Tuesday, 2 February 2016
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, statements on the report of the Joint Committee of Inquiry into the Banking Crisis, to be taken at 4.45 p.m. and to conclude not later than 5.45 p.m., with the contributions of all Senators not to exceed four minutes.
Last week I referred to the figures for IDA Ireland visits that had been revealed in response to a parliamentary question tabled by my colleague, Deputy Calleary. I was pleased to report that there had been a significant increase in the figures for the north west. I mentioned specifically that my own county, which had recorded nul pointsup to now, had received eight visits and that County Sligo had received 15 visits.
While visits are welcome - they are all very well - there must be a focus on what happens afterwards. In that context, I contacted IDA Ireland to find out exactly what it does after these visits have gone ahead. The reply I received was somewhat ambiguous. I was told that IDA Ireland is targeting an increase of 30% to 40% in the number of investments for each region outside Dublin. This has to be welcomed. We have often exchanged views on this issue.
Everyone, including members of the Government parties, will say that even if the statistics support the Minister's statement that IDA Ireland investment is evenly spread, the evidence on the ground does not necessarily coincide with that view. The reply I received from IDA Ireland made it clear that as part of its strategy, the agency continues to encourage visiting itineraries to visit County Leitrim and the rest of the north west. IDA Ireland said that when it is marketing County Leitrim and the wider region, it advises visiting itineraries of the availability of relevant skill sets, third level institutes, industry clusters and relevant property solutions, etc. It pointed out that regular engagement and collaboration with stakeholders is also important in positioning any regional location to attract foreign direct investment. It said it is continuing to engage in such activity, while also working with existing clients in all regional locations to generate additional jobs.
At least it opened the veil a little on the exact criteria that are used when these visits take place. I think that is interesting and should be put on the record, but the main point of my query was to find out what happens afterwards. Unfortunately, IDA Ireland was not quite as forthcoming in that regard. Instead, it chose to hide behind commercial sensitivity in a way that reminded me what people say in all the movies we watch about America when a question arises about something. They say "We cannot answer that because of national security."
In this instance, IDA Ireland is saying that information on active leads is confidential between IDA Ireland and its client companies because it is commercially sensitive. It is also saying that it is continuing to pursue, engage and implement active leads as they arise throughout the country. It also says that the final decision on where to locate an investment resides and always will reside with the client company.
I appreciate that there is sensitivity involved here, but surely it would be helpful if IDA Ireland could give some indication of what is happening, other than merely giving details of these visits. That is all we hear. We are told about the visits. I do not think we can do anything to change that. Although I welcome the increase in visits to my own county and the north west generally, I want to record my hope that those visits will result in something more fruitful.
I welcome today's very good news that the unemployment rate has fallen again. There has been a remarkable month-on-month fall from 10.1% this time last year to the current rate of 8.6%. Some 5,125 new jobs were created in January alone. It is really impressive that, on average, more than 1,000 jobs are being created each week. I want to note this significant achievement. I am sure all my colleagues will join me in welcoming it.
I commend the Irish Penal Reform Trust on its release or launch this morning of an important new report based on research conducted by academics in Queen's University. The report, Out on the Inside, documents the experiences of LGBT people in Irish prisons. This groundbreaking research is the first of its kind because we have no data on the sexuality of prisoners. This research, which aims to shine a light on a marginalised group of people, conveys some very disturbing findings regarding the experiences of LGBT prisoners in Ireland. I commend it to the House and commend the Irish Penal Reform Trust for producing it today. I would like to express grave concern about the revelations of abuse in a foster home in the south east which occurred over a prolonged period of time. I know every colleague shares my concern about that. I note reports were carried out, but these have not yet been published. Garda investigations are ongoing. There may well be evidence that points towards an offence of reckless endangerment, something about which we need to be mindful in any debates on this issue. I commend the social worker who blew the whistle on the appalling extent of the abuse and the numbers of children who may have been affected.
I commend the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, who has announced the intention to set up a commission of investigation once Conor Dignam, senior counsel, has produced his report, which I understand is due in April. A number of things are going on. The director general of the HSE is before the Committee of Public Accounts today and the Minister of State, Deputy Lynch, will come before the Dáil later today to discuss the issue. It is a matter about which we should all be gravely concerned.
Yesterday was St. Brigid's day. I always think of the great poem by Antaine Ó Raifteirí:
Anois, teacht an Earraigh, beidh an lá ag dul chun síneadh
'S tar éis na Féile Bríde ardóidh mé mo sheol.
I feel a bit like raising my own sails, in particular with an election in the offing. That was yesterday. Today is James Joyce's 134th birthday, something I thought was worthy of mention in the Seanad.
I will turn to matters less pleasant. I would like to raise the question of workers in the construction industry, 50% of whom are described as self-employed. They are not. Rather, they are forced into this situation by their employers who thereby avoid paying employer's PRSI and all the rest. It seems to me to be very cruel and wrong. This kind of bogus self-employment has cost the Exchequer about €80 million a year, a considerable amount of money. In effect, bogus self-employment means that workers and taxpayers end up subsidising unscrupulous employers.
Some protesters at the gate of Leinster House gave me an advertisement from a recruitment company, which I will not mention by name. It categorises a number of things under the heading "advantages of using a recruitment service", whereby the agency engages individual workers and forces them to be self-employed. The advantages include the fact that there is no PRSI to pay, which is 10.7% of total pay, no holiday pay, which is 8% of total pay, no pension to pay, which is 10% to 12% of total pay, no requirement to pay for bank holidays, sick leave, redundancy or the administration costs of payroll, including PAYE and PRSI, no recruitment or advertising costs, no disputes with employees, that is, unfair dismissals - there are no rights there - and the ability to hire and off-hire staff at one hour's notice throughout the country. The expression "off-hire" is wonderful. I had never heard of before. It is a bit like the expression "downsizing". It means firing or getting rid of people. This is a pretty atrocious advertisement because every single thing listed is a violation of workers' rights. I know there is some kind of commission or inquiry in place, but it is not a full one and I am not satisfied it is completely independent. Will the Leader to contact the relevant Minister and ask that there be a full-blooded inquiry? Why should 50% of workers in the construction industry be so disadvantaged?
It is time we examined the issue of self-employed people. We always talking about entrepreneurs and small and medium enterprises doing so much work for the country and that they are the engine on which we will rely for the recovery. If somebody who has created jobs and employed people becomes unemployed, he or she receives nothing. That is an utter disgrace. Such people should be looked after in the same manner as everybody else in this country.
A man who deserves to be honoured, praised and remembered today is the gracious veteran broadcaster Terry Wogan who, as we all know, died after a short battle with cancer.This divine Irishman from Limerick, born with a sunny disposition, stole all our hearts with his beautiful distinctive voice. He had the ability to make emigrants in Britain feel at home during the Troubles. One always remembers him for his wonderful breakfast show. He made us laugh so much with his Eurovision commentary. He used to make Eurovision such fun. Of course, there was his dedication to Children in Need, and the "Blankety Blank" quiz show. His Irishness in some way always connected Ireland and Britain through his superb self-effacing humour and wit. He never stopped laughing at himself, which is one of my favourite human traits. He was the nicest man. He never forgot Limerick. He was always going back there. He was made a freeman of Limerick in 2009. I just thought today he should be remembered.
I was asked to a party tomorrow because there is a gentleman here who started in the Seanad in 1993. I wanted to stand to say to him that we have been one of the most fortunate senates in the world to have him as a Senator. He is sitting over there, his name is Senator Feargal Quinn and I will say a few words about him.
A brilliant businessman, the king of customer service and an ambassador for Irish food, Feargal was involved at the birth of Bord Bia. A former president of the Global Consumer Foods Forum, an EU-wide lobbying group, EuroCommerce, and all our favourite supermarket, Superquinn, which is still around, and my sausages, Feargal is the champion of small businesses and entrepreneurs. I salute Senator Norris because Senator Quinn is champion of both small and big entrepreneurs and those who create jobs, but my-----
My goodness, I am pre-empting. I only want to say I started a little business and I was not particularly great or clever. I had an idea, a dream. The first shop I called into was Superquinn in Lucan where one of Feargal's men, Mr. John Foy, gave me my first little chance behind the bakery and I went on to serve all of Feargal's 16 stores. Today my business has a turnover of €30 million and 200 employees, but it is thanks to Senator Quinn. I used to see a lot of him, although he hardly knew me. He knew me a little as a supplier but I would see him in the bakery in Finglas and over in Blackrock. It did not matter who one was, what one was or what one had, Feargal treated us all the same. A master of innovation, Feargal was always thinking kindness and looking at opportunities. I could stand here and list all he has done here and all the Bills he has put through, but the Cathaoirleach would get quite angry with me. I salute Senator Quinn and look forward to the party tomorrow.
I am calling for an urgent debate. I understand the Minister may not be available today but, hopefully, she may be available tomorrow. The issue concerns allegations of abuse within a foster home, and particularly what the HSE knew and when. First, I want to put on record that my heart goes out to the woman at the centre of this case who has become known as Grace and to her family because she suffered horrendously. Of course, the fault of that lies with her abuser, but it also lies with the HSE for its woeful failings and dereliction of duty in protecting her and, potentially, others also.
Like Senator Bacik, I commend the whistleblowers for giving Grace a voice that, due to the nature of her disability, she was unable to use for herself. I have spent the past year and a half urging people to come forward to speak about their abuse in order that they can get help but also in order that they break the cycle of what happened to them. The most disturbing fact about this case is that this woman was physically unable to do so. The HSE had a duty to protect her and it failed her miserably. One would think after everything we know about abuse by powerful institutions in this county and after everything that we know about the systemic and horrific abuse of children, that somewhere some lessons would have been learned. The reality, of course, is that they appear not to have been learned. That is appalling and disgraceful.
I also want to deal with the wrong information given to the Committee of Public Accounts in relation to an apology which has not been given to Grace. At best there was a misunderstanding and at worst it was wilful misleading of this committee. It stinks to me of cover-up.It is clear that nobody has been made accountable in this case. I cannot see any instance of staff disciplinary procedures but I can certainly see an erosion of confidence in the HSE as a result. I understand the current director, Mr. Tony O'Brien, was not in place while all this was happening, but he was appointed in 2012, the same year the work on the Devine report was completed. Let me be very clear: heads should roll over this disturbing and complete failure of the HSE to protect vulnerable people from abuse. If the director cannot hold his staff accountable and dismiss those who contributed to this failure, he should resign. I welcome the fact that a commission of investigation has been established to consider this and I hope it will leave no stone unturned, so that lessons will be learned but also that action will be taken so that we are not in this situation again.
I support Senator Cahill on this. In a land of no consequences, where people who fail to act appropriately, or at all, never suffer the consequence of losing their jobs or positions, such things will go on. Last week we tried to introduce the corporate manslaughter Bill to prevent the recurrence of a situation such as the blood transfusion scandal, in which women were knowingly infected with hepatitis C but nobody was held to account and nobody was fired. That continues, because the proposal for a corporate manslaughter Bill by the Law Reform Commission in a report four years ago was not acted on. The safest country to commit white collar crime is Ireland, because there are no consequences for white collar crime and no consequences for civil servants who know that child abuse is going on because they know they will not get fired. Last week, when speaking about clerical abuse, I gave the example of a case in Florida in which the church has taken action against a priest who spoke out against a whistleblower. We have whistleblower protection here, but it is not enough. There must be consequences for people who do not do their jobs. One cannot fire people. The unions will not allow them to be fired, and the civil servants cannot be fired.
Women died because the State did not act, and knowingly did not act. Did anybody see any consequences? Did anybody suffer other than the women? No, because there is no legislation to cover that situation.
I would like to move an amendment to the Order of Business: that No. 31 on today's Order Paper, the National Anthem (Protection of Copyright and Related Rights ) (Amendment) Bill 2016, be taken today. I know my colleague from Kerry, Senator Paul Coghlan, as Government Whip, is not too anxious to introduce protection for the national anthem even though it has been out of copyright for the past four years.
I welcome the fact that unemployment figures have dropped significantly in the past year. There are 30,500 fewer people unemployed than there were 12 months ago. The unemployment level is down to 8.6%. We can see evidence that the income that is being generated as a result of more people being back at work is being spent productively in all our communities. In my own town, Ballinasloe, I have seen the announcement of two new schools and investment in the local town hall, the Garda station and the fire station, and the local rugby and soccer clubs received moneys through the sports capital programme. We hope it will remain a priority of the incoming Government that the excellent work that was commenced through the Action Plan for Jobs in 2012 will continue and will have renewed impetus. I certainly look forward to seeing significant job announcements for towns such as Ballinasloe in the next 12 to 18 months.The Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Richard Bruton, is to be applauded, as are the Ministers of State who have served in that Department, and the Minister's officials, who have worked diligently to ensure An Action Plan for Jobs was driven from the top and bought into by all members of the Cabinet. The recovery now must be continued, and I am sure that when people go to make very important decisions in three weeks time, they will want to ensure the recovery continues.
I agree with Senator Mary Ann O'Brien regarding Terry Wogan. In very hard times for Irish people in England he was a one-man Anglo-Irish agreement, and it is coming out now that he played a role behind the scenes in promoting better relations between the two countries.
Edmund Burke wrote, "If we command our wealth, we shall be rich and free. If our wealth commands us, we are poor indeed." He is one of our greatest parliamentarians, and in that spirit I ask the Leader that we have more time to discuss banking, perhaps an allowance for party leaders, as would be normal. There are four things which we have to deal with: the future of Parliament and investigations, the banks themselves, regulators and auditors. I would hate to let each of these off with only one minute each. Members of the banking inquiry perhaps might have something else to say, so perhaps that might be considered. It is important, as we near the end of this term, to put on the Seanad record our response to probably the greatest economic disaster in this country since the Famine and the amount of misery which the banking collapse caused.
I support Senator Mullins regarding unemployment figures, which, as he said, are down to 8.6%, and that is as a result of An Action Plan for Jobs and Pathways to Work, part of which strategy is education. As it will probably be my last time speaking on the Order of Business, certainly in this term, and as I feel it has always been my duty here to raise issues and anomalies that concern me, I want to raise one such issue today. I have a constituent who is 19 years of age. He has been accepted for an access to education course in the University of Limerick. The course runs for 13 weeks. He was unemployed. He chose to take up the course in order that he could get into full-time education and to a degree course next year. He has a grant of €400 for the 13 weeks. He has lost his social welfare payment of €100 per week. His father, who is an unemployed blocklayer, is now claiming €29 per week for his son on unemployment assistance. It is costing the family €180 per week in lodgings, travel and food to keep him in Limerick. He does not qualify for a back to education payment because he is under 21. Therefore, in the 13 weeks there is a shortfall to the family of €1,563.
This course is designed to allow this young man to do one module in his chosen subject of aircraft maintenance and would also allow him to get into a full course next year if he passes the first course. However, by far the most astonishing aspect of all this is that the course is specifically for people from disadvantaged areas, and this man is from such an area. How can he sustain himself financially without the required financial support? Will the Leader bring this to the attention of the relevant Minister in order that this anomaly can be closed off. It is proof that we have done a lot of work in government in getting people back into education, but this is an example of more work that needs to be done, and I hope the Government is returned in order that we can deal with those issues into the future.
I thank Senator Mary Ann O'Brien for those very kind words, which I appreciate greatly. I have enjoyed my years here and look forward to keeping in touch with people like Senator O'Brien. I was also impressed by her words about Terry Wogan. I remember getting in touch with Terry Wogan some years ago to help me with a television programme. He was very helpful and while he was not able to make that particular visit, he had a strong association with Ireland and such love and enthusiasm for the country.He is not the only one. I remember coming back from London on an aeroplane with Eamonn Andrews some years ago. He said he went over every Monday and came back to his home in Portmarnock every Friday. He never got a welcome from the taxi men at Dublin Airport because Portmarnock is only about seven or eight minutes away. I very kindly offered him a lift as I had my own car at the airport. He insisted on me coming into his house in Portmarnock-----
No. It is a reminder, I think, of the great work that people like Terry Wogan, Eamonn Andrews and so many others have done in regard to Ireland and Senator Seán Barrett has touched on that. The relationship between our two islands has been helped a great deal on that basis.
I had a very interesting night last night. I was asked to read a message from Pope Francis at a service run by the National Family Support Network for those who died from substance abuse. It amazed and surprised me how many people have died of substance abuse. It was an ecumenical service in the church on Seán MacDermott Street. People are making such an impressive effort from the sorrow of having lost somebody. It is a reminder to us that we must not take our eye off the ball regarding what we can do to solve this. Young people are injured, dying and continually coaxed into substance abuse.
There is an organisation called Irish Community Rapid Response which is encouraging the use of CPR training. They say that 400 lives could be saved with CPR training every year. That is the number of people who die due to people not having the opportunity to receive CPR training. Every school should do it. Perhaps every school now does it. Every sports club and everybody else should do it. We have the opportunity in this House to do the same ourselves. We can save lives and it is in our own hands. Let us encourage each one of us and every citizen to learn CPR. The organisation, which is based in Kerry, has a very attractive team of people and needs a lot of support. Let us encourage them to have that support.
I agree fully with everything Senators Bacik and Mullins have said about the falling unemployment figures. It is very welcome news and I do not think we wish to see any halt or decline in that trend due to anything that might happen in the very near future.
I compliment Senator Mary Ann O'Brien on her fine words and comments about our revered Senator Feargal Quinn, which are well-deserved.
With all this talk of a possible Brexit, I hope that the arrangements worked out between the EU and Prime Minister Cameron are worthy and acceptable to Mr. Cameron, his Government and his people. I have just returned from Belfast, and the warning I received up there over the last few days was of the dangerous implications for all of us regarding the Border, if a Brexit were to happen. I am sure Counsellor Maxwell, who was with us recently, being a Border man, will appreciate this even more so. There are huge implications. I spoke to a lot of knowledgeable people and there is huge concern. Hopefully, we all have friends and relations across the water because, as we know in our own elections, every vote is vital. I wish them well in that regard.
I second Senator Daly's amendment to the Order of Business. I fully concur with what Senator Paul Coghlan has said in relation to a Brexit and the consequences for this country, and particularly for those living along the Border, if Britain breaks away from the EU.I hope it does not happen.
Yesterday morning, my colleague, Deputy Brendan Smith, and I attended a public meeting in the wetlands centre in Ballybay, County Monaghan, which was called by local businesspeople and members of the local community to discuss the loss of 30 jobs in the Department of Social Protection from Ballybay to Monaghan town. Also in attendance were the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Heather Humphreys, and Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin. There was a general consensus among all the Oireachtas Members and councillors present and among members of the community that this decision is regrettable and it is probably too late to reverse it at this stage. It was put to the chairman of the meeting, Councillor Cathy Bennett, that a request be made to Government that the new Intreo centre to be allocated to County Monaghan should be based in Ballybay, which is centrally located and ideally placed to service the entire county. The Intreo centres, which are to be rolled out across all counties in the next year or so, will function as single points of contact for the provision of all employment and income supports. It is too late to submit this matter for discussion on the Commencement debate but I ask the Leader to use his good offices to impress upon the Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection the need to have the new Intreo office for County Monaghan located in Ballybay.
I understand the Taoiseach will more than likely dissolve the Dáil tomorrow. However, the Government will remain the Government and this House is, fortunately, still in existence. Is it the Leader's intention to have any sittings over the next three to four weeks?
I welcome the visitors to the Gallery. They are nearly all women, but there are one or two men. We need both in politics and it would be great to see all of them on this side of the House. We need both sexes in the Oireachtas, as I said, and I extend a particular welcome to our women guests.
Will the Leader allow us a few minutes tomorrow to pay tribute to Senator Feargal Quinn? I support colleagues' comments in this regard. Senator Quinn has done the State some service, which is a quip that was made by somebody else. If we look back at the Senator's history in this House and the legislation he has brought through, we see it is true in his case. Only last week, he brought forward a Bill on the regulation of drones. Senator Quinn is never one to drone on and bore people; his contributions are always very relevant and exciting. Senator David Norris is not here at the moment but I hope he will be back. I saw him on television the other night. He and Senator Quinn are two of the most senior Members of the Oireachtas and that seniority has very evidently brought wisdom in both their cases.
In my first week in the Seanad in 2011, I spoke about the importance of education, particularly early childhood education. A report today in The Irish Timesby Peter McGuire points to the difference in funding for primary, secondary and third level education. The author notes that primary schools receive 92 cent per pupil per day while secondary schools receive twice that. For every €8 spent on primary education, €11 is spent at secondary level and €15 at third level. Primary school certainly is a very important time in a child's life because it impacts strongly on formation of character, educational attainment and so on. However, the preschool period is more important again in this regard and every €1 spent in that area is vital.I ask the Leader for a debate on this. The rates are €62 per week per child, or €73 if the person has a level 6 preschool qualification, but the teachers are not paid and the education system as a whole is left to the private sector. I want a full debate. I started here in 2011 stating there should be early childhood education for every child, not just for children of working parents but for every child because zero to three and three to six are the most important formative times in a child's life. I recognise what the Ministers, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald and Deputy James Reilly, have done in government because we have moved a long way, but we still have a long way to go. I want to see it first thing on the agenda for the new Government that we will have a serious debate on the funding and importance of early childhood care and education as related to this. It is shown that it pays back. For every euro spent, one gets €10 back, so it is not investing money in nothing. It is investing money in the future of our country.
I do not have time obviously to say anything about Terry Wogan, but Senator Mary Ann O'Brien said it.
I will not be here tomorrow to attend Senator Quinn's party. I am only sorry I did not meet him back in the 1990s when I was struggling with marketing in college. He certainly would have made it all seem easy. Perhaps he will come back here and give seminars for Senators on how to turn their constituencies into kings.
I might try. Two things come together from today's debate that were on my mind coming in here. One is the casualisation, to which Senator Norris adverted, and the other is the employment figures. There is no doubt the Government must be congratulated on the number of people who have been returned to work, but we still have 321,000 people on the live register, more than 81,000 people on activation programmes and more than 41,000 single parents drawing welfare in this country. One wonders what the situation would be had the 600,000 people who emigrated not done so. The point I am making is not a criticism of the Government, as it must be complimented, but the job of work for the forthcoming Government will again be massive and the job is far from over.
My heart sank a few minutes ago. Senator Wilson adverted to the fact the Dáil might be dissolved tomorrow. I can confirm it will be. The Taoiseach announced on Midwest Radio that he will go to the park tomorrow. This saddens me greatly. It means I must start wearing the rubber on my car tyres to get around the country. We will deal with that when the time comes.
The issue of zero-hour contracts will have to be dealt with by the next Government. The issue of those who do not feature on the live register, those who would attend activation or education programmes but cannot access them because they are not on the live register, will have to be dealt with.
I support Senator Cahill. The one question I ask is why somebody is not in jail when we speak about this lady, Grace. We then find out a second person was involved in the same house of horrors. There is something terribly wrong in this country if this type of thing can go on and it is left unsaid.
I wish everybody well. As I say, I am rather saddened to hear it is all coming to an end.
I wish to raise again the issue of the primary care reimbursement service, PCRS, the organisation which has taken over the administration of the medical card scheme. I have raised this issue on numerous occasions in the House. Since it was centralised, it has caused enormous problems for people and an enormous amount of stress for them in trying to get their full entitlement. Two weeks ago I raised the issue here that people on the rural social scheme, under the guidelines, are entitled to retain their medical cards, as are their wives and children. I had two cases over the past ten days where people's wives and children were refused cards because of very low income. Since then these decisions have been reversed, but there was nothing in the guidelines allowing this to be done in the first place. Now I see young people on the dole are being refused medical cards. A 23 year old on €100 a week, which is the maximum rate of unemployment assistance he can get, is being refused a medical card. There is no legislative basis whatsoever for this. I call on the Leader to bring this to the attention of the Minister, and have it on the agenda.The next Government must, as part of its agenda, review the way the PCRS does its business because it seems quite clear it is making it up as it goes along and taking a chance on refusing medical cards. Some people believe its decision that they are not entitled to a medical card, with the consequence that they go away and do not get their full entitlement.
There has been much discussion and focus in the House for some time on drugs and excessive drinking. I wish to turn my attention to the latter. There is a need for the Government to take a much firmer hand in trying to dissuade people, particularly the young, from consuming alcohol to excess. A hotel owner who is a friend of mine said to me some years ago that if we were fortunate enough to have had a couple of quid in our pockets when we were young and went out to drink, we might have got drunk, but nowadays the intent of young people is not just to drink but to get drunk and become blotto. There is too close an association between sport and alcohol. A campaign was mounted lately to try to remove the prohibition on selling alcohol on certain days. I believe the Government should consider having more days on which there is a prohibition, especially around holiday weekends when there are sports events. The level of hardship drinking causes individuals and families is enormous. We need to interfere and not just surrender to the drinks trade totally. We need to be a little more courageous than we are.
I join those Senators who expressed their concerns over the sex abuse scandals associated with fostering in the south east. This will probably be replicated in other areas. I concur fully with Senator Daly’s point that there needs to be greater accountability to ensure the protection of children. It does not exist. Obviously in this case it did not exist. It is interesting that this matter has come to light only through people leaking details to their politicians. In other words, it was with luck. I hope there will be a full investigation. It looks as if the HSE itself was trying to cover up. There is a lesson in that for us in that, at local level, some accountability tiers need to be built in for the HSE. At county level, perhaps, there needs to be a forum at which those concerned can be held to account not only for the type of activity in question but also for all the services delivered locally. This is not happening and the issues are becoming national issues.
I wish to propose an amendment to the Order of Business. Over recent weeks, I have sought a debate on housing to deal with various issues, including homelessness, local authority and social housing provision, the problems faced by distressed mortgage holders and the difficulties young people have in obtaining a mortgage. I propose a debate on this subject immediately following the discussion on the banking inquiry report today.
As we are coming to the end of this term, it is fitting to wish all the very best to the people whom I am aware are not standing in the forthcoming election. They have been fantastic colleagues. I include Senators Walsh, Crown, Gilroy and Quinn. I acknowledge Senator Quinn's 23 years of service. He and the Cathaoirleach were elected on the same day in 1993. I congratulate both of them. It is ironic that the anniversary is the day the Dáil is to be dissolved. I also acknowledge Senator Norris, the father of the House.
We have done and achieved quite an amount here in our five years but, of course, there is always a lot more to be done. In this regard, I am thinking about education. A matter that arises quite frequently in my office concerns those who wish to go back to college and qualify for the back-to-education allowance but who miss out on it because they have not been on the jobseeker's payment or social welfare for the required period.A situation arises where somebody has to be on welfare for nine months and may be on it for eight months and two weeks. It is a ridiculous situation where they do not qualify and are not in a position to take up the offer of a college place. We need to instill flexibility within the system to help people who are on social welfare and who want to go back to work. It also applies to those in general who are in employment but want to go back to education. Maybe their employment is not remunerating them to the degree they should be remunerated and they are going back to education to better themselves. However, because they are in employment they do not qualify.
We need to instill flexibility within the guidelines and the qualifications and I also extend that to SUSI. To be fair to SUSI, three or four years ago we were all inundated with queries, complaints, difficulties and challenges concerning the SUSI application system but it is down to single figures now. There are always exceptional cases and when there are exceptional cases one needs exceptional flexibility and a commonsense approach.
For the next term I certainly want to see at Government level a far greater emphasis on education. There is a buoyancy out there now and I want to see any young person helped who has a desire, an ambition, intent and the ability to engage in education - be it university degrees or apprenticeships. I acknowledge the Labour Party and Tánaiste Joan Burton's speech, which I watched on Saturday night, and her commitment to creating thousands of apprenticeships if the party is re-elected to Government. In theory and in philosophy all parties across the political divide would sign up to that. It should be an all party agreement that we need to revolutionise and create far more apprenticeships.
I will conclude on the phenomenal growth in tourism that is taking place. There is an argument for the return of CERT. It was a fantastic way of training chefs and people within the hospitality industry. I cannot understand for the life of me why it was discontinued but we need to reignite CERT. It would bring back quality to the hospitality, catering and tourism industry.
One of the important things from the last five years, which was referred to by Senator Mullins already, was the growth in the number of people at work. It was one of the challenges faced by this Cabinet and the Government. It is a huge achievement to now have unemployment rates down to 8.6% and a huge growth in the number of people at work. It will not be too long before we have over 2 million people working. When we joined the European Union we had only 1 million people working back in the 1970s. However, we need to ensure that we continue along that path.
We have major challenges facing us no matter who is in government. By the time the incoming Government leaves office there will be over 100,000 more people over the age of 65. There will be more demand on pensions and on the health care sector. When one looks at the health care sector, 51% of all people in hospital are over the age of 65. Over the next 14 years the numbers of over 65s will increase from 600,000 currently to over 990,000. We will have huge demands in the health care area because of this change in demographics. In order to fund that we also have to have more people at work. It is not just about reducing the number of people who are unemployed, it is also about continuing to grow the number of people who are employed and available for employment.
I am very saddened that we have not made progress on the issue of people to whom we provide a comprehensive education but who, once they have finished in universities, are emigrating within a short time, particularly our junior doctors. We now have a major challenge in that area. There are problems when hospitals employ junior doctors under agency contracts and junior doctors are no longer getting the level of pay they should get for the work they do.They are not getting the same level of support to engage in further education and training. It is disappointing that no progress has been made in this area in the past four years. The new Government must prioritise this issue. As well as providing funding for education, we must also offer health service staff attractive employment conditions. This will convince them to stay in Ireland and further their education in the health sector and ensure we do not rely on overseas doctors for hospital and general practice services. The next Government must adopt this issue as a priority and Members of the next Seanad must continue to raise and work on it in the next five years.
I second Senator Jim Walsh's amendment to the Order of Business.
The issue of road safety crosses my mind often because a large number of people, particularly cyclists and pedestrians, are killed on the roads. I raised the issue at the start of the session. I ask the Leader to convey to the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government my request that he make high visibility vests compulsory for cyclists and pedestrians. I understand that, on average, approximately 50 of the people killed on the roads each year are not wearing high visibility vests. I frequently drive in rural areas. When negotiating country roads, especially at this time of year when we have a great deal of fog, rain and mist, it can be difficult when one encounters a walker or cyclist without a visibility vest. Many rules and regulations are in place governing safety in cars. The possibility of making visibility vests mandatory should be considered. I am not advocating for a nanny state but if this measure could save one or two lives each year, it should be made compulsory. Perhaps a pilot project could be introduced for children making the journey to and from school. The elderly are also particularly vulnerable as are pedestrians and cyclists.
Senator Mooney raised the issue of IDA Ireland visits and correctly noted the criteria applied to such visits. Ultimately, the saying that one can lead a horse to water but one cannot make him drink applies. The companies in question must decide whether they wish to locate in County Waterford, County Leitrim, Paris or elsewhere because that is the nature of competition. IDA Ireland has a difficult job and has played an excellent role in recent years in creating jobs and assisting companies to locate in Ireland. The creation of between 135,000 and 140,000 jobs speaks volumes about the efforts made by IDA Ireland and the success of the Government's Action Plan for Jobs.
On that point, Senator Bacik welcomed the news that unemployment has declined from more than 15.5% when the Government took office to the current rate of 8.6%. As Senator Craughwell stated, that is all very well. However, the Government recognises that a significant amount of work remains to be done in that area. To borrow a slogan from another party, a lot has been done, but there is more to do. The main reason for returning the Government is to enable it to reduce unemployment by half again.
Senators Bacik, Cahill, Daly, Walsh and others raised a case involving abuse in a foster home in the south east. From reading and hearing about the case, it is both appalling and disturbing and I agree with all speakers that accountability is required. I understand criminal investigations are ongoing and I welcome the commitment to establish a commission of investigation into the matter. I also compliment the whistleblowers involved, without whom the case would have gone unnoticed, which is unacceptable.I am sure that if criminal offences occurred, the Garda will investigate it. I welcome the commission of investigation. There is a need for accountability and transparency around this appalling issue.
Senator Norris, as he would as a Joycean scholar, welcomed the 134th birthday of James Joyce. The Senator also raised the conditions of workers, in particular, in the construction industry. The exploitation of any workers is to be deplored. If they are going about it in this way, by making workers self-employed by whatever means, it is totally unacceptable. That was the subject of a Private Members' Bill that the Labour Party introduced on the rights of the self-employed and around that area. The Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Richard Bruton, agreed to accept the Bill on that occasion. I hope his issue will be acted upon as a matter of urgency, if not by this Government then by the incoming Government.
Senator O'Brien praised Terry Wogan. Mr. Wogan was a wonderful Irishman. He was gentle and charming and had a witty style which the public enjoyed. The public remained loyal to him until the very end. I note Mr. Wogan's comments on journalism nowadays. He said that radio stations now like people who are "louder, brasher and more shouty". He said, "I do not like shouty". That is something that some of the radio presenters of the day might take note of.
I think I have addressed the matter raised by Senator Cahill. I tried to have a debate on the issue today but I understand that Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Kathleen Lynch is in the other House from 5.00 p.m. until 7.30 p.m. and may be there longer than that. I will try to facilitate a debate but I am not suggesting that I will be successful in holding one tomorrow.
Senator Daly referred to role of people in public services and the need for more transparency. I know that I promised last week that I would guide Senator Daly to the relevant official in regard to No. 31 on the Order Paper. I believe that was done. My understanding is that my office contacted the Senator in regard to-----
If that is the case, I tender my apologies. My information was that the Senator's office was contacted with the name of the official to contact in that case. If that is not done, I will arrange for it immediately.
Senator Mullins referred to the Action Plan for Jobs and lauded the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Richard Bruton, and Ministers of State at the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputies Damien English and Gerald Nash on the unemployment figures and called for a debate on that issue in the future.
I wish to tell Senator Barrett that I had sought more than the hour in which we have to debate the banking inquiry, but I am prepared to amend the Order of Business to give six minutes to the spokespersons and four minutes to all other Senators. If some of the spokespersons do not wish to use six minutes, they might stick to four minutes and allow as many Senators as possible to contribute to the debate. I will propose an amendment that spokespersons speak for six minutes and all other Senators for four minutes in the debate on the banking inquiry.
Senator Landy mentioned the case of a constituent seeking an education course. I would suggest to Senator Landy to put down a Commencement matter for that item. Senator Quinn spoke about Terry Wogan and mentioned the address he made yesterday to the National Family Support Network about people who have died from substance abuse. It is frightening how many people have died from substance abuse.
CPR training is of paramount importance. There is no doubt that schools and clubs do it, and even in the House, I believe, we received notice last week that training was available. It is very important that people are involved with CPR training.
Senator O'Brien made some comments about Senator Quinn. I wish to acknowledge that Senator Quinn will celebrate 23 years in the House tomorrow. I am sure everyone would agree that Senator Quinn is one of the most outstanding Senators we have had in this House and I believe he has greatly enhanced the Seanad by his presence here. He has been unfailingly courteous, thoughtful and measured in all his contributions in the House. He leaves a considerable legacy and a volume of private members' legislation that he initiated. I would like to wish Senator Quinn every success for the future. I understand he will not be contesting the next election. The House will sadly miss his presence and I wish him good health and happiness for the future.
Senator Coghlan spoke about the implications that a possible Brexit would have North and South of the Border, outlining that it is a very serious issue. We all hope that an agreement will be reached between the UK and the EU in their deliberations which will avoid such an event.
Senator Wilson spoke about the transferral of some jobs from Ballybay to Monaghan town and suggested that the Intreo office that is coming in the future should be located in Ballybay. I will make those representations to the Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton, and with the one or two days we have left in this term, the Senator could table a Commencement debate on the matter for the Minister.
On the subject of sittings, after the Dáil is finished I have no plans to have a meeting of the Seanad in the next three or four weeks. Not having Ministers in here would be like having a parish without a priest.
Senator Keane spoke about early childhood education. She rightly said that the Government had made some progress, but there is a need for further progress in that area.
Senator Craughwell referred to workers and unemployment. I note his points in that regard. While I welcome the reduction in the unemployment figures, I acknowledge that there is a need for further work to be done in that area. I agree with the Senator on that.
Senator Kelly raised the issue of medical cards and difficulties with the PCRS. I will bring the matter to the attention of the Minister for Health, Deputy Leo Varadkar. We have seen good progress but we will have difficulties with individual applications from time to time.
Senator Walsh warned of the dangers of excess alcohol and alcohol abuse, and spoke about the link between sport and alcohol. That is something that has been debated and commented upon in the House over the years, and I believe it will be commented and acted upon by any new Government that comes into being.
I note Senator Walsh's points about foster care. I am afraid that in the short period of time we have left, having had a number of debates on housing generally over the last number of months, I cannot accede to the Senator's request to amend the Order of Business in that regard.
Senator Conway spoke about further education and the need for every assistance to be given to young people, in particular, who are trying to access education.I thoroughly agree with him in that regard. The Senator also referred to the need for further consideration in respect of CERT, which was an excellent organisation. There may be a need to put in place something similar to it in order to increase the number of apprenticeships, particularly in the hospitality and catering sectors.
Senator Colm Burke outlined that there are now almost 2 million people at work. However, we have an ageing population and there is a need for more people to be in work to pay for all of the facilities and resources that will be necessary in future. He also outlined the plight of junior doctors, which he has raised in the House on several occasions.
Senator O'Donovan spoke about deaths on our roads, of which there have been many in recent months. He discussed the need for high-visibility vests for cyclists and pedestrians and I agree with him. I remember Senator Sheahan from Kerry outlining similar circumstances not so long ago. He also stated that there is a need for such vests for pedestrians in particular. Many people walk lonely dark roads. For their own safety, in the interests of road safety and for the benefit of drivers, people should wear high-visibility vests in such circumstances. I agree with the Senator in this regard.
I do not propose to accept the amendments to the Order of Business.
The Leader has proposed a change to the time slot with regard to No. 1. Is that agreed? Agreed. Senator Mark Daly has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That No. 31 be taken today." Is the amendment being pressed?
- Sean Barrett
- Mark Daly
- Terry Leyden
- Paschal Mooney
- Denis O'Donovan
- Feargal Quinn
- Jim Walsh
- Mary White
- Diarmuid Wilson
- Sean Barrett
- Mark Daly
- Terry Leyden
- Paschal Mooney
- Denis O'Donovan
- Feargal Quinn
- Jim Walsh
- Mary White
- Diarmuid Wilson