to support Senator Bacik's call for a debate on phone tapping, although I am rather amused by the way this issue crops up from time to time, and always when it is to do with journalists. It is never brought up when the private citizen is involved. I remember when my phone was tapped and I tried to get Mary Robinson to raise it, but she could not, as it was a matter of national security. I am not blaming her at all. She was excellent, but private citizens do not rate a damn as far as this issue is concerned. I always assume my phone is tapped. I am a fairly broad-spoken person and I say on the telephone what I would say in this House or anywhere else. I frequently get criticised for it, but I just always assume that somebody is listening.
If there is time before the Seanad adjourns for the election, I ask that we have a debate on a metro system. It must be 20 years ago that I tabled an amendment to Government legislation providing for a metro, and at one stage it looked as though we might get it. This morning on the wireless I heard the representative of the Automobile Association, when asked about a metro, say it was a good idea. The entire public transport system - taxis, buses, Luas, trains and so on - working at its maximum potential can shift less than 50% of commuters, and he said that was a recipe for gridlock. He said also that every investment in transport infrastructure was a good thing. I know that at least one of my colleagues does not agree with me on this issue, but Dublin is about the only capital in Europe that does not have a metro. There is an infestation of half-baked Luas lines in Dublin, with their spaghetti of cables all over the place; in the beginning, the two lines did not even meet.We had one line and then there was another and then another, all joined up. It is a complete farce. If they had spent the money they wasted on Luas in putting in an underground we would all be much better off.
Ba mhaith liom fáilte a chur roimh an athbhreithniú a rinne Údarás na Gaeltachta ar chúrsaí fostaíochta sa Ghaeltacht. Tá scéal an-dearfach ag teacht ó na torthaí a d'fhoilsigh an t-údarás inné. Léiríonn na figiúirí go raibh 215 duine breise fostaithe i gcuideachtaí na Gaeltachta ag deireadh na bliana 2015 i gcomparáid leis an mbliain roimhe sin. Molaim freisin go raibh formhór de na postanna, no cuid mhaith dóibh, i dTír Chonaill ós rud é gur cailleadh go leor poist sa chontae sin sa bhliain 2014. Nuair a bhí mé ag amharc ar an athbhreithniú, mhothaigh mé go bhfuil dul chun cinn fiúntach ag tarlú mar gheall ar na limistéir teanga Gaeilge agus na pleananna do na limistéir sin. Tá súil agam go leanfaidh sé sin ar aghaidh. Molaim an t-údarás as an obair atá á dhéanamh acu.
On a point of order, following Senator D'Arcy's excellent contribution and for those less fluent than myself as Gaeilge can I ask why, at least in this station, there appears to be no translation? There used to be translations from Irish into English.
I pay tribute to Eileen Leslie Greer, aged 98, who was presented with a medal and certificate by the British ambassador yesterday for her work in Bletchley Park in decoding German codes. She is a first class honours German graduate from TCD. We owe a lot of our freedoms to those who did work at Bletchley Park, especially in this jurisdiction.
I must express concern at an article by Eithne Shortall in The Sunday Timesto the effect that the National Gallery, behind us, will not be ready this year for the 1916 celebrations. It was supposed to be ready and there were prospects of a major increase in the budget for the project but it is coming in late. That should not have happened with a project that was to coincide with celebrating 1916.
I am concerned as to whether the same people will take hold of the Seanad and keep us out of this building when it comes to our turn to receive the attention of the construction industry. It is regrettable that the building behind us will not be ready as promised. The prospect of cost overruns is always there where the Irish construction sector is concerned and we may be next for the treatment. How long is it intended to keep us out of this debating Chamber? Do we have guarantees that the projects will be completed on time?
While Senator Norris can be compensated he does at least have an instrument. It might not be working well but we do not seem to have any instruments underneath us. Maybe that can be looked at. I support Senator Bacik's call for a motion that would encompass all our views with regard to cystic fibrosis.I recall a similar circumstance when research was carried out on a medication and it was produced for one of the cancer illnesses that the cost was a major issue as well. We came to an agreement at the time with the company that was producing it, so I hope a similar understanding can be reached. A very close friend of mine who had cystic fibrosis died a number of years ago. The experience of seeing somebody go through that trauma is unacceptable.
I wish to raise another issue. On 29 December 2015, my home town of Carrick-on-Suir experienced the highest level of rainfall in the country when 81 mm of rain fell in one night. We will have a full debate tomorrow on the flooding so I am not discussing that, but what one would call an unforeseen circumstance. The local library, the Sean Healy Memorial Library, is called after a man who gave public service for 35 years. The roof of that building was leaking before the major downpour and it is now in extremely bad condition and dangerous. The electrical wiring has been affected also. The library needs funding urgently. I ask the Leader to intervene on this matter with the Department to see if some funding can be provided to prevent the Sean Healy Memorial Library in Carrick-on-Suir having to be closed to the public on safety grounds.
The Leader might recall that some time ago I mentioned Councillor Willie Crowley. May the Lord have mercy on him, because he died recently. He championed the cause of the residents of Millfield Manor in Kildare. Millfield Manor was a development of 79 houses and 129 apartments. In March 2015, six of those houses were razed to the ground in 30 minutes by a fire. It was the most devastating fire I have ever seen. Indeed, I observed one house razed to the ground in seven minutes flat from the time the first flames were seen. The developer of that property went bankrupt in 2011 with debts of over €100 million. The UK system prevented the developer from being a director of a company for ten years.
The residents who remain in Millfield Manor are faced with bills in excess of €35,000 to make their houses safe from fire. Mothers and children go to bed every night in that estate petrified that a fire might occur again. The remedial work has not yet been done and nobody appears to be able to nail down who is responsible for that work. One can imagine how horrified I was last weekend to discover that the same developer is developing properties in Dublin city, having walked away from €100 million of debt. Now, through another company, he is claiming 30 years of construction experience, the best possible standards and so forth. The developer is selling houses for over €0.5 million a pop. There is something terribly wrong in this country that somebody can walk away from their responsibilities, set up a new company and head off into the hills again. It is wrong in every sense. I do not know what the Leader, I or any other Member of the House can do about it, but I understood that we had put an end to the cowboys in this country back in the 1980s.
I support Senator Bacik with regard to the joint motion. I also wish to refer to the RTE programme last night. As Fine Gael spokesperson on local government and housing, I believe we should hold a debate on it as well to show what is being done. As the Minister of State, Deputy Coffey, said, it is a serious situation. Anybody who watched the programme last night could not help but be moved for the people and children featured in it, but we must ensure that we are realistic in what we are discussing. This Government has taken, and is taking, the homelessness issue most seriously. It is its top priority.
We were speaking about the rough sleeper situation and - Lord have mercy on him - Jonathan Corrie. The rough sleeper situation now has gone down 46% since November. That is 46% too high, because we want to do more about it. This morning, Cathal Morgan, director of the Dublin Region Homeless Executive, said that the supply of local authority housing is still at a low level. Obviously, we are starting from a nil base. Senator Paschal Mooney referred what we spent in 2008, but the social houses were not built. We had a sub-prime mortgage situation in 2008 that actually drove lending. Money was thrown at people who should never have been landlords in the first place. The whole thing was totally out of control in the sub-prime mortgage situation. That led to the reckless lending of the banks, which led to the downfall, which led to housing situation that we are now correcting.
Everyone has to play their part. Cathal Morgan said this morning that we have to accept modular housing. I want to comment on the development in Limerick. I read in The Irish Examinerin November that Councillor Gilligan in Limerick welcomed the Government provision of €3.8 million for 21 social housing units. Then, Deputy Willie O'Dea got up and said "No" and that we could not have it.
I am looking for a debate and a review on what is actually happening. We cannot build houses overnight, but we should all co-operate and work together. When 21 social housing units and €3.5 million are put into housing in Limerick, we should all come in behind it. We cannot have ex-Ministers saying "Not in my back garden" or whatever. We need a long-term solution. We have 35,000-----
I call on the Leader of the House to consider dealing with a Bill in this House, if it is passed by the Dáil. I am referring to the Deputy Niall Collins's Bill relating to the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission. We should put in safeguards. I had thought the intrusion and tapping of telephones was something we left in the 1980s. Now, it has come about again that the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission has authorised the tapping of the telephones of Conor Feehan of the Herald, Senan Molony of the Daily Mail and Michael Clifford.
The three journalists have been named. I am sure they would not object to being named here, because it is an awful intrusion into the private lives of these much-respected journalists who are doing an excellent job. Journalists have a role in our democracy to expose wrongdoing. They should not be harassed by GSOC. It is outrageous. The Government should adopt the Bill prepared by Fianna Fáil and bring it to the Seanad before the general election to ensure total restrictions on the right of these individuals to tap the telephones of respected journalists and deprive them of their civic rights. I think it is an outrageous thing and a reflection on this Government if it does not take action as quickly as possible.
I, too, wish to add my voice of support to Senator Bacik's call today for those with cystic fibrosis.
I welcome the announcement of €127 million that is being made available through the European Regional Development Fund. In particular, I welcome the €2 million grant assistance awarded to Dundalk to rejuvenate the centre of the town. It is badly needed. I look forward to the plans that have now been put in place.
I wish to raise the ongoing issue of accessibility. This is relevant in all the plans in all the hub towns for which this money has been announced this morning. Accessibility and plans for appropriate accessibility are necessary. By this I mean to need to communicate and consult with people who have accessibility and mobility problems. These are the people best placed to comment on the matter. I am calling for all people to be consulted, whatever town the work is being carried out in and specifically in my town of Dundalk. Mobility and accessibility are major issues.For example, I brought a group from the Irish Wheelchair Association in Ardee to the Oireachtas this afternoon. The ushers have gone to a great deal of trouble to ensure that the eight or ten wheelchair users are accommodated.
Senator Keane referred to last night's programme on people living in emergency accommodation. Unfortunately, I have not seen it yet, although I have heard today's comments and look forward to catching up on it. Everyone is discussing the issue. People were moved on from a halting site in Dundalk on Friday. There has been mention of rehousing and emergency accommodation. Recently, three families that are in close contact in Dundalk have approached me. One will be evicted on Friday because the landlord is selling the house and there is no rent control. The family has been informed that the father will be sent to the Simon Community and the children will be put into care. That is unacceptable. All that such families have done is to be unable to find accommodation where rent allowance or housing assistance payment, HAP, is accepted.
I am glad that Senator Moran believes that something "really needs to be done" on the housing issue, because those of us on this side of the House have been raising it for the past five years, not just the past five weeks.
But I am politicising this. The housing crisis, with people sleeping in cars and people in emergency accommodation, did not happen by accident. It happened because of Government policy and neglect. It happened because the State has not built social housing. We have surrendered social housing to the private sector. This was done by the previous Government under Part V of the Planning and Development Act 2000. While an element of that was necessary, almost all social housing construction stopped once Part V came on stream. Since then, the State has not built any social housing. The majority of people have been left to the mercy of private landlords through the HAP and the rental accommodation scheme, RAS. As we have stated in the House every week for the past number of years, most people who are in this situation cannot find private rented accommodation or landlords who will sign up to these schemes. While all of this was happening, nothing was done to increase the supply of social and affordable housing that our citizens needed. This has led to increased homelessness and a housing crisis.
I am glad that the Government is at least accepting that there is a crisis now, but we need investment. The Government parties' election mantra is about cutting taxes left, right and centre. They are not discussing the need to invest in housing, health care or the social services that people need. A debate on housing in required, and it will be held over the next five weeks as part of the election campaign.
I will make no apologies for making this a political issue, because that is what it is. The non-provision of State housing is clearly a political issue as well as the political responsibility of the parties in government that created this crisis. Some of us did not need to see a "Prime Time" programme to understand the seriousness of the issue.
We knew exactly the depth of this problem and the tragedy that it presented for many working families.
I am calling for a debate. Will the Leader arrange for the Minister with responsibility for housing to attend the Seanad? If that does not happen, seeing as how we only have a few weeks left, we will have it-----
I wish to bring to the House's attention that, five minutes' walk from here at the RHA Gallery in Ely Place, there is a photographic exhibition that shows the reality of the Syrian refugee crisis. The Caesar Exhibition displays photographs of detainees from the Syrian regime's prisons and detention centres.The photographs were taken by a former military policeman in the Syrian army, known by the pseudonym "Caesar", who fled Syria in 2013. He smuggled out with him over 55,000 photographs of approximately 11,000 people who were tortured in Syria by the Assad regime. The 11,000 victims he photographed represent only a fraction of those who were the subject of the systematic torture and killing that took place inside the regime's prisons. It is the most chilling exhibition I have ever seen. The brutal evidence that can be seen on the bodies of those pictured shows that they suffered from starvation, beating, strangulation and other forms of torture.
As politicians and parliamentarians, we need to keep the protection of civilians in Syria at the top of our political agenda. We have seen in recent times the number of people who are starving there and we are aware that aid is being prevented from getting to them. The emphasis, and rightly so, is very much on the defeat of ISIS and politicians throughout the world are focusing on that. What is being ignored is the brutality taking place and the contribution the Assad regime is making to the conflict, which has resulted in the deaths of between 250,000 and 500,000 people in the past four years. I know time is running out, but I ask the Leader for a debate with the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade on the situation in Syria so that we can keep the appalling situation and the torture of these unfortunate people at the top of the agenda. The photographs that are on display have been verified by an international commission of inquiry, they have been shown at the UN in New York, at the UK Parliament buildings in Westminster and at the European Parliament in Brussels. If Members get the opportunity to pop in and see them, it would certainly be worth their while. The exhibition is only running for another hour or so.
I agree that we should, as a matter of urgency, have a debate on the issue of homelessness and the wider issue of housing supply. We can sit here and talk about the reasons for the housing situation in Ireland and if I were to look back to 2008, for the sake of argument, I would be able to point out that we were building more houses in this country than were being built in the whole of the United Kingdom. We had 200,000 vacant units in 2008. From approximately 2000, we failed to implement Part V of the Planning and Development Act. Had we done so, we would have had 35,000 more units of affordable housing, 18,500 more units of social housing and we would not have had the crisis with which we are faced today.
It does not behove any of us, having seen the programme on RTE last night, to cast insults and abuse around because that is of no benefit whatsoever to people living in emergency accommodation, sometimes in the most dire of circumstances. However, I want to say that this Government has ring-fenced funding for homeless services in each successive budget since it came to office in 2011. I am very proud of the Labour Party's record on that. I am proud that the former Minister for Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, ensured that we did not cut funding to emergency homeless services. In fact, it was increased by €10 million towards the end of 2015 and the allocation for 2016 is €70 million, up 56% since 2014. We have also made other improvements in the system. Some 700 people left emergency services in 2014 and approximately 1,000 did so in 2015. The bottom line is that very few families spend more than six months in emergency accommodation. Half of all allocations now go to homeless families. In addition, the housing assistance payment makes support far in excess of rent supplement available to homeless families in order that they might obtain accommodation. We have introduced a two-year rent freeze. Anyone who saw the programme about homeless families on RTE last night would note that most families have ended up being homeless as a result of rent increases. The two-year rent freeze, when it takes effect - which will take some time - will have a positive impact in removing the numbers of families falling into homelessness.It is a very important point to make and I thank the Cathaoirleach for giving me the opportunity to make it.
The Tenancy Protection Service, which operates in Dublin and Cork and is being extended to the counties around Dublin, has protected 1,500 families in the Dublin region alone from falling into homelessness. There are real questions about supply. I would like to echo the words of Cathal Morgan from the Dublin Region Homeless Executive on modular housing. It will not solve the problem, but it will make a massive contribution and I ask people to support it. There are 22 families in homeless accommodation today who should not be there, because of the measures taken by some people who regard themselves as acting for their communities and prevented homes from being completed.
I am somewhat puzzled and disappointed, to say the least, as are most citizens, at the attitude of AIB in its offer to Germans - or, as the website puts it, those resident in Germany - of a savings interest rate that is three times the rate available to its Irish customers. I would like to hear its rationale for the decision. A spokesperson said it was about diversifying its funding base and reducing dependency on other funding. A funding base is put to the same use regardless of the source. Why is AIB discriminating so much against the Irish citizens who, it could be said, saved it? As we know, it is 99% owned by the State. This sends out the wrong message. We are trying to restore the bank's fortunes. It has made progress and it is to be hoped it will make more. However, to class the home base as second-class citizens is absolutely ridiculous. Perhaps we could have a debate on banking before the end of the session.
I, too, call for a debate on the issue of homelessness. Country to what Senator Cullinane said, I raised the issue in November as a Commencement matter. I am quite disgusted that someone can come in here for less than ten minutes on the Order of Business and profess to care so much about the issue of homelessness that it becomes a party political point, and then leave without listening to the rest of the contributions. I could wave and quote figures about what the Government has done about the homelessness crisis until the cows come home, but I do not want do that because it is not a party political issue.
It is very worrying that families with young children are living in hotel accommodation for a year or more. As someone who was made homeless and very recently spent four years on the homelessness list because of republican intimidation, I also do not accept the bona fides of the Senator on the issue. All of that is not important. I have never seen conditions like some of those aired on the RTE programme last night. I do not want to hear criticisms of this Government and what should have been done. Rather, I want to have a debate on this issue and find out what we can do in the short term. I understand it will be 2017 or 2018 before some families are housed. In the meantime, I want to know what can be done to make the lives of families in emergency accommodation easier.
I want to welcome the news today that €2 million has been allocated for O'Connell Street in Sligo and a new community centre, Crann Nua, in Cranmore. It is very welcome news. Many calls have been made over the past number of years to pedestrianise O'Connell Street in Sligo. Extra money will be allocated for the paving of the street and the provision of single-lane traffic. The street is the centre and heart of Sligo town, where most people do their shopping, and it will great be great to see it being partially pedestrianised and the money being spent. The people of Cranmore need the community centre. The community has done a significant amount of work over the past number of years in a crowded space and the new community centre will make a huge difference to them. It is good news for Sligo.
I want to raise an issue I raised last week, namely, the proposed land grab in Monksland, County Roscommon, by Westmeath County Council.This is a very serious issue. We attended a meeting last Monday night at which 1,700 people were present. I sought a debate with the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government last week and am still calling on the Leader to bring that about. We must have the debate before the election is called. I note, for example, that Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council covers parts of Wicklow but we do not see it trying to grab the part of Wicklow for which it is responsible. Fingal County Council covers parts of Meath but we do not see it trying to grab the part of County Meath for which it is responsible. If this is about creating city status for Athlone, I will give an example to the House. Istanbul is the biggest city in Europe. It is the fifth largest city in the world. Not only does it straddle two provinces, it straddles two continents and it operates very well. There is no need for consideration of a change of boundaries in County Roscommon. The people of Roscommon will not allow it to happen. I urge the Leader to arrange a debate with the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government on this issue as soon as possible.
On Friday night I had the privilege of being invited by the Lions Club to its annual dinner for the homeless which, quite rightly in view of what people died for there, was held in the GPO. I was there with Alice Leahy of Trust. I want to repeat something I said here three and a half to four years ago. When I left the GPO at approximately 9.30 p.m. and walked through O'Connell Street, it was a threatening and filthy dump full of marauding individuals. I walked up Grafton Street, which I thought was bound to be a little better but which was worse. This was not as a result of the behaviour of what we would call the "down and outs", the homeless or people who suffer from drug addiction; rather, it was due to the actions of members of the marauding middle classes who, with bottles of vodka in their hands, were kicking everything that was not tied down. There was not one policeman in sight. There was no place to have a cup of coffee. One could not go into one's city and make it part of one's life. One could not sit down and enjoy the atmosphere. Of all the places I walked, I felt most threatened on Grafton Street. There was nowhere to go on O'Connell Street other than late-night burger joints. This is a very serious issue. I recall standing here three and a half years ago and saying we needed a metropolitan police service in Dublin because the place had become lawless. The city has been taken away from the people who live in the suburbs and would like to go into town to the movies, for coffee, for a meal or to walk up and down looking at the shop windows while enjoying the new pavements on which we have spent millions for the third or fourth time. What I witnessed was people engaging in a marauding and threatening violence. That is what is going on in the city at 9.30 p.m. on a Friday.
I concur with the point made by my colleague Senator Hayden. The BBC made a documentary in 2009 or 2010 which asked who owed what to whom, who was left bereft and who took the money and ran. I refer here to the Bank of Scotland, which was the worst offender in the Lloyds banking investigation and which left this country owing €9.2 billion. The word that emanated from the screen after all these questions had been asked was "greed". That is what did it - greed and commission. If one considers what is happening to a great many landlords, it is down to banking greed. I am talking about landlords who are incapable of paying for their homes or properties and who are obliged to give them back to the banks. The result is that ordinary families are being put out onto the street. I question that. The cause is greed. I note for the benefit of Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin that we would be better off not slinging arrows and eating each other for what happened. Rather, we should be seeking to do something about it, and that is what the Government, of which the Labour Party is a member, is doing.
I request a debate on how elderly parents are cared for. I have spoken to older people who have told me that they are genuinely afraid of becoming ill and entering public hospitals. They are afraid they will be seen as a burden rather than as people and as occupiers of beds rather than patients. More darkly, elderly people sometimes fear that they will enter hospital and never come back out.Routine illness can rapidly become life-threatening in later life, and elderly patients sometimes feel doctors will hasten death rather than provide appropriate care. These fears are not groundless. In July 2013 the British Department of Health phased out from NHS hospitals a practice called the Liverpool Care Pathway, a protocol whereby elderly people suffering from non-lethal illnesses whose conditions deteriorated were forced to suffer days of dehydration or to be sedated, leaving them unable to ask for food or drink. This was how British hospitals dealt with ill and elderly patients for more than a decade. It often appears to me that we are in danger of copying the mistakes of the British, except that we sometimes wait until they have dropped certain bad practices before we adopt them. Whether or not the withdrawal of care is medically justified, it should always be based on the best interests of patients, not on some prevailing ideology or economic calculation. Care for older people presents particular issues. Aging patients can deteriorate rapidly, and we need a charter of patients' rights with particular emphasis on care for older people. A number of EU states have adopted legislation on patients' rights.
Would the Leader agree that statutory rights are needed which would cover the entire area of patient care and treatment, including human rights and values, information, consent, confidentiality, privacy, care and treatment, going far beyond the issues Senator O'Donnell sought to raise? The criminal cases from Áras Attracta have brought before us in a very topical way the urgent need to re-examine the care we give to the most vulnerable in our society. In this instance, I refer to older people as they become more and more vulnerable in their lives.
Senator Mooney raised the question of GSOC and the telephone records of journalists. Concerns have been expressed over recent days about access to journalists' telephone records in the context of criminal investigations being carried out by GSOC. We all agree that a free press plays a pre-eminent role in any democracy in fostering a full, free and informed debate on all issues of public concern. It is, therefore, of fundamental importance in any healthy democracy that journalists should be able to carry out their legitimate work unhindered. Today, the Government agreed to the Minister for Justice and Equality's proposal to establish an independent review of the law in respect of access to journalists' telephone records. The Minister will make a further statement later today on the conduct of the review, the details of which are still being finalised.
Senator Mooney and many others raised the question of the RTE programme on homelessness yesterday evening.It is not tolerable that in Ireland today we have families and children living in emergency accommodation. It is a legacy of the housing bust that we are working to remedy every day. The Government and local councils are progressing a number of more suitable property and policy solutions for all families in emergency accommodation. Many of the problems stem from chronic lack of supply of housing, which is causing knock-on problems across the property market and the wider society, from renters to first-time buyers and low income households. Senator Hayden has mentioned in this House on several occasions that housing supply is the nub of the problem.
Housing is a priority of Government, as evidenced by the Social Housing Strategy 2020, which sets out our clear, measurable actions and targets, primarily to increase the supply of social housing to meet the housing needs of all households on the social housing list. In total, the strategy targets delivery of 110,000 new social housing units through current and capital funding streams. Senator Cullinane mentioned that we should have a debate on funding and that there is a need for greater investment in social housing. I fully agree with him and, given the pressing need to recommence house building, a programme of approximately €3 billion in capital funding will be provided in support of the social housing strategy through the Government's capital plan from 2016 to 2021. In 2015, more than 13,000 units were delivered across all social housing programmes, representing an 86% increase on the 7,000 units delivered in 2014. While that represents tangible progress, and in order to deal comprehensively with the housing list, further ambitious targets will be set by the Government starting with 2016, where the target is to deliver 17,000 units.
This is not a problem that can be solved overnight. Planning, design and building must take place, and that takes time. Money is not a problem regarding the building of houses. As I said, the Government has made €3 billion available, and I am sure that will be acted upon by local authorities throughout the country. More than 2,000 units that were boarded up have been put back into circulation this year, and people are living in those houses. There is a need for further advancement in that regard. All local authorities have been asked to co-operate. The provision of funding for housing is not a problem for the local authorities and where they request it they will be allocated money.
Senator Bacik complimented all the Irish people and actors who have been nominated for Oscars, and called for greater funding for the Irish Film Board. I am sure that matter will be addressed by the Minister.
Senator Bacik also raised the question of an all-party motion on cystic fibrosis. Hopefully, we will have a wording that can be agreed by all parties and Members of the House.
Senator Norris spoke about the need for a metro system in Dublin. The Road Traffic Bill will come before the House today, and I believe another Bill dealing with public transport will be brought forward in a week or two. That will provide ample opportunity for Senator Norris to raise the matter.
Senator Jim D'Arcy welcomed the progress in job creation in Gaeltacht areas. An additional 215 people were employed in Gaeltacht companies at the end of 2015, and Údarás na Gaeltachta managed to create 533 jobs in 2015, so that is significant progress.Senator D'Arcy also acknowledged the progress made by Údarás na Gaeltachta on the implementation of the language planning process in the Gaeltacht in conjunction with community organisations on the ground. That certainly is important work, and we are all pleased that Údarás na Gaeltachta is prioritising the process in the 18 Gaeltacht language planning areas from which notices have been published to date. That represents significant progress in the area, as Senator D'Arcy mentioned.
Senator Barrett asked how long the Seanad Chamber would be closed for building work, and mentioned the delays in the work on the National Gallery. I am not aware of how long the work will take, although I am sure the House will be notified of when it will commence and what the plans are for us. The Committee on Procedure and Privileges will discuss the matter.
-----on where the Seanad will move to during that time, but I hope the work, when it does start, will be completed in the time allocated and that we will not have any overruns, as mentioned by the Senator in connection with other building projects.
Senator Landy welcomed the all-party motion that we intend to have on cystic fibrosis, and also called for funding for the Sean Healy Memorial Library in Carrick-on-Suir. That is something that the Senator could raise as a Commencement matter for the relevant Minister to discuss.
Senator Craughwell outlined the problems for residents of Millfield Manor and mentioned that the developer of that estate was operating again. It is a deplorable situation when developers who have built such houses can be involved in house-building again, and this should be addressed.
Senator Cáit Keane called, as other Members have, for a debate on housing and outlined the progress made by the Government in many areas. I addressed the issue with regard to telephone records which was raised by Senator Leyden. Senator Mary Moran welcomed the allocation of funding for Dundalk and also called for action on accessibility for people with disabilities, a subject she has raised on many occasions in the House.
I addressed the matter raised by Senator Cullinane about the need for investment in housing, and I outlined the investment that the Government is making and intends to make in housing, and social housing in particular, in the coming years. Senator Mullins mentioned the Caesar exhibition, a photographic exhibition highlighting the atrocities in Syria, and the need to highlight the humanitarian issues that we see so often on our television screens.
Senator Hayden spoke about housing supply and outlined the failure to implement Part V of the Planning and Development Act 2000, which certainly contributed to the problems we have at present. She eloquently highlighted the progress made and the measures that the Government has introduced in recent times.
Senator Coghlan questioned the attitude of AIB in offering a higher interest rate on savings to German residents than to Irish residents, and called for a debate on banking. We will certainly try to arrange a debate but, as the time is ticking, I do not know whether we will have sufficient time to arrange all the debates that Members have requested. I doubt that we will.
Senator Máiría Cahill also mentioned homelessness, and she has raised this issue on a couple of previous occasions. She called for a debate, if we can fit one in, on housing.Senator Comiskey spoke of the additional funding of €2 million on a community centre in Sligo and on the improvement of the streetscape in the city, which I am sure will be welcomed by its residents.
Senator Kelly raised the question of the Boundary Commission last week. I will certainly ask the Minister to come to the House to debate the issue, but the review is ongoing and I doubt the Minister will come until the review is complete. Senator O'Donnell described streets such as O'Connell Street and Grafton Street as being, on occasion, "a threatening and filthy dump." She called for a metropolitan police force to be introduced and highlighted the greed which existed in the past and still exists where landlords are concerned. She spoke of the need to address greed, which was and is clearly evident.
Senator Mullen raised the subject of elderly and ill people. He said care had been withheld in the UK in the past and that we should refrain from any such practice. I can assure the Senator that the protection and care of the elderly is of paramount importance and they will be protected by this Government in every way possible. I assure him that the practices in the UK to which he referred will not form part of any Government policy or any hospital or humane policy in this country.
I apologise for having neglected to mention the speaking times for the debate on the Road Traffic Bill 2016. There will be eight minutes for spokespersons and five minutes for all other Senators.