Thursday, 29 September 2016
Order of Business
The Order of Business today is No. 1, motion regarding parental responsibility in the matter of child abduction, referral to committee, to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business, without debate; No. 2, motion regarding appointment of member of the new Legal Services Regulatory Authority, referral to committee, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 1, without debate; No. 3, motion regarding change of departmental names in three committees' terms of reference to be taken on the conclusion of No. 2, without debate; and No. 4, statements by An Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, to be taken at 2 p.m. and to conclude no later than 4 p.m. with the time allocated to group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and of all other Senators not to exceed six minutes, time can be shared and the Taoiseach to be given five minutes to reply to the debate.
On the issue of support for victims of crime and their families, a man whose son had been murdered in Spain in a case of mistaken identity came to my office recently. This man was in great shock. He had had no interaction with the Irish authorities on any investigation into his son’s murder. He did not know where to turn. Will the Leader ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality if her Department plans to do anything to set up a proper office to liaise with victims of crime and their families? Many charitable organisations have stepped into this breach to support victims of crime and their families.
In view of the upcoming and unprecedented work stoppages by An Garda Síochána in November, I have massive sympathy for gardaí because they are on the front line. Their job is very difficult. Every day they run the risk that they will not go home. The Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality needs to engage more with the Garda Representative Association, GRA, to try to avoid this desperate measure which will have a serious effect on the country.
Will the Leader ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality to come to the House to explain the appointment or non-appointment of new judges? When the Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil parties made the confidence and supply agreement, which was published, it was provided that all agreements with Independent Deputies and other political parties would be published in full. We read, however, in the newspapers over the past couple of days that the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, believes he has an agreement with the Government that no new judges will be appointed until a Bill, which has not yet even received pre-legislative scrutiny and the terms of which will be highly controversial if they are published in the form adumbrated at the moment and will raise serious constitutional issues, is passed. That Bill must be passed before any further judges can be appointed by reason of an agreement which one Minister seems to have extorted from the rest of the Cabinet.
That is constitutionally wrong. The Constitution provides that it is the Executive’s function to advise the President to appoint judges. This is not an academic issue. It is an issue of significant importance because the President of the High Court a few days ago suspended reforms he had brought in for want of judicial resources to implement them. This means that the ordinary business of the courts is being affected by this blackmail deal that seems to have been done privately with the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, to the effect that no new judges can be appointed until the Houses of the Oireachtas consider a new Bill.It ignores completely the fact that this is a minority Government. It does not have the capacity to push through its Bill. Deputy O'Callaghan has his own proposals on this matter in the form of a Bill which he has published. It is profoundly wrong that one member of Government should hijack the appointment of judges in this way.
I want the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality to come to this House and explain to us how it is that serious damage has been done to the constitutional process by reason of an agreement which is unpublished and secret and which should not exist given the deal on confidence and supply that was entered into between the Government and the Fianna Fáil Party. A secret deal should not exist. It should be published. As legislators, we are entitled to know if it is the case that judges may not be appointed at the whim of one Minister in government. On that basis, I am asking that the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality comes to this House as a matter of urgency to explain what deal there is-----
-----and who entered into this deal, and that she indicates clearly that the Constitution overrides deals of this kind and that the Government retains its right to appoint judges and will appoint judges when it is necessary to do so.
I want to raise an issue that may be futile to some but is important to us in Mayo. Indeed, it is important to the elderly and those with disabilities. We will be coming to Dublin on Saturday to take away the Sam Maguire Cup, we hope, and-----
That only applies in September. Did Senator Norris not know Saturday next is 1 October? There are many who want to travel by train and extra trains are being put on from Mayo to Dublin to bring supporters up for the match. However, the elderly and those with disabilities are not allowed to use their passes on those trains. They are the same trains and tracks that are publicly funded, yet such supporters are being excluded. It is an important issue that needs to be addressed by the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport in order that it does not happen again to the supporters of other counties because this discrimination cannot be allowed to happen.
I note the launch this morning of the rural action plan by the Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. There was a focus on what can be done to attract more employment to rural areas and to encourage people to remain living in rural areas, yet at the same time we learn that an area near Ballina is without a broadband service since Monday last. On an ongoing basis, we are left without mobile phone coverage and without broadband coverage. I have been contacted recently by a business in Roscommon that cannot open, even though it has the potential to create quite a number of jobs, because the proprietor cannot get the required connectivity. At the briefing this morning, we were told that the broadband services are the remit of the national broadband plan. The bottom line is there needs to be more co-ordination between the respective Departments of the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Naughten and the Minister Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Humphreys, as one is dependent on the other. It is ridiculous that whole areas of Mayo and the west continue to be blue spots, that is, areas without broadband coverage. There is no point in having plans to bring employment and investment to areas when we do not have these basic facilities.
I delivered the keynote speech yesterday at a diversity conference in Waterford where a young lady, Ms Nowar Dlikan, a Syrian refugee, gave an account of her story and of the atrocities she and all citizens are experiencing in Syria. I have heard more disturbing news this morning from the Syrian city of Aleppo where Syrian Government forces, with the help of their Russian allies, have endangered what remains of the existing peace process with their use of these bunker-busting bombs against civilians and hospitals. We are seeing horrific imagery coming out of Aleppo and it is really concerning. I would like to hear from the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade what position the Government will take at EU and UN levels to push for an end to the terrible suffering of the people of Aleppo. I would also like to ask the position of the Government on the EU refugee allocation programme in light of the assertion by the Slovakian Prime Minister, Dr. Robert Fico, that the programme is now dead in the water.
I very much support the efforts of the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Coveney, to speed up the supply and the announcement of the rapid-build housing. The Minister is talking about supplying 1,600 of them.
It was reported in The Sunday Timesat the weekend that the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, is to shut the door on tax reliefs for Airbnb. Airbnb-type businesses are having an enormous effect on the supply of housing, especially in urban areas, and it is estimated that we have lost between 1,500 and 2,000 units that were in the ordinary rental market to Airbnb-type accommodation. I suggest to the Leader of the House that he bring it to the attention of both Ministers that to shut the door on the tax relief for rental of rooms, while important for the student market, will not have the effect that we want in shutting the door on the transfer of units that are let long-term. Two or three months ago, five apartments in my area on the South Circular Road that were rented to ordinary people on rent allowance working in the Civil Service and other areas where transferred to Airbnb. Those are five units where the people had to leave. During the rounds of discussions with various lobby groups about what changes they want to see in the budget, one person pointed out to me that five apartments in the Smithfield area that were let long-term by tenants who were working in the city were transferred to short-term lets.
Both Ministers need to look at what is happening throughout the world in this regard. In Berlin, regulations are being brought in to control the number of units transferring to Airbnb accommodation. Only 50% of a flat in Berlin can be on a short-term lease. Dublin, Cork, Galway and Limerick are not alone in dealing with this problem. This is affecting Berlin, London and Seattle, to name but a few cities which are bringing in regulation and legislation to control it.
We are in a period of constrained supply. While I welcome the Minister's proposal to build 1,500 rapid-build units, if we lose 1,500 at the other end, it will not serve any purpose. I urge the Minister, Deputy Noonan, to look at this. He stated he would announce in the budget efforts to shut the door on tax relief on short-term lets, given the impact that is having on student accommodation. We also need to look at efforts to shut the door to ensure we do not see the transfer over to short-term lease of units currently being let in the market because that will make our housing situation far worse.
The budget negotiations are under way and there is engagement with the various parties and stakeholders. As policymakers and politicians, we must recognise that over recent years there have been considerable reductions in the pay, salaries and conditions of many. Having said all that, today we see many of the public sector unions lining up and coming forward with their pay claims and pay restoration claims. It is important to state that while it is popular for politicians to support all of these increases, at the same time we, as politicians, are looking for enhanced resources in terms of public service provision. We need to be careful. It is a fact that 70% to 80% of public expenditure goes in pay and pensions and that leaves just over 20% for public services. It is my belief, and this is where we need the debate, that in this budget we should prioritise the provision and restoration of services for three vulnerable sectors, namely, the disability sector, the elderly and the sick who require access to health services.We must also assist those in middle Ireland, the working young parents who are paying for child care and mortgages. They have carried the can over the past several years and need to be rewarded in some way in this budget. Will the Leader have a debate on the sustainability of our public services? While recognising its contribution and its employees, we cannot have it every way. We need to have a considered and genuine debate on this.
It is of great concern that gardaí are considering taking industrial action on 4, 11, 18 and 25 November. The Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Fitzgerald, should come to the House next week to discuss the issues involved. Gardaí have been extremely patient and involved in negotiations for months. It was raised in the Dáil in June by Deputy Micheál Martin, leader of Fianna Fáil. We met their representative organisations last December. They have genuine grievances in this regard.
Both the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors, AGSI, and the Garda Representative Association, GRA, are reasonable and constructive representatives of the force. The executives of these organisations have to respond to their membership who feel very much under attack from public service restrictions and the fact that new Garda recruits are on a very low salary. In fact, it is impossible for a young garda to live in Dublin now as rent assistance for them has been withdrawn. The whole issue should be resolved in a practical manner. I am sure the former justice Minister, Senator Michael McDowell, would make a major contribution to a debate with the Minister for Justice and Equality. All the issues involved could be discussed here in a practical way.
When he was Minister, Senator McDowell brought in major reforms and improvements. He was an effective Minister introducing joint policing committees, which have played an important role in local areas. No other public servant has to go to work with a stab vest on. We have to bear in mind the danger gardaí put themselves in every day on our country’s streets. It is a dangerous business, particularly with the growth of the Kinahan and other types of gangs. We cannot afford for gardaí to take the industrial action they are proposing. They are being forced into taking action to get a result. Will the Leader invite the Minister for Justice and Equality to the House next week to outline the situation as she sees it? We can then put questions to her from the point of view of the people we represent, namely, gardaí at GRA and AGSI levels.
I declare an interest as I am a nominee of both organisations on the labour panel. I make no apologies for that, however. Senator McDowell will recall we represented our views to him on many occasions when he was Minister.
I support my colleague, Senator McDowell. We cannot have the courts held up. People are waiting years to bring cases before the courts. Now we are told we will have to wait for legislation which may take a year to get through this House. We cannot have the courts held up. If there is some agreement in place, then it should be published. In the meantime, we need an interim agreement which will allow for the appointment of judges.
I support my colleague, Senator Leyden, on his comments regarding gardaí. We cannot have gardaí on strike.
This year, we started off in a spirit of co-operation and working together in this House. At least that is what I thought we were doing until I read the Irish Independentthis morning. It had a report that Fine Gael Senators met with the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Simon Coveney, last night in secret to discuss the remuneration terms and conditions which will apply to city and county councillors. The Seanad had a committee in place on this matter which had only one meeting and has not met since. I understand an announcement is to be made at a forthcoming Local Authorities Members Association, LAMA, conference. What does that say about co-operation and Members working together to do the job we are here to do? It is bloody despicable if that meeting was held last night. At the very least, this House deserves an explanation from the Leader if it did happen. I would be happier to hear it did not happen.
I want to raise a serious issue which has been escalating over the past several months at Oberstown facility for young offenders. This is an excellent new-build, costing more than €50 million, which is very much focused on the rehabilitation and re-education of young offenders to give them a second chance, which all Members will agree they are fully entitled to and we would like them to have.
There have been, however, an ever-increasing number of serious incidents at the facility with staff injuries. Local residents have become extremely concerned about these incidents. There are many old people in the vicinity living on their own, as well as many parents of young children. They are becoming increasingly concerned due to several absconsions and a fire on the roof causing considerable damage to the wonderful facility. There was an incident where a staff member was locked in a room and held to ransom. The Garda eventually had to go to the facility to release the staff member. The newspapers report that this day last week over €1 million worth of damage was caused to the facility.
Over the past several months, clearly whatever protocols are in place at this facility are not working. Staff feel threatened. I know many of them myself as I worked there as a general practitioner. Many of the staff have worked there for years but do not want to go back. Having been the Minister involved with the facility’s development, I know it was difficult to get staff to work there. Accordingly, it makes it all the more important that they should be retained and feel protected at work.
The facility’s board has apologised for certain failures around texting alerts, etc., when there have been break-outs and will rectify these, as well as ordering a review of existing protocols. However, this needs to be done urgently as local people are concerned. I have written to the Minister responsible on this issue, seeking a meeting with local residents to re-assure them. All I have received so far is an acknowledgement. People in the area support the facility and have shown good will to it. They are deeply worried about the escalating incidents over the past two months. Given this and the money invested in the facility, will the Leader invite the Minister to attend the House to explain what has gone wrong at the facility and why there have been a significant number of incidents there?
I believe the protocols in place do not allow staff to deal with young offenders. These are young men, 16 and 17, some of whom are aggressive and are as large as many of us, if not larger. The staff need to be able to deal with these problems when they pass a certain point without having to resort to the Garda, which has a significant amount of other work to do and can well do without being continually called to the facility. If the protocols were somewhat different, as they have been in the past, these situations would not get to the point they have.
I want to raise the issue of apartheid. While we have a wide range of political views in this Chamber, I am confident nobody here would defend an ideology of apartheid or racism.
This summer, however, I visited an apartheid state, the State of Israel. There I saw at first hand the people of Palestine under occupation and subjugation. Some 4.5 million Palestinians live under Israeli military rule in the West Bank and Gaza Strip while Israeli citizens live in over 200 illegal settlements. The two populations are separate and unequal. Palestinians in the West Bank face more than 500 checkpoints while Israeli settlers come and go as they please. Thousands of Palestinians have their houses routinely demolished each year as new Israeli settlements continue to expand. Israelis enjoy full citizenship and civilian courts, while Palestinians enjoy military courts, temporary citizenship and severe restrictions on their right to travel within their own country, even to see their own families. Up to 2,000 children have been murdered by Israeli forces since 2000.I could go on, but time is limited. I wish to highlight this evening's protest outside Tallaght Stadium before the Dundalk game, congratulate its organisers and call on anyone going to the game to join in the red card protest against the apartheid state of Israel. Will the Leader invite the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade to the House? Israel has announced that a further 2,500 illegal houses will be built on Palestinian land this year, so I would like to hear from the Minister what the Government is doing to oppose the Israeli plans.
Inspired by Senator McDowell, I propose an amendment to the Order of Business to the effect that, instead of No. 4 taking place at 12:30 p.m., we have a new No. 4, statements on the appointment of judges. Hopefully, the Tánaiste would be present, but even if she was not, we could have statements at 12:30 p.m. after the conclusion of the Order of Business.
Regarding Syria, a matter raised by my Green Party colleague, Senator Grace O'Sullivan, the Russians are committing war crimes daily and have been doing so for some time, but the American position is weak because it supported the state of Israel when it was doing exactly the same against Gaza. That is a problem. It remains to me a most extraordinary thing that international politicians at a senior level would seek to move abstract policy and the interests of their own countries forward at the expense of the misery of thousands upon thousands of people.
I support the Sinn Féin Senator's comments about the Palestinians' situation. I was there in a part that is rarely visited, namely, the Jordan valley, the day after demolitions. They are referred to as houses, but they are not houses at all. They are pathetic, flimsy, corrugated iron structures or tents. These are the lowest of the low. They have nothing. The appalling thing is that the land that is in contention is in the hands of the Christian churches, which - I speak as a Christian - do absolutely nothing to safeguard the Palestinians' rights. I support the call for a debate on this highly contentious issue.
I have serious concerns about orthodontic services, which are underfunded. A constituent of mine who is 16 years of age has been waiting for an operation on her teeth since she was 13. She is a young, maturing lady and her mother has serious concerns for her because this is affecting her self-confidence. It is a problem for the girl and her whole family. She has had four appointments and three operations cancelled. This service is inadequate. I call on the Minister to address the House on this travesty, which affects everyone who is awaiting an orthodontic appointment.
I second Senator McDowell's proposal to have the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality appear before the House regarding the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross's reported proposed interventions in what is an important matter.
I second it. I also wish to propose an amendment to the Order of Business to the effect that No. 11 be taken before No. 1. It concerns a Bill on the Order Paper, namely, the Protection of Employment (Uncertain Hours) Bill 2016.
This week, I joined IMPACT library staff in Dún Laoghaire's Lexicon library who were expressing their opposition to a council management decision to proceed with the policy of unstaffed libraries. I accept that HR matters are matters that concern council management, but at a time when our public library service is being eroded, libraries are being closed and a policy of staffless libraries is being pursued while a national tender for library stock is being considered, we should start a national conversation about the value of library services. Their space is democratic, cultural, economical, education and social. Few other spaces can boast such a diversity of service focal points. What value do we place on this combination of classes, workshops, programming and supports for combating digital exclusion? For Sinn Féin, this represents accessibility and inclusivity, none of which would be possible in staffless and underfunded or closed libraries.
In this light, I request the presence of the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Humphreys, or the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Coveney, to progress this conversation on the downgrading of our library services.
I wish to raise the issue of Norwegian Air International, NAI, and the long-running debacle that has been the attempt to get transatlantic flights into Cork Airport. It is very important for the second city that we have a transatlantic airport and direct flights from Cork to the US. During the week, NAI announced that it had booked slots from March onwards and was proposing to put in place a price structure of as low as €100, which is very competitive.
The main issue for us is licensing. I welcome the Taoiseach's statement during the week that he was putting pressure on US authorities to get the issue sorted. It is important that this open air licensing agreement be enforced. Due to political issues in the US, we will probably not have an agreement until after the election, but it is important that we keep the matter on the agenda as one of the key drivers for tourism, particularly in the southern region. It would provide us with great connectivity, which I hope would help the tourism industry in the country's south to develop. I would like to think that, after the election, we will have the opportunity to discuss with the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade how we can work with him, and what pressure our Chamber can apply, to deliver these important transatlantic flights for Cork.
Ba mhaith liom i dtosach báire tagairt a dhéanamh don chlár a rinne "Prime Time" an oíche faoi dheireadh faoin phictiúrlann nua atá á thógáil i nGaillimh. A few nights ago, "Prime Time" highlighted the development of the arthouse cinema in Galway. It chronicled a host of serious issues with the way that the project progressed. We should investigate these. Although it is a local matter, it points to a broader issue within the Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs as to why proper oversight was not in place. We have been told that €6 million in State funding was invested in the arthouse cinema project and that a further €1 million will be needed, and there are questions about the fund-raising used to supplement the State funding and so on, but it appears from the report that at no point was there proper oversight of whether moneys were available, a proper business plan was in place, etc.
A number of substantial capital projects have been earmarked for Galway in the context of it being awarded the European Capital of Culture 2020. I am sure that capital projects are being undertaken in other parts of the State. In this light, it is important that the Minister attend the House to discuss how her Department is overseeing such projects. I also seek a debate on regional economic development with the Minister of State, Deputy Ring. I would like to find out the Government's vision, particularly for the west. We are far behind in the development of infrastructure, and there are serious issues with broadband, water and sewerage. In addition, there has been a haemorrhaging of citizens as a result of emigration. Schools have closed as well. It is important, therefore, to see how the Minister of State's regional economic development brief will address those matters. How will it create jobs in the west and what is the Minister of State's vision in that regard?
Ba bhreá liom dá bhféadfaimid an díospóireacht sin a bheith againn go luath.
I think we are all agreed that there is not just a need for a judicial council but also that it is the right thing to put it in place. Both the Executive and the Judiciary are agreed on that. I am delighted that Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality made a recent statement on this matter. It is included in the legislative programme and there will be a Bill in this session. We currently have a Judicial Appointments Advisory Board which submits names. We have to be somewhat cautious, however. While we can have statements, and I am sure the Leader would agree to allow them, I am not too sure we could have them today. Senators McDowell and Boyhan have tabled an item on the agenda that we should discuss the matter of a judicial council. I therefore ask the Leader to allow statements, but I cannot see how we can have them immediately. I think we should be slightly cautious by arranging for such statements in early course but leaving it to the Leader's discretion to arrange for the Minister to attend the House if possible.
I wish to add to the comments on the Garda Representative Association's decision to instigate four days of strike action in November due to the fact that their pay demands have not been met. This is a serious development and one that goes to the core of every community in the country which requires a Garda presence. As such, the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality must intervene.
It is absolutely different and no comparison can be made between our emergency response teams, whether firefighters, ambulance personnel or gardaí, and other public sector workers. It is unfair to do so because they are our first line of protection when required.
I ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality to intervene. There is no trade union to represent gardaí, although they have their representative bodies. Low-paid firefighters were dealt with heretofore, but the demands of gardaí have not been met or dealt with. We cannot have a trade-off or a stand-off going into November, before Christmas, when the dark nights of winter are approaching and elderly people are frightened in their homes due to this situation. It is imperative for Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality to deal with this issue. Will the Leader to facilitate a debate in the House with the Tánaiste on this matter next week or the week after, if possible?
Before calling the Leader to respond, I welcome one of our public representatives, Councillor Crowe, to the Visitors Gallery. I wish him a successful stay. I thought he might be up for the match, but he is not a Mayo man.
I also welcome Councillor Crowe to the Gallery. I am sure he will be swamped afterwards by his electorate.
I thank Senators for their contributions to the Order of Business. A total of 18 Members spoke and raised matters of importance. Senator Ardagh referred to victims of crime. We have a Victims of Crime Office and the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality has published the heads of the criminal justice (victims of crime) Bill, which is in the programme for Government. These were published in July 2015. In addition, we have seen a 21% rise in the budget to fund services for victims of crime. Senator Ardagh has raised an important matter and I look forward to having that Bill before the House.
Senators McDowell, Norris, Paul Coghlan and Craughwell raised the issue of judicial appointments. I cannot accept the amendment from Senator Norris for one practical reason, which is that the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, is not available today as she will be taking the Order of Business in the Lower House. Second, she will also be tied up by voting time in the Dáil this afternoon. The matter is an important one. I fully agree with Senator McDowell that the issue of judicial appointments is one which should be the preserve of the Executive. Such appointments should be fully independent of any parts of the Oireachtas. As Senator Paul Coghlan said, we have the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board. As the Upper House, it is important for us to allow for the discussion at Cabinet to continue. I am not afraid of having a debate on it because I share Senator McDowell's view. I agree to Senator Norris's proposal that we should have that discussion at the earliest opportunity. However, I share the view of both Senators that it is premature to have that debate now because we do not have the full facts and there has been no Cabinet memorandum or decision taken yet. It is important to allow the Executive to have the power to appoint.
According to the note of Cabinet discussions this week, it was agreed that the Government can reserve the right to appoint members to whatever positions come up. However, I fully agree that we cannot have a standstill in appointments to the Judiciary. That debate should take place, but I appeal to Senators' better nature to wait and not have it today. I will arrange for such a debate at the earliest opportunity but today is a bit premature.
Will the Leader indicate the timeframe he is contemplating for this? I agree that it would be preferable for the Tánaiste to be here, but it is not essential. Will the Leader indicate whether we are talking about a week or a month?
I am hoping that it will be in the next couple of weeks. I am not in the Cabinet, but my understanding is that next week there will be another discussion. I might be wrong on that, but let me see what happens after next week's Cabinet meeting and I will come back to Senators McDowell and Norris on that.
It is also important that we do not use the debate for political purposes to badger people over judicial appointments. We should allow for a certain amount of independence that is there.
Senator O'Sullivan raised the important issue of Syria and mentioned the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Flanagan. At the UN in New York last week, the Minister reaffirmed Ireland's support to help end the Syrian conflict. I share Senator Norris's views on Russia's role and behaviour. Senator Norris will accept that in his fine address to the UN, the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, spoke about the catastrophic consequences of the Russian actions.
It behoves us to encourage all involved to engage in talks and to become more proactive in bringing about a resolution.
Senator Conway-Walsh said that holders of free travel passes were not entitled to free travel on the weekend of the All-Ireland football final. I think that is wrong and I appeal to Iarnród Éireann to change the policy. Given the cost of match tickets and train tickets, we should be encouraging people, especially those who need special travel assistance. They should not be deprived of an opportunity to go to the match. I fully agree with the Senator and will take the matter up with Iarnród Éireann on her behalf.
I am happy to arrange for the Minister of State, Deputy Ring, to attend the House for a debate on the rural action plan.
Senator Humphreys mentioned the importance of housing. The Minister, Deputy Coveney, has brought his action plan for housing before the House. Senator Humphreys also raised the issue of Airbnb, which is a double-edged sword. At one level it gives people an opportunity to earn income but it can deprive students of an opportunity to stay in rooms which were previously available for the academic year. In Cork, some rooms are no longer available for students because people are using them for Airbnb. The Revenue Commissioners have been working on the tax incentive issue. The Minister for Finance has said that it will be dealt with in the budget. We have had a pre-budget discussion with him but we will try to have him back again on that, although it may not be possible before the budget.The points made by the Senator regarding Airbnb should be considered in the overall holistic approach to the issue of housing. It is important, however, to increase supply in stock and availability of rooms to people.
Senator Coffey raised the issue of budget talks in the context of public sector unions and Senators Leyden and Ó Domhnaill raised the issue concerning the Garda. It is important that Members acknowledge and understand the frustration of members of An Garda Síochána. They have been obliged to endure pay cuts and are at the front line every day and night and at every weekend. I commend them on the work they do and I understand their frustration. I appeal to them and to their leadership in particular to re-engage in talks. The statement by the Commissioner last night was a measured one, in which she appealed to them to engage in talks. The Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality has also done so. Many Members were delighted last Friday to hear that an agreement had been reached with the Garda Representative Association, GRA, regarding many of the outstanding pay issues. It is important to recognise there must be continual talks. It is disappointing to learn of the GRA's rejection of the decision but it is important to put on record the need for constraint by all people with regard to public sector pay. The Government does not have a pot of money. Were one to take the accumulated budgetary outputs given by Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin, we would be back to the bad old days of boom and spend.
A Chathaoirligh, the important point is that all of us who are committed in public life and those of us who are public servants recognise the importance of An Garda Síochána. Equally, however, the job of the Government is to govern and the current Administration is committed to protecting the economy and not going back to the old ways. When I hear Senator Ó Domhnaill lecturing us, I invite Members of his party to cast their minds back to when they were in government and the way in which they wrecked the country. Let us call a spade a spade. Collectively, we must make people's lives better. If that means a reduction in the universal social charge, USC, an increase in public services or a modest pay increase, then let us try to do that. However, let us not be a catch-all to everybody. We cannot give everybody everything they want and let us not try to do that because people do not believe us any more.
The Senator knows I am correct in this regard.
The other point is that regardless of whether one is in opposition or in a minority Government, if one considers what the Government has available to spend, the fiscal space - I hate using the term - is limited and the ratio, in terms of tax and public expenditure, is 2:1. If, as Senator Coffey sought, one wishes to fund education, public disability services, housing or services for the elderly, one must make choices. While being in government requires making choices, in the case of the GRA and the Garda, I hope they will return to talks because all Members of this House respect them. Moreover, all Senators, who serve as legislators and Members of the Oireachtas, serve with An Garda Síochána and value tremendously the work its members do. However, one must go into talks and one must negotiate.
Senator Craughwell, joined by Senator Nash, raised the issue of judicial appointments. He also raised the issue of a report in the Irish Independent. All I can tell the Senator is that the Minister responsible for housing, local government and all parts in between, Deputy Coveney, had a meeting with the Fine Gael Senators yesterday, as do other Ministers. I cannot tell the Senator what decision he has made regarding anything to do with councillors' pay and remuneration or in regard to anything about that. However, I will ask him to meet the group set up here by Members. I have never done that and I ask the Senator to take back the remarks and phraseology he used because on that type of language, I made the point yesterday that the language used by Members matters.
No one on this side of the House, and certainly as Leader, I never have acted other than in a co-operative, cross-party-support way about the issue the Senator raised. The Minister will attend the Local Authority Members Association, LAMA, conference on Friday in Bantry, as I am sure will the Senator. I am sure he is canvassing and lobbying for his members, as are we all. The important point, as I stated from day one here, is for all of us to achieve a result to improve the lot, that is, the terms and conditions but equally the lives, of our councillors, many of whom have been obliged to forfeit lucrative careers to serve in the public interest. The other objective towards which we should work is to give more powers back to local government members because in my opinion, too much power now has been given to the executive at local authority level. I hope the Senator will join me in working in a bipartisan way in that regard.
I am very fond of the Senator but sometimes I wonder what world he is living in. Hilary Clinton used a phrase about Donald Trump about living in one's own reality. I think he should read the Sinn Féin proposals every week because-----
I apologise, a Chathaoirligh.
Senator Reilly raised the important issue of Oberstown and I would be happy to have the Minister, Deputy Zappone, come into the House on that issue. Senator Gallagher raised the important issue of apartheid in the context of Israel and Palestine and-----
The Senator is correct. It is also my opinion that the Palestinian people deserve to have their voice heard and deserve to be recognised. While that might not get me universal approval in many quarters, I share the Senator's views in this regard and this is an issue Members must consider. I will seek to have the Minister come before the House in this regard.
Senator Norris raised the issue of Syria and Palestine, which I have also discussed. Senator Davitt raised the issue of dental care and I will ask the Minister, Deputy Harris, to come into the House on that issue. Senator Warfield raised an important issue that is now entering the public domain regarding libraries without staff. There is a distinction to be made between libraries staffed by librarians and the service they provide and the staffless library but it is of critical importance to recognise the importance to our communities of the library service. I will be happy to have the Minister, Deputy Coveney, come into the House to discuss this with Members. Senator Lombard raised the issue of Norwegian Air and Cork and many of us who are from Cork have raised this troubling issue, which I believe has now gone to arbitration. However, from the perspective of Cork and Munster, it is critical that this transatlantic link from Cork be established. I appeal to the US authorities to be able to certify and to give the licence to Norwegian Air.
Ní fhaca mé an clár mar gheall ar an bpictiúrlann i nGaillimh, ach tá an ceart ag an Senator Ó Clochartaigh go bhfuil obair forbartha le déanamh ag gach Roinn maidir leis an gcaoi ina úsáidtear airgead an taxpayer. In any event, oversight of money being spent on the taxpayers' behalf is something Members should do, as well as having the Minister come to the House on that issue. As for the Minister of State, Deputy Ring, I will be happy to have him come into the House as well.
I will accept Senator Nash's amendment to the Order of Business. If Senator Norris will withdraw his amendment, I will endeavour to have the Minister come to the House within the next couple of weeks.
I thank the Cathaoirleach. As a litigant myself with a case before the courts for five years, I feel strongly about it. However, I also remember moving, with the then Senator Ross, matters concerning political appointments and that probably is where he is coming from. In the light of both the Leader's reasonable approach and the indication by Senator McDowell, who is the instigator of this matter, that he is accepting it, it would be ridiculous of me to take a more extreme position. Consequently, I am happy to withdraw the amendment.
I thank the Senator. I am sure that if the matter is not dealt with, he or Senator McDowell can raise it next week or the week after that.
The Leader has indicated. Senator Nash has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That No. 11 be taken before No. 1." Is that agreed? Agreed.