Seanad debates

Thursday, 28 January 2016

10:30 am

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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I call the Leader for the Order of Business. It will be one of the last.

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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The Cathaoirleach knows something that we do not.

Photo of Maurice CumminsMaurice Cummins (Fine Gael)
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Perhaps the Cathaoirleach knows something more than I do.

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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It appears so. Who did he have breakfast with this morning?

Photo of Maurice CumminsMaurice Cummins (Fine Gael)
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The Order of Business is No. 1, motion re National Cultural Institutions Act, back from committee, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of the Order of Business; No. 2, motion re Health and Social Care Professionals Act 2005 (section 95(3)) (Variation of title: Optician) Regulations 2016, back from committee, to be taken without debate; No. 3, motion re Planning and Development (Amendment) Regulations 2016, back from committee, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of No. 2; No. 4, motion re Companies Act 2014 (section 1313) Regulations 2016, back from committee, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of No. 3; No. 5 Credit Guarantee (Amendment) Bill - Committee Stage, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 4 and to adjourn no later than 2 p.m., if not previously concluded; and No. 6, Energy Bill 2016 - Order for Second Stage and Second Stage, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 5, with contributions from group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and those from all other Senators not to exceed five minutes each.

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Cathaoirleach for informing us that this is our last day here.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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I did not say that.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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Can we get clarity from the Leader? Will we be meeting next Tuesday?

Photo of Maurice CumminsMaurice Cummins (Fine Gael)
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We certainly will be meeting next Tuesday and Wednesday.

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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Wednesday too. That is great to hear. I thank the Cathaoirleach for his clarification. I did not mean to put him on the spot.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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I said that it would be one of the last.

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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We will have to check the minutes on that one.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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I remind the Cathaoirleach that the Seanad is independent of the Dáil.

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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Let them do what they will and we will do what we will. Yesterday, we proposed a number of amendments to the Order of Business on Bills that were on the Order Paper, one of which was the EU Scrutiny and Transparency in Government Bill 2013. Unfortunately, the Members opposite did not see fit to make time for that Bill to be debated.We also put forward a Bill which had been proposed by the Law Reform Commission corporate manslaughter in respect of entities and people in charge of entities taking responsibility for their inaction or actions in respect of consequences for people who rely on their services.

There were cases in the past regarding the Irish Blood Transfusion Service when people knew contaminated blood products were being given to women but there were no consequences for those who did not take action. That should have been accepted yesterday when it was on the Order Paper. I do not see it on the Order Paper today.

The Deputy Leader yesterday agreed to the proposal to take Second Stage of the National Anthem (Protection of Copyright and Related Rights) (Amendment) Bill 2016 today. What happened to that? The national anthem needs protection. It went out of copyright in 2012. The Minister for Finance said he would bring in legislation to protect it. I understand some attempts were made to start that but four years on, in the year of the hundredth anniversary of the 1916 Rising there is a Bill, all on one page, 23 lines long, which we could have passed by this evening while the other House could do it on Tuesday, if it so wished. Will the Leader allow time for that? We will table an amendment to the Order of Business to take the Bill today. I remind Members opposite that we circulated this Bill two weeks ago for comment. We were open to ideas or thoughts on it but none came back and we published our Bill.

There is a motion on the Order Paper in respect of cystic fibrosis. It is important that a message goes out from this House to those who could rely on a drug that would transform their lives. All parties should support the motion.

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Independent)
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I am grateful to the Leader for clarifying that the Seanad will sit next Tuesday and Wednesday, no matter what happens elsewhere. I also welcome the fact that we will have statements on the Report of the Joint Committee of Inquiry into the Banking Crisis on Tuesday because that gives us the opportunity to read what is in the report. Having read preliminary reports of it and its key aspects, I commend all those who were on the committee for the immense work they put into producing the report. I commend to Senators an excellent article by our colleague, Senator O’Keeffe, in The Irish Timestoday describing the work of the committee and, in very fair terms, some of its pitfalls and positive aspects and the lessons it holds for the future. Many things are now clearer as a result of the report, in particular serious matters in terms of the behaviour of the Central Bank and the Financial Regulator, which, we are told, informed the Government in September 2008 that the six institutions covered by the guarantee were solvent. That is a critical finding. I look forward to the debate on Tuesday.

I welcome the publication yesterday of the first national maternity strategy, which many of those involved in maternity hospitals, the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, midwives and others have welcomed. This strategy will move in a very welcome fashion towards a non-hospital setting for childbirth and a stronger role for midwives in childbirth, where there are no complications. Women and midwives have campaigned for that for many years.

I also welcome the publication yesterday of the new skills strategy which will lead to 50,000 new apprenticeships being created over five years. That is critical to the continued strength of the economy and its growth. It will give new opportunities for many young adults in particular.

I know everyone will wish to note that peace talks on Syria start today. These will involve all stakeholders and take place in Switzerland. Everyone will want to join in hoping that those talks will achieve some resolution of the appalling war that has been going on so long in Syria.

Photo of Feargal QuinnFeargal Quinn (Independent)
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I propose an amendment to the Order of Business, that No. 14 be taken before No. 1 today. This is a Bill that is worthy of consideration and I would welcome the opportunity to have it introduced as soon as possible.

We should have the ability to do more than we are doing about the concern that terrorists may come to Ireland. The French introduced legislation particularly in regard to passports that people with dual nationality could be deprived of their French nationality if they have been involved in terrorist activities elsewhere. That has caused a fuss in France where the Minister for Justice had to resign yesterday because she did not approve of this. By turning a blind eye to the dangers ahead of us we could leave ourselves open. We should discuss the possibility that we have the right to take action against people who have come to Ireland and have dual nationality. We should be able to remove that nationality from them if they have been involved in terrorist activities. I would welcome the chance to debate that in the future.

Photo of Aideen HaydenAideen Hayden (Labour)
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I also welcome the publication of the Report of Joint Committee of Inquiry into the Banking Crisis and congratulate the Members of this House who participated in it and put in many hours to ensure the report was completed. I welcome the fact that the Leader has committed to holding a debate on this topic next Tuesday. While I know we have run out of road, it is a pity we are not having a wider debate on the banking sector in general because although the report places the blame fairly firmly at the feet of the banking sector, at a cost of €63 billion to the taxpayer, there are still several significant flaws in the banking system which need to be addressed to provide genuine justice for the people of Ireland. For example, the variable rate being charged to mortgage customers in this country far exceeds the European average. There is a clear effort on the part of the banks to make up on the balance sheets for their losses on tracker mortgages.

There is also a consistent attempt on behalf of the banks to ensure that customers of those banks are receiving a poorer service, particularly vulnerable customers who do not have access to the Internet. One of the main banks recently introduced a €700 limit on withdrawals in the high street branches. We also need to consider the mortgage rules which ensure that people who are paying very high rents will not be able to own their homes. There are several issues in the banking system that we need to address. We have had debates on agriculture, tourism, fisheries, small business and technology but not on the banking sector and its role in the economy. If people cannot access a good, decent financial product their life chances are particularly limited. The same is true for small and medium sized businesses, SMEs, which cannot access funding from Irish banks, and for the construction sector. There is a huge equity gap between what the banks will lend these businesses and what they need. Banks have a responsibility to ensure the recovery of this economy and they are not playing their part appropriately.

Photo of Paschal MooneyPaschal Mooney (Fianna Fail)
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I second the amendment to the Order of Business proposed by Senator Daly. I hope there will not be Government opposition to this Bill. This is a single page Bill on an issue which has exercised the Government since the expiry of the copyright on the national anthem in 2013. I would say it fell off the radar. I do not think there is any ideological objection to it. I appreciate the logistics involved but it would send a very strong message in this year, 2016, that we in this House were united in ensuring that the integrity of "Amhrán na bhFiann" is maintained and is not sullied by misinterpretations or any attempt to downgrade it and that we were proud of our anthem and what it proposes and the strong identification people have with it.One need only go to a sporting occasion to know that. I do not want to labour the point but I would be very grateful for a positive response from the Leader.

Senator Bacik and others have talked about an all-party motion on cystic fibrosis. However, there are colleagues in my group who have been contacted directly by constituents and others who either suffer from cystic fibrosis themselves or have siblings who suffer from it and would like to see some action on this. In that context, we are proposing an amendment to the Order of Business that No. 79, motion 15, be taken today.

Like other Members of this House, in particular those from the north west and the west, I have railed about the lack of evidence of a commitment by IDA Ireland to explore job opportunities in the regions. Deputy Dara Calleary tabled a parliamentary question to the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation inquiring, as he does every year, about the number of IDA visits across the country. The response makes very interesting reading. I am sure all Members of this House will want to look at what is happening in their counties. I know the Leader and I have talked about the seeming neglect of the south east as opposed to the seeming neglect of the north west. It is only right and proper that we raise these issues. However, I am pleased to say that reading the response to Deputy Calleary's parliamentary question, I found that there were eight visits to Leitrim and approximately 12 to 15 visits to Sligo-Leitrim. I would like to think that there would be some follow up on this but at least, it is a start. I am trying to establish from IDA Ireland whether there has been any follow up or whether any of these companies will locate in our part of the world. I am sure the Leader will agree with me that it is important that IDA Ireland continues to expand visits by potential companies to the regions to ensure a spread of jobs.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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Did the Senator say that he wanted No. 79, motion 15, to be taken today?

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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That is the motion that has been-----

Photo of Paschal MooneyPaschal Mooney (Fianna Fail)
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No, I am seconding the Bill on-----

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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The Senator is proposing that-------

Photo of Paschal MooneyPaschal Mooney (Fianna Fail)
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I am proposing that-----

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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No. 79, motion 15-----

Photo of Paschal MooneyPaschal Mooney (Fianna Fail)
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I am seconding the amendment to the Order of Business moved by Senator Daly that Second Stage of the National Anthem (Protection of Copyright and Related Rights) (Amendment) Bill 2016 be taken today.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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Is Senator is proposing an amendment to the Order of Business that No. 79, motion, be taken today?

Photo of Michael MullinsMichael Mullins (Fine Gael)
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I join Senator Bacik in welcoming the fact that peace talks on the Syrian conflict are starting today in Switzerland. I hope all parties to this appalling conflict engage in an meaningful way to bring an end to the appalling atrocities, loss of life and starvation among the ordinary citizens of Syria, which we see on a daily basis. It is time this conflict was brought to an end. I hope the regime and all other parties to the conflict will engage in a meaningful way.

As somebody who comes from a county that has been severely impacted by the floods over the past number of weeks, I welcome the fact that two Ministers yesterday announced some additional funding. The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport announced that €106 million in additional funding would be provided to local authorities for road repairs needed as a result of the flooding. As we all know, very severe damage was caused to the road network with subsistence of roads and damage to bridges and culverts. This resulted in appalling disruption to the lives of many people. I am glad that an immediate roads programme will be put in place to deal with this matter and that the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport will take the lead in progressing this plan as a matter of urgency. I certainly hope that a good share of that money will come to County Galway.

I also welcome the fact the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine announced that additional emergency flood relief measures are being put in place for farmers worst affected by the floods. These measures will provide financial assistance to cover the uninsured direct costs arising where livestock were lost in the floods. Assistance will also be provided to cover the rental costs incurred where livestock had to be moved off farms and into alternative premises due to the potential welfare issues. The effects of the floods were particularly acute on a small number of farms and damage was done to structures and fittings. In some of those cases, quite significant costs were incurred in repairing that damage and those farmers may be eligible for support. Those two measures will help improve the lives of the people in the areas that have been badly flooded. I hope that in the long term, we see the significant investment that will be made in flood defence measures with some of those measures being put in place as a matter of urgency. I am thinking in particular of Ballinasloe. I look forward to seeing further investment there in the near future.

Photo of Sean BarrettSean Barrett (Independent)
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I thank the Leader for scheduling the debate on the banking inquiry report for next week. I welcome the article by Senator O'Keeffe and the comments by Senators Bacik and Hayden. Banking with a Government guarantee has to be tightly regulated. People all knew where the Department of Finance and Government Buildings were when they were looking for the €64 billion and it is the right of Parliament to ask questions about that. The portrayal of Parliament as a Punch and Judy show and the failure of the referendum to extend its investigative powers were a pity. The corollary of registering lobbying and the constant requests for more public spending is that Members of Parliament will ask questions about public spending. That is a key role. I have always worried about the implications of the Abbeylara decision in limiting the powers of inquiries. We will discuss that on the next occasion but it is important for Parliament and its powers. As Senator Hayden said, it is also important in terms of the banking system we want for this country. We certainly did not have an appropriate one. The percentage of lending by the major banks to industry and agriculture combined was in single figures, at less than 10%. What kind of economy would that result in? Was it not inexorably heading towards the bubble? I look forward to the debate.

I also second the amendment to the Order of Business moved by Senator Quinn in respect of No. 14.

Photo of Marie MoloneyMarie Moloney (Labour)
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I wish to raise two issues but I will be brief, so as not to take up too much time. I have been contacted by nursing homes and Nursing Homes Ireland which told me that there is an undue delay in registering nurses with the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Ireland. More than 100 nurses are waiting over 100 days for registration. If this is not sorted out sooner rather than later, it will result in nursing home beds closing. This will have a knock-on effect on hospitals and accident and emergency departments. I know it is too late to ask the Minister for Health to come in here but I want to put it on the record of the House. I will contact the Minister directly to try to get this sorted out as quickly as possible. There are enough delays in accident and emergency departments and hospitals without causing delays in nursing home beds and step-down facilities for patients who need care.

The second issue has been brought to my attention by a number of parents. It concerns the HPV vaccine, Gardasil. I campaigned long and hard for this vaccine to be given to 12 year old girls in first and second year in secondary schools but some parents have grave concerns about the side effects of this vaccine. I am not a medical person and I cannot say whether it has caused the symptoms quite a number of girls are experiencing.Some 250 young girls at the moment are suffering side effects from this vaccine. They have set up their own website called REGRET and anyone can visit it to see what it is about. No-one seems to be taking responsibility or admitting that the vaccine is causing problems.

The people who contacted me were not looking for compensation. They want parents to know the side effects of this drug and that everyone should be made aware. I have a letter which was sent to another Member of this House who has given me permission to use it and it has been circulated. It is from Dr. Kevin Kelleher, the assistant national director of public health with the HSE. Parents have taken grave exception to a paragraph with this letter. It states:

All the information provided to parents about vaccination is prepared from the available licensed documentation for each vaccine, the Summary of Products Characteristics, SPC, and the Patient Information Leaflet, PIL. [Parents really take exception to the following] The information is presented in clear simple language and approved by the National Adult Literacy Agency so that it can be understood by all adults as the average reading age in Ireland is 12 years of age.

To send this out to anyone is condescending, patronising and is an insult to parents.

Photo of Gerard CraughwellGerard Craughwell (Independent)
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I agree with Senator Quinn regarding young people returning from warzones and the threat it poses to this country. We now live in a world that is a dangerous place and I agree that if someone returns from a warzone - I do not care which side they were fighting on - there should be no place and no room in this country for them. It is wrong in every sense of the word to leave ourselves open to that.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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That is rubbish.

Photo of Gerard CraughwellGerard Craughwell (Independent)
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That is how the Senator feels. I am delighted to advise the House that my rapporteur's report on class K PRSI tax was accepted yesterday by the Joint Committee on Education and Social Protection.

Photo of Diarmuid WilsonDiarmuid Wilson (Fianna Fail)
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Hear, hear.

Photo of Gerard CraughwellGerard Craughwell (Independent)
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The House should be aware that this issue does not just apply to county councillors. It is a tax on public service. It is unconstitutional and I believe it goes against the European Convention on Human Rights. Comments were made in this House about solo runs. While my report was accepted yesterday by members of all parties and none - it was a joint Oireachtas committee submission and it will be a joint Oireachtas committee report - my only regret is that it was not a joint Seanad submission. I am very hurt that my colleagues would not join with me in the submission. I am very grateful to the Association for Irish Local Government, AILG, for its input into the report. I hope the Seanad will now get behind the submission and drive it forward in the next Government.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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Did Senator Craughwell ask for support?

Photo of Gerard CraughwellGerard Craughwell (Independent)
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I did. I apologise, I only asked the party Whips.

Photo of Fidelma Healy EamesFidelma Healy Eames (Fine Gael)
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That is no good, what about the rest of the Senators?

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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I am slightly amused this morning with Senator Daly's Private Members' Bill since he had ample time to move it in his own party's Private Members' time, but perhaps-----

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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I wish to clarify that. I said that there may be time today for it.

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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The Senator need not clarify anything. Maybe the party was not prepared to take it in its time and if not Senator Daly could have tabled a Commencement matter on it.

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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The Senator's own spokesperson for finance have been saying they would do it since 2012-----

(Interruptions).

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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Has Senator Coghlan a question for the Leader?

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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Four years is ample time for Senator Coghlan. The Senator had it two weeks ago and I had no response from him.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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Senator Daly please-----

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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That would not be possible.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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Does Senator Coghlan have a question for the Leader?

(Interruptions).

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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I have. This is grandstanding at the 11th hour on Senator Daly's part.

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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It is Senator Coghlan who is grandstanding.

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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I am sure the Leader will, in his own good time, clarify the matter.

We are all grateful to have the banking inquiry report but the inquiry was hamstrung, as we said yesterday, by the legislation. The inquiry could not make findings of fact and could not make any recommendations against any individual. We all know who was to blame and the sovereign had to step in. We shall debate the matter and I look forward to hearing the Leader's comments on it.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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I have been contacted by Ms Maeve Buckley, a young lady from Mercy Mounthawk Secondary School in Tralee. She and her colleagues in transition year are concerned about the unending, ceaseless waves of negative information carried on our news services. They wanted to see something positive and they started looking for positive news items in their own area in order to give the stories publicity. This is an excellent idea and it shows the vitality of young people. They are now looking for a national positivity day. I am not keen on the word "positivity" because it has an American twang about it but I do understand the idea. These days there are good news stories - I know they are often spun from the other side of the House - such as financial, social and cultural stories covering our prowess in the film industry or in Hollywood or about our musicians. This is fantastic. Ireland is a wonderful country and we should take the lead from this young girl and her transition year colleagues in looking for the positive. As the song says, "Accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative".

Photo of Marie MoloneyMarie Moloney (Labour)
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Unfortunately good news does not sell newspapers.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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That is true.

I support the proposal made by Senator Quinn. I thought he was rather modest, along with my colleague Senator Barrett, and a little reticent in promoting the virtues of this Bill. It covers the very important subject of controlling drones. To a certain extent the genie has escaped from the bottle because there are so many of them. They are now a favourite toy at Christmas and one can get them for €100. I am concerned after hearing, on the wireless, a farmer from Tipperary saying that his 25 year old son - who also works on the farm - had seen a drone flying over the farm at a level of some 500 ft. at 9.30 p.m. It was obviously being used to survey the farm for the purpose of burglary. The drones are able to get details on the layout, the entrances, the exits and the whole plan of a farm. This is very intrusive and it should be controlled.

I also completely deprecate the use of drones in military warfare. It is one of the appalling aspects of President Obama's Administration that the use of drones has gone up by a factor of ten. What has happened to habeas corpus? What has happened to the right to a defence? What has happened to the right to confront one's accuser? What has happened to the right to be innocent until proven guilty? Some collection of civil service squirts in America sit in a basement somewhere and decide on the death of somebody. Very often there is additional fire and innocent civilians are killed. There might be one person with connections to al-Qaeda and 20 or 30 other people-----

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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Is the Senator asking for a debate on the issue?

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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Yes I am.

Photo of Caít KeaneCaít Keane (Fine Gael)
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I agree with Senator Norris on the idea for a national positivity day. If the records are checked, I spoke on this about two years ago. It is not all bad news but it is depressing how the media sometimes just covers the bad news. There are some good news stories and human communication of positivity is good for everybody.

I did not have an opportunity yesterday to welcome the debate on councillors, councillors' rights and the way the situation has changed since the reform of local government. I welcome the Minister's assurances that he will take account of the new review group recommendations, when they are made, in association with the AILG and LAMA. He will be looking at that situation and we can expect some positive changes there.

I want it read into the record that I had tabled a Commencement matter on the abolition of rates for child care facilities. I have been advocating for this for a long time. We now have two years of free preschool places for every child in Ireland. This is the first year the Department of Education and Skills has become involved in preschool inspections. As a result of the Valuation (Amendment) (No. 2) Act 2012, all the not-for-profit crèches do not now pay rates.I also wish to read into the record that the Minister of State stated: "In addition to the exemption of those that provide child care and early education on a not-for-profit basis, the Valuation Office's interpretation of paragraph 10, Schedule 4 of the Valuation Act 2001 means that those that only provide the early childhood care and education scheme are also exempt from rates."

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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Is this on the record already today?

Photo of Caít KeaneCaít Keane (Fine Gael)
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It is on the record now and I have it in writing from the Minister and the Department of Justice and Equality. I have put it on the record because Early Childhood Ireland did a survey and discovered the interpretation of the way rates are to be implemented on early childhood care premises is different in every county. I am asking that a note be sent to every local authority informing them the Valuation Office's interpretation of paragraph 10 should be interpreted the same in every county, which is that those that only provide early childhood care and education schemes are exempt from rates.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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The Senator is way over time.

Photo of Caít KeaneCaít Keane (Fine Gael)
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If I am back I will be asking to have included in that exemption the square footage of rooms in other settings that provide full-time child care. That is not there yet.

Photo of Mary WhiteMary White (Fianna Fail)
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I second the amendment proposed by Senator Mooney that the HSE make funding available for the Orkambi-kalydeco drug for cystic fibrosis which has improved the quality of life of many patients who have received it.

Carol Brill is a young woman with a devastating and rare genetic disease called Usher syndrome. This causes the simultaneous gradual deterioration of hearing and sight. Although there is a lot of research on Usher syndrome, there is no cure or treatment for it. Treatment focuses on helping the person adapt to hearing and vision loss as much as possible. Going deaf and blind simultaneously is a pretty life changing experience. No longer can a person drive a car and he or she will struggle to hear a conversation in a noisy and dimly lit restaurant. Last year, at the age of 45, Carol was genetically diagnosed with Usher syndrome type 2a. This genetic diagnosis was only possible through the relationships Carol had forged with many of the international researchers working in the field.

The truth of the matter is that, despite all her research, she is no clearer about whether she will be able to access basic health and social care services in Ireland. She honestly does not know how she will make her way in this world for the rest of her life. In a place that proclaims to cherish all citizens equally, she feels invisible. There are many people in our country who, like Carol, have rare conditions and are largely on their own in our society. There is no dedicated entry on the national physical and sensory disability database to record her needs and not a single case worker is putting her needs and the needs of other dual-sensory impaired people at the top of a list of current priorities.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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This might be suitable as a Commencement matter.

Photo of Mary WhiteMary White (Fianna Fail)
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I will finish up by saying that when Carol spoke last year at the Joint Committee on Health and Children she said:

Those of us with deafblindness are not invisible. I ask committee members in earnest to positively consider our request to have deafblindness recognised as a unique disability. Please open the doors that will allow us to live and fully participate in this beautiful world alongside them.

Carol emotionally tells me that that her reason for living and to keep going in society is the beauty and personality of the cherished gift that is her eight year old daughter.

Photo of Fidelma Healy EamesFidelma Healy Eames (Fine Gael)
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This may be our last session. We do not know.

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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The Cathaoirleach already clarified it is our last session.

Photo of Fidelma Healy EamesFidelma Healy Eames (Fine Gael)
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Gabh mo leithscéal. Last Friday afternoon I was quite shocked at what I found in Galway city. Retail is on its knees there. The reason I am shocked is that many people, including the retailers, view Galway city as being paved with gold. However, when the rent, the rates and the revenue are put together, they are creased. I am particular talking about small independent retailers. These people contribute rent and rates and fill our streets with hustle and bustle but, while listening to the retailers, having spent half an hour to 40 minutes in most of the shops, between zero to two customers entered each of those shops.

My message to the Taoiseach and the Minister for Finance is to reduce VAT on retail or watch our small independent retailers close by Christmas. They are not even taking a living wage. I spoke to the proprietor of one of the top 30 rated boutique shops in Ireland. The shop is called PIA. She said it is the VAT that is killing her. She buys stock and pays 23% VAT on it. She then has to slash the price of the stock to get rid of it but still has to pay 23% VAT on the original price. She cannot get a loan from a bank unless her VAT returns are completely up to date. This woman is at the leading edge of the fashion industry-----

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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There is VAT on sales.

Photo of Fidelma Healy EamesFidelma Healy Eames (Fine Gael)
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-----and her story was replicated by many other retailers. She is now starting a campaign to reduce VAT on retail and I support her. There is good precedent; VAT was reduced for the tourism industry. When we reduced the VAT from 13% to 9% for the tourism industry, we kicked off the industry again. Let us do it for the retail sector. These people are contributing. On a good week, she has approximately €200 to €250 to take home. This woman opened her heart to me and said she was ashamed to have to ask her parents sometimes to pay her mortgage. I am at my wits' end. These people are paying rent, rates and VAT, yet they do not have a living wage. We fight in this House for others to have a living wage. Let us give our independent small retailers, who keep our cities and towns alive and create employment, a living wage by reducing the VAT on retail. Galway needs it. Our country needs it.

Photo of Jim WalshJim Walsh (Fianna Fail)
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One does not seem to be able to turn on any television or radio station at the moment without hearing a debate on whether taxes should be cut or public spending increased. It is extraordinary but I suppose symptomatic of the failure within the media that at no stage have I heard anyone being questioned about tackling unnecessary or wasteful public expenditure. I have argued it here before, and an ideal opportunity has been missed by this Government in the current economic crisis, but there is a need to have a fairly good cost-efficiency analysis across all public services.

Anyone from a business background knows that wasteful expenditure builds up in the best of managed organisations. It can be anywhere from 10% to 20%. I have spoken to people in the public service over many years. As a rule of thumb, I would say we could save €4 billion if we energetically and systematically tackled waste. It would be roughly 10%. Many public officials have told me I am wrong because I am underestimating it. They tell me it would be as high as 20%. A target should be set. Therein lies the solution to improving our public services.

I cannot understand why a Government elected on a platform of making serious public service reform has, in effect, done very little in this regard. I spoke to a union official approximately four or five years ago who was actively involved in and representative of many people working in the public service. I asked him his assessment of management in the public service.He looked at me and said that there is no management in the public service, there are only grades.

There are flaws that have not been addressed and need to be addressed in the interest of our fiscal position. The Comptroller and Auditor General does a decent job but he is only skimming over the surface of what has been wasted. If we were to drill down a lot of money could be saved. Officials at all levels need to take greater elements of accountability and responsibility, and we need to develop a meritocracy in our public service. We probably do not have time to have a debate on this matter, but I appeal to the incoming Government, regardless of who find themselves in key positions in Cabinet, to make it a priority. Only if we have an efficient and cost-effective public service can we then go to people and say that we need to increase their taxes. I ask that the Leader might take that on board and convey it to Ministers.

The Government needs to look at the curtailing of the size of apartments. We have seen in "Rebellion", the 1916 drama, on our television screens now the tenements in which people lived. We should not be trying to reinvent that type of accommodation. There was no need to reduce the minimum size of apartments. All the Government is doing in effect is contributing to the profits of builders and disadvantaging people who purchase those apartments.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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I wish to clarify that it will not be possible to debate Senator Daly's amendment in respect of the National Anthem (Protection of Copyright and Related Rights (Amendment) Bill 2016 today as it has not yet been printed. I understand that Senator Daly's approval of the final proof was not received by the Bills Office in time to meet yesterday's printing deadline. I must therefore disallow the amendment.

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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It was only grandstanding anyway.

Photo of Maurice CumminsMaurice Cummins (Fine Gael)
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As the Cathaoirleach mentioned, the copyright Bill has not been printed, but the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, in an answer given a number of years ago in the other House, confirmed that copyright protection regarding the national anthem ran out in December 2012. The main purpose of ownership by the State of the copyright to the original version of the national anthem was to ensure that it was freely available for general use. The situation in this regard has not changed with the expiry of copyright. Regarding the protection of the integrity of the national anthem, the Minister's Department will look at the possibility of introducing legislation, should it be required, to ensure that the anthem is not being used in an inappropriate context or without due deference such as to render it an object of scorn or derision. I know Senator Daly is interested in that and I am sure that he is anxious that the Bill come before the House. I will put him in contact with the relevant officials in the Department and perhaps they can work together on having this matter rectified in early course.

Regarding No. 79, motion 15, concerning cystic fibrosis, I am surprised that two or three people have raised this matter. An all-party motion on this, signed by practically everyone in the House, was passed last week, so that motion should be removed from the Order Paper.

I wish to inform Senator Bacik that the debate on the banking inquiry is tabled for next Tuesday. This was to give people ample opportunity to read the report as there is a lot of heavy reading in it. The Senator also welcomed the publication of the national maternity strategy and national skills strategy, which were announced yesterday. She and Senator Mullins wished the peace talks in Syria well and hope that they can reach a settlement in that war-torn area.

Senator Quinn asked that No. 14, Registration of Drones Bill 2106, be taken before No. 1. This was also commented on by Senator Norris. I have no problem with that and will accept No. 14 being taken before No. 1, the purpose of which is to publish the Bill.

Even though we will have the banking inquiry debate next week, Senator Hayden is calling for a debate on the banking sector and outlined a number of areas which we should discuss. I do not believe we will have the opportunity to do so in this session but I am sure it will be something that the next Seanad will debate. We may get the opportunity, one never knows.

Senator Mooney welcomed the increased number of IDA visits to counties Leitrim and Sligo and hopes that there will be success as a result of those visits in the provision of jobs in those two counties. The regional jobs action plans have been working quite well and we have seen the benefit of them in more jobs going into the regions. I am sure that all Members of the House will welcome the progress that has been made on those action plans.

Senator Mullins welcomed the provision of an additional €106 million in funding for roads given to local authorities which were particularly hit by the recent flooding, and the provision of emergency assistance to farmers, also as a result of the flooding.

I note Senator Barrett's comments regarding the banking inquiry and the need for scrutiny of public spending at all times, which Senator Walsh raised as well when he spoke of wasteful public expenditure. To respond to Senator Walsh, considerable progress has been made on public service reform if one considers the Haddington Road and Lansdowne Road agreements. To suggest that little or nothing has been done regarding public service reform is not fair. Of course, more can be done in the future, but if the Senator tells anybody working in the public service that there has been little or no reform, he will get his answer to that from every one of them.

Photo of Jim WalshJim Walsh (Fianna Fail)
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I have spoken with them.

Photo of Maurice CumminsMaurice Cummins (Fine Gael)
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Senator Moloney is right to highlight the question of the delay in the registration of nurses. It is of paramount importance that if there is any delay in the system it should be immediately rectified and eliminated and brought to the attention of the Minister. When we are crying out for nurses in every sector, not alone the nursing home sector, such delays should be rectified if they are occurring. I note the Senator's concerns about the Gardasil vaccine, which has been highlighted by Senator Mooney and several other Senators in the House. I believe there was a commencement debate on this matter, for which the Minister came into the House, so the Senators might refer to the Minister's replies to that debate.

I compliment Senator Craughwell on being a rapporteur for the report to the joint Oireachtas committee he referred to and on having sent that report, which has been accepted by the committee.

With Senator Coghlan and Senator Daly in the House, the Kerry rivalry is still alive and well. We will deal with those points-----

Photo of Mary WhiteMary White (Fianna Fail)
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And Senator Moloney.

Photo of Maurice CumminsMaurice Cummins (Fine Gael)
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Senator Moloney is not as vociferous as her two male colleagues.

Photo of Marie MoloneyMarie Moloney (Labour)
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I am the referee.

Photo of Maurice CumminsMaurice Cummins (Fine Gael)
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The transition year students to whom Senator Norris referred probably have their finger on the pulse more than most of us regarding the negativity that we see in the news on a daily basis. A national positivity day is a very good idea because, as the Senator mentioned, there are a number of good-news stories that could and should be published on a daily basis. I note also his comments regarding the use of drones for the wrong reasons, and I am sure that we will have a debate on that when Senator Quinn's Bill is being discussed.Senator Keane asked when the report of the review group on local government would be published. I am not quite sure when we will have that report, but the sooner the better. I note the points she made on rates for child care facilities.

Senator White raised the issue of a lady with Usher syndrome. Perhaps she should put that issue forward for a Commencement debate next week and get a proper response on it.

Senator Healy Eames suggested the retail sector is on its knees in Galway because of VAT of 23%. She mentioned that the reduction in the 13% rate for the tourism sector was a great success and yielded great results in the tourism and catering sector. This is obviously a budgetary matter. I am sure whatever Government is in place after the elections will deal with the difficult decisions required in balancing the budget, but I am sure a reduction in VAT will be a consideration for whoever is the Minister for Finance.

Photo of Fidelma Healy EamesFidelma Healy Eames (Fine Gael)
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It is one for the Taoiseach.

Photo of Maurice CumminsMaurice Cummins (Fine Gael)
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I already mentioned the issue raised by Senator Walsh regarding the need to tackle waste in the area of public expenditure. He has raised this issue on several occasions in this House. I also note his comments on the reduction in the size of apartments, a matter raised by several other Members over the past couple of weeks.

Photo of Paschal MooneyPaschal Mooney (Fianna Fail)
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On a point of order, in the context of the Leader's remarks about the all-party motion on cystic fibrosis medication, Fianna Fáil, as a group, did not sign that motion. However, we are not opposed to the motion in principle and believe it is a good motion.

Photo of Maurice CumminsMaurice Cummins (Fine Gael)
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It was passed.

Photo of Paschal MooneyPaschal Mooney (Fianna Fail)
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The reason we have put and are pressing our motion is that the head of the HSE, prior to the wording of this motion, stated as far back as December that he would not fund the two drugs involved. We believe that is unacceptable and that it is important therefore that we send out a clear message that we are supportive of the funding of these important medications. Therefore, we are pressing the motion.

Photo of Maurice CumminsMaurice Cummins (Fine Gael)
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That is the motion that involves the all-party motion.

Photo of Paschal MooneyPaschal Mooney (Fianna Fail)
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I have no difficulty with it. We did not oppose the proposal, but we have not signed it. I have a copy of the motion here and it was not signed by Fianna Fáil. We are not associated with this particular motion and that is why we have a separate motion.

Photo of Maurice CumminsMaurice Cummins (Fine Gael)
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But Fianna Fáil was associated with it until it was passed. It was passed and was signed by Fianna Fáil as well.

Photo of Paschal MooneyPaschal Mooney (Fianna Fail)
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Of course.

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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It was not signed by us. We have a copy of it here.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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On the amendment proposed to the Order of Business by Senator Quinn, that No. 14 be taken before No. 1, did the Leader indicate he was accepting that?

Photo of Maurice CumminsMaurice Cummins (Fine Gael)
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Yes, I am accepting that.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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Senator Mooney also proposed an amendment to the Order of Business, "That No. 79, motion 15, be taken today." Is the amendment being pressed?

Amendment put:

The Seanad divided: Tá, 8; Níl, 24.



Tellers: Tá, Senators Paschal Mooney and Diarmuid Wilson; Níl, Senators Paul Coghlan and Aideen Hayden.

Amendment declared lost.

Order of Business, as amended, agreed to.