Tuesday, 28 June 2016
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, motion re reinstatement of the Competition (Amendment) Bill 2016 to the Order Paper, to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business, without debate and; No. 2, statements on the UK referendum result, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 1 and to conclude not later than 6.45 p.m., with the contribution of all Senators not to exceed five minutes and the Minister to be called upon to reply not later than 6.40 p.m.
As leader of the Fianna Fáil group, I welcome the Government's decision to increase the rent supplement in line with the confidence and support agreement with Fianna Fáil. It must be noted that it is just one of a suite of measures designed to tackle the housing and homeless crisis. Many families are at risk of losing their homes due to rapidly rising rents and that is the reason Fianna Fáil ensured the Government would increase the rent supplement as a short-term measure. It is the right thing to do, as one of the measures designed to alleviate the housing crisis. The Government's decision to increase the rent supplement in major urban areas such as Dublin will help in the short term. Ensuring that the supplement reflects the reality in the market will also help to stop the practice of illegal top-ups that are putting families to the very pin of their collar. It is important that the law banning landlords from refusing tenants because they are on rent supplement is also fully implemented.
The Dublin local authorities, with Dublin City Council as the lead local authority, in response to homelessness are managing what is a critical and unprecedented situation in relation to the demand for their homeless services on a daily and nightly basis. In April 2016, the Dublin local authorities provided accommodation for 888 families, with 1,786 child dependants. Of those 888 families, 218 families were accommodated in homeless accommodation while 670 families were accommodated in commercial hotels.
I also wish to draw the House's attention to the eviction from a Dublin hotel on 9 June of a young family for drawing attention to the substandard emergency accommodation which suffered from damp and mould to a level so severe that their young children aged from nine months old who were recently out of hospital could not stay in the room. After requesting a change of room and appearing in the media over the conditions, they were confronted by management and the family then received a telephone call from Dublin City Council minutes later to inform them that their room had been cancelled.No alternative accommodation was offered and they have been informed that their contract with the hotel is now terminated.
These types of incidents should not happen. This is a very serious crisis that the Government needs to tackle head on. Each night there are so many children in emergency accommodation, which makes this an unbearable crisis. Even though the matter is talked about in every council chamber every day I feel that the crisis has still not been taken seriously.
The measures announced today go some way towards alleviating the crisis. However, the measures should form part of the overall housing package to ensure supply is increased in the future. The Government should act quickly and ensure that all of the recommendations made by the Oireachtas Committee on Housing and Homelessness are implemented. The Government must also ensure that there is proper investment in housing to ensure that families no longer have to sleep on the streets at night or take the humiliating step of approaching their local authorities to secure emergency accommodation.
I could not leave on the day requested and, subsequently, booked a flight for one month later for exactly the same period. I sought credit for the flight that I could not take and Ryanair did so. Were I to book the flight for 30 July it would have cost me €287. As I had already paid €287 for a flight in June, Ryanair credited me for the money I had spent on the flight and only charged me €189.40 to change my flight, which was an outrageous abuse. When Ryanair has one's money it says, "Stuff you, we're keeping your money." If one wants to change a flight one has got to practically pay the full price to travel on an alternative flight. If one took the Government taxes out of what Ryanair allowed me, then I would get nothing back and I must pay for the full flight the second time around.
We need to bring the relevant Minister in here to debate the matter. Looking around the House I can see on the faces of Members that other people have suffered the same fate as me. Ryanair's charging system is an outrageous abuse. One can change a seat on a ship that is due to sail to the UK or France and the shipping company will not penalise the customer. One can change travel details for most other transport methods. Indeed, a couple of years ago in the United States I had reason to change flights. The airline in question bent over backwards to facilitate me and charged me $40. Recently Ryanair changed focus to become customer friendly. If this is customer friendly then I shall eat my hat. I ask the Leader to arrange for the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to come in here for a full debate in order to see if we can do something to curb such practices. The only two airlines that provide flights all over Europe are Aer Lingus and Ryanair.
The uncertainty generated by Brexit last Friday poses urgent and immediate challenges for the Republic of Ireland. Sinn Féin wants Europe to be socially, democratically and environmentally friendly and one that promotes-----
I will keep it very short; I have just a few points. A better European Union, which promotes and serves the sovereign and democratic needs of its member states of 500 million citizens, can only be achieved by campaigning for change and reform from within the EU institutions. Brexit presents us with the potential loss of investment, negative implications for border controls and common travel and the prospect of less protection for workers' and other rights. A British state withdrawal from the EU represents a major setback for the political process in the North of Ireland and relationships between the two islands. Brexit also poses a direct challenge to the integrity of the Good Friday Agreement and internationally binding treaties and undermines all-Ireland co-operation. In broader terms, the financial losses of EU investment, subsidies and funds to the North of Ireland and the southern Border counties arising from the British withdrawal is in the region of £2.5 billion. There are negative repercussions for foreign direct investment and the development of the North's export capacity in regard to access to EU and global markets and that is why there is now an immediate imperative for the Government to open negotiations with Britain over the constitutional future of the North of Ireland.
I want to add another point, a Leas-Chathaoirligh, if I may, not regarding Brexit but regarding the report this morning that many young people with disabilities who sat their leaving certificate did not have the environment they needed in order to be able to participate fully in that examination. That is absolutely disgraceful. Will the Minister responsible come to the House to reassure us that it will never happen again to those with a disability who have overcome very many challenges to get to sit their leaving certificate in the first instance?
In regard to the Order of Business, I welcome that we will have the opportunity today to discuss the Brexit referendum. It is important we discuss it in terms of our relationship with the UK and in terms of the future of Europe, looking beyond the question of negotiations to the kind of framing we would have for Europe, in particular how we might address the toxic language of racism and anti-immigration sentiment and how we can look to a Europe that sends a stronger signal of inclusion and participation. I look forward to that debate.
I welcome the reinstatement of the Competition (Amendment) Bill 2016 to the Order Paper. It is a very important Bill in respect of freelance work and for those who are often caught in what might be false or non-actual freelance work which can be a vulnerable situation for many vulnerable workers. It is excellent to see this Bill on the agenda.
The National Economic Dialogue took place yesterday. Last week, there was a lengthy debate in the Dáil on the Government's summer economic statement. The timing of the summer economic statement and the National Economic Dialogue is unfortunate in that they have taken place around the Brexit referendum, which changes radically the context in which we are looking at future economic and social planning. I would like to mention to the Leader that it would be useful in future for this House to have the opportunity to discuss the summer economic statement. It goes beyond the simple question of moneys and the kinds of assumptions, values and priorities set out in such a statement. This House would have much to contribute to that debate in the future and also to the National Economic Dialogue.
Last weekend in Galway, the annual conference of the International Association for Feminist Economics took place. It highlighted very crucial issues not least among them the importance of care, for example. Care is the lifeblood of our society and yet neither the cost nor the contribution of care has been recognised in the summer economic statement. Neither seem to be present at as high a level as they should be within our economic and social planning going into next year.
I want to highlight a very interesting and an important report published yesterday by the Higher Education Authority on the importance of gender equality in Irish higher education institutions. The expert review group was chaired by the internationally experienced and the expert Máire Geoghegan-Quinn. The report is very important to me as the first woman elected in 35 years on the National University of Ireland panel.I welcome the recommendations of that report. I know we will have an opportunity to discuss it during statements on education, and I would appreciate it if the Minister addressed this report and told us how he plans to implement these very concrete recommendations to address the fact that, although Ireland has an extraordinary number of highly qualified women graduates, they are not recognised or represented at the highest level within our institutions. This is a real opportunity to ensure our institutions are world class and that gender equality is recognised as a key indication of quality and performance. I look forward to the opportunity to discuss this further with the Minister for Education and Skills.
I thank the Leader for organising statements today on the result of the UK referendum on EU membership. The result not only is deeply disappointing but represents a seismic shock in terms of its political and economic fallout, which is being felt on this island, in the UK and across the European Union. I look forward to participating this afternoon.
I thank the Leader for ensuring the restoration of the Competition (Amendment) Bill to the Order Paper and Senator Alice-Mary Higgins for her kind words about the Bill. This Bill was introduced in Private Members' time by the Labour Party group of Senators in January and it passed Second Stage with Government approval. The aim of the Bill is to provide for collective bargaining rights for freelance workers, particularly actors, journalists and so on, who are working freelance and are currently denied collective bargaining rights due to a particularly rigid application of the Competition Act. This Bill provides a simple amendment to that Act to ensure they have collective bargaining rights. It was warmly welcomed in January by SIPTU, the NUJ and Equity, among others, and I hope it will pass through Committee Stage when we take it in Labour Party Private Members' time next Wednesday. I ask colleagues across the floor of this House for their support for this Bill.
I join with Senator Higgins in welcoming the report on gender in third level institutions and I look forward to debating that. I commend the huge work of Micheline Sheehy Skeffington in this area.
She is a tireless activist in this area and a very eminent academic who had the courage to take the case which prompted this report and which has highlighted public awareness of gender discrimination in universities.
Yes, in the tradition of her grandfather. I ask the Leader for a debate on criminal justice policy and penal reform. I had the pleasure of attending a conference at NUI Maynooth last week on criminology and, today, a round-table discussion hosted by the Association for Criminal Justice Research and Development on criminal justice, in conjunction with the Department of Justice and Equality and the Probation Service. We looked at different issues around criminal justice reform and penal policy. Some excellent work was done by the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality on penal reform in the previous cycle. I hope we will see certain Bills restored to the Order Paper and that they will be debated in this House, among them a sex offences Bill which would introduce changes to prostitution law and really important changes to the law with regard to evidence and procedures concerning sex offence trials. I also look forward to legislation on domestic violence. I ask the Leader for a general debate on these issues and whether the legislation might be brought before us very swiftly.
One of the reactions to the decision of the UK to leave the EU has been a surge in applications for Irish passports both in the UK and in Northern Ireland. It is my understanding that there are millions of people eligible for Irish passports who have not previously applied, although things can sometimes be exaggerated in the media. The Passport Office does a wonderful job, sometimes with limited resources, to cope with applications for passports and to get them out on time, and some of us have been guilty of not renewing our passports on time. This is also a particularly busy time of the year. Is there a surge in applications? If that is the case, what are the plans to deal with this? The Passport Office would need additional resources if this were the case.
I would like to be allowed to publish the Registration of Wills Bill 2016.This is a Bill to provide for the registration of wills and I seek leave of the House to amend the Order of Business to allow the Bill to be published and circulated. In due course, we will have the opportunity to debate it during Private Members' business.
To follow up on Senator O'Mahony's point about the Brexit referendum, nobody has expertise on what will happen because nobody knows what will happen. When Article 50 of the Lisbon treaty is activated, there will be two years of negotiations with all the experts. I have read a great deal since last Friday. Quite honestly, people are in a state of shock. Certainly, in my area, it is the main focus of attention at present, with the drop in the price of cattle, worries about exports, worries about the Border and other such concerns. I concur with Senator O'Mahony on the issue he raised. I also support Democratic Unionist Member of Parliament, Ian Paisley Jr., who has advised people in Northern Ireland to get Irish passports following the Brexit vote. Incidentally, he voted for Brexit but he now recommends strongly that all our friends and fellow Irish men and women in Northern Ireland apply for their passports under the Good Friday Agreement. We will have a united Ireland in passports. They will have Irish passports.
It will allow our friends in Northern Ireland to travel the length and breadth of Europe and beyond with an Irish European passport. The same applies to Irish people in Britain. A total of 90,000 people born in England applied for and received Irish passports over the past decade, while 150,000 people born in Northern Ireland are entitled to passports through parents or grandparents and they applied for them in the last ten years. This will be a major change. I also hope that under the negotiations, they will not be excluded because of their address. An Irish passport is a European passport and that is how it will remain. We will fight to ensure that any person who holds an Irish passport will be entitled to full access to the European Union. This must be part of the negotiations.
I recommend to the Passport Office that it open a dedicated section in Balbriggan or Dundalk to deal exclusively with passport applications from Northern Ireland and Britain. At present, it is taking approximately 15 days to get a standard Irish passport and every Member has been inundated with requests to expedite passports. If the new applications arrive, it will absolutely inundate the Passport Office. That office is doing an excellent job but it needs more staff. It should allocate more staff to the Balbriggan office or open a new dedicated office in Dundalk. It is the only positive side to Brexit that I can see at present.
The high cost of fertiliser is a serious concern for farmers. It is not a new issue as the cost has been high for a number of years. It is notable that the cost has not decreased as one might have expected with the reduction in the cost of a barrel of oil, as that is one of the feed-in costs to the production of fertiliser. Why is that? The Irish Farmers' Association, IFA, commissioned a report from the International Food Policy Research Institute which points to a particular problem. It shows that it is due to the failure of competition within the Single Market and the European Union. There are a few players and these players, it appears, are ensuring that the price is kept high, notwithstanding the cost to them of producing the fertiliser. It is estimated that this is costing farmers in Europe approximately €1 billion per year.
This issue must be taken up by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine. In particular, it has been estimated that the cost of fertiliser can be tackled by the market being opened to imports into the European Union. At present, there are very high tariffs and taxes but if that can be tackled, it would deal with the competition issue that is leading to the high prices, which could see a saving of up to €70 million per annum for Irish farmers.That is a very important issue which has gone on far too long. I would like the Minister to come to the House to address it and also issues concerning Brexit, particularly in terms of farmers' concerns about exports. There is a big market in the United Kingdom for our agricultural produce and notwithstanding the British vote to exit the European Union and the Single Market, milk farmers, lamb producers and so on are experiencing difficulties already with commodity prices. It is a very serious and I would like to see the Minister in the House to discuss those matters.
Some 30 years ago I initiated the first Independent Group with my colleague, former Senator Joe O'Toole. We were entirely university Members at that stage. After the last election I tried to put together a larger group because there were so many Independents but Senator Alice-Mary Higgins and Senator Lynn Ruane, with some others, formed a separate group. We then had a meeting. I was elected leader and given the foreign affairs portfolio. Senator McDowell introduced two new members and suggested that since they were new members we should re-run the election. This we did today, and I put myself forward again. Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell got six votes, I got two and Senator Craughwell got one. I regarded this as a vote of no confidence.
This also means I will forfeit my position on the foreign affairs committee. Senator Marie Louise O'Donnell is unique in having been nominated for a second time by the Taoiseach and she has been a stirring voice in this House. I wish her and the group well.
I also disagreed with the group in putting forward a Bill about Seanad reform that contained some good measures but that was concocted by a group of lawyers and would lead inevitably to the extinction of the Trinity seat and opening it up to 1 million voters. I will, therefore, be the only independent Independent when my former group has notified the office of this. Le roi est mort, vive la reine, but I remain father of the House.
On that note, I hope they have a very enjoyable day in Leinster House.
This morning, I had the great privilege of giving the opening keynote address in a very important seminar on equality, recruitment and employment organised by the Mid-West Disability Inclusion Forum. It is a new forum formed to help industry engage with people with disabilities in a move to promote greater access to the workplace. Companies such as Dell, Northern Trust, GE Capital and GCAS, and the University of Limerick, are participants in what is a super project. It has achieved results already and based on the energy at the event I addressed in Limerick this morning, I believe it will achieve many more. An engagement between industry and the University of Limerick to promote equality of access and the breaking down of barriers to people with disabilities in the workplace is a great initiative.
I took the opportunity also to update the attendees on the strategy launched before Christmas by the Taoiseach.It was known as the programme to encourage people with disabilities to get involved in employment. It is called the Comprehensive Employment Strategy for People with Disabilities and is now considered a very important strategy with some key focus points in terms of engaging with industry, making work pay, breaking down barriers and ensuring that the right environment is in place to ensure that people have the opportunity to engage. Will the Leader to invite the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation to the House, possibly in the autumn, to give it an update on the strategy on promoting employment for people with disabilities? Unfortunately, people with disabilities are 50% less likely to get access to employment compared to their able bodies colleagues, which is a great pity. Now that we are seeing a significant number of jobs being created - hopefully, many more will be created in due course - statements in the House on this issue with the Minister would be important. I encourage the Leader to organise that.
I dtosach báire, ba mhaith liom tréaslú le na foirne sacair agus rugbaí atá againn in Éirinn a rinne thar barr ar fad sna cluichí san Eoraip, san Afraic Theas agus sa chraobh domhanda ag an deireadh seachtaine. Tréaslaim chomh maith leis an lucht leanúna a bhí thar barr ar fad sa chaoi a d'iompar siad iad féin le linn na gcomórtas éagsúla. I congratulate all our Irish teams which were competing and our fans on how well they represented Ireland when abroad.
I wish to raise what I believe to be a very serious issue. Last week, during a debate in the House on bin charges, the Minister, Deputy Coveney said:
People from all parties and none asked me to engage with the industry and ensure that no household would be ripped off as we try to move to a pay-by-weight charging structure. That is exactly what I did. Last Friday, the day after those questions were raised, we met the waste industry for at least three hours. I had a very direct discussion with them. I told them that under no circumstances would the Government allow a situation whereby households would be mandated to switch over to a new charging system that would result in dramatic increases for many households. It would not happen, and it has not happened, and people are talking in this debate as if it will happen. It will not.
It has happened and is happening as we speak. It has been clarified to Raidió na Gaeltachta, which has investigated the issue, that the only people whose charges will not be increased are those who are already registered with waste collection companies. As we know, the current situation is almost a 50-50 in that 50% of people are not registered with waste companies because they get rid of their own waste or they are using the bag system and purchase bags in shops. It is our understanding that those people are now going to be compelled to register, pay a standing charge and pay by weight. This is totally contradictory to what the Minister said. This is an incredibly serious issue. Wittingly or unwittingly, the Minister misled the Seanad. Either he was aware this would be the scenario and withheld the information or the companies with whom he was in discussions for the three hours withheld the information from him. If they did, then there is a huge issue around how trustworthy the companies are to implement the statutory instrument.
Last week Fianna Fáil Members fully supported the Minister and said they had full confidence in him. Wittingly or unwittingly, either Fianna Fáil Members knew or did not know about this scenario. If they knew about this scenario, they were complicit in the collusion but if they did not know about it, they were misled by the Minister. We need to find out the truth.
I call for an amendment to the Order of Business that the Minster, Deputy Coveney, comes to the House today because these waste charges are to come in on 1 July. I want the Minister to clarify the situation and tell us if he misled the Dáil and the Seanad. If he did, will he correct the record? What will the Minister do to address the situation where people across this country are going to be ripped off by the private refuse companies unless the Government does something about it? I propose that amendment to the Order of Business.
At this stage, the Leader is used to Senators - in some cases, very reasonably - criticising Government agencies or Government Departments. On this occasion, I am happy to be doing the opposite.I want to pay tribute, through the Leader, to Mr. Martin Shanahan, the chief executive officer of IDA Ireland, and then I want to add a request. I pay tribute to Mr. Shanahan for being proactive in writing to 1,200 employers stating that we are potentially now the only English-speaking gateway to the EU, an excellent location for inward investment and an attractive option for those firms. I am delighted he did it and I commend him on it. Given the recent unfortunate events and as, hopefully, more firms locate in Ireland, I would like the Leader, through the Minister, to impress on Mr. Shanahan the need for a good regional spread. Perhaps a debate in the House would be helpful. Given the housing crisis in Dublin, the price of accommodation along the east coast and all that goes with that, and the improved infrastructure on a number of levels throughout the country, it is imperative that we do what Mr. Shanahan is doing and try to attract new inward investment. We wish him luck with the initiative, which needs to be stepped up. However, the inward investment must be spread regionally. I would like to see places such as Cavan-Monaghan and others throughout the country getting a fair spread of the new potential employment that can arise from inward investment. I know that the Leader, as a Munster man, will appreciate the importance of spreading this around. From a spatial perspective, we do not want job creation in just the one area.
I join with Senator Ó Clochartaigh on two points. He has previously asked for a debate on the Irish language in this House and that is something we should definitely have in the coming weeks. Will the Leader arrange it? It is an important debate. I say that deliberately in English because it is a debate for all Members of this House. We should be inclusive about the discussion on the status of our native language.
I also join with him in congratulating the Irish team which came back from the European Championship yesterday. I am delighted that we are having a debate later today about Brexit because, just when we feel the world is falling apart somewhat, sport can always cheer us up. In particular, the Icelandic football team last night gave us all great reason to cheer another "Brexit" that was perhaps not expected.
We should have a debate on sport. It may be that it enters our political consciousness only at times of great competition or achievement, but sport means a huge amount to people throughout the country. It brings people together and provides a fantastic opportunity for communities to come together. It can be an opportunity for those on the edges of society to participate. It reflects well on us. Given the great achievements of the Irish soccer team as well as the Northern Irish soccer team in the European Championship, perhaps now is the time to have cold reflection on the state of the game of football in Ireland, including the League of Ireland, the women's game, the under age game, the game throughout the island, and where we go from here. Participating in sport is about representing one's town, place and parish, and there is an awful lot to be positive about.
What can the political circle do in terms of investment or strategy for the next five, ten or 15 years? I am thinking of the volunteers throughout the country who line the pitches, put up the nets and take the training sessions for the under-7s and under-8s. These are the real heroes when it comes to participation in sport in Ireland. Could we have a debate in the coming weeks with either the senior Minister or the junior Minister in the Department to see what support we can give to develop football and other sports in Ireland over the coming years?
The potential for an all-Ireland team has been mentioned, which is something I think I would support. There are other strategic things we could do in the short term with regard to an all-Ireland league when comes to progressing football in Ireland. Sport is not an add-on or a luxury. It is integral to the life of people in Ireland. People get excited about it, and if people get excited about it it has to be considered important. I suggest that the House have at an appropriate time a debate on sport and discuss exactly what can be done in the long term and in a strategic fashion to support and promote games of whatever kind in Ireland.
I join with Senators O'Mahony and Leyden who spoke about the Passport Office. I had occasion to contact it in the past week and there is no doubt that the staff there are inundated with requests, particularly at this time of year. With the anticipated spike as a result of Brexit and individuals from the North and from the UK applying for Irish passports, it is important that we are well established to deal with that. I differ from Senator Leyden who wants the office located in Dundalk, no harm to Dundalk because I would be delighted to see a facility like that located in Monaghan town. That is being slightly parochial about it. It is important to address that issue. It is good to see Mr. Paisley in the North of Ireland promoting the idea of people getting Irish passports. That is a welcome development and one that we would not have foreseen ten or 15 years ago.
I welcome the fact that we will have statements on Brexit this afternoon. No country in Europe is more affected by this decision than Ireland. From a national perspective, no area of the country will be more affected by it than the Border areas. Towns stretching from Letterkenny to Dundalk, including Cavan and Monaghan, will be severely affected by this decision. At the moment there is uncertainty and problems arise every day that we had not thought about two days ago. It is a serious issue. With uncertainty comes fear. I am not over-estimating this when I say that among the business and farming communities there is a sense of fear about how this will affect them. It is important that the Government keeps this in mind in negotiations. It is important that the UK recognises our needs and that the EU recognises the unique position of this island. Maybe it is time we all had a debate about Europe and a rain check as to where it is going. The people of the UK have made a decision. We have to respect that decision but perhaps we could take time out to discuss where Europe is going and where we would like to see it go.
I want to raise the continuing difficulties facing frontline health professionals within the Central Remedial Clinic, CRC, in respect of notice of termination of their pension. I have met several of the affected employees. They are extremely disappointed and frustrated at the lack of any consultation or negotiation prior to the termination of their pension scheme. Nobody has been admitted into the scheme since 2002. There were 47 active employees in that scheme at notice of termination but I understand that it affects well in excess of 100 professionals.
These employees have served within the CRC for many years. They are subject to the Croke Park and Haddington Road agreements. It is essential that the business case is designed to accommodate these individuals within the Health Service Executive, HSE, pension scheme, that these health care professionals be treated fairly and that it takes into account the years of service given by these professionals, equal to similar grades within the HSE. I understand that the HSE and the CRC are discussing viable options to progress the issue. I ask that this issue be treated as a matter of urgency by the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Donohoe. I understand that management within the CRC will be called before the Committee of Public Accounts, PAC, to explain the termination of this pension scheme.
It is very important that every assistance be given. These are specialist staff, providing an excellent national service to children with special needs and it is critical that a mechanism is found whereby these employees can be accommodated by the HSE and the Departments of Health and Public Expenditure and Reform.
I second the amendment to the Order of Business proposed by my colleague, Senator Leyden, to allow for publication of the Registration of Wills 2016 Bill.I would be very happy to support it and I look forward to it coming before the House.
I would also like to voice my support for Senator Leyden's proposal to locate a passport office in Balbriggan in north County Dublin. It is ideally located close to Dublin city centre, but also the Border. I would also like to extend a very warm welcome to our friends in Northern Ireland who are from the Unionist tradition but now want to be take part in the Irish nation. We very much welcome it and I look forward to welcoming them south of the Border.
I would like to support Senator Conway's call for a debate with the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation on equality regarding those with disabilities. It is a very serious issue. I wish to advise Senator Clifford-Lee that there is a passport office in Balbriggan which needs to be expanded.
I refer to Brexit. There has been a lot of talk about its impact on us, its potential negative impact and the challenges we face. Undoubtedly, they exist. Notwithstanding the regrettable result, we have a great opportunity. Martin Shanahan's action is to be commended, as Senator Joe O'Reilly said, in pointing out that Ireland has long been within the eurozone the only English-speaking country, and now we will be the only English speaking country in the EU. We are very well placed, given our well-educated, young and diverse population, in particular in north Dublin which has the youngest population in the country, if not Europe, to attract new industries. Many countries are already looking to Ireland as a stepping stone and those which were considering the UK will now look to Ireland. We must grasp this opportunity. The tone of our discourse should be one that is conciliatory towards the UK because we still have very great ties with it. Many of us have family there and many living there have family here. We need to keep that closeness and build on that strength, even if it is under a new set of conditions within the EU.
The Dublin Airport plan for 10,000 more jobs in the shorter term and new facilities for businesses to locate there needs to be expedited. I fully support the plan. It makes it all the more important that metro north is progressed as quickly as possible to increase connectivity with the city. It would also assist people such as Senator O'Reilly's constituents in Cavan, Louth and Meath. There could be a park and ride facility to ensure people would not have to face the congestion of the city.
We have a wonderful opportunity to turn a challenge into an opportunity and what looks like adversity into advantage. I welcome that the Minister will come to the House today to take statements on the issue.
I thank the Leader for organising for the Minister to come to the House for statements. I heard a number of Senators voice their opposition to statements, but on this occasion it is a good use of time. I will hold my comments on Brexit until later.
I want to raise one simple issue. Last week, RTE, the national broadcaster, did the State yet another service. It exposed a terrible litany of allegations regarding the charity Console and its financial transparency, and raised serious issues about finances in many charities. In Ireland, charities are big business and there are now serious questions about why members of the public or the State should support them.
It was clear from the RTE "Prime Time" programme that there was no clear definitive list of funds given by the State to specific charities.It is a really extraordinary position for the State, and the public, to find themselves in. I ask that the appropriate Minister, or whoever is relevant to this section, would come in or that we would have some debate on how we can regulate and improve the entire charity sector. RTE has done the State service yet again. The programme has exposed a number of very serious shortcomings and I wish to pay tribute to its work- this House should pay tribute to its work also - because it is an important part of democracy and for public broadcasting.
Of course I mean Iceland, on its brilliant win last night. I wish the team well for the future. We all have a team we can support now. We have much in common in that Iceland is also an island with a very small population.
I also welcome our team home and congratulate the Irish teams, North and South, on a wonderful tournament for the two teams.
I wish to raise a recent report which indicates that €20 million is being taken out of the social welfare system each year by companies employing people on a self-employed basis. A PAYE worker pays between 14% and 15% but when one is self-employed one pays an S class stamp and that is only 4%, which leaves the company paying nothing. The worker is described as being self-employed when in reality he or she is not self-employed. It sounds very good but it is a nightmare when companies fold or go bankrupt. It leaves the Department of Social Protection out of budget and the person who is out of work has very few entitlements.
I have seen many such cases following the crash in 2010, 2011 and 2012. That practice must be examined and new legislation must be introduced to combat it. I am aware of a courier company that employed everyone on a self-employed basis during the Celtic tiger and when the company folded, families were desperate and had difficulty in putting food on the table, paying their mortgages and surviving. I advise anyone who is due to be employed by a company on a self-employed basis to please check it out.
I join with colleagues in congratulating the Irish team and all the people involved in its performance in the championship. They did the country proud, as did the supporters in the way they behaved, in that they put forward a very positive message for Ireland.
An issue that is coming up more and more in rural areas is that community groups and sporting organisations require people to work for them but the people available do not qualify for the various community employment schemes. As a result, the organisations are not able to employ people. It is time for the Minister for Social Protection to examine the entire area and consider revising the schemes and amending the rules in order to facilitate organisations, especially sporting and community organisations. I refer in particular to people over 62 years of age. It appears there is a big problem at the moment because people in that age group do not currently qualify for many schemes. The issue was raised recently in the north Cork area by a number of councillors and it is an issue we must examine in order that those who provide services and facilities for young people are given the necessary State support.
Senator Boyhan raised the issue of funding to various voluntary organisations. The HSE budget is approximately €13.8 billion and out of that, €3.6 billion goes to approximately 2,600 organisations. We never get a breakdown of what each organisation gets until we table questions on it.That is what I did in the last health committee. As a result, a number of issues came to light on how that funding was spent. Over €3.6 billion of the health budget goes to those organisations. That is quite a number of organisations to audit and supervise. We need to make sure that we have proper mechanisms so that every euro we give is properly managed and used. We should not be leaving it to the national broadcaster to highlight inefficiencies in those organisations. The Minister should look at how we could put in place a proper audit system to ensure taxpayers' money is used properly.
I recently renewed my television licence. I did so with some reluctance. I do not think I am alone when I say it grates with me to hear RTE running free advertisements, not just to get us to pay for our television licence, which we are required to do by law, but at the same time telling us how great it is. What is more, it picks issues and events on which perhaps not all voters were agreed and tells us how great those events all were. A State-funded broadcaster funded by taxpayers' money and using those resources to advertise not just payment of the licence, but its own merits, is going too far.
While I have great respect for the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Denis Naughten, who will be a great Minister, I was disappointed recently to read him dismissing so lightly criticisms that there might be issues of fairness and balance or left-wing bias in RTE in particular. Therefore, I would like very much for the Minister to come to this House so we can share with him our different perspectives on the quality of public service broadcasting in this country and on issues that some of us believe need to change. It is time for amending legislation on broadcasting and to examine the types of advertising we allow on publicly accessible channels. We need to strengthen and indeed introduce sanctions where broadcasters, specifically tax-funded broadcasters, are found to have misused their position, been biased or lacked impartiality. There needs to be a mechanism under which they can not only be found to have acted inappropriately but issued with sanctions to ensure it does not happen again. That would be a healthy and helpful debate to have. I request that the Leader ask the Minister come to the House to discuss those issues with us.
Very briefly, on Brexit, it is too soon for people to draw certain conclusions about what will happen as a result of what the British people have decided to do, but one thing is very clear. There is an appalling lack of political leadership in the Western world, on all sides. We saw the British Commissioner immediately resign, instead of sticking to his post until such time as Britain does leave and doing his job. He is not even supposed to be representing British interests at the Commission; he is supposed to be acting in the interests of the entire community. We have seen a lack of leadership on both sides of the British referendum debate, and we have seen Mr. Juncker's comments about an amicable divorce - just appalling stuff. The only figure I saw in recent weeks come out with honour in this-----
-----was Gordon Brown. The British Labour Party would do very well to invite him back to mainstream politics in Britain and give the kind of leadership that British politics needs right now in a time of massive confusion, where leadership seems to missing on all sides. I am not even sure that Mr. Shanahan of IDA Ireland, although he was praised in this House, should have spoken as though Britain had left for definite. Ireland needs to be respectful of Britain and of the British people, even as it makes its case. In conclusion, because we took the pain, out of solidarity, and because we embraced austerity - highly controversially - the EU needs to show that it really is about solidarity now and respects the needs of small nations, particularly Ireland's very special interests, in the time ahead. That will be the test of whether it really is a project worth supporting.
Like my colleague Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, I rise to send out congratulations to our near neighbours and cousins in Iceland.Last night was one of the most joyous sporting occasions that an Irish team was not involved in. I have nothing against England and just feel that the match was wonderful.
I am very worried about one thing that we will talk about in the next debate. For the past three months on public service broadcasting, on the BBC and in press statements people made racist comments. These people were accused of being fascist and right wing but they were not. They were racists and bigots. We are going through a very difficult race to the bottom. Since the referendum result a petrol bomb has been thrown at a halal butcher's shop in Birmingham and there has been a 57% increase in racist attacks. The same situation could happen in this country so we must be vigilant.
We need to invite the Minister for Tourism, Transport and Sport and Mr. Niall Gibbons, CEO of Tourism Ireland, to discuss the aftermath of what happened in France where supporters of the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland mingled together and worked closely together. There can be a huge tourism benefit and other benefits as a result.
Before I call on the Leader to reply, I advise Senator Ó Clochartaigh that I must rule his amendment out of order as such a debate would be repetitious of the debates on the motion to announce statutory instruments-----
Order, please. I am speaking. His amendment is ruled out of order as it would be repetitious of the motion to annul SI 24 of 2016, which took place last Wednesday, 22 June. My ruling is in accordance with Standing Order 46.
Hold on. I have given a ruling and I am not going to allow my ruling to be challenged. I have stated what Standing Order my ruling is in accordance with and call on the Leader to respond to the debate on the Order of Business.
I thank the 23 Senators who spoke this afternoon. I join with colleagues in welcoming former Senator Mullins, his family and friends to the Gallery today. I thank him for the valuable contribution that he made to this House when he was a Member.
I am happy to accept Senator Leyden's amendment to the Order of Business for a Bill to be printed. It is not a problem from our end.
Senator Ardagh, in her remarks, raised the issue of rent supplement. It is important, as the programme for Government is adhered to and implemented, that we see the Government support people. The rent supplement plays a pivotal and careful role because 55,000 people are in receipt of the payment. The revised rates will provide for an increase in payments to people who live in the commuter belt areas, and in many cities and towns, which is welcome. Indeed, €450 million is paid out to people who live in private rented accommodation through the housing assistance payment and the rental accommodation scheme. It means that 100,000 people benefit. It is important that the Minister responsible for housing, Deputy Coveney, is allowed carry on his work of putting together a housing plan. It would mean that more houses would be built and the crisis in social housing would end. People would be able to live in proper and dignified conditions. It behoves all of us to work together to ensure, at local authority level and national level, that we bring forward a scheme that assists people to realise their ambition of living in their own home.
A total of 14 Senators raised the issue of Brexit and passports. I shall not name all of the Senators. We will have this important debate. I thank the Senators and the party leaders, Senators Ardagh, Conway-Walsh and Bacik, for contacting me over the weekend.We are meeting this evening to take statements on the UK referendum result and to give the Seanad as a House an independent voice from the Dáil on this issue. It is time for leadership within the European Union. I agree with Senator Mullen that the decision of UK Commissioner, Lord Hill, to resign was short-sighted. What is required from the United Kingdom and from all member states is a calm and prudent approach to the plan for a UK exit. As a country, we must ensure our interests are addressed in a careful and calm manner. It is time for Ireland as a country to be politically united and for politicians to stand together to forge a clear path to the protection of our economic interests and our people North and South of this island. We must work together to seek agreement at European level on issues such as the common travel area, policing and judicial arrangements and the non-return of the North-South Border.
Ireland is the gateway to Europe. We now have an opportunity to stand as an enhanced jewel in the crown of Europe but this will require political leadership. I have no doubt that the Taoiseach, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Government will seek in this regard to be leaders within the European Union. Today and tomorrow are important staging points in beginning of the next phase of the European project. It behoves all of us who are committed Europeans to reflect upon the institutions of Europe and the way in which democracy works in Europe so that we can make it better for all citizens.
There has been much criticism of the European Union. Ireland has benefited in a multiplicity of ways from its membership of the European Union, particularly economically. This should not be forgotten. As stated by many Senators, it is important that we now focus on the relationship between North and South. Senator Conway-Walsh and others made reference to the Border poll. The Good Friday Agreement is clear on that issue. We have not lost sight of the unity by consent approach. As a committed republican, I do not think a Border poll at this point would serve any purpose other than to further polarise and divide opinion on this island. We must take the political gain achieved over the period of the peace process and the economic prosperity brought to our nation to ensure that the relationship between North and South continues.
It is equally important in the light of the decision of the UK last week that negotiations on the free movement of people, services and trade on this island are brought to a successful conclusion. This is critical to Ireland as a nation and to Irish people. I hope that the remaining member states of the EU will take time to reflect on the tone of their language in regard to what it means to be a member of the European Union and on the future direction of the European Union. Hopefully, the United Kingdom will take time to reflect on how it envisages its future as part of Europe. I am sure all Members of the House will support my call that there be no rush to racism or engagement in behaviour that in any way polarises or alienates people. That would serve no purpose in any part of the world.
Senator Alice-Mary Higgins raised the issue of the summer economic statement. It was my intention to provide for a debate on that issue this week but owing to the events of last week that was not possible. The Minister, Deputy Noonan, will come to the House on 14 July to discuss that issue.
Senator Craughwell raised the important issue of transport and competition. The point he raises about small print and it often not being read or understood is an important one. There is a duty of care on the carrier not to use an airline ticket as a means of collecting revenue. The carrier should instead work with customers. I am happy to ask the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to come to the House to address that issue.
Senator Alice-Mary Higgins also raised the issue of the national economic dialogue, which has been very successful this week. I will endeavour to have the Minister come before the House to discuss that issue further.
Senators Bacik and Alice-Mary Higgins called for a debate on criminal justice policy. I am happy to ask the Minister for Justice and Equality to come before the House for such a debate.
Senators O'Mahony, Clifford-Lee, Reilly and Hayden called for a debate on the Irish passport.The Minister will be in the House later to discuss the issue of passports. We must have a very strong view in that debate and the importance of an Irish passport.
In response to Senator Michelle Mulherin's request, the Minister for Agriculture will be in the House in the first week of July and she can raise the matter with him then.
I am disappointed there is a schism within the Independent group. When is an Independent not independent? I am sorry that the father of the House has left his group. I hope he might go back to it.
Senators Martin Conway and James Reilly raised the issue of equality of employment. Senator Conway, who does Trojan work to campaign for and champion the issue of disability, raised a very important point, and I hope the Minister will come to the House to respond to it, probably after the summer recess, to be fair.
The Cathaoirleach has ruled on Senator Ó Clochartaigh's remarks. His language was intemperate, if I may say so. The Minister came into the House in good faith last week. He was subjected to a barrage by people in Senator Ó Clochartaigh's party, who were not prepared to listen or engage. To accuse people of collusion or of misleading the House is inflammatory language and it does not befit the debate that we can have and should have on the issues of waste or water.
Bhí mé ag caint faoi na cluichí ar an Sathairn agus an Domhnach, a Leas-Chathaoirleach. Bhí mór-díomá orainn mar gheall ar an gcluiche rugbaí agus an cluiche sacair. Gabhaim mo chomghairdeas do gach foireann a bhí páirteach sna cluichí Dé Sathairn agus Dé Domhnaigh. Bhí spiorad iontach ann toisc na cluichí agus na himreoirí ach, go mórmhór, toisc an slua a bhí ag féachaint ar na cluichí sa Fhrainc, i mBaile Átha Cliath, i gCorcaigh, i nGaillimh nó i fan zone. Nobody who watched the matches, whether it was the under-20s in South Africa or the Irish team in France, could have been prouder of the endeavour and the quality of our players and our supporters. I do not share some of the views of the people who shouted for Iceland last night. I was disappointed that our friends and neighbours were beaten. It would have been nice to see them go further-----
Having said that, it was good to see a small team given no hope by the pundits show wonderful spirit and determination, and it just shows the beauty of sport and that money does not buy everything in sport. The debate being called for by Senators Colm Burke and Aodhán Ó Ríordáin is one that we will have, and Senator Burke raises a very important point about how we can enhance communities with sport. I will certainly ask the relevant Minister to come to the House to discuss that matter because it is an important one.
Senator Joe O'Reilly raised the very important issue of the role of IDA Ireland. Those of us who are championing for industry to be seen to be extended beyond the M50 or the Red Cow and hope that the recovery will spread to all parts of the country will recognise the importance of IDA Ireland and the work that it does.
Senator Hopkins raised the issue of the Central Remedial Clinic and its specialist staff. I ask that she might take up that matter with the Minister or put in a commencement matter because the issue she raises is a very important one to the families and to the staff involved and is one that she should certainly take up with the Minister as well.
Senator Boyhan raised the issue of RTE and of the programme on Console last week.In contrast to the remarks of Senator Mullen, this shows how public service broadcasting can, on behalf of the taxpayer and those who use services, play a huge role in highlighting deficiencies. The charities regulator and the sector in general need further monitoring. There are issues around sections 38 and 39 agencies under the HSE and Senator Colm Burke did a fine piece of work in the last Seanad to expose the amount of money available to those organisations. There is a duty on the HSE to come forward with and explain the amounts of money that are being expended. It has to explain how these bodies are audited and how it engages with them. A series of organisations has been discredited and it is disappointing that it took RTE to unravel this information. It is important that we promote confidence in our agencies and organisations which have service level agreements with the HSE or other semi-State bodies.
Senator Butler raised the important issue of the self-employed and I hope the legislation on this will be enacted. We will bring the Minister to the House for that. Senator Mullen raised the important issue of the role of RTE in a wider context, with particular reference to the television licence and value for money. I am glad he has paid for his licence as it is the law and we should all pay for our licences. I agree with him completely that balance is required and fairness is needed in every news item or programme. Sometimes we do not feel programmes are balanced and fair and perhaps the fact that we do not necessarily agree on a particular programme or advertisement means RTE is doing something right. There is a need for a public service broadcaster to be fair and balanced, not in the way Fox News is. We can invite the Minister to the House for that.
Senator Feighan raised the issue of Iceland and spoke about bigoted and racist behaviour, which I have already dealt with.
- Catherine Ardagh
- Victor Boyhan
- Colm Burke
- Paddy Burke
- Ray Butler
- Jerry Buttimer
- Maria Byrne
- Lorraine Clifford Lee
- Paudie Coffey
- Martin Conway
- Gerard Craughwell
- Mark Daly
- Paul Daly
- Frank Feighan
- Robbie Gallagher
- Maura Hopkins
- Gerry Horkan
- Terry Leyden
- Tim Lombard
- Gabrielle McFadden
- Michelle Mulherin
- Rónán Mullen
- Catherine Noone
- David Norris
- Kieran O'Donnell
- John O'Mahony
- Joe O'Reilly
- James Reilly
- Neale Richmond