Wednesday, 5 October 2016
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, an address to the House by Mr. Manus Cooney, to be taken at 1 p.m. in accordance with the arrangements set out in a motion passed by the House on 4 October 2016; No. 2, statements on the decision by the United Kingdom to leave the European Union, with the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, to be taken at 3 p.m. and to conclude not later than 4.30 p.m. with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed six minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed four minutes, with the Minister to be called on to reply not later than 4.25 p.m.; and No. 23, motion 9, a Private Members' motion to be taken at 4.30 p.m.
I would like to address the House about some of the budget whisperings, in particular the Government's plan to introduce a first-time buyer's grant of around €10,000 for newly built homes. I disagree with the grant as it would increase the price of new builds for first-time buyers. The initiative would not help first-time buyers but instead would place an extra €10,000 in the pockets of developers and landowners.
In the past year, house prices have risen by 8% in general and by 5.3% in Dublin. I would like the Government to consider the Central Bank's mortgage lending criteria. We should leave income thresholds as is but reduce deposit thresholds as it is unfair for a family currently renting a three-bedroom home paying around €2,000 in rent. If the family were able to get a mortgage on the same home, they would have to pay €1,400 per month on a €280,000 mortgage over the course of 35 years. At the moment, only people who have access to large deposits from friends or family are in a position to get a mortgage. Changing the rules to reflect people's previous rental patterns would put first-time buyers on an even footing, thus allowing them access the housing market.
I will outline other initiatives I would like the Government to introduce. A site tax for undeveloped lands could be introduced. We could consider reducing the build cost by reviewing how councils certify properties. Perhaps we could change the methods by which development levies are introduced. I would also like to see the introduction of a co-ownership scheme, which has been successful in the recent past. I draw the attention of the House to a financial contribution scheme that Dublin City Council had in place. It meant people living in larger homes could downsize to smaller properties and receive equity release on larger properties. The initiative would free up larger family homes that could be availed of by families on the housing lists.
I welcome Sinn Féin's commitment in its budget submission to introduce a €5.70 increase in the old age pension. The proposal was not in the party's election manifesto but I warmly Sinn Féin's commitment to the proposal.
I want to clarify remarks I made yesterday on the alternative budget and the fiscal space available to this country. Yesterday, the Leader said that Sinn Féin's fiscal space was multiples of the figures available and he is correct. The EU fiscal rules allow for spending on capital investment to be averaged out over four years and, therefore, only use a quarter of the fiscal space in the first year. I cannot make this matter any simpler for Senator Buttimer.
I would have thought that Fine Gael was sufficiently chided and embarrassed by its last foray into the fiscal space at the beginning of the election campaign to attempt another, so I admire the party's bravery.
Fine Gael is more than entitled to argue against an increase on spending on capital investment and the employment and improvement that will come with that move. The party cannot disregard an EU directive that the Minister for Finance signed up to and yet claim that it is fantasy. The party should know that the EU directive was brought in specifically to encourage increased spending on capital investment. This option is open to the parties in government as well. It is increasingly clear to me that nothing will stand between the Government and tax cuts for its golden circle buddies.
I am more than happy to share the document with the Government and discuss any matter that is not clear enough for the parties. I will not accept sweeping statements without substance.
Sinn Féin's alternative budget has taken account of the impact that Brexit is likely to have on the Irish economy.We have provided €20 million for North-South projects in order to offset the potential loss of €2.7 billion to GDP if Brexit goes ahead. The Government is lagging behind. I attended a briefing today by IBEC which warned that the indigenous export sector, which employs more than 140,000, is concerned that there will not be unfettered access to the British market. It has called for the upcoming budget to be Brexit-proofed. Indigenous firms have been responsible for up to 75% of new jobs in this recovery - if Senator Buttimer stopped talking he might learn a thing or two - but these are all at risk if there is no coherent strategy or the political will to match it. The budget next week will be a good starting point for the Government to show this country and others in the EU that we are beginning to prepare and it would instil confidence, so I ask the Minister to look at some of the alternatives. Some years ago, when people queried economic policies in this country, they were told by the leader at the time that they should go away and commit suicide. In the interest of new politics, we need to look at the alternatives in order to protect this country from the huge avalanche of threats coming down the line.
I express my solidarity with the women of Poland who engaged in a public strike on Monday to register their justified opposition to the measures currently being debated in the Polish Parliament to further restrict access to abortion in a country that already places significant barriers to women who need to access an abortion. It is unacceptable that an abortion access regime that already only allows abortion where a pregnancy carries a risk to health or life or results from rape or incest, or where there is fatal foetal abnormality, should need to be tightened. It is cruel and degrading and I applaud Polish women across 60 cities for the strike action they engaged in on Monday.
I also acknowledge solidarity with the kids who are outside protesting today. They are very vibrant and are screaming and hanging off the railings, all aged about six or seven. They are protesting about the school for which they have been waiting ten years to be built, which is called St. Mochta's. I would like other Senators to go out and support the children today.
I want to focus on pay discrimination, which is being exposed on a daily basis. I want the Leader to take note of it and to see if a debate can be organised on the matter. Pay discrimination has evolved since 2009 as a result of FEMPI and across this city, booming businesses, particularly in the retail industry and in pubs and hotels, are still discriminating against young people. There are four different categories of wages for people under the age of 20 and none of them is at the level of the minimum wage. It is time the Government focused on treating everybody equally. Everybody who can go out and do a day's work should be treated the same, whether they are young, old, male or female.
On another issue dear to my heart, a report in today's Irish Independentis headed "Coveney's bid to hike councillors' pay fails". Can the Leader give us some clarity on that? It seems to come from within his own party. Last week, it was successfully leaked by Fine Gael that the Minister, Deputy Simon Coveney, was going to give a €1,000 increase to councillors in their salary and €2,500 in their expenses. On Friday last week, not on the road to Damascus but the road to Bantry, the Minister changed his mind and by the time he got to Bantry to the councillors' conference, he was not making any announcement. He wanted to wait to see what was happening. Today in the Irish Independentwe are told by a reputable reporter that he has been stopped by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, and that there will be no increase for councillors, now or in the budget. I was a councillor for many years, as many in this room were, and they are not the country's favourite people but they do a very important job. They are currently paid approximately €350 per week. The rise in their wages was to be €20 per week which, when tax was taken off, would amount to €10. Across the public sector, and rightly so, those who have been deprived of increases since 2008 are putting forward a case for pay increases but, according to today's article, the Minister cannot do anything for councillors because gardaí have decided they want to make a claim. The connection between gardaí and councillors is beyond me. Nurses and teachers want to make a claim, as does everybody who was denied an increase, but Deputy Coveney is using the action of the gardaí to prevent councillors from getting a wage increase. The councillors of this country have been led up the garden path for long enough.
I ask the cross-party group, of which Senator McFadden is chair, for two things. First, I call for a meeting of that group to be convened to seek an urgent meeting with the Minister. Second, I ask the Leader give clarity to this story. Maybe it is being pumped up in order that the result can be delivered in the end but it is not amusing any councillors across the country this morning.
I want to raise the report carried out by the Simon Community over a three-day period at the end of August and the beginning of September in ten locations. It found that only 20% of properties came within the rent supplement sector and the HAP scheme. In May 2015, 1,500 such houses were available to rent but at the end of August and the beginning of September, there were fewer than 500. There has to be some monitoring of what landlords are charging and some engagement with the private rental sector to encourage landlords to come on stream with the HAP scheme and to curtail the amount of rent they are charging.
I want to raise the current plight of Irish tillage and grain farmers who find themselves in a major crisis due to the very inclement weather and high rainfall on the western coast. I visited some farmers in Galway on Sunday and it is gut-wrenching to see. When they called me I felt I did not need to go and see it as I am from a farming background and know what it is like when it goes wrong. However, I would advise Senators who have an interest in farming to see what I saw. I stood in a 14-acre field which was flat and unsalvageable. I was expecting that the farmer would have already cut the field but he had not. It contained an investment of €8,000 but the farmer now has no grain to sell as a result.
I raise the issue this morning because it has been flagged in this House and in the Dáil on numerous occasions. The Minister is well aware of it and he is holding a grain forum today with interested sectors, which I welcome. However, there is also a Council of Ministers meeting on agriculture on Monday and I was shocked, yesterday evening, to hear that despite this crisis, the Irish side had not made any effort to have this matter included on the agenda. I ask the Leader to make contact with the Minister and his officials on the conclusion of the Order of Business today to ensure this item is discussed at the Council of Ministers' meeting. It has to be included on the agenda and European compensation has to be secured to deal with this major crisis. Farmers will go out of business as they have absolutely no other income. In other sectors, such as the beef or suckling sectors, they may be selling at a loss or with a very small margin but they can still sell a couple of weanlings to boost cashflow and keep the show on the road. These men have nothing to sell. They have their money invested. It is similar to any of us going into a car dealership in the morning and giving big money for a new car but for some reason through no fault of our own not being given the keys and walking back out with the money spent and no car. They will not survive without income. There will have to be EU Commission compensation. I know it has been said that there cannot be, but there is a precedent. Deputy Darragh O’Brien secured European compensation for the vegetable growers when the frost killed their crop. In a similar fashion the weather has destroyed the grain on this occasion. I respectfully request that the Leader makes it a priority on our conclusion here to approach the Minister and his officials to have this included on the agenda for Monday’s meeting. I was shocked to hear that it was not already on it because the Minister was aware of this as is everybody in both Chambers.
I would appreciate the Leader’s help on two matters of urgency. The first relates to jobs in Údarás na Gaeltachta areas. Údarás na Gaeltachta gets less than 25% of the funding that IDA Ireland gets. It is a critical issue. There is much talk about developing the Irish language, but if we do not give people the opportunity to work in their own places where they want to grow up and live, there will never be any Irish, which is very important for us as a nation.
I was going to say more about that but something else has come to my attention, which is urgent. The Leader may know about the Irish Associated of Supported Employment, IASE. I have a vested interest in that I am patron of that body. It is the only organisation in Ireland whose sole function is the promotion of employment of people with disabilities. It believes that everybody with disabilities should have the opportunity to get work experience in a job. It is based in Belmullet in County Mayo. It provides employment for up to 800 people a year. It has a job-shadow day; people come on and work from there. Every year at least 50 people with disabilities end up in longer-term employment as a result.
It is closing down over issues with cash flow. It has a staff of five people and the total wages cost is €6,000 a month, which is roughly €1,000 a week per individual. They are passionate about what they do. They have applications pending, a service level agreement with the Department of Social Protection, national lottery funding, Northern Trust sponsorship and Human Rights and Equality grants scheme 2016. It will close in the next few days unless it can get funding of approximately €100,000. I ask the Leader as a matter of urgency to contact the Minister of State with responsibility for the Gaeltacht, Deputy Kyne, or one of his colleagues to help with bridging funding to keep this essential service going.
I ask the Leader to invite the Minister, Deputy Naughten, to come to the House to discuss the effects of food production on climate change and the imposition on Irish farmers to meet our carbon emissions targets. We also need a proper debate about supports and grants for farmers to help them to convert to renewable energy to achieve more energy efficiency.
I say this in the context of the comments made last week by the former President, Mary Robinson, who suggested that the best way forward was that we either became vegetarians or vegans. I do not subscribe to what she said and do not believe it is realistic. We should have a realistic debate. A more realistic and immediate approach would be to eliminate food waste. In Europe alone we waste enough food to feed 200 million people per annum. It costs energy to produce and transport food.
If we get rid of meat and dairy what will we do for the necessary proteins? Will we get these protein-rich food crops that are only grown in the tropics and take the food from people in developing countries and transport it over to here? We need a realistic debate because farmers and other people are worried. We need to be environmentally responsible, but let us take realistic steps. Let us have the Minister in here to have a proper debate. We need to get the supports in place. If we do not give supports to incentivise people towards renewable energy and energy efficiency, we will end up paying penalties to Europe.
Before the summer break I asked the Leader if we could have a debate on equality and I reiterate that call this morning. The budget is one week away and this afternoon I have arranged for representatives of TASC, the Think-tank for action on Social Change, to give a presentation at 2 o’clock. Each year it produces an excellent report on equality based on the Government’s statistics. One of its most frightening findings this year is that the top 1% of earners in the country now take in just under 40% of all income. Therefore the gap between rich and poor is increasing rapidly and equality unfortunately is decreasing.
At a meeting with TASC over the summer I was struck by something Fergus Finlay said. He said that he would love if every Deputy and Senator could take the time to look at its 2016 report. That is why I facilitated the meeting. I remind people to come along at 2 o’clock or else send somebody from their office. It is a vital report that informs us about what is wrong in society today. We could all benefit from that.
The previous Government did considerable work on climate change. Ireland is one of the few countries to have climate change on the Statute Book. I refer to the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act 2015. The Act has two key elements. An independent advisory council was to be set up and each Minister was to have the responsibility to report annually to the Dáil about emissions and reducing our carbon footprint. As the Bill was passed last October, those reports are now due. We should see all Ministers give an account of their Departments and how they are working to reduce greenhouse gases.
In the space of new politics, Government business in the Dáil has now been restricted to five hours and it is difficult to see how that reporting mechanism will be facilitated in the House. I ask the Leader to consult with the Ministers and ask them to consider to coming to the Seanad in the first instance to give their report on the work their Departments are doing to achieve the greenhouse gas targets.
In the House in the past couple of days Senators have very ably described what has been happening to tillage farmers in the west. During the Committee Stage debate on the climate change legislation it was emphasised that even though Ireland is a small country, with climate change the rain patterns would greatly change with heavier rainfall along the western part of the country and it would be drier in the eastern part, which is what we are seeing. Tillage farmers in the west are under great pressure. The level of the Shannon is already considerably up on previous years. This will be a constant measure. We should ask each Minister in turn to come in and give a report under the legislation that was passed.
I wish to raise the methods the media have adopted regarding the health service. I have raised this previously. Everything that is done in the health service is reported in a very negative way. At 7.30 this morning I attended a presentation on a survey done by MSD. It shows that 39% of the population are very optimistic about our health service, 40% are pessimistic and 20% have no view one way or the other. However, when people are interviewed on how they, themselves, got on within the health service, the vast majority were positive.It is one of the things we now need to do. Many good things are happening in the health service and everyone working in it works very hard. The negative coverage is not helping staff morale in our hospitals and services. It is something with which we need to deal.
In terms of the media, I want to deal with the HPV vaccine. There is a lot of negative coverage of the vaccine, especially on social media. The Leader worked with me last Monday to hold a public meeting. The head of cancer research in the Irish Cancer Society, Dr. Robert O'Connor, made a presentation. Some new 40,000 cancers are identified in this country every year, of which 20,000 are invasive, and 9,000 people die, yet social media now seems to dominate the debate on the HPV vaccine.
Dr. O'Connor will make a presentation at 3 p.m. in the Houses today. I urge people to attend because it is important that we send out a positive message. The vaccine has been monitored over a ten-year period. While some people have suffered adverse effects, the conditions they have do not differ from those who have not received the vaccine. It is important that we send out positive messages and state that the vaccine is available and should be promoted. Social media should not dominate the debate. In a future debate on health, we may consider how we work with people in the health service to make sure that morale is improved. It is one of the problems we have.
I welcome that the Leader has allocated an hour and a half today to discuss Brexit. I call on him to consider having a rolling debate on the matter and invite the various Ministers who will primarily be affected, such as the Ministers for Finance, Justice and Equality, Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Education and Skills and Defence to the House. It would be important to hear from those Ministers and others about their plans for Brexit when it occurs.
I live only eight miles from the Border, where six of the nine counties in Ulster are governed by Britain. Some three years ago, the most modern army barracks in Europe and the only purpose-built army barracks in the history of the State was closed by the former Minister, Alan Shatter, and the previous Government. On that occasion I, along with other colleagues in the Lower House, raised concerns, not only about the personnel based there being deployed to various other barracks three hours' commute away but also the security implications for the Border area. Dissident republicans are still very active in the area. Cross-Border crime is, unfortunately, on the increase. As a result of Brexit, the importance of the barracks has come back into sharp focus.
We do not know what will happen regarding the security of our Border, while it still exists. I call on the Leader to bring the Minister for Defence before the House as a matter of urgency to outline his plans, if any, to reopen the barracks. I urge him to do so before it is dismantled. It was been sold in a Houdini trick, whereby one Department took it over from another. That was supposed to save money for the State, but it now costs more to maintain it than when it was occupied.
I concur with everything Senator Landy said about county and city councillors and their pay and conditions. Before the summer recess the House passed an all-party motion. We met on one occasion with the Minister, Deputy Coveney, and had a very constructive meeting. I would hate to think that the county and city councillors of the country will become pawns in a potential leadership battle within Fine Gael or victims of pay demands by other unions within the public sector. I echo the call for the committee to meet again as a matter of urgency and that we work with our colleagues in LAMA and the AILG to see what we can do to improve the pay and conditions of county and city councillors.
I have previously raised the matter of the M20 motorway from Cork to Limerick. It is an urgent matter and I have tabled a Commencement matter on it for tomorrow. The motorway is supposed to be part of the Atlantic Way access route, along the western seaboard. The Gort to Galway road is currently being built. It is imperative that the road upgrade gets underway. The majority of the planning for the road project was done before November 2011, at which point the project stalled. I ask that the planning process be reactivated. That would require the appointment of consultants, through public procurement. It would take a number of months and would take place prior to the mid-term review of the capital plan, which will happen in mid-2017. No time should be lost.
It is imperative, from a number of points of view, that the M20 gets the go-ahead. I have to question why, in a modern economy, the two largest cities outside of Dublin are not linked by motorway. There have been a large number of fatalities on the N20, including recent fatalities on a section of the road near Limerick. Many people commute between Limerick and Cork on a regular basis, and commuter times are an issue. The route would provide synergies.
I ask that funding be provided by the Government and the Minister, Deputy Ross, to reactivate the planning process. It would not cost an enormous amount of money, so we would lose no time on a vital project for Ireland.
There were a number of very interesting contributions on the Order of Business. I was very taken by what Senator Daly had to say about the important challenges facing tillage farmers and what Senator Mulherin had to say in her reference to former President Mary Robinson's comments, in which she urged people to go vegetarian or vegan as far as possible.
Like a lot of Irish people from a rural and agricultural background, I feel very conflicted when I hear statements or urgings like that. Our grass-fed meat and dairy industry is a key part of our competitive advantage as an economy and country. I would like to see 2017 be nominated as the year of grass. The importance of grass and maximising-----
-----just how important it is that we get the maximum yield for grass. It is an important issue.Like many people, I was brought up to believe that we should live simply, so that other people might simply live. I might have disagreed with what former President Robinson had to say on other human dignity issues in the past but she is bang on in what she is trying to do in the area of climate justice. I would like a debate on how we can reconcile those aspirations. Ireland needs to meet its carbon targets in other ways, perhaps. Given the importance of our grass fed meat and dairy industry, we need to consider how we, as a country, give a moral lead in promoting the kind of world where there is room for all and that human beings are not the problem but part of the solution. That is the kind of solidarity-based thinking that must inform our thinking across a range of issues which will be before us in the coming months and years.
I was heartened to learn that Senator Ardagh had read Sinn Féin's pre-budget submission. I am glad she is happy with a number of points that we raised. I look forward to reading Fianna Fáil's pre-budget submission.
As has been noted in an aside, maybe the real budget is the Fianna Fáil-Fine Gael budget next Tuesday week. I hope that a number of the positive elements of Sinn Féin's pre-budget submission, which have been fully costed, will be taken on board.
Ar maidin, bhí cur i láthair ag Conradh na Gaeilge maidir le cúrsaí Gaeilge agus Gaeltachta i gcomhthéacs an bhuiséid. Tá sé léirithe go soiléir ansin céard atá á teastaíl ó phobal na Gaeilge agus na Gaeltachta agus an fáth gur ghá infheistíocht breise a dhéanamh, ag tosú le €4.5 mhilliún sa gcáinaisnéis. Táimid imithe níos faide ná sin sa bhuiséad atá curtha le chéile againne. Tá súil againn go mbeidh ar a laghad an méid sin curtha ar fáil sa bhuiséad a bheidh ag an Rialtas. An gá atá le sin ná go bhféadfaí 1,175 post nua a chruthú. Bheadh níos mó airgid á chaitheamh sna Gaeltachtaí. Tá sé mar dhlúthchuid den tacaíocht a bheadh don straitéis 20 bliain.
Ba mhaith liom freisin go mbeadh plé againn leis an Aire Gaeltachta maidir leis na scéimeanna teanga i gcomhthéacs ceisteanna a d'ardaigh an Coimisinéir Teanga, Rónan Ó Domhnaill, inné ag Buan-choiste na Gaeilge, na Gaeltachta agus na nOileán. Is cosúil nach bhfuil Roinn na Gaeltachta ag déanamh a cuid oibre mar is ceart ansin ó thaobh daingniú scéimeanna. Ba mhaith liom díospóireacht faoi sin.
This morning I found myself agreeing with Senator Maria Byrne on the issues of the HAP scheme and rent certainty. I hope the rest of her Government colleagues will be singing from the same hymn sheet when she discusses the concerns raised by the Simon Community. When we brought those issues up previously with Ministers, they were swept aside. When we brought a rent certainty Bill to this House, it was voted down. The housing crisis is a massive issue and whenever the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government comes in, the debate is all over the place. We need a focused debate on the HAP scheme, how it is being implemented and on the issues around rent certainty, which were raised. That specific debate should focus on that because the issue must be quickly addressed in light of the report we read this morning.
I want to follow on from a statement made by my colleague, Senator Colm Burke. He correctly stated that thousands of people in the health service do essential and excellent work. We need to acknowledge that, and support them in doing, that work. One always hears the negative stories in the media but there are thousands of positive cases that must be acknowledged.
I am concerned about the reform of acute hospital services implemented in 2012-13 and the establishment of the acute hospital groups. I ask the to Leader invite the Minister for Health to the House to explain why the hospital boards for the hospital groups have not been appointed almost three years later. I understood the boards would have autonomy to govern the hospitals within the groups. I suspect that some of the problems we have heard about and the dysfunction we have seen in acute services is because there are no governance structures. The Department of Health has dragged its feet. These are essential acute services. We have the vision and the strategy but now we need to see the boards put in place, so that they can implement the strategy in the way envisaged. Without that happening, we will see further crises develop and waiting lists increase. We need to see efficiencies and governance structures put in place. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister to the House to deal with these particular issues.
I agree 100% with the comments made by Senator Paul Daly. He passionately explained the crisis that faces tillage farmers across the country. The crisis is not just confined to that sector. The common denominator across all of the farming sectors is price, an raise raised whether talking to farmers at the National Ploughing Championships or, as I have done in the past week, in Donegal. Price is the issue in all sectors. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine back here. He was here for farm safety week but we had a limited debate. We need to debate the issue of price and what the Government's strategy is to address and protect the interests of farmers.
The second issue is the health service. Senator Colm Burke talked about surveys and staff. I agree with him that when people get into the health service and into hospitals, their experience is positive. We have fantastic front-line staff across the State. The difficulty is getting into hospital and on to waiting lists and the chronic underinvestment in health services for a long time. If we are serious about this, that means investment and looking at primary health services and hospitals across the State.
There is a real problem with the way hospitals are funded. Let us look at funding for Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda and the Letterkenny University Hospital. The fairest way is to base funding on the number of inpatients. My local hospital is Letterkenny University Hospital and it is the sixth largest hospital in the State. However, the financial allocations to such hospitals can be two to three times more in favour of Dublin hospitals. I appreciate there are specialties available at Dublin hospitals and, therefore, they should receive more funding but they receive far too much. I ask the Leader to convey my point to the Minister for Health and ask him to consider the funding model used for hospitals. It discriminates against hospitals in the regions and, therefore, needs to be addressed.
I agree with Senator Mac Lochlainn that we need to review the health service but, equally, money is not the only cure. During Fianna Fáil's 14 years in government, it quadrupled spending on health but the situation was as bad as it ever was. I am not trying to score political points but that is the reality.
There will always be a demand for hospital services. They are important because the most acutely ill people arrive at hospital emergency departments. We must also take a longer-term view and invest in primary care. With the competition that goes on between primary care and secondary care, hospital care always wins out. The situation will not improve until we grasp the nettle and invest money in prevention. As I have said before, it is much easier for politicians to hail a new ward and new CT scanner than it is to hail and support a public health initiative or primary care facility which will do much more good and save many more lives in the long run. Many people end up in hospitals because they have been unable to access case in a timely fashion, their diagnosis has been delayed and not enough emphasis has been placed on prevention. I did not stand up to speak about this matter today but I support what was said. We need to put more funding into primary care. I was a GP and I have returned to general practice but I can see the situation is getting increasingly worse. I will not go into the individual cases that have come to me in the past few weeks, which are quite worrying.
I want to raise another matter along the lines as prevention, namely, sports grants. There has been much discussion about restricted funding and the fact we might not have sports grants. Sport is hugely important, a fact we all acknowledge. It is very important for the development of young people, for the cohesion of communities and for teaching young people, in particular, that teamwork is important and how strength comes from co-operation rather than individualism. There is an old Irish saying, ní neart go cur le chéile, which means we are stronger when we work together. I cannot finish talking about sport without mentioning the fantastic victory of the Dubs and the great display by Mayo. Congratulations to both teams because it was an outstanding match. I call on the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Shane Ross, to ensure sports grants continue. We were able to allocate them in the worst of times. In the depths of austerity we put money into communities and sports facilities for young people to give them a safe place to expend all of their energy. This is a wonderful, natural attribute of youth. We must not renege on our policy in this regard at a time when circumstances have improved. Undoubtedly, they have not improved as much as we would like or for everyone we would like to see have a better existence, but sport is a great unifier and needs to be supported. The Minister needs to ensure funding is made available for this purpose.
Senator Paul Daly referred to the difficulties being experienced by tillage farmers across the country. I support the call for the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine to intervene in the ongoing crisis faced this year by farmers.
I support Senator Paudie Coffey's call for the Minister for Health to come to the House to talk about hospital groupings and funding for the hospital network across the country. Senator Pádraig Mac Lochlainn also touched on this issue which requires drastic attention. The model used to fund the health care sector needs to be reviewed, as it does not provide value for money for the taxpayer. There are serious questions to be asked. I agree with the former Minister for Health and Children, Senator James Reilly, that money will not resolve all of the issues within the sector. Their resolution is very complex. Until such time as all health expenditure follows the patient, we will never achieve value for money in the sector and will always face crisis after crisis. Every politician will be referring to crises in various areas and hospitals on different days every month until an holistic approach is taken to resolving the health crisis. This partly involves the sports capital grant, as referred to by Senator James Reilly. Until we target problems such as obesity, we will not be working holistically and will have only a knee-jerk reaction to the health crisis. There is a bigger picture to be considered. Politics should be kept out of it in so far as possible. I acknowledge that there is a ten-year strategy committee, but the Seanad should address the issue, bearing in mind that we can avail of the expertise of a former Minister, Senator James Reilly. We should examine it on a cross-party basis. Let us come up with some suggestions, if possible. Let us park politics outside the room and come up with constructive arguments, some of which might be on the economic side and others on the health or community side. Let us come up with some strategy that the Seanad could provide for the Department of Health. If we were to do so, we would be doing the State some service.
How do I follow that? I thank the 19 Senators who spoke for raising multiple issues.
Senator Catherine Ardagh raised the important issue of housing and first-time buyers. We all agree with her on the importance of getting first-time buyers into the market. It is a question of having a combination of supply and affordability. The housing strategy put forward by the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Simon Coveney, includes a range of measures. No single solution will work on its own. I hope the Budget Statement next week will be the catalyst in allowing first-time buyers to become homeowners.
I thank Senator Rose Conway-Walsh for the budgetary lesson. I was listening to her. However, I point out to her that, based on her alternative budget, hers is a party of taxation; it is a high tax party. She is proposing new taxes in the order of €1 billion. Her party is proposing a third rate of income tax that would put the rate of tax over 50% if PRSI and the universal social charge are included. To be fair to the Senator, I do not know whether she was part of it.
Any measure put forward by a party that wants to penalise employers by increasing their rate of PRSI to the tune of 15% would be imposing a tax on jobs. It is important that we focus on those who contributed to helping the country to recover, namely, the people in the middle who paid for everything. They should get something back in the budget, not those who made no contribution whatever. There is a maxim that if we all pay a little, it helps.
It is important that there be honesty regarding the budget to be announced next week. It will not be a giveaway budget; the Minister has said this, but the priority at our end is to protect the fragile economy, continue to get people back to work and see fewer unemployed and more employed. We want people to have a decent quality of life. That is what we all aspire to achieving.
Senator Lynn Ruane made reference to the women in Poland. It is their entitlement and right to protest and have their voices heard. The same applies to the children from St. Mochta's national school who were protesting this morning. I am not familiar with the school, but I would be very happy to talk about it.
Senators Denis Landy and Diarmuid Wilson raised the issue of councillors' pay. Had Senator Denis Landy been here yesterday, he would have heard Senator Gerard P. Craughwell and others raise the issue. The Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Simon Coveney, and the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Leo Varadkar, are committed to examining councillors' pay and conditions and the K-class pension contributions. Unlike his predecessor, the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government is actually committed to doing something. There was nothing done when the former Minister responsible for local government, Deputy Alan Kelly, was in office. We have checked it out.
I repeat that we all share the same view and want to arrive at the same end point. It is important that we work together. I spoke to the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government this morning with a view to meeting the group that has been set up. The Minister is committed to doing so. There is no point in any of us individually trying to solve something. As I said yesterday, it is important that we stand together.
We are working collaboratively to end the discrimination against councillors. We will all try to do this together and it is important to do so in unison rather than go off half-cocked.
Senators Maria Byrne and Trevor Ó Clochartaigh raised the issue of housing, in respect of which they referred to the report by Simon Communities of Ireland. I would be happy to have the Minister responsible for housing, Deputy Simon Coveney, to come back to the House to discuss the issue.
Senators Paul Daly, Rónán Mullen and Pádraig Mac Lochlainn referred to agriculture and tillage. This matter was discussed on the Order of Business yesterday. The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Michael Creed, is committed to coming to the House to discuss it. The Senators are correct that it is very important that it be raised, not only at Cabinet level but also at the meeting of the Council of Ministers next week. I will make this view known to the Minister. I accept that this is a matter of priority and urgency that we need to address.
Senator Pádraig Ó Céidigh made a very important point about job creation in the Gaeltacht. He referred, in particular, to people having the ability to come back to the Gaeltacht to live and work. He is correct. I am not familiar with the issue he raised in respect of the Irish Association of Supported Employment, but if he gives me the information, I will give it to the Minister of State, Deputy Seán Kyne. I participated in the past in Job Shadow Day and encourage all Members to do so. It would be rewarding for them and those who come to their offices. The person who is shadowing derives a sense of joy and fulfilment from talking part, be it in the Houses or business. The initiative is important and I encourage Members to participate in it.
Senators Michelle Mulherin and Rónán Mullen referred to our commitment on climate change and the remarks of former President Mary Robinson. This is an issue to which we need to return. I do not believe the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Denis Naughten, would disagree with the views expressed on the importance of reducing our carbon footprint and meeting our commitments, but we must reconcile this objective with the fact that we have dairy and beef industries that are important to the nation. I do not share the views of former President Mary Robinson on becoming vegetarian or vegan, although that is a personal choice people have made and make every day. This is a debate to which we need to come back, but we all agree we should be environmentally responsible.
Senator Paul Gavan made a very good point on TASC.I want to commend the Senator for hosting this event in the audiovisual room today. It is important we have an equality debate from an economic point of view and in a host of other ways. I am committed to that.
Senator Kevin Humphreys also made reference to climate change. His point is a good one and I will be happy to take it to the Seanad CPP to see if we can progress it, with the Cathaoirleach's co-operation. The point he made, namely, that Ministers could come to the House to have that discussion and be held accountable in regard to climate change legislation, is a good one. I will certainly work with him to see if we can get that prioritised as part of our work programme. I do not see any reason we could not do that. I thank Senator Humphreys for raising this matter and I think it a great idea.
Senators Colm Burke, Paudie Coffey, Brian Ó Domhnaill, James Reilly and Pádraig Mac Lochlainn raised the issue of the health service. With regard to the media portrayal of the health service, Senator Burke is right that some of the commentary is disappointing and does not convey the amount of good work being done and the amount of critical time being put in by people in the health service, which deserves credit and praise. The important point made by Senator Burke, which was touched on by Senators Reilly and Coffey, concerns the model of delivery we should consider. Equally, as Senator Reilly said, money is not the only answer. Given the creation of the health groups, there is no reason those groups should not have their boards appointed. I will have the Minister, Deputy Harris, come to the House to explain the reasons for this.
Senator Ó Domhnaill's point, like that of Senator Humphreys, is a very valid one. Perhaps we could consider the Seanad's consultative committee as a forum through which we could address the issue he has outlined. I hope Members of this House will be part of the ten-year strategy on health. In saying that, Senator Ó Domhnaill's suggestion is one the Seanad consultative committee could look at. It is an area where we should have buy-in from this House. There is huge expertise in this Chamber and it is an issue we should look at. I would be happy to progress that with the Senator.
Senator Diarmuid Wilson raised the issue of the barracks and Brexit. I hope the Minister of State with responsibility for defence will come to the House. It is my intention that we would have a role in the debate on Brexit. The point the Senator raises in regard to the Department of Defence is one we need to keep on top of, not least due to the increase in dissident republicanism, but also in the context of cross-Border crime. I will have the Minister of State come to the House in that regard.
Senator Kieran O'Donnell raised the very important issue of the M20. It is critical this is resubmitted as part of the capital plan. It does not make good economic sense that the two major cities outside Dublin are not linked by a motorway. It is important from a safety perspective and in terms of the development of the south west economic corridor that this is progressed.
Senator Rónán Mullen's points with regard to grass were well made. He requested a debate with the Ministers, Deputies Michael Creed and Denis Naughten, and this is something I will seek to deliver.
Chuir an Seanadóir Ó Clochartaigh ceist orm faoi ráiteas an Choimisinéara Teanga, Rónán Ó Domhnaill. Níor chuala me an ráiteas sin, ach beidh an buiséad againn an Máirt seo chugainn agus beidh rudaí maidir le cúrsaí Gaeltachta istigh ann. While I did not hear the remarks of Rónán Ó Domhnaill yesterday, it is hoped the Minister will come to the House in the next couple of weeks. He has committed to coming here, as I said, and I hope the budget next week will address some of the remarks he has made.
Senator James Reilly raised the issue of sports capital grants. All of us in the House recognise the importance of the sports capital programme. The previous Government, in the worst of times, restored this programme and it has brought benefit not only to sporting and community groups, but has given huge impetus to young people and a cross-section of society. Participation in sport is important because it tackles a multiplicity of issues. It is critical the sports capital grants are restored and unfurled as part of the commitment to sport in this country. Having spoken to the Minister, Deputy Ross, and the Minister of State, Deputy O'Donovan, I know they understand the importance of this issue. I will have the Minister or the Minister of State come to the House to explain the decision on that.