Thursday, 16 June 2016
Order of Business
I call the Seanad to order. Although not everyone is present, I have a couple of suggestions because as it happened yesterday, the Order of Business was cumbersome in many ways and went on for too long. While we must sort it out in the Committee on Procedure and Privileges, I suggest the Order of Business should not last for more than one hour. I am simply thinking out loud and I am not dictating or imposing or anything like that, but I have a notion regarding the rota of speakers. The leader from each group, for example, would be a speaker each day but then, because Fine Gael is the biggest, the Government side might have at least four speakers with the Leader, and then perhaps three speakers with the leader for Fianna Fáil and different groups. Moreover, these could rotate if someone has something to say. At present, the leaders have three minutes to speak and perhaps by readjusting, the leaders would have four minutes on some important issues about which people are passionate. People could rotate and Members would curtail it to have a more streamlined and focused Order of Business rather than having everyone hopping up and down or whatever. While my style is not to stymie any debate, at the same time, had there been a Minister waiting in the ante-room yesterday with important legislation, he or she would not have been happy with me for having, as we would say in west Cork, a leadránach Order of Business. That said, I will now ask the Leader to outline the business for today.
The Order of Business is No. 1, statements on delivering sustainable full employment, to be taken at 12.45 p.m. and to adjourn no later than 2.15 p.m., with contributions from all Senators not to exceed six minutes.
First, I congratulate Senator Paul Coghlan on his election yesterday as Leas-Chathaoirleach. I know he will be a fair and prudent Chair like the Cathaoirleach. I express my congratulations to him and his family. I have known one of his daughters, Aoife, for a long time as I was in the Gaeltacht with her almost 20 years ago.
I also wish to address the House regarding the tragic death of a nurse in Our Lady's Children's Hospital, Crumlin. While the matter is being looked into by An Garda Síochána, I express my sympathy and that of the Fianna Fáil to her work colleagues and family.
There is a growing sense of fear and frustration among families about reports that bin charges could be on the rise again from 1 July. Any rise in charges is a struggle nowadays as people are still doing their utmost to pay their mortgage and other bills. The policy change agreed by the former Minister, Deputy Kelly, to pay by weight could result in charges increasing from €200 to €400 per year. This is unrealistic and completely unfair. Last January, the former Minister, Deputy Kelly, had the audacity to state the pay-by-weight system would realise savings of 87% to customers. Instead, they face a doubling of bin charges. Unless action is taken now, Members will face a situation that could quickly become uncontrollable. Waste will be disposed of illegally and there will be chaos in respect of payments. People are being faced with a double whammy of standard fees being increased under the pay-by-weight system, which will add extra costs.
The reaction on Joe Duffy's radio show in recent days has been from reasonable people who have genuine concerns and lectures on competition will not resolve this issue. There are no exemptions for low-income households, the infirm or people with young children. In today's edition of The Irish Times, Miriam Lord described it as "the wheelie bins are coming". Unless the Minister, Deputy Coveney, takes immediate action to address the genuine concerns, people will be faced with marches on the streets and more people being unable to pay bin charges in respect of which they have been co-operating in recent years. The pay-by-weight system will penalise families with young children, particularly those who are in the nappy stage, and families tend to have more rubbish anyway. Options for recycling already have dwindled in the city and there are no substantial plans to bring in an education system to advise people on how to keep their waste to a minimum. The Government must listen to the concerns and must not keep ignoring the problem in the hope it will go away, as it will not. I call on the Minister, Deputy Coveney, to come to the House to explain what actions he intends to take to address this problem and to address the exorbitant bin charges that are being sold to Members as climate change measures. Personally, I do not buy that.
Will the Leader indicate when it is proposed to take No. 6.2, which is the motion on city and county councillors? I hope that debate will not be partisan on any side. All of us are equally committed. Yesterday, along with a number of Senators, I met with AILG, which is seeking a timeline for when its concerns will be addressed. I am open to any suggestion in that regard but I would like to be able to report back that a timeline in terms of when the matter will be dealt with has been agreed.
I congratulate Senators O'Donovan and Coghlan on their appointments as Cathaoirleach and Leas-Chathaoirleach, respectively. I also congratulate Senator Jerry Buttimer and all the other leaders on their appointments as group leaders. This is my first time as a Member of the Seanad. I get the sense that there will be a great degree of working together and consensus in this Seanad, which is welcome.
The Public Health (Alcohol) Bill approved by the previous Government last December provides for minimum pricing and health labelling of alcohol products and so on. During the last Dáil I was Chairman of the Joint Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport which published a report on sports sponsorship and so on. There is a need to progress the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill and, in terms of a sponsorship, a need to identify other streams of funding for sporting bodies. In that context, I welcome the announcement yesterday by the Minister of State, Deputy Patrick O'Donovan, of a €1 million fund for the Camogie Association and the Ladies Gaelic Football Association in respect of training and so on, which is an indication of equality of provision in the sports area. Had the Government not provided that funding those organisations would have had to seek it elsewhere.
Will the Leader invite the relevant Minister to this House to provide us with an update on the progress of the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill? I am aware that there are obstacles in that regard from a European point of view but I would very much welcome an update on the issue.
On behalf of the Sinn Féin group I, too, extend sympathy to the nurse who tragically lost her life in Crumlin hospital.
I also wish to raise the issue of bin charges and the anxiety being caused by the proposed increases in that regard. I suppose this was to be expected once the decision to privatise such an essential service was made. The chickens are now coming home to roost in that regard. Citizens need to be protected from the folly of that privatisation and what it will bring, as happened in the case of the privatisation of Eircom, our main communications company.
I draw the attention of the House to No. 6.1 on the Order Paper, which deals with Seanad reform, the rationale for which I would like to explain. The motion seeks the establishment of a time limited committee and commends the report of the working group on Seanad reform. In this regard, we were happy yesterday to support the Bill tabled by the Independent Group.
There are two key reasons we are of the opinion that a committee on Seanad reform needs to be established and tasked to come back to the floor of the Seanad with its recommendations within six weeks. First, there are 42 new Senators in this Seanad. We believe it is important that those new voices be heard and have ownership of the reform process. Second, there is a need for the Seanad to be distinctive from the Dáil and to play a key role in the scrutiny of European policies and directives as well as the North-South initiatives that permeate throughout the report. We agree with this but we are concerned that the Bill put forward does not reflect this. In particular, we are concerned about the absence of speaking rights for MEPs and MLAs and believe that this needs to be examined. We are mindful of the major failings of all previous Seanad reports, which never reached implementation stage. Notwithstanding this, we believe that a time limited committee, as described in the motion, would enhance the final outcome in an inclusive and collaborative way. We ask, therefore, that motion No. 6.1 be taken next week.
I join with other speakers in congratulating the Cathaoirleach and Leas-Cathaoirleach on their appointments.
In terms of today's Order of Business, there are two issues I would like to highlight. The Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation will be in the Seanad today for a debate on sustainable full employment. I express the hope that we will also hear during that debate about proposed legislative measures to reflect the recently agreed Labour Party motion in the Dáil on employment issues such as if-and-when contracts, protection in cases of insolvencies and, crucially - given the process of development of our public procurement policies in terms of our trade agreements such as CETA and TTIP - protection of employment standards within public procurement. These are legislative issues which we know are on the table. I look forward to us having the opportunity to speak again to the Minister on these types of concrete measures and the need to move forward on them.
Today is Bloomsday. It is a day in which Ireland's arts, heritage and culture are celebrated across the world. I am sure others will speak more knowledgeably on that issue. It is important that on this day we address the wide concern expressed in regard to what has been perceived as a roll-back on the commitment to the arts. It is unfortunate in the context of the future debate on the heritage Bill that the term "heritage" is not reflected in the title of any Department. Ireland lags behind the rest of Europe in terms of its funding for the arts. We need to move towards an 0.6% average, which is the average across Europe, as opposed to the 0.3% which currently applies. I urge the Leader to inquire of the Minister what opportunities the Seanad may have to engage around Culture 2025, plans around our sustainable development goals and the right to cultural participation. I look forward to having an opportunity in the future to discuss those issues with the Minister.
I am slightly concerned about the proposed change to Standing Orders. I believe the current system, which allows for a diversity of voices to be heard, is important. I am sure we will have an opportunity to discuss this further through the appropriate channels. I support the idea of the imposition of a one-hour limit on the debate.
As this is my first time to speak in the Seanad I take this opportunity to congratulate the Cathaoirleach and Leas-Chathaoirleach on their appointments. I also congratulate Senators Buttimer and Ardagh on their appointments as group leaders.
As stated by Senator Higgins, today is Bloomsday. It is also the first anniversary of the tragic accident that occurred in Berkeley last year. As a House, we should remember those who died on that day and those who were seriously injured. There were six fatalities, Eimear Walsh, Olivia Burke, Ashley Donohue, Niccolai Schuster, Eoghan Culligan and Lorcán Miller and many serious casualties, including Jack Halpin, Clodagh Cogley, Aoife Beary, Sean Fahey, Conor Flynn, Niall Murray and Hannah Waters.It is important to remember those who died or were injured and their families and friends. It was a very tragic day last year, particularly for the area I represent in Dún Laoghaire. I apologise to Senator Craughwell if I am being parochial but it was a national tragedy for all these young people who left Ireland for the summer on J1 visas to experience a different culture and earn some money before returning to college. Some of them did not make it back alive. It would be good for this House to remember that on the anniversary, as the day was very dark for south Dublin and the country in general.
I sound a warning about reform of the Seanad. I heard this morning about the question of European Union scrutiny. At our small meeting, I warned about this as it is extremely dangerous. People are given the impression that the legislation of the European Union will be scrutinised without it being clearly defined. There is an enormous amount of material spewed out every week from Europe so if we set ourselves up as monitor and watchdog, we will fail and the public will rub our noses in that failure. The other issue is speaking rights. Elected Members of this House have speaking rights and others can and should be invited; they do not have speaking rights.
It is Bloomsday and it is wonderful. I have been to three or four events already and the whole city is throbbing with energy. So many places not mentioned in Ulysseshave little groups of people with straw boaters and actors performing. We had the Lord Mayor at our breakfast in the James Joyce Centre and I was at the wonderful Westland Row community breakfast before going to Sandymount Green. Joyce's power of reputation helped to save North Great George's Street, as one of the crucial buildings there, No. 35, was identified and it is now the centre of the Joycean ménage throughout Dublin.
That brings me to the inner city. I note the Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, spent some time in the inner city and I very much welcome that. It is about bloody time. The north inner city of Dublin has been grotesquely neglected throughout my entire lifetime, including when the Prime Minister of this country, former Deputy Bertie Ahern, represented the constituency and did sweet damn all for it. Apparently, the Minister responsible for tourism, transport and whatever else you are having has decided to demand that Stepaside police station be reopened - this is on the agenda. I would like to hear it for Fitzgibbon Street. I was lied to in this House about Fitzgibbon Street Garda station as I was told it was being closed for refurbishment. Rubbish. They closed it down. Now there are murders every second day of the week and a drugs problem in the north inner city. We are down 136 gardaí and something must be done about that. What about the stripping of every decent thing from the north inner city and its replacement with down-market drug clinics that they would not have in Ballsbridge or the affluent suburbs of the country.
Mr. Tony Gregory was a great friend of mine and I remember when he initiated the whole Criminal Assets Bureau, CAB, business. He did not call it CAB but he said something had to be done to link income tax collection, social welfare and the Garda. Essentially, that was realised with CAB. After Veronica Guerin was shot, the Government took the idea and claimed credit for it. I made sure in this House that Mr. Gregory was remembered. I put it forward in this House, in concert with Mr. Gregory in the Dáil, and I asked that the money taken by CAB should be reinvested in employment, housing and education in the north inner city. It should be ring-fenced as the money was bled from the veins of the most vulnerable people in the north inner city. The Department of Finance squashed that. It is time to put major reinvestment into the north inner city.
There was an old defence in law, long abolished, that if a person was caught in a pub or hostelry more than three miles from home, he or she was a bona fide traveller. There is one man I will call next because he is a bona fide traveller; his home is the furthest from this House. It is against the rules somewhat but I will allow the Senator speak for a minute. I know he is facing surgery as well.
I reiterate that we should remember today the terrible tragedy that occurred in Berkeley last year. It would be every parent's nightmare, of course, when their children go to the United States for summer employment on J1 visas. We all get calls and everybody tries to help. I compliment the Irish centres and especially those in California that rallied around parents when they came out last year after those people were killed and injured. These Irish centres deserve incredible support. Senators may know there are problems with the J1 programme this year as students must be pre-employed before they are issued with visas. That is wrong and, from what I gather, the process was initiated by one or two agencies. I do not believe what they are doing is legal and I am certainly looking into it. That is a matter for further debate at some stage.
I will read a letter I received last night into the record. It is from the White and it states:
Please accept my congratulations on your appointment to the Seanad.
As I have noted before, your story is a powerful one and it reflects the enduring ties of friendship between the peoples of the United States and Ireland. In beginning this new chapter, I trust you will reflect on all that has led you to this point with tremendous pride.
Again, congratulations. You, Anne and Billy have my warm regards,
It is signed by President Barack Obama. I read this not for self-congratulation but to highlight the importance of the ties between the United States and us.
Ag leanúint, ar bhealach, leis an téama sin, ba mhaith liom a bheith ceangailte leis na mothúcháin atá luaite ag na Seanadóirí Horkan agus Lawless maidir leis an dream óg a maraíodh i Berkeley agus an dream óg a d'fhulaing i Berkeley agus an dream ar fad timpeall orthu a thug tacaíocht agus mar sin dóibh.
It would be very good to have a debate on the diaspora and I agree with Senator Lawless that there are concerns around the reform of the J1 visa programme. I was concerned by statements made by the Minister of State, Deputy McHugh, about cherry-picking the emigrants he wants to attract back to Ireland. If there is a pick-up in the economy, as we are told, it is important that people are invited and encouraged to come back and that we make the environment suitable for that to happen. I am concerned that the Minister of State was speaking about cherry-picking engineers and professional people with degrees, etc. Our diaspora is so diverse, and there are so many people across the globe, that there are many issues that must be discussed in the area. It would be good to see his vision for the role. There are serious matters such as representation in the Houses, voting rights and how we work to help the undocumented abroad, etc. Irish people abroad need us to address issues of that nature in the House. It is good to have Senator Lawless here to represent that cohort. I know there are many groups outside the House that are regularly in contact with us and a debate on issues concerning the diaspora would be very pertinent.
Today is Bloomsday and I note Senator Norris, a great Joycean scholar, has left the Chamber. I add my voice to that of Senator Higgins on the status of arts in Ireland, particularly with the perceived, if not real, downgrading of the arts from a department structure perspective. There is a lack of a Minister of State with responsibility for arts in the Department. Even with the Taoiseach's nominees to this House, five years ago, Fiach Mac Conghail, the director of the Abbey Theatre, took up a role here and added greatly to the debate on the cultural importance of the sector to social and political life.That is also an omission. Could the Leader invite the Minister to come to the House to discuss arts funding and the importance of the arts? We are the only country in the world that has a musical instrument as its national symbol. While we often view the arts and cultural life as being somewhat of a luxury, from my work in the equality field, I know those on the edges of society often do not have any other means of expressing the lives they lead and the trials and tribulations they go through. The only way they can do that is through the arts.
Following on from what Senator Ardagh outlined earlier, there is quite a level of unease and disquiet around the issue of waste charges. I heard on the radio this morning that the Minister intends to meet with various private sector companies in respect of this issue next week. It would be a good idea to have a calm debate on the floor of this House on what the situation is because when there is a vacuum, fears can be raised. As Senator Ardagh rightly said, people have fears regarding how they can meet bills as the situation continues. I hope we can progress the issue of the arts and their importance to this country. I hope we can get clarity regarding the situation around waste charges and to this end, we should invite the Minister to come to the House to further that debate.
Keeping to the cultural theme, I wish the House a happy Bloomsday, particularly Senator Norris who has moved on from this morning. Like every football fan on this island, I am delighted to see both Irish teams competing in the European Championships this year. To qualify in the first place was a massive achievement and although both teams are playing well, we are still awaiting a first win. I hope it comes tonight for Northern Ireland against Ukraine. That said, I cannot help thinking how much stronger an all-Ireland football team and indeed an all-Ireland football association could be with the likes of Kyle Lafferty and Shane Long playing alongside each other and, more important, the pooling of grass-roots resources into a united effort to get more boys and girls off the couch and on to the sports field. With a lifetime involvement in many sports, I have seen at first hand the benefits of cross-Border co-operation in sport, whether it was playing schoolboy rugby matches in Belfast or a more recent visit to Craigavon to play American football of all things. Sport is always the winner and one of the best tools to break down many barriers. The exemplary behaviour of both sets of Irish fans, including Senator Ó Ríordáin, at the weekend, has been heartening against the background of hooliganism over the weekend in Marseilles and, unfortunately, again last night in Lille. The tribute paid by fans at the game against Sweden on Monday following the tragic death of Ballymena man Darren Rodgers was not just fitting but very moving. It shows how far both sets of fans have come since the dark days of the Troubles, days when my late father and his friends were afraid to cheer Gerry Armstrong's goal against Spain in 1982 in a Dublin pub for fear of abuse and when Republic of Ireland fans dreaded the sectarian atmosphere of Windsor Park. Those days, thankfully, are passing, if not completely passed. The issue has been raised by in the previous Seanad by Senator Noone and former Senator, Paul Bradford.
With a new Government in place, I ask the Leader to call on the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, who is a keen football fan, to engage with us in the Seanad and talk to his Northern counterpart as well the CEOs of both football associations to build on the progress of the Setanta Cup and to follow the example of the GAA's international rules team, the Irish rugby team which had a great win at the weekend, the Irish hockey team which will be going to Rio de Janeiro for the first time and the Irish cricket team which is currently battling the showers against Sri Lanka in Malahide. Let us merge our two football teams and every sports team on the island to put Ireland on the strongest possible footing in every sporting contest.
I received two letters and three telephone calls in the past two days relating to the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Dún Laoghaire. It has been said on numerous occasions that a totally new hospital was to be built there. It was then said that there were setbacks and that it was to be an extension. On his next visit to the House, could the Minister for Health give us a comprehensive update on the suggestion in the last few days at the hospital that it will be delayed to 2017 and that it will be a much modified scheme? The staff and the people who run the hospital are unhappy and there needs to be greater clarity about this major project. I would appreciate it if the Minister could address it when he next visits the House.
I welcome Senator O'Mahony's remarks about the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill. It is great to see movement on the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill considering it has been seven years in the making. Back in December 2009, alcohol was included in a national substance misuse strategy. In those seven years, we have failed our fellow citizens by allowing alcohol misuse to be an acceptable part of our culture. This Bill will go a long way towards helping to change our attitudes and relationships with alcohol. On a daily basis, I see the mental health issues, devastation and heartbreak caused to families all over this country. We must remember that we are enacting this Bill to protect them and future generations. It is important to know how much we are drinking if we are trying to stay within the low-risk weekly guidelines for alcohol consumption and it becomes even more important to track our alcohol intake when one considers that the most comprehensive survey of alcohol consumption ever carried out in Ireland revealed that we underestimate what we drink by about 60%.
Alcohol marketing, including advertising, sponsorship and other forms of promotion, increases the likelihood that adolescents will start to use alcohol and drink more if they are already using alcohol. Young people’s drinking patterns have a direct effect on their health, development and welfare. Therefore, reducing children’s exposure to alcohol marketing is a child protection issue. Yet every day, in numerous ways and through numerous media, children and young people in Ireland are continually exposed to positive, risk-free images of alcohol and its use. Due to a lack of effective regulations, young people are poorly protected from these sophisticated and powerful influences on their drinking behaviour and expectations. They are bombarded with positive images of alcohol through the marketing of brands and products. In effect, the alcohol industry has become a child's primary educator on alcohol. Marketing can shape youth culture by creating and sustaining expectations and norms about how to achieve social, sporting or sexual success; how to celebrate; how to relax; and how to belong. The failure to protect children from exposure to alcohol marketing is associated with earlier and increased alcohol consumption. Restricting advertisements for alcohol products to content about the nature of products will mean that advertisements will be less likely to glamorise alcohol or make it appealing to children as they will no longer see alcohol products aligned with physical performance, personal success, social success and a variety of other positive outcomes.
Minimum unit pricing is a targeted measure designed to stop strong alcohol being sold at very low prices in the off-trade, particularly supermarkets, where alcohol is frequently used as a "loss leader" and sold below cost. The easy and widespread availability of such cheap alcohol has contributed to a dramatic shift in our alcohol purchasing and consumption habits from pubs towards the off-trade sector, which now accounts for the majority of alcohol sold in Ireland. Minimum unit pricing is able to target cheaper alcohol relative to its strength because the price is determined by and directly proportionate to the amount of pure alcohol in the drink. Minimum unit pricing would be effective in reducing alcohol consumption; alcohol harms, including deaths, hospital admissions, crime and workplace absences; and the costs associated with those harms. The analysis estimated that with a €1 minimum unit pricing, alcohol-attributable deaths would be reduced by approximately 197 per year in Ireland after 20 years, by which time the full effects of the policy will be seen due to the time lag involved with many serious alcohol-related illnesses, such as liver cirrhosis and alcohol-related cancers. We would also see almost 6,000 fewer hospital admissions per year and a reduction in alcohol-fuelled crime and workplace absences while the total societal value of these reductions in health, crime and workplace harms is estimated at €1.7 billion.
The alcohol companies will lobby to change the core elements of this Bill. We need to listen to words of warning from Dr. Margaret Chan, director general of the World Health Organization, WHO, when in April 2013, she stated that he development of alcohol policies is the sole prerogative of national authorities. She said that in the view of WHO, the alcohol industry has no role in the formula of alcohol policies, which must be protected from distortion by commercial or vested interests. I would welcome the enactment of the Bill by both Houses without the undue influence of the alcohol industry. We need to do this for the well-being of our fellow citizens, for the future of our country and to ensure a reduction of the impact that alcohol has on families across the country.
As Senators know, this is carers' week. A very important contribution to care is the assistance provided by the private nursing sector. Nursing Homes Ireland made a presentation yesterday. Unproductive meetings are one of the issues that the organisation has raised with me, which I am sure it has raised with other Oireachtas Members. When its members meet the Department of Health to discuss something they are advised that the matter is one for the HSE, but when they meet the HSE they are advised that the matter is one for the Department. NHI has suggested - I have raised this matter previously - that a forum be set up to ensure there is clear communication. When the organisation meets the Department it wants to also meet the HSE, the IMO and the INMO in order to deal with all of the issues. The NHI also wants a formal structure set up to deal with care of the elderly, not just with regard to nursing homes but also associated areas such as delayed discharges in hospitals. A forum would ensure that all of the issues could be dealt with. It might only meet every four or six months but it would ensure the attendance of all of the people involved in providing elderly care. Even though I have already brought the matter to the attention of the Minister for Health, I ask the Leader to do the same because I want the issue to form part of the debate on health and long-term planning.
The provision of elderly care will be challenging over the next 15 years because the number of people over the age of 65 will increase from 600,000 to over 1 million by 2031. Therefore, we need to ensure that we provide services sufficient to meet these challenges.
Let me state another important figure. At present, 51% of all hospital beds are occupied by people over the age of 65, which poses a challenge, particularly with a growing elderly population. We must provide more services in order to tackle the discharge process in hospitals. We need to debate this important issue. I ask that the Minister, his Department and the HSE work together and take this challenge on board rather than continue with the constant buck-passing that has gone on for years. We need to create an efficient and effective service but we can only do so by working together. I ask the Leader to bring this matter to the attention of the Minister for Health and I want it to form part of our future debate with him.
Tá mise ag iarraidh labhairt ar feadh cúpla nóiméad mar gheall ar chúrsaí fiontraíochta, entrepreneurship.
I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation to come in here to discuss two main topics. The first is that of small businesses. There are more than 200,000 SMEs in Ireland and they represent 99% of all businesses here. They employ approximately 74% of the private sector, which is a very significant body. There is significant support available in the form of advice and mentoring if one is an exporter, but support is not all about finance. Exports constitute an important sector for us, but a small one. The vast majority of small and medium-sized businesses do not export. I want the Minister to have an opportunity to speak to us and outline his vision and strategy for small businesses that do not export.
There is a second matter. I am not sure whether we can invite someone to the House, as I am new here. Can we invite Mr. Máirtín Ó Muilleoir. the new Minister for Finance in Northern Ireland, to address the House? He is an entrepreneur who has created businesses and is very much involved in the community. From my perspective and knowledge of enterprise and entrepreneurship in Ireland, I know that the relationship between entrepreneurs in the North and South is hugely important. A fair amount of business takes place between entrepreneurs on both sides of this island of ours. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Finance in Northern Ireland to come here to inform Senators about strategies for entrepreneurs in the North. As it happens, I will meet him next Wednesday morning to discuss this sector and I believe the meeting will prove helpful. It would be a big step forward if this House could invite such people to address us, particularly when we have a very strong common interest.
I did not speak yesterday even though I had prepared a speech. There was such a big crowd yesterday that I decided to hold off until today.
I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate the Irish team on its outstanding performance against Sweden on Monday in Paris and wish them continuing success in their next games. I wish to acknowledge the tens of thousands of Irish football fans who have travelled to France for being incredible ambassadors for Ireland. They have shown the world how to create and enjoy a positive, safe and fun atmosphere in which we can all join. They have done us proud and I urge them to keep it up.
I wish to offer my sincere condolences to the family of Darren Rodgers, a Northern Ireland football fan from Ballymena who tragically lost his life over the weekend in Nice. I also wish to express my deepest sympathies to the victims of the Orlando nightclub shooting whose lives were abruptly and brutally cut short. There are no words of comfort for all the families who have lost their loved ones in this barbaric act of terrorism. May they rest in peace.
Before I address my specific reason for speaking today, I wish to congratulate Senator Denis O'Donovan on being appointed Cathaoirleach, Senator Paul Coghlan on being appointed Leas-Chathaoirleach and Senator Jerry Buttimer on being appointed Leader of the House. I also wish all of my colleagues in the Twenty-fifth Seanad a successful term ahead.
I am delighted that my first speech in the Twenty-fifth Seanad refers to statements made by the Minister for Health which were published last Tuesday and Thursday in the Irish Independent. I welcome his statement that he plans to close the gap between the self-employed and PAYE workers. Like many others in the Oireachtas, such as Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell, I have campaigned about social protection and sought social welfare for the self-employed. Over the past five years I have continuously campaigned in the Lower House, along with others, for the social welfare status of the self-employed to be addressed. We are the only country in the industrialised Europe that does not provide social protection for the self-employed. There are 330,000 self-employed people who have no protection in terms of social welfare. If they get sick or suffer a disability in the morning they are entitled to nothing. We had the Mangan report on social insurance in the Lower House during the five years that I was a Deputy, and I hope the report will be implemented. Social welfare is a huge issue for the self-employed. If we want people to create jobs and get people back to work then we need to put a safety net in place. I will table a motion in the House that I hope will be supported by all parties. I also hope all Senators will support the plans of the Minister for Health for the self-employed. I call on the bigger unions that represent self-employed people to come on board. The elephant in the room on the last occasion was whether to make the initiative mandatory or voluntary. I suggest that it must be mandatory, because nothing in the social protection sphere works voluntarily. I welcome the chance to speak today. I will table a motion on this matter that I hope will be supported by everybody in the House.
I welcome Bloomsday, which celebrates a great writer. James Joyce's imagination and creativity made him an exile and he chose to live outside of this country. His departure was a great loss to us, although he remembered Dublin. Interestingly, it has been said that if Dublin was laid to waste, Ulysses could be used to reconstruct the city because it is so topographically and geographically correct. I ask that we remember this great writer today.
I would never presume anything about the background of any Senator because I have a great belief that when they join this Chamber they come with a wealth of knowledge and expertise. I know Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin is not here but I wish to point out that I come with a wealth of experience in the arts.I was reared, and have worked, in the arts. There are young children in the Visitors Gallery today, who are very welcome, and I know that singing, dancing, drama, visual art and sport mean a great deal to them. Many of them might go on to have a career in that area. I worked from when I was a child in the arts, right up to being involved in Dublin City University, DCU, the Larkin concert series, artists in residence, arts in education and I know what the arts mean to culture and creativity and how they have a language above and beyond politics. In Palestine, where there was terrible trauma and terror, I saw how the arts superseded that. I wish to point out to Senator Ó Ríordáin that the Taoiseach has a spokesman for the arts in the Seanad, one who is very vocal, perhaps verbose and very dramatic, although it is great to be a visual aid for one's subject. I hope to continue to do that and to argue as a spokesman for the arts with all parties in the House in the future. We should never presume about the expertise of whoever is sitting in front of or behind us or about what they bring to the House, as one can see with the new brilliance in backgrounds which the 42 new voices and faces have brought with them.
I endorse the request to invite the North's Finance Minister, Máirtín Ó Muilleoir, to make a presentation to the House. I have great personal admiration and respect for Máirtín Ó Muilleoir. His passion for people, equality, investment and prosperity is palpable. As a whirlwind of politics and human endeavour, it would be good to have him here. Is Gael go smior é chomh maith.
Will the Leader of the House urgently invite the relevant Minister to the House to discuss the report by the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland, Dr. Michael Maguire, on the police investigation of the Loughinisland massacre? I do not know if Members are familiar with the damning report published by Dr. Maguire on the police investigation into that atrocity. When Loughinisland is mentioned it conjures up many images and memories for people. I recall that our family was holidaying in Minerstown, which is approximately a 20 minute drive from Loughinisland, after enjoying the match like everybody else. When word arrived, we were put in the car and taken home, such was the palpable fear that this was not the end of such events or that something equally bad or much worse was on the way.
When we say the word "Loughinisland" we might reflect on The Heights Bar, the image from outside the bar and on the fact that this week and over the coming weeks many of us will gather at home, in pubs and in clubs to watch and cheer on Ireland as the team progresses through another international tournament, just as the people in The Heights Bar were doing. We think of the photographs of the six men who lost their lives: Adrian Rogan, aged 34; Malcolm Jenkinson, aged 54; Patrick O'Hare, aged 35; Eamon Byrne, aged 39; Daniel McCreanor aged 54, and his uncle, Barney Greene, aged 87. They were slaughtered for their faith and their support for a team in a terrible time.
When I think of Loughinisland now, I think of the campaigning families of those men whose stand for justice and truth has been beyond admirable. It has been extremely difficult for them. They have faced obstacles and obstruction, but the report published by Dr. Maguire validates their stand. Not only was there collusion and obstruction in the investigation into the event, but that collusion reached the highest level. I will quote a brief paragraph from what is a long and frightening report on the institutional and deliberate failings in that investigation:
I have found that Special Branch held intelligence that paramilitary informants were involved in a range of activities, including command and control of Loyalist paramilitaries; the procurement, importation and distribution of weapons; murder and conspiracy to murder. They have not been subject to any meaningful criminal investigation.
It is incumbent on the Irish Government not just as a body that upholds the rights of Irish citizens, but also as a co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement, to take a clear, strong stand after the Fresh Start Agreement on the policy of the British Government in recent times to use national security as a veto to any further investigation or any truth recovery process. This does not just apply to Loughinisland but also to Pat Finucane and any investigation of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings. This should concern not only the Members of this House, but also the Government. Given the severity of the report, I ask the Leader to respond as urgently as possible. It was discussed in the Dáil this week and it is incumbent on us to hear from the Minister what he can do to maintain the pressure and ensure that there is no such veto or that no shutter will be pulled down on a future investigation.
Will the Leader invite the relevant Minister or Ministers to the House to address an issue that is close to the hearts of people from rural Ireland, the cuts in funding for regional local roads? Thankfully, in recent years, a great deal of money has been spent on the surfacing of regional local roads and they were brought up to a satisfactory standard. Unfortunately, however, in recent times funding has been cut dramatically, so much so that the road network is crumbling under our feet or our cars' tyres. We talk about looking after and protecting rural Ireland, but one of the most important aspects of that is providing access to rural areas. I ask the Leader to invite the relevant Minister to the House to address that issue. When the Minister is here we could also discuss the reinstatement of funding for local improvement schemes. These were for private lanes, where people lived on country boreens. Until recently, there was funding available and specifically ring-fenced for their maintenance and upkeep. That funding was cut a number of years ago to such an extent that the network of such roads is also crumbling. The issue is particularly relevant to rural Ireland and I ask that the Minister come to the House to address it.
I wish to raise a point that came to mind as I travelled the country during the Seanad election campaign. It is a bugbear of mine. It might seem small, but not with regard to the promotion of tourism. The directional road signs in Ireland are atrocious. Unless one has a satnav, one cannot find the areas we should be marketing as tourism attractions. Will the Leader and the Cathaoirleach ask the relevant Minister, in either the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport or the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, to instigate an audit of road signs throughout Ireland, particularly small road signs?
Ireland has probably the best tourist destinations, but that is no good unless one can find them. Members will be aware from the Seanad election campaign that the satnav does not always work. There should be good, old-fashioned signs. Perhaps we could learn from the French. When one arrives in a village or town, one should be sent to its centre and see signs to wherever one wishes to go. When travelling in Ireland one might be going to a town that is, perhaps, ten miles down the road, but its name is not given on the sign while the name of the town five miles further on is on it. This is basic. There is a need to conduct a simple, proper audit of road signs throughout the country to ensure we can market Ireland in the best possible light.
There is another aspect to this.IDA Ireland brings prospective employers to various parts of the country and Enterprise Ireland wants people to locate in rural villages. I represent an area which is both urban and rural and we need to be able to find a place. Good old fashioned signs are still as important as they were 20 or 30 years ago, in the pre-satellite navigation era. This may seem to be a very simple matter but it could yield an enormous dividend from a tourism, business and personal perspective. I ask that the Minister be invited to the House to discuss this matter and that an audit such as that to which I refer be carried out.
From my long experience of Seanad campaigns, most candidates will go through fire and water to find a councillor and will not rely on either satellite navigation systems or signposts. I am not taking from the point the Senator is making but-----
I am sure the Cathaoirleach has many friends all over the country and I have no doubt that he can drive into any village and people will say, "Is that you, Cathaoirleach?". However, for the average tourist, this is something we should do to market Ireland and it is a very simple way of doing so.
I was amused by a story about the most recent campaign when a certain person climbed an eight foot gate at 8.15 a.m. to canvass a vote in a county which shall remain nameless. We must wrap up this discussion shortly. I ask the remaining speakers to be brief.
I will be very brief. Like many others here, I spent recent months travelling the length and breadth of the country, from Malin Head to Mizen Head and from Galway to Dublin and back, during the course of which I became very intimately acquainted with-----
I was a slow starter but I got there. I came to understand the deficiencies of our mobile phone system very well, as I am sure did many others. I am not talking about broadband or Wi-Fi but basic mobile phone coverage, which is very important. Invariably, I found that one particular network worked but another did not. The State obviously issues licences to mobile service providers and it is time to invite the Minister for Communications, Climate Change and Natural Resources to the House to discuss mobile phone coverage and mobile services in general. One will invariably find on the new motorways that one will not get a service. I do not use the phone when I am driving but would pull in and use it now and again. On most of the new roadways, however, one can forget about doing so.
I would also like to say something about customer service by the mobile network providers. If one happens to have the misfortune of going into a mobile phone shop, one will generally be obliged to queue for service. I was in one such shop the other day and there were several elderly people present but there were no chairs for them to sit on, despite the fact that the queues were lengthy. There are lots of other issues I could raise but it is a bit late in the day to do so. I ask the Leader to accommodate a debate on mobile phone services at his earliest convenience.
I wish to pick up on points made earlier about the importance of recognising the Irish diaspora. In that context, I commend Senator Lawless on the work he has done. I also commend all of the Irish Americans and the Irish centres all over the United States of America on their tremendous work promoting Irish culture, heritage and the connections that sustain links with the Irish who currently reside on the other side of the Atlantic. As Minister of State, I had the honour of visiting the mid-west of the United States in 2015 and in the cities of St. Louis and Indianapolis I met a very proud Irish community. However, the members of that community were very concerned that the traditional links with Ireland were weakening. Some of the Irish people who had been to the forefront in promoting Irish links had passed away or were no longer as active as they had been previously. There is a concern that the mid-west, which would not have seen the same level of interaction as areas on the east and west coast of the USA needs to see more sustainable linkages developed in terms of culture, education and business. It is important that this House recognises those links. I know that Irish Americans really appreciate it when Irish representatives, be they mayors, Ministers or other representatives of the State, go to the USA to strengthen those links. I urge the Leader to invite the Minister of State with responsibility for the diaspora, Deputy McHugh, to the House for a debate on this issue. I know that such debates are appreciated and we must consistently raise and recognise the importance of the diaspora in this House.
I know that the Cathaoirleach is under pressure but I am delighted to see Senator Lawless, one of the Taoiseach's nominees, in the House. It is great to have someone in this Chamber who has a direct link to the White House. That can only be good for this country and this Senate. I am also very much in agreement with what Senator O'Donnell said with regard to the arts. For many decades now she has been performing in the arts and continues to do so in this House. She is someone with a direct link to the Taoiseach, which should also be of huge benefit to the House.
I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Bruton, to the House in the coming weeks to discuss adult education, the plc sector and the Youthreach training centres.
The Cathaoirleach is always a gentleman and that is not going to change. I commend Senator O'Sullivan on his contribution regarding mobile phone coverage although I am coming at the issue from quite a different perspective. I intend to bring a SIM registration Bill to the floor of the House in the coming weeks which aims to ensure that all SIM cards sold by mobile phone operators are registered in a database and that anyone who wishes to buy a SIM card will have to produce a utility bill or a passport to do so. Mobile communication is great and the ongoing advances in this area are wonderful but, unfortunately, the possibilities of such communication are being abused, particularly by gangland criminals who are buying multiple SIM cards at will. There is no minimum age limit for the purchase of a SIM card. Children as young as nine or ten can go into mobile phone shops with €50, buy ten SIM cards and walk away. Those cards can then be put into electronic devices and used to cause mayhem. It is really not good enough. Many other European countries have registration systems for SIM cards and it is time to take some degree of control over the pay-as-you-go market. I hope this House will support the forthcoming SIM registration Bill and send it to the Lower House for approval.
I will begin by quoting James Joyce, "Love loves to love love" and wishing everyone a happy Bloomsday. I hope, in keeping with today's theme of the arts, that we will continue to promote arts and culture, not just in this House but across the country. I remind members of the Fianna Fáil Party that today also marks the anniversary of Jack Lynch's victory in the 1977 general election, held on 16 June. At the risk of sounding a discordant note, perhaps the motor tax policy that was referred to by Senator Gallagher had its origins then, when there were cuts to funding. However, I will not go back in history now, except to say that today is a very important day.
Senators Ardagh, Conway-Walsh and Ó Ríordáin raised the issue of bin charges but as Members know, the movement now is towards a pay-per-weight system. It is being introduced, by regulation, from July. I am surprised that Senator Ó Ríordáin did not remember that it was his own party colleague, the former Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly, who signed the order. It follows the standard of the polluter pays principle. I agree that we should have a debate on waste policy. In that context, Sinn Féin has tabled a Private Member's motion on the issue which will come before the House next week for debate. Oral hearings are currently being conducted by An Bord Pleanála in Cork concerning incineration. Many people are against incineration but our landfill sites are not able to cope with the amount of refuse being generated. It is important that we educate ourselves and the next generation on the importance of recycling, reducing and reusing waste materials. We must reduce the amount of waste going to landfill sites.If we are to have effective prevention measures, it is important that people are rewarded based on how they treat and dispose of their waste. The EPA and CSO produced data which show that 87% of householders will see a reduction in their charges, 8.5% will see no charge and a small number will see an increase. I am pleased the Minister is meeting bin companies. Senators Conway-Walsh and Ardagh are correct. People should not have to pay more. Private operators should not exploit their customers. One of the major tragedies of the elimination of municipal waste collection was that the waiver system in many coastal areas has gone.
It is important that we are proactive. The Minister is working with companies. They should not be exploitative and should instead work with their customers to ensure proper charges are applied. We will take up the issue. Awareness and segregation of waste are important, and we should continue along that route.
I refer to Senator Conroy-Walsh's motion. As I explained at a meeting earlier, there are a number of discrepancies in the motion. As Leader of the House, I cannot allow it because it has implications for the Cathaoirleach and the House. The motion is not within Standing Orders.
Based on yesterday's remarks in the House, I look forward to the Twenty-fifth Seanad bringing about change in how the House works, does its business, and how it is perceived across the country by the Fourth Estate, citizens and constituent members. I am not afraid to examine the electoral system or the internal workings of the Seanad. Let us do so in the context of what is best for democracy and representation in our country. Let us put aside our vested interests and put our country and people first in our reform of the Upper House. We are the current occupants of the House. A generation has gone before us and a generation will come after us. It behoves us, as Members of the Seanad, to do the right thing. I hope we will all do that because it is important that we continue to be representatives of whoever puts us in here.
I agree with Senator Ó Domhnaill about North-South relations. It is incumbent on us to carry on the work of the last Seanad and the work many of us did in committees in working with our partners in the Northern Ireland Assembly. We are all part of the one island and must work together to ensure that the Good Friday Agreement is implemented and the quality and standard of life of all of our citizens, whether Catholic or Protestant, are espoused and advanced. That is our duty.
To be fair, the Orange Order visited the previous Seanad. That is a matter for the CPP in the context of Senator Ó Céidigh's request for the Northern Ireland Minister for finance to come to the House. It is important that we continue to build bridges and relationships. As Leader of the House, I look forward to doing that. Senators will find no obstacle from me in that regard. My record as Chairman of the Joint Committee on Health and Children will show that we went to the Assembly in Belfast and a reciprocal committee came to Dublin. It is important that we continue with that process.
Senators Higgins, Ó Ríordáin and O'Donnell referred to the year of the arts. I welcome the passion of Members of the House for the arts, in particular the eloquence of Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell. I am pleased that she is the spokesperson on arts because she brings not just knowledge but a passion for, interest in and experience and wisdom of the arts. It is important that they continue to be at the forefront in the House. I want to assure Members that the Government is committed to the arts. The Minister, Deputy Heather Humphreys, retains full responsibility. There has been no denigration or dilution of roles. The buck stops with the Minister. That can be seen in the programme of work of the Government, where the Minister is committed to producing the first ever national policy on culture, with a view to publishing it in the next couple of years. Culture policy 2025 is the plan to which the Minister is committed.
Equally, the Government as a whole is committed to the arts, culture and heritage, and there will be no downgrading of them by the Government. Significant funding was provided for the arts by the Government at a time when the country had no money. I remind Members that €30 million was provided for the new National Gallery, €8 million was provided for a new expansion project for the National Archives and there was a €10 million renovation of the National Library at a time when the country was bereft of money. That was the legacy of the previous Government, which the current Government will continue. Let us ensure that we continue with that policy and keep the arts to the forefront of what we do.
I join with other Members in offering sympathy to family and colleagues of the nurse who died in Crumlin. It is a tragedy and we all must await the post-mortem results. It is important that we acknowledge that a human life has been lost and people are mourning today. I sympathise on behalf of the Government and all Members with the family and staff affected.
Senator Craughwell referred to his motion on terms and conditions for councillors. Senator Paddy Burke yesterday raised a Commencement matter to which the Minister, Deputy Varadkar, responded regarding K-class PRSI. As I said yesterday, it is important that we speak as a unified voice on the terms and conditions of councillors. We should not all bat as individuals trying to seek political points. Ní neart go cur le chéile. If we stand together as a body elected by councillors we can progress change, but if we all go off on divergent paths we will all end up on the road less travelled and will not achieve the result we all want. Senator Craughwell can move his motion in Private Members' time. The Government will be happy to work with him regarding that and I will happy to talk to him. I am not saying the Senator is scoring political points. We must work together.
Senators O'Mahony and Black referred to the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill. I am pleased to say it was restored to the Order Paper yesterday. The Government is committed to taking it at the earliest possible opportunity. It will come back on Committee Stage. A large amount of work has been done. I refer the Senators to the Bill and the previous Joint Committee on Health and Children, which did some strong pre-legislative scrutiny on alcohol. I compliment Senator James Reilly and former Minister, Alex White, on the work they did in progressing the Bill. Without them, it would not be on the Order Paper. We need to address the issue because alcohol misuse is costing the nation dearly in terms of lives, work hours and the quality of life for families. Too many homes are affected by the blight of alcohol.
Senator Higgins referred to the Department of Arts, Heritage, the Gaeltacht and the Islands. We will return to that issue.
Senator Harkin and others referred to the anniversary of the deaths of young people in Berkeley. It is important that we remember them. As we speak, young men and women are on flights across the Atlantic Ocean heading off to a new summer experience. I spent a summer on a J1 in America. It is important that we provide such young people with resources.
I welcome Mr. Brian O'Dwyer and Mr. Mike Carroll from New York who were very helpful in providing jobs and working with Irish-Americans. As Senator Coffey said, today we remember. Irish community centres and the diaspora in the four corners of America have helped many young people. It is important that we remember the young men and women who died in Berkeley and I thank him for raising the issue today.
Senator Norris referred to the inner city. I do not want to cause a political row, but I do not think Tony Gregory formed CAB. I will not go into the issue. He is correct. The inner city of Dublin requires regeneration and the Government is committed to that. The Taoiseach and Ministers visited the area this week. It was not, as some people said, a circus. Rather, they were there to listen and continue the work that is being done. I have worked in deprived areas. It is important that the arms of the State reach into such areas and work in a cross-departmental way to help people live their lives.
Senator Lawless referred to a letter from President Obama. I am sure he will be able to persuade him to speak in the Seanad at a later date. It might be a nice gesture. It is good that he is a Member of the House and it is important that the President acknowledged his role. He is not a token Senator. He has a valid mandate to represent us, himself and the diaspora, and I look forward to working with him in that regard.
Senator Ó Clochartaigh also referred to J1 visas. I would be happy for the Minister of State, Deputy McHugh, to come to the House to discuss voting rights and the diaspora. It is important that we reach out beyond our shores and acknowledge that the diaspora have an important role.As Senator Coffey correctly said yesterday, we do have a skills shortage in some areas, so the Minister, in singling out certain professions or skill sets, is appealing to people because of the shortages and he is right to do that.
I referred to Senator Ó Ríordáin's contribution already.
Senator Richmond's comment about a unified North-South team is an interesting one. I am not sure how the Football Association of Ireland and the Irish Football Association in Northern Ireland would feel about that, but perhaps it is something we should consider. The Senator might suggest the issue as one that could be discussed by the committee with responsibility for sport. All of us join in wishing every success to the Northern Ireland team tonight and the Irish team at the weekend. It is important that we continue to build on what has been achieved and that Irish fans continue to show the importance of being good ambassadors for the country. We have seen videos on social media of the fun Irish fans are having, but I would sound a note of caution to all Irish supporters and ask them to be careful, not to travel off the beaten track and to take their time. A consular service is available and they should put the contact number in their mobile phones or their wallets, because people can get lost for whatever reason and it is important that we continue the good record. It would be a shame if the good spirits of supporters and the manner in which they are viewed across France is damaged. All fans should put the number of the consular service in their mobile phones in case anyone gets in trouble.
Senator Boyhan mentioned the National Rehabilitation Hospital. He is correct that it is a very important facility. The men and women who work there do a tremendous job and the facility is long overdue an overhaul. I will ask the Minister to come to the House to comment. As a short-term measure, perhaps the Senator would consider tabling the matter for discussion on the Commencement. The Senator is correct that it is an issue we must put on the radar.
I spoke about Senator Black's contribution. Senator Colm Burke raised the issue of the HSE and the Department. He is correct. If we are engaged in new politics, then the HSE and the Department of Health must engage in new business measures and they must operate differently. The Minister for Health is to be congratulated on his ten-year strategy, but it should include all stakeholders, which would involve some of those suggested by Senator Burke. That would result in a ten-year strategy similar to social partnership, which did not include a political element. I welcome the creation of a policy committee of the Dáil to consider a ten-year strategy. I hope the Minister will expand the committee to include the Seanad, because Members of this House could play a constructive role in the health policy promotion area. The health committee the Minister has established is a good one, but he should go further and model it on the social partnership system.
I referred to Senator Ó Céidigh's remarks about small business and the Northern Ireland Minister for Finance. That is a matter for the Committee on Procedure and Privileges. As Leader, I would not have any problem if Senator Ó Domhnaill and Senator Ó Céidigh wish to write to the CPP about that.
I congratulate Senator Ray Butler on his maiden speech. I welcome him to the House and compliment him on the work he has done to promote the needs of the self-employed. He has always been very vocal in that regard. I look forward to bringing the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Varadkar, to the House to discuss the issue. Senator Butler is correct that there is an important deficit with regard to the self-employed. I hope the Mangan report will be the starting point for improvement in that regard.
I already mentioned Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell's reference to the arts. Senator Ó Domhnaill referred to Loughinisland. I would be happy for the Minister to come to the House and I will try to facilitate that. Senator Gallagher is correct that roads are important, and now that we are in a period of economic recovery it is important that we invest as a country in upgrading regional and national roads in particular. It is important that we follow his suggestion of bringing the Minister to the House.
Senator Kieran O'Donnell is correct in what he said about road signs. Any of us who travel the country are aware that road signs can be misleading and also dangerous in many parts. A plethora of commercial signs are now getting in the way as well. That is a matter we should discuss with Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII, the Department and local councils. I will certainly arrange to have the Minister come before us to discuss the matter.
Both Senator O'Sullivan and Senator Conway raised the issue of mobile phone coverage. It is a worrying trend that the quality of the mobile phone signal is decreasing. The Cork to Dublin road is an example. I can pinpoint three or four spots where the coverage automatically goes. It is an important issue. As Senator Mulherin said to me, from an economic point of view, that is something we must address, because if investors who come to this country consider that the mobile phone coverage is not good enough - that it is poor and patchy - they might think twice about coming here. The points the Senators raised are ones we should take up as well.
Senator Coffey mentioned the diaspora and the Irish-American centres. He is correct that we should discuss those matters. Senator Wilson referred to education. I am a former director of adult education and I believe adult education and continuing education are very important. I will invite the Minister to come before us to discuss that. Senator Conway's Bill on SIM cards is one we should accept and embrace as it relates to data protection and safety.