Tuesday, 21 June 2016
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, statements on health, to be taken at 5.15 p.m. and conclude not later than 6.45 p.m., with the contributions of all Senators not to exceed six minutes each and the Minister to be given five minutes in which to reply. As Members will note from the Order Paper and the schedule, I propose that immediately following the Order of Business we have expressions of sympathy for the late Jo Cox, MP, who was tragically shot and killed last weekend. As we have limited time, I propose that we confine contributions to five minutes per group spokesperson and that members of groups may share time, if they so desire.
I refer to the gun attack on a young man on Monasterboice Road in Crumlin during the early hours of yesterday morning. This latest gun attack in the heart of my constituency, just a short distance from my office, is of concern to me and the Fianna Fáil group. Less than half way into the year, seven people have lost their lives in the bloody war between two feuding families in this city. While the circumstances surrounding yesterday's shooting remain unclear, it is clear that the measures introduced by the Government are failing miserably in curtailing gun attacks across Dublin.I call on the Tánaiste and the Minister for Justice and Equality to come to the House to set out and explain what actions she intends to take to provide the Garda with resources and manpower it needs to effectively put the people running around the capital city with guns out of business. It is unacceptable that any community is living in fear and waiting for the next gun shots to ring out. I firmly believe the Minister and the Government have failed to comprehend the seriousness of the gun attacks in the capital city, the first of which took place in January, and that they have since failed to resource and support the Garda effectively in tackling crime head on. It is for that reason that I call on the Minister to attend the House. While I acknowledge arrests were made at the weekend owing to the increase in the level of surveillance, I also note that the armed response unit, for which €5 million was announced in February, has yet to be set up. I ask the Minister to examine the introduction of stricter sentencing legislation for the possession of firearms and perhaps the introduction of mandatory minimum sentences for such offences.
The issue I wish to raise is bin charges. The major mistake made was providing for privatisation. It was an absolute disaster. We all know what happened in Italy. The Mafia controls the collection of rubbish. What did we see happen here? A while ago we had bin companies attack the lorries of others and burn them out in car parks. That is pretty close to the activities of the Mafia. The companies involved are not even registered in Ireland; they are registered in the Isle of Man and because of this we do not know whether they make a profit. We pay for the collection of bins through the bin tax; we pay for water through water rates; we pay for roads through road tax, but for what is the revenue from property tax used? I think it is used to pay off the gambling debts of the German and French banks. We now have a situation where, as we heard this morning, 86,000 people have had money taken from their pension payments and other sources of income without their consent to pay the property tax. Some 3,000 people were sent to the sheriff to have their goods distrained. That is appalling. This takes us back to the 19th century to rack-renting where if a peasant dared to improve his or her holding, the landlord shoved up the rent, which meant that he or she was punished. What is now being done is exactly the same.
Some 40 years ago I bought a house on North Great George's Street for £25,000. I have spent hundreds of thousands, possibly millions, of euro on it. I started the North Great George's Street Preservation Society and rescued No. 35. I was involved in the transfer of ownership of many houses and although we rescued the street, what has been the result? We have been punished. The property tax has been increased, which is unspeakable. People should not be taxed on their homes. One's home should be inviolate. I said the same about mortgages, that there should be a Minister with responsibility for home security to make sure Irish citizens would be able to stay in their own homes.
I look forward to the debate tomorrow because there is an awful lot more to this issue; there are some very shady takeover deals between the companies involved. I do not believe they have been monitored properly by the authorities. The situation is appalling. It is part of a mass privatisation programme by the Government and I hope it will stopped in its tracks and that the process of privatisation can be reversed. If half a dozen companies can make a profit, I do not know why Dublin Corporation could not at least run it on an equal basis. Until recently in my area there were five or six refuse companies operating and every bloody day of the week we had bin lorries travelling up and down street at all times of the day and night. As I said, I look forward to tomorrow's debate, but I use the opportunity to call on the Order of Business for something to be done about this matter.
I raise the issue of Brexit and its effects here because it will be too late to raise it next week. I appeal to Irish people living in Britain and our comrades in the North of Ireland to vote in favour of staying as part of the European project.I make this appeal because of the consequences of Brexit which have been outlined, not least the reinstatement of the Border and the impact this would have on the Thirty-two Counties. There is learning in this issue for all of us because it shows how much the all-Ireland economy is dependent on relationships between Ireland and Britain, across all issues, including agriculture, fisheries, rural development, health and the economy. The House could play a part in setting out a vision for how to integrate an all-Ireland strategy with all of the work we do. While I welcome the increased co-operation between Ireland and Britain, it must continue and we must further examine developments in the British economy. The most recent ESRI report indicates that Ireland will not reach the rate of growth forecast for next year. The interdependence of the two states needs to be at the forefront of everything the Seanad does. Above all, I encourage people to use their franchise later this week for the betterment of the Thirty-two Counties and the United Kingdom.
As we approach the end of the 2015-16 academic year, the Cassells report which was due for publication eight months ago has still not been published. The higher education sector is at crisis point. Students are being charged a steadily increasing fee to attend college under the guise of a contribution charge. These increases and the corresponding decrease in State funding for higher education have had a noticeably negative impact on the quality of education. We are seeing poorer graduate outcomes and a diminished global reputation, two crucial factors in attracting a diverse range of students from across the country and around the world. The outputs of third level institutions provide €10 billion for the economy and international students make a further economic contribution of €1.3 billion. While increasing investment in higher education has a major social impact, it also has a strong, noticeable and positive economic impact. The wealth and progress of a country rely heavily on the level of educational attainment of its population. The benefits of a publicly funded and accessible higher education system clearly outweigh the benefits of education enjoyed by the individual. However, this is not reflected in State investment.
When one moves to commodity education, universities are transformed into training centres influenced by industry which then requires a faster return on investment. This commodification was exactly what was proposed to the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform in a recent document prepared by departmental officials. The move towards a €4,000 annual fee, supported by a student loans system, will put higher education further out of reach of those who need it most. The document in question also refers to the expected drawn out nature of the introduction of a student loans system. If we intend to expend energy and valuable political capital in solving the higher education funding crisis, we should look towards a strategy that would benefit higher level institutions and students equally and would not bury young people in debt. In a period of economic recovery it is time the State reinstated third level education funding to pre-crisis levels, possibly in the next three budgets. Indebting young people limits opportunity and choice and pushes graduates into employment to meet loan repayments rather than pursuing the career they want to follow or changing employments as they wish. We must continue to treat education as a public good.
It is now more crucial than ever that we see publication of the Cassells report, the findings of which will provide the future framework of third level education. The report has been delayed for eight months and the new academic year will start in a short time. While some of the report's contents have been leaked, third level students deserve to know its full contents, but they are being left in the dark about the future of the third level sector and their financial commitments for the coming year. In recent years it has become almost a given that the State can no longer afford to publicly fund third level education, but this is not true as it is becoming increasingly clear that the State cannot afford not to fund third level education. This issue needs to be debated in the House before the next academic term commences.
I take this opportunity ask the Leader to get some information for the House on the adoption (information and tracing) Bill? A lot of work has been carried out previously on this Bill and I would hate to see it slip off the radar at this stage. The former Deputy, Anne Ferris, did a huge amount on the legislation and it is a very important Bill.
I also request information on the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill. There was all-party agreement for the report compiled by the justice committee. The Bill passed through all Stages in this House following a set of strong contributions made by many Senators and it had commenced Second Stage in the Dáil. Can the Leader ascertain the current status of the Bill and when it will be re-introduced? It is a very important Bill in terms of protecting sex workers and the criminalisation that is taking place in that area. I would be grateful if the legislation could be brought forward.
In terms of the comments made by Senator Norris about bin workers and the waste charges for lifting the bins, I too look forward to the debate tomorrow. Those who forced the privatisation, and in the process moved the service away from local authorities by a daily protest and encouragement of people not to pay waste management charges to their local authorities, are the very ones who generated the privatisation of the service. As soon as the private sector moved in I did not see one protest against the private sectors companies. When local authority workers carried out a very good public service throughout the country those same people were at the forefront of the protests, demonstrations and the locking of bin lorries into their yards, thus not allowing them to collect refuse in this city and in many parts of the country. Therefore, I very much welcome tomorrow's debate. It is an opportunity for us to hear the views of Members from different parties, but let us remember the forced privatisation through a non-payment campaign to local authorities.
Last weekend, I noted with great interest the celebrations of the 125th birthday of John A. Costello. As Senators will know, he was the leader of Fine Gael, a Taoiseach and he also declared Ireland a Republic in 1949. Up until that time, Ireland was an active member of the Commonwealth. Relations are now at an all-time high with the new Commonwealth that has a population of 2.2 billion and is comprised of 53 countries, of which 33 are republics. Since 1971, the Queen has only a titular role in the Commonwealth. Now there is support for world peace, liberty, human rights, equality and free trade so it would be a good time to have a debate on whether the Republic of Ireland should consider rejoining the Commonwealth. There are many Irish people and the Irish diaspora who live in the UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand, so we should not fear rejoining.
We are a mature Republic so we must seek a debate to discuss the economy and the fact that there are 2.2 billion people in the Commonwealth. It is time we took our place again within the Commonwealth. The Republic of Ireland should consider the matter.
I ask the Leader of the House, Senator Jerry Buttimer, to invite the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation to attend the House to discuss the soaring costs of car insurance. There is a need for a review of the workings of the Injuries Board that was established in 2004. It is a State organisation that initially contributed to the reduction in premiums and the maintenance of cost of cost levels in terms of claims. At this stage the high level of awards of compensation are soaring. I refer here for instance to the compensation level here for soft tissue injuries. For whiplash the average compensation is €15,000 compared with £5,000 or thereabouts in the UK. There is a big difference in the awarding of costs for claims.
There is also a significant number of fraudulent claims.Government action is needed in this regard. Fraud is widespread, with accidents being arranged and organised. The level of damages awarded is soaring and the insurance companies have increased premiums by up to 50%. This is making it very difficult for young people in particular to obtain or retain motor insurance and to carry out their work.
We have all come across cases of abuse of the insurance system. I know of one case where an individual got a scrape on his car and received €4,500. Six months later he discovered that he had soft tissue injuries. The doctor said it was fine and no problem at all because the claim had gone in. The insurance company did not carry out a detailed examination or investigation of this individual, even though he had submitted numerous other claims. The company settled for €10,000 or €15,000 because it did not want to incur the cost of medical advice, senior and junior counsel or solicitors. Companies will just settle claims, but who pays? The person who pays the premium carries the can at the end of the day. It is about time action was taken. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister to the House to discuss this issue.
We have people with a wide range of experience in this House. Many of the professions are represented, including medical doctors, senior counsel, junior counsel, solicitors, lawyers and so forth, and they could give their views on the matter. We want fair settlements and fair insurance premiums, particularly for young people. We are paying for the Quinn Insurance collapse, uninsured drivers and so on. These issues are all connected and who is paying? Young people who want to drive a car are being victimised and I ask the Leader to consider a debate on this issue.
I join Senator Leyden in calling for a debate on motor insurance. I heard a victim of cyber harassment on the radio, which colleagues may also have heard. I was shocked to hear how the young woman endured an outrageous violation of her privacy when explicit pictures and a video were posted online by a disgruntled ex-boyfriend. She was completely unaware that she was being filmed and that the film was online until somebody pointed it out to her.
Currently, the investigation and prosecution of this type of activity is very poorly provided for under Irish law. This leaves gardaí with limited scope to act in such circumstances. Irish legislation is very strong, thankfully, for child victims, especially regarding the distribution of child sexual images. However, protections are far weaker for adults who have been seriously victimised on social media or online, including being depicted in intimate private photographs and videos. Last year, the United Kingdom passed legislation making it illegal to disclose a private sexual photograph or film without the consent of the person depicted. In the USA, 34 states currently have revenge porn laws, while Australia and New Zealand have also recently introduced state laws criminalising it. Recent amendments to the 1951 Post Office (Amendment) Act, which criminalises the use of a phone for harassment purposes, include text messages sent by phone. However, it is unclear if suspect activity on social media conducted online via a smartphone would be covered by this legislation, and because of the lack of prosecutions, there is no case law. The fact that there is no legal deterrent in this country for anyone who wishes to violate a person's privacy in the most explicit way is totally unacceptable. I am now calling for the introduction of legislation in line with that recently introduced in the UK to provide adequate protection for adults from the scourge of cyber harassment and revenge porn. This affects women, men and teenagers and should be taken more seriously.
I wish to raise the issue of the treatment of workers in this country. There was a lot of discussion in the House when Clerys vanished off the face of the earth leaving hundreds of workers unemployed. Indeed, my colleague, Senator Nash, introduced some fairly good legislation in this area when he was a Minister of State. Members of the IMPACT trade union who worked for Childminding Ireland are currently on strike and have been since 7 June because they were served with compulsory redundancy notices without any meaningful talks having taken place.The proposed redundancies are unnecessary. Childminding Ireland is a State-funded body which is not experiencing financial difficulties. Management has failed to produce a business case to justify these job losses. IMPACT believes Childminding Ireland is illegally threatening redundancies to force administrative and specialist staff out of their jobs before replacing them with others. Childminding Ireland has refused to engage seriously in consultation or conciliation organised by the Workplace Relations Commission, although it has misleadingly told journalists that it has conducted a four-month consultation. In fact, no consultation has taken place, according to the union.
Childminding Ireland has had plenty of opportunity to explain why it thinks restructuring and redundancies are necessary, but it has consistently failed to do so. It is clear that no business case has been put forward because no business case exists. Although management has said the existing staff members will be able to apply for as yet unspecified new roles in a restructured organisation, the union believes the new roles are being constructed to exclude such people. IMPACT remains available to resolve these issues through negotiations at the Workplace Relations Commission. The trade union is trying to protect its workers before some fly-by-night dumps them on the street as happened in the case of Clerys. I am not saying the State-funded body in this case is wrong in its belief that redundancies are needed, but I believe there should be some way of compelling it to go before the Workplace Relations Commission to justify what it is looking for. It should be required to enter into meaningful negotiations. It is outrageous that these people are protesting out on the street today. I ask the Leader to address this issue with the relevant Minister.
Senator Leyden raised the important issue of increased insurance costs, but he did not refer to the profits of insurance companies. We got rid of the jury system for deciding on the level of damages a number of years ago because we thought such a move would lead to cheaper insurance. We then set up the Personal Injuries Assessment Board because we thought it would result in cuts in legal fees. The insurance companies now want further cuts because they are still not satisfied. Nobody is talking about the profits being made by insurance companies or the need for them to be upfront about why insurance costs so much in this country. There is a need for an honest debate on the matter. It is important to recognise that every time we go to pay insurance premiums, it costs us all more because of bad management within an insurance company, Quinn Insurance, where moneys were wrongly used.
I understand that a committee has been established to deal with the ten-year health care plan. There is no reference to any Member of the Seanad being on that committee. It is important to emphasise that Members of this House can make a contribution to the debate on the plan. I ask the Leader to seek clarification from the Minister for Health on the inclusion of Members of the Seanad on the committee when it discusses the ten-year plan.
The former Minister of State at the Department of Health, Kathleen Lynch, gave me a commitment in this House eight months ago that a report on the review of the fair deal scheme, particularly as it applies to farmers, would be made available in June 2016. It is now June 2016 and I ask the current Minister to make that report available. We need to have a debate on this matter. It is extremely important that there is a level playing field for everyone under the fair deal scheme.
I also want to raise the issue of Childminding Ireland. I attended the protest at lunchtime today. I have to say I was shocked to hear about the treatment that has been meted out to workers like Bernie Griffiths, Jacquie Donnelly, Fiona Turner and Anne McCourtney, who have over 60 years of loyal service to a company that is funded by the State through the Department of Children and Youth Affairs.Despite this, when IMPACT wrote to the Minister-----
Thank you, a Chathaoirligh. I accept your point. We have heard much about new politics and we have a new Minister in place. However, when the union wrote to the Minister, effectively, she appeared to sit on her hands, saying it had nothing to do with her. This Department funds the child care facility in question. This facility has made these people redundant and, at the same time, told them to reapply for their jobs if they like. Does this House see that as acceptable behaviour in the 21st century? None of us should and, I believe, none of us would. It is an issue of urgency. These people are in their third week on strike and we need to have a response from the Minister. Will the Leader urgently ask the Minister to address this issue?
I am deeply concerned about the process in which school building projects are progressed through construction and the order on which they appear on the final list. Will the Leader invite the Minister for Education and Skills, or a representative on his behalf, to outline these procedures to the House? The new school building project for Coosan national school in Athlone is a matter close to my heart, as it was for my late sister, Nicky McFadden. For more than 16 years, we worked to get it on the new school construction list. It was approved, completed stage 2B and was to go to construction in 2016. However, we have been informed 66 buildings will go to construction this year but our school is not one of them. There is a school in my locality which came online only two years ago, after Coosan national school, and whose construction will start next week.
While I welcome the development, there is an unfairness in the process. I would like if there was some transparency in the process to understand how and why some projects get jumped up the list. Up to 65% of the pupils in Coosan national school are in prefabs. Vital work is required on the existing school building over the summer which will not be cost effective if it is going to come online in 2017. Will the Minister for Education and Skills explain to the House how one school, 16 years in the process, can suddenly be dropped while another school, only two years on the go, can suddenly go to construction?
In most of the media today, there have been comments that the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government is proposing to instruct local authorities to introduce charges for civic bring centres. This is rather odd, as it is meant to be Government policy that we allow and empower local authorities to make decisions over their affairs and operate within their budgets. This is one of the common problems with the property tax because no one quite knows what they are paying it for or quite understands the autonomy of local authorities to manage their affairs in a professional way.
I believe in water and waste charges. The difference is I believe in fair water and waste charges, with the services being given to people explained to them. There is a massive fiasco about waste with many people jumping for headlines and publicity, stating they are against this or that. We have to pay for services. People need to get real about this. It seems to be the in-thing to say one is against everything. I am in favour of water and bin charges. One gives a good service and explains the costs while not ripping people off.
Will the Leader arrange for the Minister, when he comes into the Seanad tomorrow for the debate on waste charges, to explain his intention in suggesting or directing that local authorities charge for citizens who take the trouble to manage their waste and take it to a civic bring centre? These are the people who are proactive in segregating and managing their waste. I would be against any charge for such a service.
I want to raise the issue of commercial business rates for small and medium-sized enterprises, SMEs. Recently, I was asked to attend the local courthouse to see three businesses being dragged before the court like common criminals because they were in arrears with their local authority rates.This is happening all over the country, not just in my area but in everybody's area. As the economy improves and grows, more local authorities are putting the boot down. These businesses have survived during the past five or six years through a disastrous economic crash and should be put on pedestals for keeping their doors open. Instead, they are being crucified. We politicians have done nothing to address the issue.
The rates Bill dates back to the 1800s, and its only provision is that people must pay. We all put on the green jersey two years ago when social clubs and GAA clubs needed help with the rates issue. We introduced legislation, which was fantastic and right. I appeal for politicians in this and the other House to do something with our draconian rates legislation. Business owners who have employed people and paid their tax and VAT are being dragged before judges like paupers. We need the legislation to change and we must debate it in the House.
We need to see companies' from the past five years and see whether they have broken even or lost money. If they have broken even or lost money, we should consider helping them and, in some cases, wiping the debt. In some cases, debt has been wiped and favouritism has come into play regarding rates in certain local authorities, whereas in other cases they have gone the whole hog to collect the money. We should help these SMEs by introducing legislation. The legislation should provide for us to calculate rates based on profits rather than on the square footage of the premises. A premises in a small rural town, where five people might pass the door in one day, might pay the same rates as the Blanchardstown Centre, where thousands of people pass through the doors. It is ludicrous. I call on the Minister to come here to debate the issue and help these people who have kept their doors open and who have helped rural communities, but who are now being slaughtered and dragged down. What I see is disgraceful.
Éirím chun tacú leis an méid atá ráite ag mo chomhghleacaí, an Seanadóir Conway-Walsh. I support the contribution of my colleague, Senator Rose Conway-Walsh, and ask the Leader to maintain the pressure on his Government colleagues and all Members of the Oireachtas on Thursday's Brexit referendum. I will leave this institution on Thursday after the conclusion of business to go back up the road to vote in the referendum. When I was travelling down to the Seanad last week, I sat across from two young American tourists who were heading from Belfast to Dublin. They asked an elderly gentleman in the carriage whether anybody would stop them at the Border to check their passports and papers. I interjected by saying, "Not yet." This is a fear and concern, among many others, not least about the impact on our economy, infrastructure, agriculture sector and the longstanding and important contribution the EU has made to the peace process and the political process in the North through institutions and through the very significant funding streams to build peace and justice initiatives. I ask the Leader to maintain this pressure.
The Government has played a very proactive role. The Taoiseach and other colleagues have been to the North, which I welcome. They have also travelled across the water to Britain to encourage the Irish community there to vote. I ask Members to maintain this pressure and, if they have friends, colleagues or relatives in Britain or the North, to ensure they use their vote on Thursday. I say this as an individual and as a party member who has many concerns about the EU as it stands, not least regarding the democratic deficit and the erosion of national sovereignty.
I am amazed and shocked at Senator Feighan. He is no longer in the Chamber. I hope he is outside reflecting on what he proposed. If I am worried about the democratic deficit in the EU, I would certainly be worried about a democratic deficit in the British Commonwealth.I am amazed that in 2016, 100 years after the Easter Rising, when the ideals and visions have not been fulfilled yet, that a member of Fine Gael would come in here-----
I support Senator Butler's call in respect of SMEs and the rates they must pay. Will the Leader ask the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation to come to the House to discuss incentives for small companies to set up? I acknowledge they work with LEOs and a number of small companies have been set up, mainly in urban areas, in recent times. There is more positivity among SMEs but we must work with, and encourage, them to develop.
It is great to see the new politics of Fine Gael coming around to Sinn Féin policy, particularly around the issue of rates, because Sinn Féin has called for the past five years for a change to rates in order that they are calculated on the basis of profits and the size of businesses. I agree with Deputies Byrne and Butler that a debate is needed and it is good that they are finally coming around to our way of thinking.
Tá sé fíor-thábhachtach go mbeadh díospóireacht againn maidir le cúrsaí Gaeilge agus Gaeltachta. Bhí caint ar Acht na dTeangacha Oifigiúla sa Rialtas deireadh a bhí ag dul ag cúlú ó thaobh na cumhachtaí a bheadh ag an gCoimisinéir Teanga. Bhí feachtas pobail ann ag cor an choinne sin. Tá an straitéis 20 bliain titithe i dtraipisí. Níl dóthain acmhainní á cur ar fáil agus níl dóthain tacaíocht á thabhairt don teanga. Tá Údarás na Gaeltachta ag fulaingt de bharr easpa maoinithe. Níl me soiléir cén treo atá sé ag dul ó thaobh spriocanna fostaíochta, cúrsaí forbartha pobail agus mar sin de. Ba mhaith liom go ndéanfar plé arís ar thoghchán Údarás na Gaeltachta mar ní dóigh liom go bhfuil an daonlathas ag bord Údarás na Gaeltachta agus a bhí.
Bhí go leor obair ar pholasaí oideachais Gaeilge agus Gaeltachta déanta ag an Roinn Oideachais agus Scileanna ach ní fhaca muid fós an Bille nua atá chun oideachais Gaeilge agus Gaeltachta a thabhairt chun cinn. Cá bhfuil sé sin? Tá comhchoiste nua le bunú ó thaobh cúrsaí Gaeilge agus Gaeltachta. Caithfidh muide sa Seanad cinntiú go mbeidh ballraíocht ón Seanad ansin. Sílim go gcaithfidh muid coiste dár gcuid féin a bhunú le sin a chinntiú. Ó thaobh mhaoiniú na n-earnáil trí chéile, tá buiséad na Gaeltachta gearrtha siar arís agus arís eile. Dá bhrí sin, bheadh sé fíor-thábhachtach an tAire Stáit, an Teachta Kyne, a thabhairt isteach leis na ceisteanna seo a phlé agus go mbeadh muid chun tosaigh ar an bproiséas buiséid le gur féidir linne, mar Sheanadóirí, brú a chur le go gcuirfear airgead dóthanach ar fáil do chúrsaí Gaeilge agus Gaeltachta sa bhuiséad a bheas le teacht.
I wish to raise an issue that highlights the shoddy attitude that big business can have to the ordinary man and woman and what it is getting away with it. I refer on this occasion to insurance companies, not banks. An elderly woman in my home town was unable to pay her car insurance premium by postal order. She sent her postal order to the insurance company but it was returned and the company demanded that she pay by credit card. Ultimately, she had to get a family member to supply a credit card number. There is a cohort of older people and people from a certain socioeconomic background who have limited options when making payments. It is scandalous that an insurance company will not accept a postal order, for which a person has presented cash to the post office.
This undermines services provided by An Post. I can give someone a postal order to pay a bill and he or she can lodge it in a bank similar to lodging a cheque. I am bewildered that this company would not accept a postal order. This demonstrates haughtiness and the fact that it can get away with it. I would like the new Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources to come to the House to discuss issues relating to our post offices, including sustaining the network, which is always topical.
I previously raised the issue of us trying to stimulate more commercial business for the post office network to make sure it has a future and that it can engage in activities that provide a service to the community.We want that excellent post office network to remain in place. The Bobby Kerr report was commissioned so that avenues could be explored and developed to make this happen. I would like the Minister to come before the House to outline the progress made within the working groups and, in particular, to pursue the issue I raised of post offices being allowed to process and handle driving licence applications on account of the new tender procedure being pursued by the Road Safety Authority. This would bring matters in line with the system for passport applications and create new business. It is another way to sustain post offices. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister to come before the House because this is an issue that affects the entire country, throughout which the post office network is spread.
I support Senator Mulherin's request for the Minister for Communications, Climate Change and Natural Resources to come before the House to discuss post offices. She raised two very important issues, namely, business being taken away from post offices and the fact that postal orders, which are part and parcel of post office business, are not being accepted by insurance companies, which is outrageous.
The Senator also referred to driving licences. As we know, there are only one or two locations in each county for people to get or renew a driving licence. When the licence process is put up to tender, the post office would be an ideal partner for the centres that issue driving licences. Post offices could process licence applications and then forward them to the licensing authority or office. This would eliminate the need for people to travel 40, 50 or even up to 100 miles to get to a centre where they can renew their licences. For the remote parts of the country, the post office is an ideal place to process driving licences. People would be able to go there with their photographs and applications and send them on to the licensing authority, and then their licences would be issued them in a couple of days, a week or whatever. I fully support Senator Mulherin's request for the Minister for Communications, Climate Change and Natural Resources to come to the House to discuss the viability of post offices throughout the country.
There is concern among people regarding the VAT rate for tourism. Dublin might not need it, as evidenced by the huge increase in the rates for hotel rooms here. I admit that there are not enough hotel rooms in Dublin and I hope there will be expansion in that regard with another building programme. I am concerned with Ireland beyond the Pale. I ask the Leader to use his good offices to make representations to the Minister for Finance on this matter. If it can be afforded, I hope the Minister will be able to ensure, in the context of the forthcoming budget, that the VAT rate to which I refer will remain in place. It is very important for the future of tourism.
I do not want to refer to Brexit; we will wait to see how matters turn out on Thursday. I would hate to think what would happen to tourism if the British left the EU. The value of sterling would decrease - they are getting great value here at present. We know what would happen otherwise. I hope Britain will remain.
There are 32,000 home owners with mortgages that have been in arrears for more than two years. It is, I suppose, the elephant in the room in terms of people with homes. I ask the Leader to arrange for the relevant Ministers to come before the House for a wide-ranging debate on whether the current insolvency regime is fit for purpose. An appeal mechanism was introduced to allow people to appeal decisions to the Circuit Court. I have heard anecdotal evidence that many home owners are not availing of this appeal mechanism. Why is that the case? We should have a debate on that matter in the House. The family home is very important. This issue of people not paying their mortgages for more than two years is extremely important. I ask the Leader to arrange for the relevant Ministers to come before the House for a debate on the matter.
Ba mhaith liom ceist a chur ar an gCeannaire maidir le deis a bheith againn díospóireacht a bheith againn ar chursaí Gaeilge go ginearálta, go háirithe i gcomhthéacs Straitéis 20 Bliain don Ghaeilge, an teanga dúchais agus na céimeanna atá á ghlacadh ag an Roinn chun na spriocanna atá leagtha síos sa straitéis a bhaint amach. Ba mhaith liom dá bhféadfadh an díospóireacht sin a bheith againn roimh bhriseadh an tsamhraidh. Chomh maith le sin, the summer economic statement published today makes for positive reading. However, it does not take into account some of the risk factors for Ireland, one of which was mentioned by our Sinn Féin colleague - Brexit - but there are many others, including the financial regulation of banks and many other institutions, some of which were highlighted in the banking inquiry. There are financial, economic, demographic and political risks facing the country. Year on year, we are overspending in the area of health, yet we are unable to meet from the perspective of the public purse the demographic challenges posed by an ageing population whereby up to 4% of the population will need nursing home care by 2025. I, therefore, call on the Leader to facilitate a debate with the relevant Minister or Ministers across a range of Departments on the plans being put in place to meet the challenges poses and ascertain the level of risk across each Department. It might mean many Ministers having to come into the House, but we should be looking at the issue in the context of a five or ten year spending plan. The medium-term objective announced today makes for positive reading, in that it recognises a fiscal space of around €3 billion in 2019. Some of the money will be put into a savings scheme similar to the National Pensions Reserve Fund, but it is not a great deal of money when the challenges mentioned are brought into the equation. I ask that we look at the challenges facing the country and that the Leader consider the best way to debate the issue.
I join in the call made by the Fianna Fáil group leader, Senator Catherine Ardagh, for a debate on crime. This city has been ravaged by the recent gangland assassinations. We all need to be on the alert to and highlight the issue. The Minister would be welcome to come to the House for a debate on it in the near future and I call on the Leader to facilitate my request.
I also call for a debate on tourism. It is an opportune time to have such a debate, given that the weather has been reasonably good in recent weeks and many more people are visiting the country. I note the concern expressed by my colleague, Senator Paul Coghlan, about Brexit and the potential detrimental effect if the United Kingdom was to leave the European Union. The tourism industry is going well, but we cannot become complacent in any circumstance. I commend RTE for its programme on the Wild Atlantic Way. The scenery is phenomenal and the programme showed the authentic Ireland. The production should be made available to other channels to be shown throughout the world. The programme broadcast last Sunday night was incredible. Tourism has the potential to create thousands of jobs in many parts of the country. We, therefore, need to up our game constantly to ensure the services and facilities provided for those who visit are second to none, that the experience is kept authentic and that we do not destroy it. I would like in early course, perhaps before the end of term, given that we are in the summer season, the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to come to the House to hear statements on tourism over a couple of hours and to outline his vision for its potential development, both in rural and urban areas, in the coming years.
I thank the 24 Senators who contributed to the Order of Business with remarks. Senators Ardagh and Conway raised the issue of crime, in particular in Dublin's inner city. The success of Operation Thor has shown that crime has fallen throughout the country. Any loss of life is to be deplored. I commend the members of An Garda Síochána on their vigilance and surveillance last weekend when they apprehended criminals in and around Senator Ardagh's constituency.
The Government is committed to recruiting more gardaí. We have reopened Templemore. There are new gardaí at work, with a target of 15,000 gardaí to be recruited by the end of the Government's term of office. Equally, we have seen additional resources and moneys being put into Garda overtime, vehicles and equipment. I agree with Senator Ardagh and Senator Conway that we cannot be complacent regarding crime. We must work consistently on crime with all the stakeholders. Only yesterday, I attended a policing forum in Cork city, where crime is down 53%. That is a positive.
The Sinn Féin motion tomorrow will discuss the issue of refuse charges. Senators Norris, Humphreys and Boyhan raised the issue. We need to see this issue redressed and addressed. There is no way we can allow gouging or the rip-off of customers by any of those involved in the industry. To be fair, the Minister, Deputy Coveney, has worked hard since the issue became politicised by some. All of us on this side as well as those in Fianna Fáil are concerned about protecting the consumer. We must change our model of waste disposal. As I said last week in the House, we cannot allow a situation whereby a customer, no matter who he is or where he is from, has his bills increased. Senator Boyhan is correct. People must be cognisant that they have to pay something somewhere and that there is nothing for nothing anymore. That is a fair comment.
Senators Conway-Walsh, O'Donnell, Feighan, Coghlan and Conway raised the issue of Brexit. I join all of them in the call for all of us who are in favour of a Remain vote to ensure it is realised in the coming days. It is good that all the political parties in the Chamber today are in favour of the Remain side of the argument. In particular, it is right that we address the North-South issue and the Border. Those of us who are of an era have no wish to see the Border posts return. We have changed from that and our country is a better place now. The issues of trade, connectivity and commerce are important. The whole issue of North-South relations is relevant, be it the Good Friday Agreement implementation, British-Irish relations or working in the institutions. Everyone will benefit from the UK remaining within Europe in terms of how the peace process can continue. I hope that in the coming days all of us in this Chamber will exhort a Yes or Remain vote. That is critical. Again, I implore people to use whatever means they can to urge for a Remain or Yes vote. In particular, the all-Ireland strategy is one that I embrace and wish to see pursued.
Senators Ruane and McFadden raised, in different guises, the issue of education. The Minister, Deputy Bruton, is prepared to come to the House once he gets the Cassells report. I understand the Cassells report has not yet been concluded and has not been presented to him. I agree with Senator Ruane's comments about higher education funding in that the issues of expenditure and funding are linked. I note that the issue of resources, in the context of universities seeking funding for research and development, has become part of the business plan.
The other point Senator Ruane made is important as well. We cannot recreate barriers to third level education and we must be open to allowing people to continue to become part of the post-primary school education system.
Senator Humphreys raised the issue of the adoption (information and tracing) Bill. My understanding is that it is in the Dáil at the moment. It is working its way through the Dáil and awaiting the appointment of select committees in the Dáil. We can raise the issue of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill with the Minister.
Senators Leyden and Burke raised the issue of insurance.Senator Leyden is right, and we will facilitate a debate on that issue.
Senator Colm Burke raised a very important point. He was a member of the body that reported on medical indemnity insurance. The Government is very much concerned about the issue of the rising cost of car insurance. The Minister for Finance has engaged with the Central Bank and other stakeholders to examine the issue and report back to Government.
Senator Noone raised the important issue of cyber harassment and revenge porn. Listening to "Today With Sean O'Rourke" this morning one could not but have been struck by the powerlessness of the strong victim who was interviewed. Having initially overcome the distress caused she became empowered and took her battle to the person who was harassing and abusing her. The Law Reform Commission has submitted a piece of work to the Government but all of us in this House need to see some movement on legislation because this is not just about women; it is about men also. In the era of social media there are cameras on smartphones throughout the world and the issue highlighted by that victim this morning is one to which many families can testify and on which the Government must have a response.
Senators Craughwell and Gallagher raised the issue of child care and the workers currently before the Law Reform Commission. It is important that those who engage in any process on behalf of the State would engage fully and properly. I will take up the issue with the Minister, Deputy Zappone, on the Senators' behalf because it is important that workers, particularly in this sensitive area, get a hearing and that a resolution can be found.
Senator Colm Burke also raised the issue of the ten-year health strategy committee. I raised that issue last week in the House. I have spoken to the Minister, Deputy Harris, and I hope the other party leaders might write to the Minister with a view to having representatives from Seanad Éireann as part of that committee and having a joint Houses approach to the issue of the ten-year health strategy. This is an important issue and it is important that there is representation from this House on that committee.
Senator McFadden raised the issue of school building projects. I suggest the Senator might submit a Commencement matter on that issue. I agree with her that we need to have transparency in school building programmes.
Senator Ray Butler raised the issue of small and medium enterprises, as did Senator Maria Byrne. I will ask the Minister to come into the House for a debate on the wider issue of the costs of business. It is not that Sinn Féin has created a policy. It is following our policy. We are the pro-enterprise Government party-----
Senators Mulherin and Burke are right to raise the issue of post offices and the Kerr report. I fully agree with Senator Burke that we should be creative in the way we use post offices. I see nothing wrong with his proposal that post offices should be able to issue driving licences because it is a very good suggestion.
Senators Coghlan and Conway raised the issue of tourism and referred to beyond the Pale. I concur with both Senators regarding the issue of VAT. I stated in the House last week, and repeat now, that we have a very good tourism product and the proof of that was the fine programme shown on RTE last Sunday night. The programme on the Wild Atlantic Way was the essence of public service broadcasting.We should all commend John Creedon and the production crew-----
In tandem with that there is the important point that the rising cost of hotel rooms in this city and in other parts of the country will detract from all that good work. The 9.5% VAT rate was introduced with a view to incentivising the tourism industry. Our tourism numbers have gone up, but it does not endear the travel or the hotel industry to anybody to see the cost of hotel rooms increasing. It makes no sense. I appeal to the tourism industry in this regard and I will bring the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport into the House at the earliest convenient time to have a discussion on the issue of tourism and these costs.
Labhair na Seanadóirí Ó Clochartaigh agus Ó Domhnaill mar gheall ar chúrsaí Gaeilge agus Gaeltachta. Bhí mé ag caint leis an Aire Stáit nua, an Teachta Kyne. Tá suim mhór aige teacht isteach sa Teach seo chun cúrsaí Gaeltachta agus ár dteanga dúchais a phlé. Tá súil agam go mbeidh a leithéid de díospóireacht againn roimh na laethanta saoire. I hope we will have a debate before the summer holidays on the Irish language and on cursaí Gaeltachta, and I applaud the Senators for raising the issue.