Wednesday, 6 July 2016
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, statements on communications, climate action and the environment, to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business and adjourned not later than 2.30 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes each and those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes each; No. 2, statements on farm safety, to be taken at 2.30 p.m. and conclude not later than 4 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes each and those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes each and the Minister to be given five minutes to reply to the debate; and No. 3, Competition (Amendment) Bill 2016 - Committee Stage, to be taken at 4 p.m., with the time allocated for the debate not to exceed two hours.
I wish to raise two matters, the first of which relates to the Government's commitment in the confidence and supply agreement to reinvest in the National Treatment Purchase Fund, NTPF, in order that patients who have been waiting too long for hospital treatment will have a chance to come off the waiting list. Will the Leader confirm whether this measure is being progressed and the NTPF will be set up urgently to address the ever increasing waiting lists? The figures for May show that they had reached a new high, with 74,000 patients waiting for day case treatment, an increase of more than 45% in two years. The former Minister set a 15-month target to the end of 2015, but more than 5,300 patients have been waiting longer for treatment. A further 5,691 have been waiting for between one year and 15 months. Outpatient figures are also continuing to rise, with 415,000 waiting for treatment. Some 62,000 patients have been waiting for longer than one year for an outpatient appointment, including 4,500 in children's hospitals, of whom more than 1,800 have been waiting for longer than 15 months. Overall, 30,000 patients have been waiting for longer than 15 months for an outpatient appointment. In my constituency 857 patients have been waiting for longer than one year at St. James's Hospital for an outpatient appointment, an increase of 588 since December. In Crumlin's children's hospital nearly 2,000 children have been waiting for longer than one year for an outpatient consultation, a jump of almost 1,000 since last December. Some 236 of these children have been waiting for 18 months plus. In 2002 Fianna Fáil set up the NTPF. In 2010, the last year of its existence, 33,000 public patients were facilitated. In total, almost 200,000 public patients were treated under the fund. In 2010 the average waiting time for elective treatment was just 2.6 months, down from between two and five years in 2002. Furthermore, in 2010 the prices negotiated with the private hospital system were, on average, 8% lower than in the previous year.
The second matter I wish to raise relates to older people, loneliness and elder abuse in the community. World Elder Abuse Awareness Day was 15 June. Many of us have friends, close relatives and neighbours who live alone and who, from time to time, feel isolation and loneliness to varying degrees. This leaves many of them vulnerable to abuse by those who, as the statistics have shown, are closest to them and meant to be their care givers. ALONE has reported that the abuse of older people is often carried out by a carer or family member on whom the older person relies.As a result the abused individual is often fearful of speaking out and losing their only source of contact, help or support.
Elder abuse, as has been defined, is a single or repeated act or lack of appropriate action occurring within any relationship, where there is an expectation of trust which causes harm or distress to an older person or violates their human or civil rights. Sixty-five years of age is taken as a point at which abuse may be considered elder abuse. Elder abuse can manifest itself in many forms. It can be physical, emotional, financial or neglect. The World Health Organization identifies social isolation as a risk factor in elder abuse. As people's support networks narrow and they become more reliant on individuals, the risk of elder abuse heightens.
If one suspects that an older person may be in need of help or suffering from abuse one may contact their GP, the Garda, public health nurse or HSE care worker. In our communities it is imperative that centres for caring for the elderly, from active retirement facilities to more hands-on centres for Alzheimer's or more serious impairment issues, are funded and supported by the Government to ensure that this sense of loneliness and anxiety is not felt by a huge proportion of our citizens as it is today. I would like to see an increase in hours allocated for the home help care packages and the introduction of some type of scheme, intimated by Senator Colette Kelleher whereby elderly people are supported to stay in their homes rather than go into a nursing home which, in many circumstances, can be traumatising for the individual as a massive change in their life.
In light of more recent developments and irregularities in Console, in particular, I ask the Government not to leave this gap in funding to non-governmental organisations. The Government must act now to properly fund and progress facilities and supports for our elderly.
I wish to raise two issues. I agree with Senator Catherine Ardagh in respect of her concerns about the National Treatment Purchase Fund, NTPF. It is timely we had a comprehensive statement on it. I declare I am a former director of the NTPF so I know a good deal about it. It has had a great record in the past. I understand from a brief discussion here in response to another issue last week that the Minister touched on the NTPF and its objectives and targets. There is mention of it in the programme for Government. It would be helpful if we had an overview of what is planned now because this organisation is up and running, albeit submerged back into the Department and called the delivery unit or the special delivery unit. It has a very good track record of delivering and ultimately treating the patients who are longest on the waiting list and bringing them forward. That is what it was set up to do and I think it has the potential to do it. It would be helpful if we had an update on it.
The other point I wish to raise is the suggestion by the Government and, in particular, by the Minister with responsibility for housing, planning and local government, Deputy Simon Coveney, that more than 150 units of housing be fast-tracked through An Bord Pleanála. There was a suggestion - one I read in the media - that Fianna Fáil was in agreement and would like the number reduced from 150 units to 50 units. I have not spoken directly to Fianna Fáil to date on the issue but that is what is attributed to it. I believe in the power of local democracy and local government and the role of planning authorities to determine the outcomes of planning applications as provided in the Planning and Development Act. That is where it should remain. The supply of planning for the planning process is not delaying the roll-out and construction of houses. What is delaying it is the development levies. The sections 48 and 49 levies, under the planning and development scheme, are inhibiting development and people are waiting to see if there will be a change in how that is supplied. I would like to have the Minister come to the House to elaborate and share with members what he is planning in respect of the roll-out and empowering An Bord Pleanála which currently is not meeting its 18 weeks deadline on a whole range of major critical infrastructural issues. I appeal to the Leader to invite the Minister to come to the House and explain his thinking on that issue.
I wish to address the issue raised by Senator Catherine Ardagh who I know is genuine in her approach to home help hours. I have been dealing with home help hours for a long time. Between 31 August 2009 and 31 August 2010, Fianna Fáil cut 32,000 hours of home help from very vulnerable people in Mayo. Fine Gael when in government went on to cut 9,000 hours from people in Mayo. In addition it told elderly people that they were not even worth one hour, that it had to be 15 minutes, 30 minutes or 45 minutes. In view of this I find it difficult to hear such people calling for increases in home help hours given what they did and in spite of us begging them not to so that people could stay in their own homes. I had a case in Westport of a 99 year old man who was getting three hours home help per week. His home help hours were cut to two hours per week. As he was 99 years old it was not going to be long-term care. I cannot let that pass without putting on record the facts around home help and the savage cuts made under the Fianna Fáil-led Government and continued, albeit to a lesser extent, under the Fine Gael-led Government.
I wish to speak about Console. We are aware of the dreadful facts as they emerge in regard to the improper behaviour at Console. Apart from the understandable disgust felt at the actions of a few, there is a concern with regard to the viability of the charity and the services it provides. The Government has tactically admitted that charities such as Console exist in the first place to make up for the shortage of services. We have to remember that charities such as Console are filling in gaps in essential services, often life saving services, that should be put in place by Government. In this context I call for time to be set aside for the relevant Minister to attend the House to discuss specifically the strategic view of the mental health commission which set out a new strategy for mental health for 2016 to 2018 and to review the progress made in A Vision for Change.
I am aware that we have had statements on mental health in the House but I believe that a focused debate on the progress made since the report was published in late June, on the allocation of funding, would be helpful. We could also discuss the delay in making legislative changes to the Mental Health Act 2001, as signalled in the review carried out in December 2014. I am calling for a debate which would be centred on the positive measures that can be adopted and which, hopefully, will reassure the public which unfortunately has had to rely heavily on organisations such as Console. I wish to convey our solidarity and thoughts to the staff of Console who have worked very hard, and continue to do so, under very difficult circumstances and also to the many people whose lives depend on Console. They must be to the forefront of our minds at all times and we must ensure that whatever emergency measures are needed are put in place to ensure the service is continued to those people.
I refer to the wonderful briefing given this morning by my colleague Senator Frances Black and others from the Alcohol Health Alliance on alcohol and its impact on children. The issue is one on which we in the Seanad can work and in this regard can support the public health (alcohol) Bill. I look forward to that Bill coming before the House and the Seanad doing everything it can to address the impact of alcohol not only on adults but on children. Also there is a role for the Seanad in terms of the online advertising of alcohol which is particularly targeted at children.
I refer to the report that the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Heather Humphreys, is proposing to de-designate 46 raised bogs as natural heritage areas. We need to speak urgently with the Minister on her plans. She is focusing on addressing a specific challenge by abandoning completely any attempt to address the national and international importance of our bogs.
As a field ecologist I understand the importance of the raised bogs. I have carried out ecological surveys in bogs and can say that we in Ireland have the finest examples of raised bogs in Europe. I understand the grievances of historic family turf cutters.Once again, there has been a familiar failure by the State, going back to when the Habitats Directive was first negotiated, to properly plan for their full implementation. However, in moving to permit fresh unrestricted cutting on these 46 sites, the Government is throwing away so much. I would like to hear from the Minister if she will commit to carrying out environmental impact assessments on each of the proposed de-designations. These boglands are a unique natural repository of information about past climates, vegetation and human activity and they have extreme value for biodiversity, acting as a carbon sink and mitigating against flooding. They also attract tourists to Ireland. Seamus Heaney's poetry gives us a great sense of the importance of our bogs. I hope other Senators will join me in condemning this move and seeking that the Minister comes to the House to explain her reasoning for the de-designations.
It is Labour Party Private Members' time later, for which I thank the Leader. We are taking Committee Stage of the Competition (Amendment) Bill 2016, which passed Second Stage last January. I thank colleagues on both sides of the House for expressing support to me for the principle underpinning the Bill and for supporting the passage of the Bill on Committee Stage. It seeks to amend competition law to provide collective bargaining rights for freelance workers. Under the current interpretation of the Competition Act, that is not permitted. Unions, including the NUJ and SIPTU, in particular, back the Bill strongly and I am hosting a briefing with union representatives for all Senators who are interested in learning more about it in advance of the debate at 3 p.m. in Room C, LH2000. I urge colleagues to attend. There is a broader issue in terms of false self-employed, that is people who are in all but name employees but who are being treated by their employers as false self-employed and who, therefore, lack various workers' protections, including collective bargaining rights.
I call on the Leader to schedule a debate on the Middle East and foreign policy in light of the terrible suicide bombing in Baghdad. I condemn it and offer my sympathies to the people of Iraq. The Iraqi Government said earlier that the number who died in the bomb attack has increased to 250. Just a short while ago, the Chilcot report into the UK Government's decision to go to war with Iraq was published. The preliminary indications are the report has delivered a crushing verdict on the UK Government's decision. The report says it was made before all peaceful options were exhausted and the evidence on weapons of mass destruction did not support the pre-invasion statements by the government. There will be more to come from the report and I would like us to have a debate on that. Many of us marched against that war in Ireland and, indeed, in Britain in 2003.
I regret the resignation of Mr. Joe O'Toole from the position he had undertaken to accept as chairperson of the commission on water. He was a Member of this House for many years and many of us knew him as a fine, independent minded colleague. He was leader of the Independent group for many years.
The Leas-Chathaoirleach is correct and I apologise. However, where somebody of the stature of the chairman designate is forced to step down because Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have caved into the bully-boy tactics of Deputy Paul Murphy and the AAA-PBP-----
With regard to the remuneration of councillors and the work they do, in the days before the Christmas recess last year, we had a debate on the issue and only 15 of the 60 Members contributed. The Leas-Chathaoirleach was one of those who contributed. This issue has, therefore, not only been highlighted by this Seanad.
I wish to raise a decision by Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII, which was formerly the NRA, to reject a proposal by Clare County Council to deal with the extraordinary traffic difficulties caused by Blake's Corner, Ennistymon, on the N67, a national secondary route. It is the worst junction on the Wild Atlantic Way. It has national significance because 1.5 million people will attend the Cliffs of Moher Visitor Experience this year, the vast majority of whom will have to navigate this corner, where there can be delays of up to two hours. The county council proposed a bypass of the buildings on the corner by constructing a new bridge. I have maintained consistently for a long time that this approach is not correct and would not deal with current and future traffic challenges. I am glad TII agrees with my assessment. Will TII fund a full bypass of Ennistymon, which is the only way to deal with the year-round chaos? I call on the Leader to write to the chief executive officer of TII and ask what are the plans of the organisation to deal with the traffic congestion that has chocked the town. I seek a clear statement about what TII will do and the timeline for this because there is utter chaos, which needs to be dealt with. The cost of a bypass would be between €15 million and €20 million and that would solve the problem. The county council's proposal would cost between €6 million and €8 million.
The Cliffs of Moher Visitor Experience is the No. 1 or No. 2 tourist destination in the country. It is not too much to ask that a proper road infrastructure be provided to the millions of people who travel there to give them a pleasant experience of Ireland. It is not good enough that they face traffic chaos going to and from the cliffs. Usually, they are the first or final destination for tourists using Shannon Airport. This issue creates an impression and an impact one way or another. The wonderful work done by the management at the Cliffs of Moher is being negated by the incompetence of both Clare County Council infrastructure section and TII.
I refer to Senator Conway-Walsh's contribution in respect of cutbacks during the last the Fianna Fáil-led Government six years ago. It is unfortunate that she did not refer to the swingeing cutbacks in social welfare payments in Northern Ireland, which have been presided over by Sinn Féin and its buddies in the DUP.
It is another example of Sinn Féin speaking out of one side of its mouth in the Republic and out of the other side in the North. Its partitionist mentality has been exhibited once again.
Will the Leader ask the Minister for Justice and Equality to come to the House to make a statement about delays in probate? Probate is the first step in the promulgation of wills. There are significant delays both in the Dublin district and the other 14 sub-districts around the country. Probate is important and traumatic for people who have been recently bereaved. The waiting time in County Kerry at the moment is six weeks and it is longer than that elsewhere. Senator Mullen referred to this in the House recently.The matter has been brought to my attention by a number of constituents. There appears to be a staff shortfall in the probate offices located throughout the country. I have also been informed that the offices are way behind in terms of information technology. I ask the Leader to arrange for the Minister responsible to address these problems that occur at a traumatic time for the bereaved.
I want to speak about Brexit. The Seanad is very much a debating Chamber and, therefore, it should be at the forefront of a debate on Brexit. I ask the Leader and the Leas-Chathaoirleach to arrange a debate on the Brexit issue that would involve Irish MEPs, which has been done in the past in respect of other matters. I also ask the Leader to invite the First Minister and Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland and the relevant Government Ministers to come before us. Such a debate would ensure that Senators can have an input. Historically, the Chamber is comprised of a wide range of Members with diverse experience and interests. The Brexit crisis is real. Yesterday, sterling dropped to its lowest rate in over three years with €1 equal to 85p. If it drifts any higher, Irish businesses, many of which are SMEs that export into the UK market, will be put under pressure. The rate of exchange also has consequences for tourism. The Seanad, as the Upper House and second Chamber of the Oireachtas, should make a significant and valued contribution on Brexit. I request the House, the Leader and the Chathaoirleach that we, as quickly as possible, get a debate up and running and issue formal requests to Irish MEPs, the First Minister and Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland, the European Commission and the relevant Government Ministers to come before us in order that we might engage in a significant debate which can be viewed by the Irish public. Brexit is real for the person who exports or for the individual who runs a bed and breakfast establishment that has British customers, some of whom may have been returning here for many years. The Seanad should play a significant role in the debate. I feel strongly about a debate and ask that my proposal be given serious consideration by the House.
I shall pick up where we were interrupted yesterday. I was delighted to second the motion, on behalf of the Fianna Fáil Party, on pay and conditions for councillors. Having come through the town and county council systems, no more than Senator Murnane O'Connor who spoke about the same issue, I am acutely aware of the distressing circumstances in which councillors find themselves. Fianna Fáil has put forward a level-headed motion that calls on the committee to engage with the Association of Irish Local Government, AILG, and the Local Authority Members Association, LAMA, and address the anomalies of PRSI contributions, maternity provisions and conditions. I was lucky to represent the AILG when this proposal was originally discussed last year and Senator Wilson-----
I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach. On behalf of the Seanad, Senator Diarmuid Wilson represented the all-party group. I appreciate the time and shall finish where my contribution was cut-off yesterday.
I am surprised that the Leas-Chathaoirleach has asked me to move on but I am also surprised by the comment made by Senator Conway-Walsh. The highest rate of child poverty in the UK can be found in west Belfast, which is where Sinn Féin is at its strongest.
I ask the Leader to clarify how the national European parliaments operate in trade deals between the EU and non-EU countries. Recently, a deal between the EU and Canada was concluded after seven years of negotiations. In some cases, people have said that the deal will have to be ratified by national parliaments. Can the Leader confirm whether that is the case and, if so, will both Chambers be obliged to ratify it? Two national newspapers, the Irish Daily Mailand the Irish Independent, have covered the trade deal between Canada and the EU. Commissioner Malmström is the EU Trade chief executive and yesterday she accused EU Governments of not showing adequate leadership in explaining the deals to their citizens. It is difficult for citizens to know about a deal unless it comes through their national parliaments. To my knowledge, none of the deals have come national parliaments, so far. It was also reported that the deal, known as the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, CETA, is the largest trade deal ever concluded by the EU. It eliminates 99% of customs duties between the EU and Canada and opens up lucrative public procurement contracts in agrifood markets for EU companies. EU trade deals are negotiated by the European Commission on behalf of the bloc's governments but have increasingly required the approval of national parliaments before they can take effect. I ask the Leader to clarify, for the benefit of the House, perhaps not today but at some stage, whether the trade agreements, of which there have been many over the years, would have to go before all parliaments, including this one?
I wish to raise the issue of St. Vincent's Care Centre in Athlone. I ask the Leader to request the Minister for Health to come to the Chamber, at his earliest convenience, to explain the situation at the centre. News broke overnight that the residents of the centre were being evacuated by ambulance to Birr, Longford and care centres elsewhere. The reason given for doing so was serious electrical issues in the centre in Athlone. Since news broke I know that Deputy Troy's office has been inundated with phone calls from people. They expressed genuine concerns and fear that the centre will remain closed, as has happened in the past when other care centres were closed down for similar reasons. We all treat the health and safety of every individual in society with the utmost importance. If there is a health and safety issue in this instance, then it must be addressed.I would like the Minister to come to the House to reassure us. I know Deputy Troy is meeting him today but I believe he should come to this House to put on the record an assurance to the families who are greatly inconvenienced at present and who have to travel to visit their loved ones in Birr, Longford and other areas. They need reassurance and they need a statement from the Minister on the record that this problem will be solved as soon as possible. The Minister also needs to give an assurance that this care centre will re-open. As I said, similar situations have been recorded and similar reasons were given for temporary closures of facilities which never again re-opened. This is the issue that has created most fear among the families, friends and frequent visitors of the residents of this care centre. It is very important, in order to put the minds of those people at rest, that the Minister comes to the House to give the reassurance that I and those people need urgently.
I want to raise the issue of the committee that was set up to carry out a review and prepare a document in regard to the ten-year health strategy. My understanding is it is proposed that there would be no Senators on this committee. I do not think we in this House should accept that decision and I would like clarification on the matter. There are Senators here who have medical experience, some having been nurses or having worked in the health service, and many are former local representatives who have a huge knowledge of the health service in their own area and have a contribution to make in regard to a ten-year strategy. I was on the health committee for five years with two other Seanad colleagues, the former Senators John Crown and Jillian van Turnhout, and the three of us were probably the best attenders of the committee that was then chaired by the current Leader, Senator Buttimer.
I do not understand why Senators are now being excluded from this strategy group and it is important the matter is clarified. I understand the committee has already elected a chairperson and that we had no say in that. I ask that we would get clarification on this matter at the earliest possible date. I am not sure who is making the decisions on this matter. However, this House should be part of that decision making process. We have been excluded to date, which is wrong because we have a contribution to make. I want to be part of making that contribution and I am sure there are others in this House who want to be part of that strategy committee. I ask that this matter would be clarified at the earliest possible date.
I want to support Senator Ned O'Sullivan's request for an engagement with the Minister for Justice and Equality around the whole issue of probate. There is another issue on which we should ask the Minister for her response. When there is a documentary alleging political interference, however long ago, in an investigation into a missing child, and when not one but two retired gardaí say the chief suspect could have been prosecuted were it not for a phone call from a politician being made to a Garda station, which they say effectively stymied their ability to investigate the case, then we have a matter on which the Government needs to make a very considered response.
People will have seen reported in The Irish Timesand elsewhere the fact that journalist Gemma O'Doherty has produced a documentary about the investigation into the missing child, Mary Boyle, which is the issue to which I am referring. I see it reported that Ms O'Doherty is preparing a legal action to take to the European Court of Human Rights alleging malpractice by the Garda Síochána and by the Government. What I want to know is what the Government now thinks about that documentary and what it has to say. To what can we have recourse when such serious allegations are made by some of the gardaí involved in the case? Is it something we can just let go by because the events took place long ago or is it something that demands a serious, considered response from us?
I suggest the Minister for Justice and Equality should urgently address this matter. The journalist involved is very reputable and has been at the cutting edge before when asking questions. I drew attention in this House to her very impressive journalism around irresponsible and dangerous behaviour by some pregnancy counselling clinics, an issue we found very hard to get into the media generally but which the Irish Independent, to its credit, did cover. Now, she is again asking some very hard questions and her very good work deserves a serious response.
I commend Senator Frances Black and others who were involved in the briefing this morning, which I was unable to attend but which I got to at the end, in regard to the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill. It is clear there are some very good measures in the Bill around the marketing of alcohol in particular. When one considers the worrying statistic to which Alcohol Action drew our attention today, namely, that an estimated 271,000 children under 15 years of age are living with parents who are regular risky drinkers, we can see this is a huge issue. We need this legislation soon but we also need legislation that is much more courageous than what is proposed. We need to bite the bullet-----
I will conclude on this point. We need to bite the bullet, in particular around the marketing of alcohol using sporting and other significant cultural events. We cannot pretend that alcohol is a serious problem in our society and, at the same time, not take it seriously in our response. I would welcome an early response from the Government.
I with other speakers in commending the Alcohol Action briefing this morning, which I co-hosted. I was on the relevant committee for the last number of years. It was an excellent presentation which focused on the effect that alcohol in the home has on children and, in particular, the effect that availability, affordability and accessibility of alcohol has on both adults and children, who are of course affected by the adults with whom they live.
Minimum pricing is one thing that will make a huge difference. In all studies, affordability is linked to the amount that is consumed. Another issue mentioned by Senator Conway-Walsh is the social media aspect, which I believe is a real challenge for us and which I mentioned some time ago on the Order of Business. Broadcasting rules which apply to alcohol advertising on television do not apply to social media. We are chasing to catch up on this issue because children are ahead of adults when it comes to much of the Internet. It is a real problem.
I take Senator Mullen's point that we need to be more courageous and I agree that alcohol is a societal issue. However, the Bill is a start and shows we are facing up to it to some degree. I welcome it because it is probably the most courageous alcohol legislation that we have seen. It is a start, although I accept a lot more needs to be done. The economic argument is also huge, as I have mentioned before, given the unacceptable level of alcohol consumption is costing the taxpayer €1.5 billion, which is equal to €1 for every €10 spent on public health. It is a serious issue. I believe the Bill will come to the House in October but it cannot come soon enough.
Yes. Sinn Féin would like to welcome the commencement order signed by the Tánaiste yesterday which gives the Charities Regulator stronger investigative and enforcement powers. There have been far too many controversies recently involving financial irregularities in the charities sector, namely, Rehab, CRC and, most recently, Console and St. John of God. These scandals have done almost irreparable damage to public confidence in charities and the reduction in donations as a result will affect the most vulnerable who need these services.I have had service users as well as staff phone me in tears. They are upset and distraught and very unsure of which way to go. We need to steady the ship. I look forward to 5 September when this order can come into action and the regulator can then carry out proactive investigations of charities. I commend the staff of all charities on the work they do, most notably all the staff of Console on the vital services they provide to those in society and those most at risk.
We need to acknowledge the sense of uncertainty service users have, the value they put on the positive support Console has given them and the space it has given them to explore their mental health issues and, indeed, it has saved lives. I take this opportunity to echo the need for Senators to be included in the health strategy. We need input, not inclusion. This was discussed in recent weeks and it seemed we would not be included but I hope that it not true.
I wish to raise the issue of the ongoing saga regarding flights into Cork Airport and the connection it was hoping to get through Norwegian Air International to open up transatlantic flights. It is an important issue for regional airports but a very important issue for Cork. The decision on this issue has dragged on. We have been awaiting this decision from the US authorities since last April but to date there is no light at the end of the tunnel.
The news that Norwegian Air International's sister airline's application for a similar licence to operate flights from Gatwick to Boston was refused by the US authorities last Friday is bad news for Cork and Cork Airport. We are deeply concerned that this could be a catalyst for a refusal to operate transatlantic flights from Cork to Boston. The opening up of such flights would be a major economic driver for our region but the refusal of such a licence could be a major step backwards. I would like the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to come into the House to give us an update on correspondence on this issue, his views regarding such a service and how we as a House can help progress this issue.
I wish to raise an issue I raised briefly yesterday, namely, the shooting in Lusk yesterday morning in broad daylight. A gentleman is clinging to life in hospital and his condition is very serious. This shooting happened before 10 a.m. A mother and her young children arrived on the scene. It is truly shocking that such incidents are happening. We are unfortunately becoming very familiar in Dublin with gangland crime which is spilling into its outer suburbs. Lusk is a small village in north County Dublin and the people in Lusk are very shocked.
Fianna Fáil is supporting the Minister in her current moves to increase measures that will help to combat gangland crime. Yesterday, on behalf of the Fianna Fáil group, I supported the Proceeds of Crime (Amendment) Bill as it moved through the House. We also support the Criminal Assets Bureau, CAB. The Proceeds of Crime Act was introduced and CAB was established 20 years ago to deal with the aftermath of the killing of Detective Garda Jerry McCabe and Veronica Guerin. We support the Special Criminal Court and the Minister's efforts but we call on her to allocate additional resources to tackle gangland crime.
I particularly want to raise the issue of the closure of Rush Garda station two years ago. Rush is the adjoining village to Lusk. That Garda station was closed and we desperately need it to be reopened.
I want to raise an issue that has not been raised here today, namely, lifelong learning in which we are encouraged to participate. I compliment Limerick City and County Council on running the Summer Stars reading programme which encourages primary school children to read ten books over the summer months, to come into the library and to take part in reading groups. Such a programme should be rolled out throughout the country. More than 50,000 have registered for this programme and will participate in it. The provision of such a programme should be encouraged in other counties across the country. Regardless of one's age, it is important to keep up one's education and starting at a young age is to be highly commended.
Beidh mé deas ciúin agus séimh i mo chuid focal anseo. I will be temperate in my remarks given the previous exchanges. It is positive that we have had some discussion around issues of fact in the North, around politics, the economy and society in the North. It is a great pity that Fianna Fáil would bring such a negative and ill-informed approach to that debate.
Senator Ned O'Sullivan referred to some statistics around poverty, many of which were out of date, that exists in west Belfast, with it being only such one example. He is right in that there are difficulties-----
Perhaps some it some of comes down to people standing idly by and allowing it to get to that stage. However, my fear is that the Senator is right, the block grant allocated to the Executive in the North has been cut by £4 billion by the Tory Administration in London. Given the outcome of the vote last week, there is a danger of us in the North being marooned to that Government against our will. The people in the Six Counties, Nationalist, Unionist, republican, loyalist and everything else in between, have clearly exercised their democratic wish to stay in the EU. I was heartened by the Taoiseach's remarks that he will convene a national forum to discuss this. That needs to be inclusive and to involve all Members of the Oireachtas, Seanadóirí and Teachta Dálaí, Assembly Members, MEPs and people from civic society and everyone else in between who campaigned for a "Leave" vote.
Given that we are in the midst of this crisis, it is imperative that we hear from the Taoiseach in terms of the next steps with respect to this forum in particular, what we will do next and how we can give a voice to ensure that one part of Ireland is not in Europe and the other part of it is out of it. That is bad for Ireland overall. It reinforces partition which is already bad for all Irish people.
I wish to raise the issue of the shortcomings of the fair deal scheme for farm families and for families with small businesses and their elderly folk. In particular, I refer to the fact that on top of the 80% from an elderly person's income, they are required to contribute towards the cost of their care in a nursing home. An amount of 7.5% of the value of an asset, whether it be land or a business, is also required to be contributed.
A problem arises in that farms may not necessarily be able to support such a charge on property. It is only on the basis of certain criteria that the three-year cap applies. A farmer or a young business person who has inherited land or a business from a parent could have an indefinite charge of 7.5% for as long as a parent, aunt or uncle survives. That can be untenable from a business point of view because the young farmer or the business person has to be able to live as well.
Another issue is the assessment of the financial contribution requires that land and any other assets which the retired elderly person receiving care had within the previous five years up to the date of the application must be included in that assessment. We have policy which encourages land mobility, especially to younger farmers, and in many cases where older farmers transfer land, they do not receive payment for it. The idea that the value of an asset of land a farmer transferred four years ago would be included and assessed as income seems a nonsense.There is a case to reduce the timeframe for the transfer of assets and income which are included in the financial assessment. The IFA suggests that this should be three years. There should also be a reduction in the 7.5% per annum charge against the farm or the business to reflect the ability of the farm or business to pay towards the older person's care in the nursing home. Other than that, it puts people in an untenable position. In the context of the upcoming budget, I would like the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine to take up this issue with the Minister for Health because he is best placed and he understands the position of farm families and businesses. I would like the Leader to raise the shortcomings of the fair deal scheme.
I would like to follow up on the good and constructive debate we had last week on bin charges. The Minister came to the House and we all found it helpful. However, he said he would attend meetings this week and he would come back to us. This issue is not about Galway. My colleague, Senator Ó Clochartaigh, mentioned Barna Waste. Dublin City Council has called the Minister in for further clarification as well. Will the Leader follow up on that because we need that feedback quickly and urgently for our people?
Before I got this job, luckily enough, I was a SIPTU trade union official and I worked on our Home Helps Time to Care campaign. I assure the House that the people I worked with, who suffered savage cuts implemented by both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil and who lost clients because of them, have absolutely no time for public representatives pleading to be friends with them. I recall the savage cuts. More than 500,000 hours were cut between both parties, yet Members have stood up today pretending to be friends to home helps. We fought for, and eventually secured, decent contracts for them and it was no thanks to Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael.
I thank the 21 Members who spoke for their varied and interesting contributions. I thank Senator Ardagh for her remarks regarding the Minister for Health and waiting lists. The Minister and the Government are engaging with the NTPF and it is planned that prior to the end of the year, the NTPF and the HSE will have a dedicated waiting list initiative.
We all accept that there is a key issue around waiting times. All of us are working to eliminate them but it is important to note that 60% of those on the lists are waiting less than six months for required care and 94% are waiting less than the waiting time maximum of 15 months. We all accept we have a journey to travel but improvements have taken place.
The Minister and his predecessor, Deputy Varadkar, have worked to eliminate waiting times. There was an interesting article in the Irish Examinerearlier this week in which the chief executive of Cork University Hospital, Mr. Tony McNamara, issued a set of figures relating to those who miss appointments and the implications this has for waiting times and for hospitals. It is important to ensure there is a dedicated outcome in terms of the levels of service, be it in terms of chronological scheduling or putting a plan in place regarding the procedures for how people are seen and assessed, in the HSE service plan in order that waiting times for patient treatment and appointments are reduced. We all very much want that to happen and I share the Senator's concerns in this regard. She raised the issue of older people. We had a good debate on yesterday's Order of Business on elderly care and the national dementia strategy. I hope we can work together as a collective on ensuring the strategy is worked on on a cross-party basis.
Senator Boyhan also raised the issue of the NTPF. He then raised the issue of the special delivery unit on housing. The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government will bring his housing proposals to Cabinet and then to the Oireachtas. The Government is committed to recommencing a building programme and has set aside capital funding for that. The Minister has said he is willing to work with everyone to ensure there is a process that will deliver housing and I look forward to that.
Senator Conway-Walsh raised an important mental health issue, on which we had a good debate. I agree with her that many positive measures are being taken. We should examine the Mental Health Commission report with a view to seeing how we can work with the Minister and the National Office of Suicide Prevention on that. The issue of the family carer can be addressed next week with the Minister for Social Protection when he comes to the House. I will not invite commentary or engage in the war between Sinn Féin and Fianna Fail regarding who did what or where. Revisionism is alive and well in our Chamber.
Senator Grace O'Sullivan raised the issue of raised bogs and the Habitats Directive and I am happy to have the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht come before the House regarding that issue.
Senator Bacik raised the Private Members' Bill which will be taken later today. We will have a discussion on that and I thank her for working with all of us regarding the legislation. It is important that we protect workers who do not enjoy the same rights or conditions and who are in a vulnerable position regarding their hours of contract and employment. I very much hope that this can be resolved during the lifetime of this Parliament.
Senator Ardagh mentioned the atrocity in Baghdad yesterday and I neglected to comment on it. I join the Senator and Senator Bacik in sympathising with the families that have been affected by huge atrocities across the world. The publication of the Chilcot report earlier was chilling for those charged with the administration of key offices throughout the world. I have only perused it briefly but the report should be read not least because he makes a number of key points such as that Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator who was in violation of UN human rights obligations. The report states peaceful options were not exhausted, which is a source of worry, and flawed intelligence was presented to governments in respect of Iraq's nuclear programme. The role of the UN and the authority of the Security Council was undermined. Having attended the OSCE last weekend, we might have a debate with the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade about the role of the UN and the Security Council.
Senator Martin Conway raised an important health and safety issue regarding Blake's Corner in Ennistymon. He rightly referenced the fact that 1.5 million people will visit the Cliffs of Moher on the Wild Atlantic Way. I thank him for raising the issue, as Senator Hopkins did yesterday, regarding health and safety at key visitor centres. At a time when the Government has invested heavily in tourism, it is important that should be linked to transport facilities and infrastructure.
Senators Ned O'Sullivan and Mullen raised the issue of probate, which must be addressed. Senator O'Sullivan is correct regarding waiting times. Some of the delays are due to time being given to families by the relevant office. Probate is a sensitive and difficult issue but I agree with him that the processing of applications should be expedited.
Senator O'Donnell mentioned the important issue of the ongoing effect of Brexit. I hope we, in this House, can play a key role in discussing not just the North-South implications, which are profound, but also the implications for us as an island nation. As a first step, Irish MEPs should come to the House. I hope the Senator will pursue this important matter again because we need to have it addressed. The House can play a key role in shaping opinion, highlighting issues and plotting a forward course for the country.
Senators Conway and Davitt referred to the remuneration of councillors, which was addressed in yesterday's motion. I thank Members for their support and I apologise for any miscommunication around the motion. The debate demonstrated none was intended and I am willing to keep the issue to the fore.
Senator Paddy Burke raised the timely issue of the EU-Canada trade agreement.To the best of my knowledge, the debate centring on this is an important one for the EU, not least because the agreement gives us an opportunity for further economic development. My understanding, from listening to the Senator and from doing a bit of research, is that there are three stages to the ratification process. The European Council meets in October and, depending on its recommendation, the agreement will go to the European Parliament, after which the national parliaments will ratify it. I hope that the Houses of the Oireachtas will jointly play a role in the ratification process. I stand with the Senator in ensuring that the Seanad will play a part.
Senator Paul Daly raised the important issue of St. Vincent's Care Centre, Athlone, in respect of which an electrical report highlighted a number of risks. In the interests of patient and staff safety, there have been moves to place the people affected into temporary accommodation on a phased basis. From speaking with the Senator, Senator McFadden and Deputy Troy, my understanding is that the HSE is involved in discussions on how to address the matter and ensure that the people's discommoding is temporary and they will return to St. Vincent's as soon as possible. The Health Information and Quality Authority, HIQA, is also involved.
Senator Colm Burke discussed the role of Senators regarding the ten-year health strategy. I have repeatedly stated that Senators should be included. This is the Upper House. The Senator was modest in his remarks concerning the members of the health committee of the previous Oireachtas. He and former Senator Jillian van Turnhout played pivotal roles. I hope that Senators will be a part of the new committee. There is no reason for it not to be a joint committee. The ratification can be amended to include us. It is a question of all voices being heard. If it is to be an inclusive ten-year strategy, it will get off to a bad start if Senators are excluded. I share Senator Colm Burke's view in that regard and I will raise it at today's meeting of the Whips and leaders.
Senator Mullen referred to a missing child and the role of the journalist, Ms Gemma O'Doherty. I will raise the matter with the Minister to get a response for the Senator. He also mentioned the issue of probate.
Alcohol was discussed by a number of Senators. I commend the all-party group on the briefing co-hosted by my colleague, Senator Noone. I congratulate her on her appointment as Deputy Leader, which I meant to do yesterday, and wish her well. Blessed am I among women, as I am the only male among the group leaders. I look forward to working with all of the women leaders, if I can use that word, of the groups.
Including me, indeed.
Regarding alcohol, we have restored the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill to the Order Paper. There is an opportunity to tease out the Bill's various effects. We all agree that the issue of alcohol needs to be addressed. I hope that we can arrive at legislation that tackles alcohol's misuse.
Senator Devine referred to the role of the charities regulator in respect of the irregularities that have arisen. Yesterday, the Tánaiste addressed the House on a Commencement matter. She will sign a statutory instrument in September. On behalf of the Seanad, I praise the staff of the charity sector. They do a great deal of valuable work. The service-level agreements that are signed up to by the HSE on behalf of the State with service providers require scrutiny. We may debate this matter in the autumn. Perhaps the Seanad can play a role in improving that relationship and process. We must give confidence to the families and people who require charities' services that that work will continue in a safe and proper manner.
Senator Lombard raised a matter that is dear to my heart, namely, that relating to Cork Airport and Norwegian flights. I had the opportunity to meet Vice President Biden a couple of weeks ago and I raised with him the importance of the Cork-Boston-Norway flight. For Senators who are not familiar with this issue, it is for the US Department of Transportation to sign a licence to allow Norwegian airlines to operate the transatlantic link. That link is important from the point of view of economic development, tourism, jobs and the country. Senator Lombard asked that the Minister to come before the House. The Minister, Deputy Ross, took my Commencement matter a couple of weeks ago, but I will ask him to return on this topic.
Senator Clifford-Lee discussed yesterday's shooting in Lusk. I thank her for her co-operation with and support for the Proceeds of Crime (Amendment) Bill. It is important that we allocate extra resources and take a universal approach to stopping gangland crime. Yesterday's Bill was an important first step in that regard, as will be the issuing of extra provisions. The Senator mentioned Rush Garda station. I am sure that the Tánaiste will be happy to engage with her on that matter.
Senator Byrne referred to life-long learning in Limerick and commended the Limerick City and County Council on its Summer Stars programme. It is important that we inculcate in young people a love of books and reading. If Senators do nothing else, we should combine our resources to sponsor a book for a school library in each of our individual areas. Reading is a skill that we should not lose.
Senator Ó Donnghaile discussed North-South relations. I hope to see these being promoted in the House, given Brexit and the Senator's point about an all-Ireland forum. The Taoiseach is right about that and it is something that we should pursue. There is the North-South Ministerial Council and the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly, BIPA, as well as co-operation in the House on North-South issues, but it is important that we continue building relationships that are more than just talking shops and have tangible outcomes. We are an island nation. It makes no sense not to have further co-operation.
Senator Mulherin raised the important issue of the fair deal scheme as it related to farmers and the owners of small and medium-sized enterprises, SMEs. The Ministers for Health and Agriculture, Food and the Marine should attend the House in this regard.
Senator Gavan referred to bin charges. The Minister has appeared before the House twice and I do not believe that we will have another debate on bin charges before the summer recess. I will ask the Minister to send a note to the group leaders on the issues we have raised. As to home helps, we have all seen difficulties in the health service being addressed. Despite the Senator's remarks, we all want to see an improvement in our communities' home help hours. This is not an issue of clients or service level hours. It is about how to improve the terms, conditions and lives of those who need home help. I will work with any Senator to promote the role of home helps and to improve the living conditions of those who require their services.