Wednesday, 15 June 2016
Order of Business
The Order of Business is Nos. 1 to 4, motions re election of Leas-Chathaoirleach of Seanad Éireann, to be taken together on the conclusion of the Order of Business; No. 5, motion to restore the Statute Law Revision Bill 2016 to the Order Paper, to be taken without debate on the conclusion of No. 4; No. 6, motion to restore the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill 2016 to the Order Paper, to be taken without debate on the conclusion of No. 5; No. 7, motion to restore the Heritage Bill 2016 to the Order Paper, to be taken without debate on the conclusion of No. 6; Nos. 8 and 9, motions re the continuance in operation of certain provisions of the Offences against the State (Amendment) Act 1998 and the Criminal Justice (Amendment) Act 2009, respectively, to be taken together on the conclusion of No. 7 and to conclude within 50 minutes, with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed five minutes, the contributions of all other Senators not to exceed three minutes and the Minister's reply not to exceed five minutes; and No. 13, Private Members' business, to be taken at 4 p.m., with the time allocated to the debate not to exceed two hours.
On behalf of the Fianna Fáil group I wish to convey our sympathy to the innocent victims of the Orlando shootings, the LGBT community in Orlando and the wider community. Our thoughts and prayers are with them at this time and we condemn that devastating and hateful act. I would also like to convey the sympathies of the Fianna Fáil group with the families of the police officer and his partner who were murdered in Paris.
I wish to express my disappointment that the Seanad will be taking a longer than usual break this summer, given our late start to the term. However, despite the short window, I assure the House that the members of the Fianna Fáil group will use the time available to initiate and progress much legislation. As a new Member of this House, I welcome the enthusiasm shared by all sides last Wednesday with regard to the reform of Seanad Éireann. There have been over a dozen reports on Seanad reform in recent times and I am pleased to say that the Fianna Fáil group will be spearheading and supporting reforms over the course of this Seanad. As all Members are aware, this is national carer's week. We all accept and recognise that carers play an integral role in our society, looking after loved ones and family members at a substantially reduced cost to the State. Without them, our health service would collapse. However, many face a serious financial burden because of substantial delays to their payments. Fianna Fáil learned last week that the average processing time for carer's benefit and carer's allowance is more than 18 weeks. The appeals process could take a further 23 weeks. This means a carer could be waiting more than nine months before receiving a payment. This is unacceptable and is symptomatic of the unfairness perpetrated by Fine Gael in Government. I ask that the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Leo Varadkar, address the House and explain the delays and outline the actions he is taking to ensure that his Department fully supports and engages with the carer community. These processing delays place additional stress on carers who are already under immense pressure as a result of their caring roles. Efforts should be made to ease the burden, not exacerbate it. As carers provide an invaluable service to the State, it is only fair that the Government shows them the respect they deserve.
I wish to add my voice to the congratulations to your good self, a Chathaoirligh. I think you will be an excellent Cathaoirleach.
I refer to the situation in Orlando. It is quite clear that this was a hate crime. The people targeted were overwhelmingly gay latino men. It seems that Mr. Mateen was a troubled person. He had expressed violent views on gay people and was very negative indeed. Apparently he was upset by the spectacle of two men kissing, as recorded by his wife. Yet he was obsessed with Pulse. He was there more than a dozen times and engaged in gay chat services. It appears as if he may have had some trouble with his own sexual identity so that suggests that there is a great deal of work to do even in countries like America. This is a terrible crime and highlights the situation regarding guns. It is extraordinary that people can be put on a "no fly" list and yet they can still go in and buy heavy machines guns.
We have a lot to do in this Seanad. I suppose the most striking thing that is before us is Seanad reform. I believe that virtually everybody in the House has views on this issue. They strongly believe in the reform of the Seanad. The Government claims to believe in the reform of the Seanad and it is by this yardstick that this Seanad will be judged. We will be judged on whether we get substantial and real Seanad reform, not just some tricking around and loosening at the edges and so on. It has to be comprehensive and full reform. I look forward very much to the debate. There is also the issue of the eighth amendment. It is extraordinary that people in this country still feel that from their religious position they can intervene in a situation where a 13 year old girl has been raped and direct her as to what decision she should take. The same applies with regard to fatal foetal abnormality. It is an obscenity that the mother of an unfortunate child who has no brain, no nervous system and so on should be forced, whether against her will, to keep the child.
We must look also at the question of direct provision on which I have legislation that I hope to present to the House. It nearly passed the last time. The President has called for the Oireachtas to get involved in this issue. We nearly did it the last time and I believe we can do it again in this Seanad. There is also the living city initiative which was introduced partly as a result of pressure from this House to rescue the inner city core of buildings. This has been completely unacceptable. Only 33 applications were made nationally. This is because it was hedged around, festooned, as The Irish Timeseditorial stated this morning, with all kinds of inhibitions preventing people taking it up. In particular, speaking as somebody who is interested in the preservation of the Georgian core of Dublin, I was horrified at the restriction of 210 sq. m. As a civil servant said at the time, this was specifically to exclude what is described as Georgian mansions.These buildings are a feature of our city; they are the identifying mark. They are the buildings that most need to be rescued. I understand the situation will be kept under review by the Minister, Deputy Noonan, but this House should have a significant role to play in extending and making acceptable the terms under which living city initiative grants are made.
Despite some people's faint-hearted anticipation that we will have very little to discuss other than statements, we will have much to discuss. There is legislation from these benches. My colleague and friend, Senator McDowell, will, for example, be presenting a Bill. I have some difficulties with it but I will make those clear during the discussion on the legislation. Senator Craughwell also has a Bill. There are many legislative measures being brought forward by those on this side of the House and I look forward to the Government treating them with respect.
On behalf of Sinn Féin, I extend our sympathies to the community in Orlando, particularly the LGBT community, and to the police officer and his partner in Paris who were shot dead. I commend the Yes Equality and LGBT groups throughout the country and in Mayo for the vigils they are organising in solidarity and support for the community in Orlando.
I will refer briefly to Seanad reform. Our team in the Seanad is adamant that the recommendations that have been made must be implemented and that the necessary reform must be carried through. We have a motion, which will be submitted tomorrow, on the establishment of a sub-committee to examine properly how this can be done, but we will also be supportive of other Bills which reflect our commitment to the reform that is necessary in this House.
The Minister for Health should be invited to the Seanad to address the emergency situation whereby 26,000 operations and procedures have been cancelled in hospitals. This is due to beds having been taken out of the system from the 1980s to the present. This allows medical teams who are paid huge amounts of money to stand by and do nothing because they do not have beds in which they can treat patients. Those who have taken the beds out of the system must be held accountable for the 26,000 people who have not been able to have their procedures performed.
In addition, could the Minister with responsibility for heritage be invited to the House to explain the bizarre situation whereby the Government is appealing the decision relating to Moore Street and to outline the rationale for that?
My remarks will be brief. On behalf of the civil engagement group, I echo the message of solidarity and concern regarding the tragic events that unfolded in Orlando. I attended the vigil that took place this week in the same location, next to Dublin City Hall, where Ireland last year celebrated the transformation in LGBT rights. It was a very sad occasion and sad to see such a solemn and concerned atmosphere among those attending. We extend our concern and solidarity to those in Orlando, but it is also imperative that we send a message about the importance of a considered response grounded in respect and peace and on a concern for diversity and a recognition of diversity. That is very important, as well as to acknowledge the homophobic nature of the attack.
On the Order of Business, my colleagues will address a number of the motions which have been put forward. The civil engagement group is happy to support what we believe could be a transformative opportunity in terms of the introduction of a Bill to implement the Manning report. That will be introduced later and we look forward to supporting it and working with all Members of the House as it proceeds through the House.Senator Ruane, who spoke earlier during Commencement Matters, will address other concerns and some of the motions put forward. We note that statements on delivering sustainable full employment are on the Order of Business. We should move speedily within this House in order that we do not simply look to statements on issues like full employment but look to solid motions and legislation. I echo the points made by Senator Norris. I believe there are a wealth of proposals and a wealth of legislation that can emerge from all sides of the House, and I believe there is the strength to pass those through this House. I look forward to seeing this in play.
An issue that emerged today that is not on the Order of Business is the publication by Women's Aid of figures that are shocking to us all. The figures concern the continued depth and presence of violence against women. We may look at this at a future date. Again, this House can play a role in driving forward the practical measures that will be needed to ensure real implementation of the Istanbul Convention.
I join other colleagues in expressing the sympathies of the Labour Party group in the Seanad to all the victims and families of victims caught up in the horrific attack in Orlando, which was a homophobic hate crime, a crime of terror and a crime that has highlighted not only homophobia and terrorism but issues around gun control, particularly how somebody who had been under investigation by the FBI was able to purchase these horrific assault rifles. I commend GLEN, BeLonGTo and Transgender Equality Network Ireland on organising the vigil on Monday evening and the Lord Mayor of Dublin on opening the book of condolences in the Mansion House. I understand it is open until 4 p.m. today. Again, I express my sympathies not only to those in Orlando but also to the family of the police officer killed so horrifically in Paris.
I join Senator Higgins in calling for a future debate on domestic violence in light of the figures published today by Women's Aid. We have had some very good collaborative work in previous Seanadaí on domestic violence and mechanisms to address this huge problem.
I also look forward to working with colleagues from all parties and the Independent group on the pressing issue of Seanad reform. In particular, the Labour Party group in the Seanad will reintroduce the Competition (Amendment) Bill. We would like to see further progress on this Bill, which was a Private Members' Bill accepted on Second Stage by the Government in January 2016. I hope we will see this proceed through the House as a Private Members' Bill.
I ask the Leader for a debate on the ruling last week of the United Nations Human Rights Committee on the application brought by Amanda Mellet. I commend her on her bravery and that of her family and those involved in Termination for Medical Reasons because the ruling of the committee has shone a light on the need to address the eighth amendment to the Constitution. The finding that Ireland was in breach of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and had violated the human rights of Ms Mellet because of the prohibition in our law of termination, even in cases of fatal foetal abnormality, deserves a very prompt and urgent response from the Government. I am disappointed to hear the Taoiseach appear to dismiss or denigrate that ruling as not being binding. I am concerned for two reasons about his proposal to put forward a citizens' assembly. First, it appears to be an attempt to delay taking any action on the need to abolish the eighth amendment. The Taoiseach did not need to put the issue of Seanad abolition to a citizens' assembly before he called the referendum on that and I do not believe we need a citizens' assembly before we have a referendum on repeal of the eighth amendment. Second, some commentary about the citizens' assembly from Fine Gael politicians has betrayed an anti-politician tenor that is disturbing, that this idea is somehow going to be better than the Convention on the Constitution, a model which I think all of us in the previous Seanad agreed was a very worthwhile model that paved the way for the marriage equality referendum. That Constitutional Convention was made up of representatives of political parties and citizens chosen in accordance with the demographics of the country. This sort of model would be preferable to a citizens' assembly. If a citizens' assembly is to be held, it needs to be done expeditiously and we do not want to see any further delay. We do not want to see any more cases like that of Savita Halappanavar or the tragic case in the Midland Regional Hospital in Mullingar. We need to move towards repeal of the eighth amendment without delay.
I wish to raise the ruling out of order of the issue I raised under Commencement Matters.It asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to ensure the terms of reference for the new tender process for the issuing of driver licences would require that all post offices would act as agents, enabling the public to obtain-----
I am at a loss as the Minister has responsibility for the Road Safety Authority, and the authority deals with the issue of driver licences. My proposal would help post offices and the general public. It should operate like the passport office.
My suggestion is that in the same fashion that the post office facilitates the issuing of passports, it could be done for driving licences. That would give more business to post offices.
I ask that the Minister of State with responsibility for the Office of Public Works, Deputy Seán Canney, could come before the Seanad to speak to the issue of flood defences and particularly the minor works scheme. We know a major €430 million major capital investment was announced last summer by the OPW, which was very welcome. Some of these schemes will not be rolled out for several years and in the meantime, there is a minor works scheme that can be used. I am concerned that there may be obstacles or delays in the rolling out of this. In particular, I am thinking of Crossmolina, near where I live, as people were very badly affected. Such is people's frustration with the pace of progress that they are prepared to go into the river, which is not a good idea. We must get an update on how the existing scheme, which can facilitate shorter-term solutions, is being used to our benefit and to avoid potential flooding when winter comes. Now, in the summer, is the time to act.
As someone living in Chicago in the United States, which is the city with the highest murder rate in that country, arising from gang and drug violence, I am still appalled by what happened in Orlando in the past couple of days. A couple of years ago, 91% of American people polled wanted background checks for gun control but such an initiative could not get 60 votes in the US Senate because of the money that the National Rifle Association had donated to politicians. In my own restaurants in Chicago, I have a notice on the doors with a gun and a red line going through it, as it is legal to carry concealed weapons in Chicago. That is so I am covered legally if someone shoots in my restaurant. This has all come from the money spent by these political action committees. There is no control on the money coming in to these committees and they can spend it how they like, with no disclosure. We must ensure we do not allow that to happen in this country.
I have no problem with the Order of Business as outlined but I ask the Leader to invite to the Chamber the Minister for Finance so he can give his views on the marketing and administration of whole-of-life insurance policies in this country. Members may be aware that such policies involve an applicant taking out a life cover policy for events after his or her death and it would protect the family financially. It is good and useful for most people to undertake such a policy. However, people do not seem to realise that after ten years paying into such a policy, an anniversary is reached whereby an insurance company may, and invariably will, increase the premia significantly with no corresponding increase in the guaranteed sum. I can give a brief example. Ten years ago, an individual took out a whole-of-life assurance policy, with the premium set at €90 per month and the assured sum at €100,000.Ten years later, the sum insured has grown to approximately €220,000, a 100% increase, but the premium has gone from €90 up to €800 per month. This is something most people cannot afford.
When these policies are being sold, it is not made clear to the purchaser that this is going to be the scenario. One finds people who are coming into middle and old age and who can no longer afford to maintain the premiums on their life cover at a time when, actuarially speaking, they probably have more need of it than ever before. This matter was raised in the previous Dáil by my colleague, Deputy Michael McGrath, who has identified a very significant cohort of people who are caught in the trap to which I refer. It is a trap, because in many cases individuals have used life cover as security for their mortgages and they cannot arbitrarily opt out because then they do not have mortgage protection, which is more difficult to obtain the older one gets. This matter must be examined. I raised it briefly in the previous Seanad. I am going to put forward a Bill on it soon if I do not see the Minister moving on it. I hope the Leader could make that possible.
I congratulate the Cathaoirleach and wish him every success in the position.
I am very pleased to hear the consensus from speakers today in favour of reform of this House and moving ahead with that process. Senator Ardagh, on behalf of Fianna Fáil, has spoken about it, Sinn Féin is committed to it, as is Senator Bacik on behalf of the Labour Party and Senator Higgins on behalf of Civil Engagement. Given that the Leader of the House represents a Government that has as part of its programme the implementation of the Manning report, it strikes me that there is an overwhelming consensus in this House for moving forward on the question of reform, even allowing for the minor difference that Senator Norris has about his own particular constituency. In those circumstances, two things strike me that I want to put before the House. I understand completely that due to the delay in the formation of a Government and the fact the Government is in a minority in the Lower House, there will be a dearth of Government legislative proposals for some time and the volume of Government legislation will be less than has been the case for a long period. I urge the House to make good use of the time available to it to deal with proposals which do not necessarily come from the Government but which are, particularly in the case to which I am referring, in accordance with the programme for Government. We should not just shoehorn everything that is not proposed by the Leader into Private Members' business. Rather, we should order the House's business so as to accommodate what the House in terms of the issues with which it wants to deal. It is in that context that I wish to move an amendment to the Order of Business, namely, that No. 11 be taken before No. 1.
Ba mhaith liom i dtosach báire moladh a thabhairt do na Seanadóirí atá i láthair a bhfuil cúpla focal acu na focail sin a úsáid. Tuigim go bhfuil roinnt Gaeilge ag an gcuid is mó den dream atá anseo agus tá sé fíorthábhachtach go mbeadh muid ag tabhairt ceannródaíocht ó thaobh na Gaeilge de i dTithe an Oireachtais. Chomh maith leis sin, ba mhaith liom iarraidh ar an gCeannaire go mbeadh díospóireacht againn leis an Aire Stáit Gaeltachta maidir le cúrsaí Gaeilge agus Gaeltachta agus na pleananna atá aige ins an tréimhse Rialtais seo. I am just encouraging any Senators who do have a cúpla focal to try to use them. It is important that we show ceannródaíocht and that we use it in the Seanad. The amount of Irish that has been used in recent years has been very positive.
Could the Leader also clarify the time slots allotted to different speakers for Private Members' business? It is not clear how much time will be allotted in respect of the various slots.
We are often accused in the Seanad of speaking rubbish. I think we need a Minister to come in here and talk rubbish to us because there is a huge issue around the final act of the Labour Party and Deputy Alan Kelly in government to allow private companies to increase refuse collection charges. There is a plethora of companies dealing with these services and there is no regulation in respect of what is happening at present.There is a situation in Connemara where companies are trying to charge people a €224 standing charge without ever picking up a bin or a bag. I am told that the same company is running the exact same service in Leitrim but it is only charging a standing charge of €80. Fair play to Leitrim. I am not sure how it pulled that one off, but certainly we in Connemara and in Galway will not take it sitting down. It illustrates how this bin tax which is being imposed on people is totally unacceptable. It comes from the privatisation of the refuse collection system which was ill-thought out and which, in our opinion, should not have been put forward. It needs to be reviewed. We need the Minister for rubbish - I am not certain whether it is the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government who is dealing with the matter or if it is has been passed over to the new Minister - to discuss this immediately. The measure is to start in July and it is ill-thought out. There are families who cannot afford to pay their water charges, the property tax and so forth, and they see this as another tax being piled upon them with very little choice and very little consultation. There are questions around where the money is going, where the data are being collected and how they are being used. I urge the Leader to have that debate next week, if possible. It is a very pressing issue.
It is a great honour to serve in the Twenty-fifth Seanad and this is my first contribution. I acknowledge the work of the carers in society. This is carers' week and, as my Fianna Fáil colleague said, there are long waiting lists of people applying to be carers. It is slowing down the system and it is not helping carers, families or children. It is time that steps were taken to work on an all party basis to support carers, their families and those who need care.
I thank the Cathaoirleach for the opportunity to address the House. I have just returned from a few days in Paris and I want to advise Members of this House that we should be very proud of the travelling supporters who are doing this country's name great service as supporters of the Republic of Ireland soccer team, and indeed supporters of the Northern Ireland soccer team, in the European Championship. I extend best wishes to them.
I wish to raise two issues. I was taken aback by the response of the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, to Senator Ruane's Commencement matter today on the nature of addiction and drugs issues. It appears that the Minister is intending to separate the Misuse of Drugs Act into two different pieces of legislation, which I do not think is necessary. What is needed in this House is a more elongated debate on the nature of addiction, drugs and drug crime and to put the issues on a proper footing, which is in keeping with the international move towards decriminalisation and to having a health response rather than a criminal justice response.
On my second point, I stood in this House on a number of occasions as the Minister of State and what impressed me most about it was when it stood as and spoke with one voice. The House was never more powerful than on the issue of direct provision. I believe that Members of this House will know, regardless of their political background, that this House was very impressive and managed to move that debate onto a higher platform when Members all stood together and tried to move the issue along. Once again, I was very taken aback when I saw a deletion from the programme for Government. It was a line from the draft programme for Government which referred to the implementation of the McMahon report. Many Members in this House had difficulties with the report and possibly felt it did not go far enough. They believe that direct provision should have been abolished, but at least the McMahon report was the first proper report into the direct provision system in 15 years, and it would have gone a long way towards helping the lives of those in that system. The recommendation in the draft programme for Government that the McMahon report be implemented was deleted and does not feature in the actual programme for Government. I ask that the House again uses its campaigning zeal to seek reforms to the direct provision system. Collectively, and regardless of political backgrounds, all Members believe these reforms and the McMahon report need to be implemented in full.
Gabhaim buíochas leis an gCathaoirleach. I congratulate him on his election as Cathaoirleach of the Seanad and I look forward to working with all colleagues across the House on various issues during the term of this Seanad. I also wish to be associated with the expressions of sympathy to those affected by the Orlando killings, which were terrible. Our thoughts and prayers are with all of those in the LGBT community and all those affected by those horrible killings.
I call on the Leader of the House to arrange a debate on the future employment skills needs of the country. As the economy recovers, we see employers struggle to find workers with the appropriate skill sets to fill the vacancies being advertised in locations throughout the country. As a former apprentice myself, I think this is an area that certainly needs review and reform. We should always be evaluating and considering lifelong learning, reskilling and training, but there is a particular need for this now, especially in the construction sector, where there is a lack of apprentices coming through in the various trades, as the economy recovers and demand increases.
It is important we have a debate in the House and that we bring in the various Ministers responsible for education, employment and jobs and have an in-depth analysis of the current and future skills needs not only in Dublin but in all regions. Languages are another area in which there are huge job opportunities for the country. We need to improve the language capabilities of students who are qualifying given the job opportunities that are available to them. I ask the Leader to make provision for a debate in this House on skills needs and future requirements and demands.
I join others in expressing my sympathies to the people of Orlando and the families and friends of those murdered and slaughtered there and ask the Leader to convey to the American ambassador the deepest sympathy of the House in respect of what has happened and all that can be done to prevent a recurrence.
This Thursday week, we face a major challenge in respect of the referendum in Britain, that is, Brexit. We have €1 billion a week in trade with Britain. It is our biggest import market and second biggest export market and we are its fourth largest trading partner. There are many Irish families living in Britain. Some may resent the fact we would intervene, but it would be helpful if we were to contact friends and relations in the UK over the next few days. This vote will have a major impact on the future of this economy as well as the British economy.
A number of former Ministers and Ministers of State are now Members of this House and they will realise what is involved in negotiations. I was involved in the negotiation of the Single European Act. Britain had a major input into that particular Act, as did Ireland. We worked together as a team in Europe. I do not think the British people have been sufficiently informed about the influence of Britain, the UK and Ireland in those negotiations, the co-operation we received in those negotiations and the benefit to both island nations on the edge of Europe.
It is vital that Britain remains in the European Union. The latest opinion polls are concerning. The Financial Timeshas just published that 44% of voters say they will vote to leave and 47% say they will vote to remain. There are a number of undecided voters and the next few days will tell the tale. This campaign has been led with propaganda, particularly on the "Out" side, which reflects poorly on the ability and the achievements of the United Kingdom within the European Union. I appeal to anyone with relations in that country to give them a ring in the next few days and ask them to vote to stay. It is in our interests and it is in the national interest and for the love of their country that they would vote to stay in the European Union.
I congratulate the Cathaoirleach on his elevation, which I have not done since it took place, and I wish him well in his position. I also wish well the Leader of the House, Senator Buttimer, as he takes the House forward.
I note that we are starting on a bad footing, which is statements. I would like this House to avoid statements as much as possible and to deal with legislation as we move forward. I would also love it if Members of the House remembered, whether they want to be in the Dáil or not, that they are in the Seanad and that we do not have geographical constituencies.This is a national House of Parliament. I ask that people try to keep the old constituency stuff at a minimum.
I second Senator McDowell’s amendment to the Order of Business.
I congratulate my colleague and good friend from Galway, Senator Lawless, for drawing attention to gun law and the outrageous situation involving the National Rifle Association, NRA, in the United States. That might be worth a debate.
The former Ministers for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Defence and Public Expenditure and Reform, did a fantastic job during the Easter celebrations to commemorate the centenary of the Easter Rising. As a result a medal was struck for the members of the Defence Forces who paraded on that day. That medal will be available to anyone who joins the Defence Forces between now and the end of the year. However, 120 men who formerly served in the Defence Forces and are now members of the Irish United Nations Veterans Association, IUNVA, are denied access to this medal. That is an outrage. Not only did these men parade on Easter Sunday and at every military event but they have also served this country with distinction, at home and abroad. It is miserable in the extreme to deny them the medal that every other serving member of the Defence Forces will receive. I ask the Leader to take that matter up with the Minister for Defence. Other Members might perhaps join me in this request. Many suffer post-traumatic stress disorder, etc., and have sacrificed being with their families for a long time to serve the country. Will the Leader please ask the Minister about this and report back to the House?
This is my first time speaking in the House. I send my support, solidarity and love to the victims in Orlando.
This is carers' week. I acknowledge the hard work these people do day in day out, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, looking after their loved ones, and the struggle they have accessing facilities and resources. I also pay a tribute to the over 100,000 of my colleagues, nurses and midwives, of the entire island of Ireland. I thank them. I will miss them but I will be here to support nurses and midwives throughout my tenure.
A matter in Cloverhill Remand Prison has come to my attention. The prison has a dedicated psychiatric nursing staff to care for people placed on remand from remote courts all over the country during the night. They are often very disturbing cases and many involve mental illness. The nurses have an excellent record in not having to use special observation cells. They make the assessment immediately a person is admitted, realise what is needed and how much care and supervision is required. Fergal Black, the director of health for the Irish Prison Service, has decided to cut this night cover by 50%. This is outrageous and this House should support me in calling for the Minister to engage with the nurses and with Fergal Black to stop this proposed cut.
I congratulate the Cathaoirleach on his appointment and wish him success. I join in the condemnation of the massacre in Orlando. This is a hate crime and I am delighted that the people of the island of Ireland have joined in sending condolences to the people of Orlando. I look forward to the debate on homelessness. The current situation is causing major hardship for families.
A colleague of mine who came to Dublin last week had to pay €160 for a hotel room on a Wednesday night because of a concert. That is one aspect of the issue that needs to be addressed. The cost of hotel rooms is affecting the tourists who come to our country, particularly in Dublin. Tourism increased by 33% between 2010 and 2015, but the number of hotel rooms has decreased. This must be tackled immediately because it could damage the tourism potential of our city and country.
I wish to take this opportunity to congratulate the Cathaoirleach on his election. He was well chosen and brings experience and integrity to the role. He is a great listener and is fair. I would also like to congratulate Senator Jerry Buttimer on his appointment as Leader. He has the qualities to make the Twenty-fifth Seanad, which comprises an elected group of powerful people, come alive internally and externally. He chaired the meetings of the Joint Committee on Health and Children when it was discussing end-of-life issues, and did so with exceptional ability, determination and compassion. He will bring that same talent to the House.
Everybody is talking about reform of the Seanad, which we need internally and externally, in terms of how people get in here and what they do afterwards. I would like to make a suggestion to the Cathaoirleach. Perhaps we could have more control of electronic equipment, so that Senators who come to the House would listen to arguments and argue against each other without having their heads in phones or tablets, especially when some of the subjects about which we are arguing are quite profound, if not life-changing. It is very disconcerting to be sitting beside somebody who might be ordering shoes or talking to relations all over the world. I am not against electronic media, but we should show a certain discretion, especially when the national and international world is now watching us on screens. My grandmother used to say that if one wanted to change things, one had better start in one's kitchen as opposed to going up town. Maybe we should start with a few mannerly changes in the House, one of which could involve the discretionary use of electronic media.
Unless a Senator clearly indicates to me that he or she wishes to speak and I can see the Senator concerned, I will skip him or her. I skipped Fianna Fáil because I did not see anyone indicate. I will allow Senator Kelleher to speak. I skipped her by accident. I will try to keep to the groups; otherwise, there will be confusion. For example, nobody indicated from Fianna Fáil so I skipped those Senators. There are eight on the list from Fine Gael and I will skip anyone who does not indicate otherwise. I will not invite everyone to speak.
I would like to congratulate the Cathaoirleach on his election last week. I would also like to extend my condolences to those killed in Orlando.
It is carers' week, and we are all endorsing the great work that carers do. It is all very fine to talk about that, but it is another thing to provide proper support. Some 63% of people with dementia are living at home and are primarily cared for by the carers of whom we speak. We know that those diagnosed with dementia would like to live at home, but their carers would like some help. Until such time as we put home care on a similar statutory basis to the fair deal scheme for residential care, we will continue to have budgets that are inadequate and people who cannot access that level of care. At some point I hope to get cross-party support in the House for the establishment of a fair deal scheme for home care, so that we are not just saying nice words and patting carers on the head. I want us to do something practical for carers and those for whom they are caring. We know from reports that people have a preference for care at home.
I wish to be associated with the expressions of sympathy to those who suffered tragedy in Orlando, which was quite shocking. I wish to see equality, awareness of disability and of difference and diversity become a mandatory component of primary education in this country. As legislators, we can introduce the most forward thinking, radical legislation one could possibly imagine to prevent inequality, prejudice and people being treated in a bad way but no matter what we do we must change people's mindset. The only way we can do that is through education. The reason I make such a call is because in one seaside resort in County Clare, in recent months, a person of small stature was hired by ladies on a hen party. He was chained to the hen and displayed in a most despicable and vulgar manner, and it was portrayed in the media as entertainment. It was not entertainment; it was a disgraceful abuse of somebody who is of small stature. We can introduce legislation in this House but we will not stop such things happening. The only way we can stop it is by creating awareness among young people so that future generations will not consider such behaviour as a form of entertainment worth paying for.
This country is a great and the vast majority of people who go on weekends away, be they stag parties, hen parties or any other kind of entertainment, behave themselves and act in a respectful manner. Unfortunately, a minority does not, and the only way to eliminate them is through education. I call on the Leader to organise for the Minister for Education and Skills to come to the House to talk about reviewing the primary school curriculum in a way that embeds, embraces and delivers equality and disability awareness in a way that is meaningful and will make a difference.
I take this opportunity to congratulate you, a Chathaoirligh, on your appointment and wish you the very best of luck. As Fianna Fáil spokesperson on health, I ask the Leader to invite the Minister to come to the House to discuss the district hospital network with a view to establishing a capital investment programme to upgrade some of the facilities. District hospitals should not be seen as a relic of a bygone era and if adequately resourced, they can provide a vital cog in the delivery of a modern health service. They are a widespread resource. We are not talking about a new layer of bureaucracy. There are more than 100 district hospitals around the country. Without being parochial, in deference to what Senator Craughwell said, there are four district hospitals in Mayo and with the correct level of investment we could alleviate the pressures on the secondary hospital system. The district hospital network operates in three separate ways in so far as they prevent admissions to acute hospitals, facilitate discharges from acute hospitals and can also work as an interface between the fair deal system, which is experiencing some delays even though it has improved in recent months.
Will the Leader considering inviting the Minister, Deputy Simon Coveney, to the House to explain and give some rationale regarding a proposal that was announced in the national media yesterday about the provision of €200 million for a critical infrastructure fund? We know we have a social and affordable housing crisis in this country. Everyone in politics and public life knows that, and the citizens know it, yet it seems to be taking so long to address it. From talking to councillors right around the country we know that critical infrastructure is short in many places. We know many bad planning decisions were made where no critical infrastructure was provided on land that was zoned by people of all parties and none across local government. We also know the Planning and Development Act clearly provides for sections 48 and 49 levy schemes for planning permissions to provide for contributions by developers to development, and ultimately they would be ring-fenced for critical infrastructure to aid, assist and bring about those developments.I refer, in particular, to housing. It is great that, yesterday and the day before, the Minister made a host of announcements in the media that funding for housing is coming, which is welcome. It is interesting that this Minister has hit the ground running with announcements but they must go a bit further. I note that in today's edition of The Irish Times, there has been a correction regarding these announcements yesterday in the media and that this funding will not come until the back end of 2017. I ask the Leader for clarification in this regard because, throughout the country, approvals for planning permission are withering on the vine because developers cannot get projects off the ground as a result of the lack of infrastructure and bad planning in preparing for that infrastructure. More importantly, in some cases it is not viable and I was informed the other day of a cost of €45,000 in respect of critical infrastructure before one even gets going. As that will not happen, Members must face up to the reality. A continuous supply of affordable and social housing is needed and I look forward to partaking in the debate on homelessness later because this also is part of this subject. However, I ask the Leader to invite the Minister into the Chamber to clarify what is this fund, when will it come on stream and where he will allocate it.
I have just one matter to raise. However, on listening to the contribution on Brexit from a Fianna Fáil colleague, I note I am in the unique position of having a vote in that referendum, which I will use to put Ireland first by voting to remain. This is because, in the first instance, that is the best thing for our national interest and our interest as an island nation. There is, of course, another Union to stay out of which I would love to have a vote but hopefully down the line, as allowed for in the Good Friday Agreement, perhaps the Seanad can fulfil the ideals of 1916 as outlined and work towards that Border poll and democratically give everyone the right to assert national independence.
Ar an drochuair, is in ísle brí go gcaithfidh mé i dtús báire tragóid a tharla sa Fhrainc i rith na seachtaine le linn comórtas sacair Euro 2016, atá ar siúl sa tír sin faoi láthair, a ardú sa Teach inniu. As many Members will be aware, despite all the joyous revelry taking place in France during the European Championships this week, unfortunately we lost young Darren Rodgers from Ballymena while over there, when he tragically fell to his death. I send, on behalf of all Members I am sure, sympathies to Darren's family, friends and all those who were with him. I hope the Chair will indulge me as I intend to ask the Leader to do something unique and I will be brief. I refer to the fans that has travelled and which has represented both teams, and us overall, exceptionally well in their behaviour and conduct and in the revelry in which they have been engaged. However, Members also will be aware that at present, the family of Lee McLaughlin in County Donegal has issued an appeal for people to keep an eye out for him. He is missing and his family is unaware of his whereabouts. We have a duty of care to our people who travel overseas, in particular for major international soccer or rugby tournaments to which such vast numbers of citizens travel. Perhaps the Ministers with responsibility for sport both North and South, as well as the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister, OFMDFM, can consider a concerted campaign on how to promote welfare and looking after one another and how to engage with people back home. While I appreciate I am not seeking something specific, perhaps the Seanad can consider the welfare of citizens travelling abroad in such big numbers.
First, I congratulate the Cathaoirleach and the Leader of the House. I wish them both, as well as all Members, well. While they may have different views, they all are a family in respect of the work they are committed to doing as part of the Oireachtas. I wish to take a moment to remember a former member of this House with whom I became very friendly many years ago, namely, Joe Doyle, and to send my regards to his wife, Peggy, and family. He was a lovely man and I worked closely with him a number of times.
In respect of Orlando, in one way it absolutely and horrendously is an attack on a community. Members also must understand, within that horrendous context, that it is an attack on democratic participation.Democracy guarantees that every life, no matter whose, is sacred and as valuable as anyone else's. I have been heard say before that the issue of disability is not a sectoral one but a societal one. In the same way as for any group in society that is being attacked or is not getting fairness, it is an attack on a whole society.
Carers' week has been mentioned already. I was pleased to have the opportunity to participate in its launch on Monday morning. I will bring two insights to this. First, the great majority of carers in this country, up to 80%, are female. I would put this thought to us all here: what more practical way to support, liberate and encourage the full participation of women in society than to take the yoke of 24-7 caring from them as best we can? The other point I would make about caring is that one does not just become a carer and cease being a lover or relative - son, brother, father, mother or whatever. It is something that comes with living but it should not be something that absolutely consumes the person involved.
My being here is a function of getting support from everybody from right across the political spectrum, not only the Members of both Houses here but particularly the local authority members. I was extremely struck - it was an eye-opener to me and it is a reflection on some of the points already made this morning - by the fantastic and often unsung work that members of local authorities are doing, and the commitment and heart that they bring to it.
Every entity in the Oireachtas is in support of the ratification and implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. It is to be ratified by the end of this year. My request to this House and, indeed, the Leader is to ensure that we can bring that flavour of inclusiveness for persons with disabilities, their families and carers into our every debate and consideration.
I congratulate the Cathaoirleach on his elevation and congratulate the Leader, both of whom will do a fine job.
I want to highlight an issue that I highlighted several times in the previous Seanad - that is, the area of childhood obesity. In particular, I highlight a report by the Irish Heart Foundation which has found that junk food companies or food companies which are selling particular junk food products are purposely targeting young Irish teenagers on social media sites such as Facebook. I suppose these companies are trying to get them as young as they can but, as young as they are on there, they are being targeted. The report revealed that the sophisticated techniques used to target children online through Facebook include tagging and comments. They do it in a humorous way and sometimes make reference to sports stars and festivals. It is subliminal and sophisticated. According to a child psychiatrist - this morning I was researching this a little - these companies are using high-tech analytics to target children directly so that they can monitor them. Perhaps Senators have seen on social media that if one shows an interest in a certain matter, suddenly one finds one has many other things to do with that on one's feed. This is dangerous. We have legislation in place to restrict this type of advertising, which is targeted at children in specific ways, and social media should not be any different. According to the research, 75% of parents were extremely unhappy when they discovered that this was happening. They had not a clue that this type of marketing was getting at their children. We have a serious issue with childhood obesity in this country, with one child in four either overweight or obese - I must have stated that statistic 150 times in the Seanad. We have not done enough to date. The Government now has a Minister of State with responsibility for health promotion, and I do not want that to be symbolic.I want us to take this issue seriously as the situation is grave. Our hospitals already suffer under the weight of diabetes, cancer and other lifestyle-related issues. Obesity is the elephant in the room. We have to address and face up to the issue. Some people are very aware of it. The vast majority of the population are busy living and perhaps not putting as much focus on it as we should, as a society. I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on obesity, in particular childhood obesity, as early as possible. I ask him to bring the new Minister in here to discuss how we will tackle the problem in a real way and have no more symbolism.
Before I call Senator Murnane O'Connor, I wish to let the House know the following. Senator Ó Domhnaill raised the issue of a Donegal man missing in Paris. I understand that the missing man has been found safe and well, which is a bit of good news for sports lovers and the House. I wanted to inform the House of that development in case the Leader responds to the matter. The next speaker is Senator Murnane O'Connor. I apologise for the delay. I shall try to get around to everybody but everybody wants to speak. I will not put anyone out, if I can.
First, I congratulate the Cathaoirleach on his new role. I know he will do exceptionally well and will be very fair to everyone, which is so important.
Second, I want to convey my sympathy to the Orlando victims and their families. Everybody has been affected by the incident and it is an awful tragedy.
I do not wish to repeat what everyone has said about the national carers' week. A carer's work is such an invaluable role. It is so hard to learn, when one reads the figures and is fighting for people to get carers, that there is a backlog of 11 months for appeals for carers to be provided. We live in a society where people are living longer and we encourage people to stay in their homes, which is part of the new Government, and yet we must fight for 11 months to get appeals for carers to be provided to the elderly and other people. Such a situation is not good enough. I ask the Cathaoirleach to call on the Minister to address this matter because it needs to be urgently addressed. There is no point in us sitting here next year during national carers' week having waited another 11 months for appeals to come through. The current situation is not good enough and is unacceptable.
On a local issue, I represent Carlow as part of my role here in the Seanad. I do not know if many other counties have respite centres but the only one in Carlow was called Tir na nÓg and it catered for children aged from two to 18 years. As Senators may know, Carlow has a population of 59,000. Sadly, the centre was closed a few months ago even though it provided a vital service to the people, particularly the children of Carlow. I need answers, the people of Carlow want it re-opened and I need to make sure that funding is in place. I ask that the Minister for Health comes in here to address the matter.
Comhghairdeas leis an gCathaoirleach agus le Ceannaire an Tí. Bhí mé an-sásta cloisteáil go raibh an Seanadóir Trevor Ó Clochartaigh ag labhairt ar ball ó thaobh Gaeilge a úsáid mar is í an Ghaeilge an chéad teanga atá agamsa.
I had to learn English which means that English is my second language. People sometimes say to me that they know by the way I speak English that I grew up speaking Irish. I do not know if that is a compliment or otherwise.
Gabhaim buíochas leis an gCathaoirleach as ucht an deis labhairt ar feadh nóiméad nó dhó.
In this House I feel like a square pin in a round hole or whatever because I come from a different space. I am still working my way around but I have learned two things. First, there is a tremendous passion in this room and for that I feel very privileged to be part of this group. Senators really mean what they are talking about and are totally passionate, which will make a difference.
Second, as Senators, we come from so many different backgrounds. I do not want to pick out one person but it is really important that we have somebody here to represent our diaspora and that person is Senator Billy Lawless. I hope some media is listening to me. Senator Lawless has employed not only my daughter but hundreds of sons and daughters of people from all over Ireland.
I say fair play to Senator Lawless. Not only that, and it has not just been him, but other Irish people who live abroad and all over the world back each other up. Sometimes I ask the following question. Could we not back each other up a bit more here on this island? It is for that reason I believe I can work with everybody here in the Seanad and I hope that everybody here can work with me. It is not really Seanad reform that I seek. I want it re-invented, which goes a little deeper than reform, because we can and we will make a difference. For me the measurement for whatever length of time I am in the Seanad, will be by asking myself what little contribution did I make and did we make as a group to make a real difference. I ask the Cathaoirleach to invite the Minister for Education and Skills to the House to address two issues. The first is the drop-out rate at third level, with many people who do their leaving certificate and go on to third level dropping out within 12 months. In some third level institutions the rate is 25% while in others it is around 12%. That is a huge loss to the economy and the country and I would like to know why it is happening and what can be done about it.
The second issue relating to education, about which a number of people have contacted me, albeit not recently but in the middle and more distant past, is the level of depression and stress among secondary school children. This is significant in the context of depression in adult life. Teachers, particularly career guidance teachers, should be supported and equipped to deal with this in the first instance. I would appreciate it if we could invite the Minister to address the House in that regard.
As this is my first time to address the House I would like to extend my congratulations to the Cathaoirleach on his election and to Senator Buttimer on his selection as Leader. I would also like to join other Senators in expressing my sincere sympathy to the victims of the recent tragedies in Orlando and Paris.
Senator Leyden raised the very timely and important issue of the upcoming referendum in the United Kingdom on its continuing membership of the European Union. This is vitally important and I echo the Senator's call for the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Charles Flanagan, or the Minister of State, Deputy Dara Murphy, to come into the House to take statements on the issue, although I know they are both travelling today. It is my strongly held view that membership of the EU has been a wholly positive experience for the people of the United Kingdom, Ireland and all other member states.
I hosted a briefing this morning on opportunities for young graduates within the EU. A huge amount of EU funding is available for groups all over the country. However, the Erasmus+ programme is only receiving half of the amount of applications that it should due to the difficulty of the application process which is implemented by Léargas and other bodies. In that context, I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs to the House to take statements on the process of applying for Erasmus+ funding and to resolve the issues involved so that more groups in Ireland can avail of this much-needed funding.
I ask the Leader to use his good offices to ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade to provide extra resources to the Passport Office which is under extreme pressure, not only at this time of year, but throughout the year, to provide passports in a timely manner. I ask that extra resources be provided because this is an essential service, particularly at this time of year when many people are going on holidays and need passports at short notice.
In that context, I would also ask the Minister to ensure that the Passport Office would do as the motor taxation office does and text people a month or two before their passport expires and to send them a reminder by post. This is not rocket science. People can forget, particularly as passports last for ten years, that their passport is out of date and it is only when they have a journey to make that they become aware that it has expired.
I welcome the comments made today on Seanad reform. As I said last week, everyone here has a part to play in reforming the Seanad. I welcome, in particular, the legislation introduced by Senator McDowell, and my party will be making a contribution to the debate on same. I also welcome other parties making contributions and putting forward motions, particularly as they campaigned vigorously to get rid of this House. If they had their way, the Seanad would not be here to be reformed. In order for the Seanad to remain, there is an obligation on us to reform ourselves and not leave it to others to do so.
I congratulate the Cathaoirleach on his election and express my sympathies regarding the recent outrage in Orlando.I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs to come to the House to debate the crisis in child care. There is a massive crisis in child care, at the root of which is funding. As an illustration of how bad the funding situation is, as a percentage of GDP, we spend 0.2% on child care. We are not just at the bottom of the European league; we are at the bottom by a million miles. The next worst is the UK, which spends four times as much. It is clear we are in trouble when the Tory Government spends four times as much as our Government on child care. Three crèches have closed in Limerick in the past week. In one case, at Tic Toc crèche in Westbury, the workers had to sit in to get their rights with regard to redundancy payment. At the heart of the crisis is funding. The typical pay for a child care worker is €9.80 per hour. That is how little we value child care here, despite all the rhetoric, and is an indictment of the last Government and previous Governments for the past ten or 20 years. That it was not addressed during the Celtic tiger period is an absolute disgrace. Child care workers at the front line are voting with their feet. People who are qualified with doctoral and master's degrees are leaving to take up child care posts in America, Britain and other countries where they are paid properly. We need a debate on this issue. We need to address the crisis. I am proud to be a member of SIPTU, which is working hard to address this with its Big Start campaign. SIPTU deserves support and recognition from the Department. The workers who are at the front line need to be at the heart of the solution to our child care crisis. I would appreciate if that request could be made.
I congratulate the Cathaoirleach on his new post. He is a kind, good and fair man and comes from a great part of the county, Sheep's Head, which I love dearly.
I convey my condolences to the people of Orlando and the LGBT community. I ask the House to bear with me. I am a little nervous, as this is my first time to speak in the Seanad.
I wish to highlight the issue of the misuse of alcohol in Ireland. It is an issue about which I have been concerned for many years. I have spoken openly about my recovery from alcohol misuse. Following my recovery I became an addiction therapist, and I have seen the issues that have arisen around alcohol and how we are losing our young people to this. We are losing our young people not only to drug problems and gambling but also to alcohol misuse. I wish to highlight the devastating impact of alcohol misuse, drug misuse and gambling on families. I have worked with such families for many years and have witnessed the devastation caused. Family members can have mental health issues including depression, anxiety, stress and worry. There is not a family in the country that does not have somebody in their lives who may have an alcohol misuse problem. I am not talking about the final stages of addiction but rather alcohol misuse. We have a huge binge drinking culture which is scary. It is connected to many issues, such as road deaths and suicide. Alcohol is a depressant and causes depression. After people binge drink at the weekend, the devastation and the depression they experience during the week is beyond the beyond. I would like to think the House would debate the alcohol Bill and bring it to the next Stages. I hope we can also work on the impact that alcohol misuse has on families.
I congratulate the Cathaoirleach, both as a colleague from the legal profession and as a person from Cork, and wish him every success in his new role as Cathaoirleach. I compliment him also on his role as Leas-Chathaoirleach in the last Seanad. He was always fair to everybody in every debate. I congratulate also another colleague from Cork, Senator Jerry Buttimer, and wish him well in his new role as Leader of the House. I look forward to working with both of them.
I wish to raise an issue with regard to health care.There is a perception that hospitals are not providing the services we require, but it is interesting to consider the figures that were published recently. In 2015, there were 3.5 million outpatient attendances, which is 60,000 per week or 12,000 per day. That includes services such as day case procedures and outpatient departments. It shows the dedication and commitment of the nurses, staff and all the people who are working in the HSE. I compliment them on the valuable service they provide. The figures of 12,000 people per day and 60,000 per week attending as outpatients are sometimes not mentioned. My colleague in Sinn Féin raised the issue of bed closures. The health service has moved from a situation where many procedures required admission to hospital to one where many of them are now day procedures.
There is also the issue of general practitioners. Many GPs seek to deal with certain areas of health care which were traditionally referred to a hospital. It is extremely important that the contract negotiations between GPs and the Department of Health are progressed and concluded. There is no point in returning, three or four years hence, to negotiations that should have been concluded. It is time for the Department to move on this matter. It is also time for it to include all the representative bodies for GPs in those negotiations, which means not only the Irish Medical Organisation, IMO, but also the National Association of General Practitioners, NAGP. These negotiations are important so I ask the Leader to invite the Minister to the House to outline what progress has been made on the matter over the past 12 months and whether there is a timeline for making progress to bring it to a conclusion. GPs can then provide additional services and be adequately remunerated for them. It will also encourage more people to come home to this country to work in the service. The more GPs working in the service, the fewer referrals there will be to hospitals. That is extremely important for trying to progress and provide a comprehensive health service. Will the Leader deal with this and ask the Minister to outline his current position on it?
I wish to be associated with the condemnation of the atrocious events in both Orlando and France and to extend my sympathy and that of my colleagues to all concerned.
Will the Leader ask the appropriate Minister to visit the House to outline the whereabouts of the proposed national wind energy guidelines? Recently, Westmeath County Council introduced a variation to the country development plan, which was supported unanimously by all parties and non-party members, to include the equine industry in the noise sensitive receptors. As somebody who is very involved in that industry, I welcome this. Unfortunately, however, the Minister, Deputy Coveney, made a submission stating that the council was contravening the existing wind energy guidelines. The current guidelines are outdated and archaic with regard to the modern wind turbines that are proposed.
I am not opposed to wind energy, but the equine industry is a major industry in this country. While we all probably have an eye on the soccer this week, Royal Ascot is also taking place and every newspaper one opens carries plaudits from people all over the world for our horse breeding industry and the performance of the Irish thoroughbred. Thoroughbreds are extremely sensitive to wind turbines. Due to the large equine industry in Westmeath and also with an eye to the national industry, Westmeath County Council introduced the variation I mentioned, but it has been ruled out of order. When one tries to inquire about the proposed new wind energy guidelines, not only does nobody know what shelf they are on but also nobody appears to know which Minister is responsible for them. Today, it could be an energy matter but on another day it could be a planning issue. Will the Leader invite the appropriate Minister or Ministers to the House to inform us on the whereabouts of the new guidelines and when they will be announced? Perhaps we can then have a debate on the matter.
On this first full sitting day I wish the Cathaoirleach well for his term. I also wish the Leader and the other Members who have been elected leaders and Whips well.
I will start today as I mean to go on, as I did in the previous Seanad. A total of 43 Members of this House have been elected by councillors and it is important that we look after the welfare of those councillors. I listened to some of the contributions in which the issue of mental health and well-being was raised. There was a tragic incident during the Seanad election campaign in which a councillor took his own life. During that campaign I met scores of councillors suffering from stress and anxiety. They are unable to handle the case work they have been given, they do not know where or whom they should guide people to, and they have nobody to whom they can turn to look after their mental well-being. I have checked this matter out with various local authorities. There are welfare officers in each local authority in the country but, believe it or not, they are not available to councillors. This must be addressed, and I hope it will be done quickly during this term. It requires a little common sense and the intervention of the Minister. It probably requires a special service to be put in place.
I sat in the kitchen of a councillor's home for two hours - I will not say where in the country it is located - during which time he explained the cases he was dealing with. They included people who are facing bankruptcy, people who are being put out of their homes and people who had marriage difficulties. He asked me how he was equipped to deal with these issues. He said he was not, and that he was not even equipped to listen properly. Gone are the days when a county councillor attended a meeting once or twice a month and dealt with a few housing issues and perhaps some medical card issues. The workload of councillors has increased dramatically as a result of what has happened in this country. I commend my colleagues, Senators Craughwell and Boyhan, on tabling the motion, and I will propose an amendment to it relating to terms and conditions.
This is about well-being. This week is men's health week, and this issue has been shoved under the carpet. Nobody wants to talk about it, and some people are embarrassed about it. We normally take action after an event has happened. In this case, unfortunately, the event has happened. Obviously, I will not say where, as we all know what happened. It is the result of what I have just mentioned. On the first day the Minister comes to the House to discuss local government, he should address this issue.
I join the speakers who expressed sympathy following the horror and human tragedy in Orlando.
The specific issue I wish to raise is Mr. Justice O'Higgins's report. The report, which is excellent, has generated an enormous amount of coverage on all national media, including social media. That is reasonable given that it is a huge and important report. One element, however, that received no coverage is very important for Garda morale, well-being and, indeed, for the provision of a Garda service. The Garda station is identified by Mr. Justice O'Higgins as being an old RIC station from 1870, to which a flat roofed area was added around 1970. The judge uses terms in the report such as "not fit for purpose", "deplorable conditions" and "not sound" to provide Garda services. He says that while it is not the only reason there were problems, it was a huge contributing factor. It is a relevant issue for the Leader to address. Perhaps he would get a response from the relevant Ministers on what will be done about accommodation for the Bailieborough gardaí.
In the previous Oireachtas I lobbied the relevant Ministers - the former Deputy Shatter, Deputy Fitzgerald and Deputy Harris - intensely. I am aware that a site has been acquired for a new Garda station and that the legal procedures on that are ongoing at present. Will the Leader find out whether that process has concluded and if there is a timeframe for when the new station for Bailieborough gardaí will be built?It is a regional headquarters and this is an important element of it. I will provide the Leader with the relevant pages of the O'Higgins report. The report chronicles all the deplorable conditions in five pages, including the various rooms that are not there and reception areas. I do not propose to read this into the record. I will hand it to the Leader later on. The situation is chronic and immediate action is required. I need to know that there is a commitment that the legalities regarding acquiring the site, which I gather is imminent, are have been concluded and that there is a timeframe for building the station.
I thank the Cathaoirleach and wish him the best in his new post. I know Senator Wilson was on an all-party committee that carried out much good, stable and common-sense work on councillors' terms and conditions. Given my seven years experience on a county council and five years on a town council, I know that there has been an immense increase in the workload of county councillors. This House needs to examine this issue and I would appreciate if the relevant Minister could attend for a debate on it.
I congratulate the Cathaoirleach and the Leader of the House, Senator Buttimer, on his appointment.
Reference was made to Seanad reform. I think Senator Ó Céidigh spoke about how this Chamber is very diverse in terms of Members' array of talents. Seanad reform is key but the items the House deals with are more fundamental than that. This week is national carers' week. Senator Kelleher spoke about people being cared for in their homes. We need to look at the fair deal scheme and see how it can be adapted in terms of a home setting. Putting someone into a nursing home is the last resort for most people, regardless of whether they have a disabled spouse, disabled children or elderly parents. It should be the last resort. We need to look at proper day-care services.
Could the Leader ask the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform to come to the House? Ireland is recovering but, in the area of public procurement, I have come across a number of small family-owned businesses which had public contracts for the past 20 years but which have been unable to tender for those contracts because they do not meet the size requirements for public tendering. We need to consider this issue so I ask that the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform to come before the House to ensure that if a family business is doing a good job, it will not be at a disadvantage because of its size.
I agree with all the sentiments about the tragedy in Orlando. I compliment Senator Lawless because he brings a perspective on guns and the holding of guns in the US. I hope that this will be a watershed, that common sense will prevail in the US and that we can learn from what happens outside this country, which has had issues with gun crime. We should learn from it and look at the legislation.
The role of this House is to question legislation and decisions that are being made and for Members to operate collectively as a group. This Seanad has an opportunity to do things in a slightly different way. I look forward to this Seanad being a debating Chamber. I take Senator Marie Louise O'Donnell's point. I was not aware that someone could order shoes on the Internet but her basic point is a relevant one - that this is a debating Chamber and that we should have robust debate. We do not have to agree on everything but it is important that everything is discussed to its proper degree.
I congratulate the Cathaoirleach and the Leader and wish them well in their roles. I congratulate all the Senators on being elected to the House. I am very honoured and privileged to be elected here and to be among the fine body of people I see in front of me in this room.
I compliment all the Senators on their contributions. I particularly compliment Senator Black whose contribution came very much from the heart and was related to her personal experience and journey. If we are honest, every family in this country could tell a similar story. It is an issue that we need to explore in more depth. I ask the Leader to ask the relevant Minister to come to the House to see how we can look at online gambling and what constraints we can introduce because it is a serious problem that is getting worse, among many others.
Harking back to my past, many Senators mentioned the role of country councillors. I was elected as a town councillor in 1999 and a county councillor in 2004. I would like to think that I speak with some authority on the issue. The abolition of town councils was a serious mistake. It has done nothing for towns in rural Ireland and must be addressed. The workload has increased. Based on my experience - and I do not say this lightly - that workload is unbelievable. It has reached the stage that very few people will be able to enter politics because the role of a county councillor is a full-time job if it is done properly. This issue, including terms and conditions, must be addressed at a time when we are trying to get more people, including more women, involved in politics. By removing the town councils, we have taken away the first tier of local government and the first step on the ladder relating thereto. This is a mistake and the relevant Minister should come to the House to address all of those issues.
I thank all 39 Senators who spoke this morning and this afternoon. In response to Senator Wilson, Private Members' business involves ten minutes for the proposer and six minutes for the seconder. Other speakers have six minutes each and the Minister has 15 minutes to respond. It is fixed by the House. Today, like many Senators, my "L" plates are on and tá mé an-neirbhíseach.
I thank all 20 Senators who spoke about Orlando. As a member of the LGBT community, to wake up on Sunday morning to television and news coverage of the depraved killing of 49 people left one numb. I say this as somebody who sees - and uses - our nightclubs and gay pubs and community venues as havens and refuges where men and women of all ages can feel safe and secure without the fear of being attacked verbally or physically, let alone being gunned down and where those within that community have a sense of belonging and acceptance. I join all other Senators in sending our sympathies to the families, partners, husbands and wives of those who have been killed and I ask the Cathaoirleach to send our deep condolences to the US ambassador. This is an act that took place during the month of pride and to those who ask why Gay Pride continues, the events in Orlando and across the world where people kill others in the name of religion show why we need Gay Pride. It comes 12 months after a referendum in this country where we stood as a beacon across the world. This week, across our country in Dublin, Cork, Galway, Limerick and other cities, people are organising a vigil through GLEN, LINC or the Gay Men's Health Service. It is an example of why we must continue our work and ensure that no person who was born this way is afraid to come out and live the life they can.I know it is not a day for political statements but I agree with Senator Lawless that the issue of gun control and the right to bear arms in the United States of America is one that we must collectively try to change. I hope that through his good offices the Senator will be able to help bring about that change, irrespective of a political ideology. For any person under any kind of surveillance to walk into a gun shop, buy two types of weapons and, a couple of days later, do what he did begs a serious question. It is a lesson we must all consider.
I hope, with the Orlando events, we can send a message to our sons, daughters and friends that it is okay to be gay and come out to live a normal life. If we do not do it, we will go back to the days when we were suppressed. I appeal to those of other religions not to see this as western values versus those of the Far East, or wherever. Those of us who are gay are men and women of value, principle, and integrity. We must all work to ensure that our society and world are better and kinder places.
Seven Members raised the issue of carers' week and I was fortunate last Monday morning to be with Senator Alice-Mary Higgins in University College Cork where she gave a fine speech on carers and the launch of a new study done by people at the university. It is important that we collaborate to ensure the national carers' strategy is implemented. There are parts that can be put in place without cost and it is important that we in this House, along with Deputies, set up a cross-party group, as we did with mental health. We should not just pay lip service and we must ensure that the carers' strategy can be put on a footing whereby there can be implementable action points. I look forward to working with Members on that.
I am happy to accept Senator McDowell's proposal on Seanad reform on behalf of the Government. To the eight Members who spoke on it, I say that we on this side of the House will not stand in the way of reform. It is important that if we are serious about reform, the legacy we should leave in this Twenty-fifth Seanad should be of reform to bring about change. We may have different views on how to get the end result but as part of the process, it is important we begin a discussion on how we can implement the Manning report, which is central to the programme for Government. I have already spoken to the Taoiseach about this and he will make known his views on this in a couple of weeks. It is incumbent on us, in a cross-party manner, to bring about reform of the Seanad encompassing all views.
Senator Ardagh raised questions on the Order of Business and it is important for us to consider waiting times. The Minister for Health will be in the House next week to discuss issues of health. Senator Norris, in a very fine address, and Senator Bacik raised the issue of the eighth amendment to the Constitution. The Taoiseach has proposed a citizens' assembly. I share Senator Bacik's view and it is important we have Members of both Houses of the Oireachtas as part of that citizens' assembly. I say that as somebody who served on the Constitutional Convention, which brought about profound change in our country. Those who decried the Constitutional Convention should read some of the scholarly articles by Professor David Farrell and others, as in our case that convention was mould-breaking. It allowed citizens and elected public representatives to come together to discuss matters of sensitivity and political policy and reform. A citizens' assembly is the way to go with the eighth amendment. For those who propose abolition there is a hiatus and for those who want retention, the answer is not kept for those who want to get rid of the eighth amendment. It is important that we take the issue away from the body politic and the heat of the political process. As a former chairman of the health committee that dealt with the protection of health during pregnancy legislation, I see it as important that we handle this in a sensitive and careful manner. It is about the lives of people and different views. It is important that we hear all sides and not just extremes, whatever our own views or ideology.
Senators Norris and Ó Ríordáin, a former Minister of State, raised the direct provision issue. I commend the former Minister of State, Senator Ó Ríordáin, on the work he did on direct provision. I spoke to the relevant Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, already about this as, despite Senator Craughwell's view about politics and constituencies, this transcends such constituencies. In my own city of Cork we have a number of centres-----
It is important we hear the views of people who have rights and entitlements, who deserve our respect; we have a duty of care to them. The Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, is visiting direct provision centres and I hope he will, in time, come to the House to discuss the issue.
I fully agree with Senator Norris about the Living City initiative. In a number of budgets, the Minister, Deputy Noonan, brought up the scheme for living over shops, if one likes to use such a term. It is an issue that should be considered by the Government so that we can not just preserve the buildings mentioned but attract people to our inner cities in areas like Cork and Waterford. When Senator Coffey was a Minister of State, he worked very closely with the Department, councils and the construction sector to ensure we have people moving to cities. In my city of Cork, there is much space over shops and businesses where there could be apartment dwellings, as there are in parts of Europe. I hope we can have a debate about that as well.
Senator Conway-Walsh spoke about health and waiting times. I am pleased to point out that the National Treatment Purchase Fund, the Department of Health and the Health Service Executive are working on a dedicated waiting time initiative. The Minister for Health will be in the House next week to discuss the matter and we can take the issue further. With respect to Moore Street, I will ask the Minister responsible, Deputy Humphreys, to come before the House for a debate. I have not got the exact answer right now but I will revert to the Senator.
Senator Alice-Mary Higgins raised the issue of getting ready for full employment. The Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation will be in the House tomorrow and we can debate the issue. I hope we can have a series of discussions about employment. If Members are on the list to speak when we reach the end of the allocated time, I will be happy as Leader to ensure the debate rolls over. It is a very important issue. In the course of the last Dáil we saw unemployment fall from 15.9% to 8%, which is a tremendous record, given the economic decline we experienced. It is an issue we need to address and we, as Senators, have a role to play in that. The report on domestic violence is shocking and significant action must be taken on the issue. The question of the Istanbul Convention should be examined and I will certainly take that up with the Minister on behalf of Members in this House. This morning's report was very upsetting.
Senator Bacik raised the issue of gun control, which I have already addressed, domestic violence and the eighth amendment. I hope we will see movement on that with the citizens' assembly. Senator Mulherin raised the issue of flood defences and it is very important, particularly the minor works schemes. I agree that the Office of Public Works and the local councils should prioritise flood defence mechanisms. There has been work done, to be fair to the previous Minister of State, Deputy Harris, and he worked with councils in many parts of the country in developing policy and the Catchment Flood Risk Assessment and Management. Senator Lawless spoke very convincingly about gun control and the events in Orlando. I welcome him to the House. His is an important voice not just for the diaspora but for Irish-Americans in general, as he will play a key role in articulating our views. I agree with Senator Ó Céidigh as we have all benefited from friends in America giving us jobs. I spent my J1 summer there when my cousin got me a job; I would not have got it without him. Every summer we get requests from many people looking for jobs in America. Some of the commentary is unfair to the Senator in that regard. He will bring an important dimension to the House and I look forward to working with him in building a cross-party approach to the illegal immigrants and Irish America. It is important that we continue the link with America, as it is close to all of us. Many of us have family and friends living there; although there has been change I know people who left Ireland because they were gay and they are living open and happy lives in America.
Senator Ned O'Sullivan raised the issue of marketing of life insurance policies and I would be happy to have the Minister come to the House to discuss this important issue. The Senator indicated that it is important that these companies have a duty of care to people who buy the products. Sometimes the small print is not read or pointed out. I agree with Senator McDowell's comments on Seanad reform. The Government will not challenge the amendment.It is important in regard to Seanad reform that we take our time and get it right rather than rushing to be the first to have Seanad reform done. It is important, as Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell said earlier, that we speak as one voice and work together. It is important that we cast aside our political differences on issues because new politics is not about opposition the whole time, but working together. As Leader of the Seanad, I hope we will have a business committee at which we can run the business of the House. I met with some of the leaders yesterday and will be meeting with the leaders and the Whips together again so that we can order the business of the House in a collaborative way. On a personal level, it does not serve us well in this House that we have divisions every day on the Order of Business on the premise of bringing a Minister in to discuss A, B or C. If we can operate in a mature manner, working together to ensure we run the business of the House properly and in a manner that ensures Members get a fair say and have their voices heard, that serves us better not just here, but also in the eyes of the public.
Bhí an Seanadóir Ó Clochartaigh ag caint mar gheall ar úsáid na Gaeilge. Níl an Ghaeilge go líofa agam ach tá mé ag foghlaim. Chleacht mé í uaireanta sa Dáil and I hope we we can have debates in Irish and that we will be able to speak as Gaeilge, no matter how good or bad we are in regard to our native tongue.
The Senator also spoke about waste, but he knows the polluter pays principle applies: the more one uses, the more one pays. I will ask the Minister, Deputy Coveney, to come before the House to speak on that matter.
Senator Grace O'Sullivan raised the issue of carers. I agree with her regarding having an all-party committee. I have said that we should work together on that matter. There is consensus within the House. We saw in the previous Dáil and Seanad, where we had cross-party working groups on many different issues, from symphysiotomy to mental health, that we can bring change and we can affect how Government and how the world sees us.
The former Minister of State, Senator Ó Ríordáin, spoke about health and criminal justice. I agree with him. We need to take a twin approach to the issue of drugs. It is about justice, health, education, employment and other parts of that, and it is important that we speak with one voice. I agree with him that the McMahon report is the beginning and it is important that we bring reform because, as I said earlier, there are young children, in particular, who are very badly affected. We all meet them in our constituency offices and in our constituencies as we walk about every day. Their parents cannot work and they are being treated as second-class citizens in terms of their ability to go about their lives. It is important that we see reform here.
My colleague, friend and former Minister of State, Senator Coffey, spoke about skills and he is right; we have a deficit of skills in many areas. When we see our tourism figures increasing and advertisements for chefs abroad, it poses the question of why we stopped the training of chefs in our country. I agree that we need to discuss skills not just in the construction sector, but acrossthe whole economy. The Minister of State, Deputy English, in his previous life, launched a national skills strategy. It was an important beginning, but it cannot be left to gather dust on a shelf. We must see active implementation of it. I agree with Senator Coffey. I remember he raised the issue in a previous Seanad when he was there. It is a matter to which we need to return.
Senator Leyden, along with Senators Richmond and Ó Donnghaile, raised Brexit. It was my hope to have a debate on that this week, but both the Minister of State, Deputy Murphy, and the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, are away. I hope we will have that debate next week in the House because it is a very important discussion that we need to have. We need to urge our Irish voters in the UK and in the North of our country to vote to remain. From an economic point of view, the UK is critical to us and it is important that we have that debate. I urge all Members of the House, if they have the opportunity, to travel in person to the North to canvass at the weekend or to use social media to advocate for a vote to remain. It is not about us interfering, rather it is about us, as citizens of Europe and as Irish citizens, asking our fellow countrymen and women to vote to remain.
Senator Craughwell spoke about getting off on a bad foot. I look forward to working with everyone to ensure this is a productive, meaningful Seanad. We cannot produce legislation just like that. A hiatus took place in the other House. I have asked that some of the legislation would be initiated in this House. It is important that we try to achieve some measure of balance in this regard. I do not agree with the Senator regarding the constituency. We all represent people and it is our duty to advocate on behalf of people. The issue he raised regarding medals for the men and women who served for our country should be looked at and I will take it up with the Minister of State at the Department of Defence, Deputy Kehoe, on Senator Craughwell's behalf.
Senator Devine raised Cloverhill Prison. I have not got the answer to her question on that, but I will take it up with the Minister. She might want to raise it as a matter on the Commencement as well, to give her an opportunity to articulate that viewpoint. I agree with her in regard to the men and women who are midwives and nurses. They do great work every day in our hospitals. I had the pleasure of working as a porter in Cork University Hospital when I was in college and I saw at first hand the work they do every day. She might write to the health committee to ask it to take up the issue. She has raised an important issue. I have not got the answer, but I will take it up on her behalf with the Minister.
Senator Feighan raised hotel rooms and prices, and he is right. As one of its first acts, the last Government cut the VAT rate on the basis that we would see an increase in tourism figures and that has happened. Now we are seeing greed or profiteering where hotels have started to raise their prices. Those Senators who stay in hotels in Dublin will have seen the increase in prices in a five-year period. It is not just that, because it is about the tourism product we are selling and ensuring that we as a country remain viable and attractive from a tourist perspective to encourage people to travel here. If they see escalating costs, I am afraid of what will happen. We will take it up with the Minister of State with responsibility for tourism and sport, Deputy O'Donovan, who has strong views about the price of bed nights in Dublin and across the country.
I thank Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell for her kind remarks and compliment her on the issue she has been pursuing regarding end-of-life care. It is an important topic and I hope we will again see a cross-party approach to it. She has been spearheading that issue. End-of-life care is a very important matter that we as a society have not addressed. It is an issue we need to continue to work on. I had the pleasure in the health committee I chaired in the last Dáil of being part of the work we produced on end-of-life care. I am glad Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell has taken that up and it is important that we as a collective, in both Houses, work to ensure we have a strategy around it.
Senator Colette Kelleher also raised carers and the whole issue around home care and the fair deal. I fully agree with her in that regard. It is important that we see change regarding that area. Senator Kelleher brings to the House not just her work in regard to Alzheimer's disease with the Alzheimer's Society, but also a great deal of work with the Cork Simon Community, the Cope Foundation in Cork and the disability sector. She is right and I hope we can bring change in that area.
Senator Conway spoke very eloquently about education and how we can eliminate bullying or peer pressure. Thankfully, in the previous Dáil, the two former Ministers, Ruairí Quinn and Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, introduced major changes in the curriculum and the primary development area in regard to homophobic bullying and bullying in general. I hope we will see a much better result from that. It is important that we continue to see our education system and curriculum reflect a more modern society than was there before.
Senator Keith Swanick raised old district hospitals. I remind him that in the last Government there was a capital investment programme in regard to our district hospitals. I hope we will see that continue. He is right that they are a resource we can use as a step-down facility where we can bring people to stay before we bring them back to their own homes. I pay tribute to the former Minister, now Senator Reilly, who was instrumental in seeing change brought about there, which is important. The Minister for Health will be in the House next week. I hope to have debates on health and mental health. I will come back to that area again.
Senator Boyhan raised the infrastructure fund. I hope the Minister, Deputy Coveney, will come before us. The Government has prioritised housing and we have seen a significant amount of investment signalled in that regard. We are creating a stand-alone Department for housing. It is a crisis we need to see resolved. My colleague, Senator Coffey, when he was a Minister of State, was very strong and pivotal in starting the relaunch of the housing policy.It is important that this work continues and I will certainly ask the Minister, Deputy Coveney to come before the House to discuss the matter.
Senator Ó Donnghaile raised the issue of Brexit. He also referred to the European Championships and sport. I believe we can work together on the proposal and I would happy to be meet with the Senator to discuss it. Sport unites people and I am very happy Lee McLaughlin has been found. I join the Senator in sympathising with the family of Darren Rodgers. I thank and compliment the Irish supporters who paid tribute to him during the championships.
I wish our team every success in the remainder of the championships in France. I think we all saw them play on Monday night - I know I am digressing a little but Senator Ó Ríordáin has raised the point - and there was a great uplift among people, perhaps not at the end of the game, which ended in a draw, but we certainly got off to a reasonably good start. There is confidence now that we can see and it is important that we support each other. I would be happy to talk to Senator Ó Donnghaile regarding the matter in question.
Senator Dolan's remarks are quite clear and very strong with regard to disability and carers. The Senator has huge background experience in this regard. I have worked with him in the past and I look forward to working with him again in the future. It is good that we have individuals such as Senators Freeman, Kelleher and Dolan in the House in regard to the interests of people - I will not say sectoral interests - because they come with first-hand knowledge. I know Senator Dolan is a very persistent person and I look forward to working with him.
Senator Noone raised the very important issue of obesity and stated that unless we, as a nation, tackle this problem, particularly as it relates to juveniles, we will be in serious trouble. I commend the Senator on her tremendous work in the previous Seanad and pay tribute to her for that. I also wish to acknowledge former Senator Eamonn Coghlan whose Steps for Life programme is one that I hope will come to fruition. We have the Healthy Ireland umbrella and I hope that, as part of Seanad's programme of work, the Minister of State with responsibility for health promotion, Deputy Marcella Corcoran Kennedy, will come before the House to discuss this every important issue.
Senator Murnane O'Connor raised the matter of carers and also the issue of Tír na nÓg respite services in Carlow. I do not have an answer for her on that matter but I will certainly be happy to speak to the Minister on her behalf in respect of it. I know the town of Carlow quite well so I would be very happy to ensure that whatever the Senator requires will be pursued there. Deputy Pat Deering also raised this issue with me. The matter in question is one that requires work and if the Senator gives me the details, I would be happy to take them to the Minister.
Senator Ó Céidigh raised an issue similar to that raised by Senator Coffey about the importance of education. There is a concern around third-level dropout rates, particularly in the first year of college, either through lack of information or students choosing the wrong courses. It is about having proper information and guidance and it is important to have a strong look at how we can keep people in suitable courses. Equally, I am of the view that if a student drops out of a course, then he or she and his or her family should not necessarily be penalised all of the time. The Senator is correct with regard to the issue of stress among students at second level. I look forward to bringing the new Minister for Education and Skills to the House to discuss the issues of the second-level curriculum and stress among students.
Senator Richmond raised the issue of Brexit and the European funding of the Erasmus+ programme. I would be happy to take this up with the Minister. I compliment the Senator on the role he plays in the pro-European movement. It is important - and I repeat what I said earlier - that all Members get active in the context of promoting a vote to remain.
Senator Wilson's suggestion in respect of the Passport Office is a good one. If he was to go by what happens in my office, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade would be aware that there is an issue with people either being late with their applications or forgetting about the expiration date on their passports. The Senator is right in that people receive reminders regarding different bills. This is a matter in respect of which, if possible, people might benefit from receiving reminders. What the Senator said makes common sense. Sometimes the common-sense approach is the best approach to take because it means that people can avoid a great deal of hassle, fear and panic. All of us in the House would have received requests regarding passports. The Senator is correct in this regard.
Senator Gavan raised the issue of child care and funding. It is a fair point to request that a children's committee be established but it is important to recognise that the previous Government established Tusla, put in place an extra year of child care and changed the child care landscape. However, it is also important that we work with the child care sector to ensure that remuneration levels and conditions of service are improved. The zero-to-three or even zero-to-five age group is important. It is vital, therefore, that we invest adequately in child care because if we do so, then the cost will be paid later in life. We look forward to receiving any proposals the Senator wishes to put forward. It is important to advance the issue of child care and prioritise the early years sector. The Senator will find no issue with me in that regard.
I compliment Senator Black on her very personal and important contribution to the House. She is correct in respect of alcohol and gambling. Concerns around online gambling need to be addressed. I had the pleasure of working on the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill and it is on the Government list for publication. It is an important Bill because we, as a nation, have an issue with alcohol consumption, not just in terms of volume but also with regard to binge drinking. We have heard stories in recent weeks of many sporting people speaking about their gambling addictions. It is quite easy for a person to pick up his or her mobile phone and use an app. With the press of a button one can spend X amount of money, perhaps without even knowing it. That might be a simplistic view but it is one in respect of which we need to be very vigilant. I look forward to working with Senator Black on this matter.
Health care was raised by Senator Burke and I believe he is right that the talks between the Department, the HSE, the two doctors' groups - the IMO and the NAGP - need to be brought to fruition because our primary care system is dependent upon doctors playing a pivotal role. I hope to see that change happen. With regard to attendance at hospitals I hope the hospital groups will see a change and that there will be a better and improved system by means of which waiting times can be tackled.
Senator Daly referred to national guidelines on wind energy. I will be happy to invite the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Simon Coveney, who is responsible for the planning element for that sector, and the Minister for Communications, Climate Change and Natural Resources, Deputy Denis Naughten, who is involved in the other element, to come before the House to discuss this important matter. The Senator also raised the issue of thoroughbreds, a topic on which I have also received representations and to which consideration should be given.
Senator Landy spoke about councillors who are not just responsible for electing many of us to this House but who also play a very important role in terms of how government and local government work. The Senator is correct in that the role of councillors has changed considerably. We need to reflect on how we can put in place training and resources to improve how they do their business. I was very pleased that Senator Paddy Burke tabled a Commencement Matter on the issue earlier. I know that the Fine Gael group had a meeting yesterday on this on topic to see how the cause of conscience can be advanced. It is important that all Members work collaboratively on the issue. I know that Senators Craughwell and Bohan have their motion on the Order Paper and Senator Davitt also raised the matter in regard to councillors. If Members speak with one voice rather than all going off half-cocked, a better return might be had for our councillors who are, in many cases, working full-time in their positions, with little or no remuneration or resources. It is important to acknowledge that.
Senator O'Reilly raised the important issue of Bailieboro Garda station. From speaking to the Senator, I am aware that this is a matter about which he is extremely concerned. I will ask the Tánaiste and the Minister for Justice and Equality and the Minister of State with responsibility for the OPW to communicate with him on this matter. If Senator O'Reilly requires a debate on the matter in the House, we would be happy to facilitate him.
Senator Davitt raised the matter of local government and councillors. I fully agree with him in the context of what he said. I hope we will work together on the issue.
Senator O'Donnell spoke on public expenditure reform and procurement. This is a concern for many small and medium-sized enterprises that are locked out of the procurement process because of the tendering procedures that apply. It is important that we should debate the matter with the Minister and I will try to organise such a debate as early as possible.
Senator Gallagher joined Senator Black and others in commenting on the role of councillors and in referring to concerns around online gambling. It is important that we should also debate these issues.
Senator Michael McDowell has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That No. 11 be taken before No. 1." The Leader has indicated that he is prepared to accept the amendment. Is the amendment agreed? Agreed.