Tuesday, 15 November 2016
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, Statute Law Revision Bill 2016 - Order for Second Stage and Second Stage, to be taken at 4 45. p.m. and conclude not later than 6.15 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 called on to reply to the debate nt later than 6.10 p.m.; and No. 2, Criminal Justice (Suspended Sentences of Imprisonment) Bill 2016 - Order for Second Stage and Second Stage, to be taken at 6.15 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.
If I am not mistaken, we are exactly 40 days from Christmas Day. In recent days Sr. Stan Kennedy has been quoted as saying it breaks her heart that up to 2,500 children may be homeless on Christmas Day. This is a real indication of how bad the homeless crisis is. At a time when they should be happy in their homes and celebrating Christmas, up to 2,500 children will be homeless. In launching its Christmas appeal last week Focus Ireland stated 2,400 children in 1,200 families were homeless. This can only be described as an appalling indictment of us as a society. I am sure many in this Chamber are aware of the death of a homeless 31 year old mother of two, Louise Casey, whose body was found last week under a stairwell in a derelict building. Unless action is taken quickly, sadly, more children and their families will end up without a roof over their heads and there will be more Louise Caseys losing their lives in this winter period. As well as her tragic death and the stories of all the children and their families on the streets, others not in such dire circumstances are just about surviving. The severe lack of rental properties means people are paying huge rents and have little or nothing on which to survive at the end of the month. We in Fianna Fáil have advanced several proposals to the Department on a housing rental strategy. We firmly believe that positive action needs to be urgently taken to alleviate the pressure on people and ensure they avoid a situation where they find themselves homeless. Most people are only one month away from a situation of homelessness. One measure we advocate is the introduction of rent certainty regulations that would tie rent to a rental index based on five-year historic rents in each area.
Rent inflation in Dublin and other cities is hammering disposal income and pushing people into homelessness. The introduction of a rent certainty regulation would anchor the rent to the locality and would provide some certainty and stability to the market. In order to comprehensively tackle some of the challenges I have addressed, the supply of rental units in the market must be increased.
We in Fianna Fáil believe that a range of incentives must be introduced, including, but not limited to, allowing property tax be calculated as a deductible expense for the purpose of income tax, changing the tax code such that accidental landlords who bought property between 2000 and 2009 would be able to offset rental income for a period of three years, directing the strategic investment fund to provide low cost finance to people who will deliver purpose-built rental accommodation and encourage landlords to enter into long-term leases with local authorities and housing associations.
Census 2016 indicates that there are 260,000 vacant homes across the market accounting for 15% of the total supply. The vacancy recorded in urban areas such as Dublin and Galway is recorded at 10%. We need to incentivise landlords to keep the stock on the market and we need to ensure that the threat of homelessness is alleviated for people living in rental accommodation. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister to come into the House to urgently address this matter.
Today the IRFU released further details of its bid for the Rugby World Cup in 2023. The Minister of State with responsibility for sport, who was in the House about a half and hour ago, suggested that a Senator might raise this issue. The Leader was in the House at the time. Sport plays a critically important part in the health and well-being of citizens. I mention tourism and the economic prosperity that this would bring. It is an amazing challenge. It is also amazing what can be achieved by co-operation between the IRFU and the GAA in terms of the venues. I mention also the synergies and the co-operation in terms of fostering goodwill. This could bring many benefits to this nation.
There is a long list of capacity and the following venues have been included: Croke Park, the Aviva Stadium, the RDS arena, Nowlan Park, Thomas Park, Fitzgerald Stadium, Pearse Stadium, McHale Park, Casement Park, Kingspan Stadium and Celtic Park. All those are serious options that would provide stadia for this championship. It is important this House wishes those involved in this bid well and that Members do everything they can, through their political and sports contacts, to push for this. Hopefully, we will be successful. There are two other countries bidding, namely, South Africa and France, but it is a challenging and exciting time. I know a number of Ministers and senior politicians were in attendance today when this was announced and we should wish them well. Did we ever think that the GAA and the IRFU would work so successfully together? It is important that Members of this House wish those involved well in this bid.
I dtosach báire, tá fimínteacht Fhianna Fáil maidir le cúrsaí tithíochta dochreidte ar maidin i ndáiríre. The hypocrisy of a Fianna Fáil Senator standing up to call for rent certainty when only a few weeks ago its Members voted down a Bill that would bring in rent certainty is unbelievable, but that from Fianna Fáil does not surprise us.
On a different matter, I welcome to the Gallery Harriett Bruce, her mother, her aunt and former Ballinasloe town councillor, Johnny Walsh. The only person missing from the picture is Harriett's husband, Kleber Medeiros, whose case I have raised previously in the House. Harriett and Kleber were married lawfully. A spurious allegation was made against them that their marriage was a sham marriage.
It was an absolute disgrace. On foot of that, Kleber was taken from his home and deported to Brazil. Harriett returned recently from Brazil where she spent a number of weeks with Kleber. The ongoing scandal is that even though the Health Service Executive has now admitted that there was no reason to block the marriage, that the marriage was lawful and that there was no impediment, Kleber Medeiros still has not been allowed to return home to his wife, his home and his job.Kleber Medeiros has still has not been allowed to return home to his wife, home and job.
Go raibh míle maith agat, a Chathaoirligh. In fairness, there have been efforts across these Houses involving politicians from all political parties. I thank Senator Maura Hopkins, who today accepted from Harriett Bruce a letter for the Tánaiste and Taoiseach . The Senator has been working on this case, as has Deputy Eugene Murphy, Senator Denis Landy, Deputy Anne Rabbitte and others.
Harriett and Kleber have a very bona fide case. The issue at present, however, is that the Minister is still sitting on the application for Kleber to return home. I ask the Leader to use his good offices to contact the offices of the Minister and Taoiseach to try to have Kleber's application to return home before Christmas expedited so he can be brought home to his wife. I call on all Senators to join us in the audiovisual room as soon as possible after the Order of Business to listen to Harriett telling her own story, giving the background and explaining the legal position in which she has found herself and the nightmare she has faced over recent months. Tá súil agam go mbeidh siad in ann brú a chur ar oifig an Tánaiste agus oifig an Taoisigh leis an éagóir iomlán seo a chur ina cheart arís.
I want to talk a little about recognising Traveller ethnicity. Last Wednesday morning at a meeting of the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality, we heard a presentation on recognising Traveller ethnicity from a group of people who work in and are part of the Traveller community. Ms Ronnie Fay, Mr. Martin Collins, Mr. Thomas McCann and Dr. Robbie McVeigh gave a powerful presentation. It is time we all realised that recognising Traveller ethnicity means recognising that Travellers experience racism and discrimination. It is only by fully recognising the problem that we can work towards a solution. The dominant view on Travellers in Ireland has been that they are some sort of deviant settled people. The solution to the Traveller problem has been to try to turn Travellers back into settled people. In other words, it is contended that if Travellers are not part of a distinct community, they should be treated the same as the general population and assimilated into it. By doing so, however, their specific needs will not been met. They become invisible to policymakers and service providers, and the community suffers. The idea has always been rejected by Travellers themselves since it involves faulty analysis that has never worked. Despite the prevailing policies and strategies, Travellers have not disappeared and remain as much Travellers as ever before. Not including Travellers' needs, however, has resulted in very poor living conditions for them. Some 800 families live at the side of the road with no running water or sanitation. There are low outcomes in education. Some 55% of Travellers leave school before the age of 15 and only 1% of them attain a third level qualification. Long-term unemployment-----
I call for a debate on the issue but I would also like to say I believe it is time that we started to recognise the circumstances of Travellers. It is an absolute disgrace that they are treated with such little dignity and respect as human beings in this country. Traveller ethnicity has already been recognised in the North and the rest of the United Kingdom. I do not know why it is not recognised here in the Republic. I would like a debate on this.
I support Senator Black's call for a debate on the recognition of Traveller ethnicity. The previous justice committee, on which the Cathaoirleach sat with me, Senator Mac Lochlainn and others, recommended unanimously that Traveller ethnicity be recognised. It is important and timely to have the debate.I welcome Harriett Bruce and former Labour Party councillor Johnny Walsh, who were in the Gallery a moment ago and who Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh mentioned. Senator Denis Landy and others have been working with them and they were here today to meet the Labour Party leader, Deputy Brendan Howlin, who has also taken up their case and the issue of the deportation already mentioned. There will be a briefing in the AV room at 4 p.m., which I know all colleagues will be interested in attending.
I also welcome the Cathaoirleach's clarification in respect of the move to the National Museum, especially in light of all of the concerns expressed to us. It is welcome to hear an agreement has been concluded.
I thank colleagues for their support on a cross-party basis for the passing of the Competition (Amendment) Bill 2016 last Thursday. We should note the historic achievement that this was the first Private Members' Bill to pass either House of the Oireachtas under the current Government. That was a good day for the Seanad, being the first House to pass a Private Members' Bill in full. Will the Leader ensure it receives a speedy passage through the Dáil? I certainly will be doing what I can to ensure that also.
I also ask colleagues for their support for the other Bill the Labour Party is introducing on Second Stage tomorrow, the Protection of Employment (Uncertain Hours) Bill 2016. We see it as an important component of a package of measures to protect workers' rights. Just as our Bill last week will allow freelance workers to have collective bargaining rights, tomorrow's Bill will ensure protections for those on uncertain hours or so-called flexible contracts.
Will the Leader organise a debate on domestic violence and law reform to provide for greater protection for victims and survivors of domestic violence? Could we have the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality provide to the House the timeframe for legislation on domestic violence? I was privileged to attend and speak at a SAFE Ireland summit organised yesterday and today in the Mansion House in Dublin, at which we heard speakers with international profiles on domestic and gender-based violence on the need to ensure greater protections for victims and survivors. Some powerful testimonies were also given. Will the Leader organise such a debate? The Seanad has led on this and there have been justice committee reports before. We do, however, now need legislative reform in this area.
I also join with Senator Victor Boyhan in welcoming today's launch of the 2023 bid for the Rugby World Cup for Ireland. We are experiencing a rich vein of and a golden era for sport in Ireland at local, national and international level. We have seen this in rugby, soccer, GAA, rowing, sailing, and newer sports. Last week, I visited the new upgraded sports campus in Abbotstown. The facilities there are wonderful.
Sport has a tremendous capacity to unite people. I compliment all the stakeholders involved in this bid for the Rugby World Cup. The Government, the Stormont Administration, the GAA and the IRFU are coming together to back it, headed up by the former Tánaiste, Dick Spring, as well as many others, including Hugo MacNeill. It shows sport has an ability to unite in a way that politics sometimes struggles with. Will the Leader invite to the House the Minister of State with responsibility for tourism and sport, Deputy Patrick O'Donovan, who today announced a new round of sports capital funding to be open in January, to explain the timeline for this bid as it goes along?
I want to raise the issue of broadband provision in rural areas and the great urban-rural divide that exists in this respect. A report issued today by Switcher.ie, a price comparison website, shows broadband speeds in rural Ireland are 36 times slower than in towns and cities. This is a serious issue. Longford and Monaghan, to name but a few, were listed as black spots.
To give a practical example of this divide, downloading a two-hour film in Dublin would take approximately six minutes, whereas it could take two and a half hours in Monaghan.That gives an example of the challenges that businesses and individuals face every day. The sad thing is that the gap is getting bigger. A quarter of households have broadband speeds of less than the Government's guidelines.
We have been told that the broadband issue will be fully solved by 2020 or 2022, which is little consolation for businesspeople and families in rural areas. The biggest obstacle to job creation in rural areas is lack of access to broadband. I plead with the Leader to ask the Minister to come to the House to address this serious issue so that rather than having to pack their suitcases to leave, people will find a future for themselves and their families in rural Ireland where they can grow up and live and work for as long as they wish.
I support Senator Bacik's call for the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality to come to the House to discuss legislation on domestic violence. I commend Safe Ireland and the other organisations that organised the conference on domestic violence but unfortunately I could not attend. It would be timely for the Tánaiste to come here as we come up to the 15 days of action opposing violence against women.
Today we have seen another report on the lack of broadband in rural areas. The report by the comparison website, switcher.ie, has confirmed what many of us who live and work in rural areas have known for a long time, namely, that broadband coverage and connection speeds are wholly inadequate in rural areas. Drimnagh in Dublin has a connection speed that was up to 36 times faster than that in rural areas. The national broadband plan was launched in 2012. Recently we learned that the procurement contract will not be signed until 2017. However, the Minister recently failed to confirm the 2017 date, meaning that the completion date may now be put back to 2022. Every delay in the roll-out of the plan prevents small businesses from setting up or expanding and denies real people opportunities.
To concentrate the wonderful minds in the Fine Gael-Fianna Fáil Government, it is now time for businesses that do not have the minimum 100 Mbps to get an exemption from paying rates. The economic apartheid caused by leaving whole swathes of Ireland, including small towns, without this essential means of communication is devastating. In my case it takes the best part of six months to secure even the basic communication tools from my Mayo office.
The severe social exclusion imposed on individuals, families and communities as a result of not having adequate broadband is intolerable. Government services and information are blocked from reaching the population of rural areas because they cannot access the Internet. It means that people cannot reliably access online banking or pay bills online. This is important in a climate where many utilities have almost entirely switched to online payment systems.
We want immediate action on rural broadband. We need the national broadband plan to be commenced urgently. It should start at the remotest rural areas and work towards the towns. I call for an urgent debate on the issue of social and economic apartheid as a result of the deprivation caused by inadequate broadband speeds in rural areas.
I join Senators Gallagher and Conway-Walsh in addressing the broadband question. Some Senators may have heard on "Today with Seán O'Rourke" a businessperson from Keenagh in County Longford moving out of their current premises and moving very significant jobs from the village of Keenagh owing to the absence of broadband. In Cavan and Monaghan there are villages and whole tracts without adequate broadband. I propose to the Leader that we should have a constant monitoring of this. It is one of the most current and immediate issues we face.We should debate it regularly as a stock-take, so to speak, and invite the relevant people to discuss it. Will the Leader arrange for this soon?
I have constantly raised the need for the decentralisation of jobs and a regionalisation of inward investment. The only silver lining to the Brexit dark cloud is that we can now do that, but only if all rural areas have broadband. We must bring high-speed broadband to all towns and villages. It is the country's starkest infrastructural deficit at the moment. Will the Cathaoirleach and the Leader ensure that it is placed at the top of the agenda? We discuss Seanad reform constantly, but what people really want is Seanad relevance, and nothing could be more relevant than addressing this great deficit.
Will the Leader call on the Minister for Health - perhaps it is the Minister of State with responsibility for drugs, although I believe it is the former - to attend the House to debate methadone protocol and the General Medical Services, GMS, contracts? In places around Ireland, for example, Newbridge in County Kildare, there is an 18-month waiting list for a methadone service. The farther one goes from Dublin, the more difficult it becomes to get into a methadone programme. General practitioners, GPs, refuse their patients what is viewed as a medical intervention. If we were to change GMS contracts so that doctors could not refuse to prescribe their patients methadone, it would reduce the waiting list because more stable clients could be moved from clinics and back to their GPs while the more chaotic heroin users who are only starting their treatments could be moved to the clinics. People are dying while on waiting lists, but the lists could be squashed. I would like to be given the chance to discuss this matter with the Minister so that we might get people off heroin and onto methadone programmes in rural Ireland.
I agree on the point about broadband. I was the chair of the regional assembly at one stage. It had 53 members right across from Fingal to Clare and covered the southern and eastern parts of the country. During one debate on broadband, half of the room said nothing and the other half was incredibly agitated. One half took broadband for granted because its service was perfectly fine, but not so for the other half. We must view broadband like electricity. It must be the same, it must be good quality and it must be available everywhere. It would change a significant number of people's lives.
Perhaps my next point is not in order either, but I attended a function yesterday evening commemorating 20 years of the Islamic Cultural Centre of Ireland, which was opened on 14 November 1996 by the then President, Ms Mary Robinson. A beautiful function was held. Representatives of the al-Maktoum family, which funded the centre originally, visited from the United Arab Emirates. Archbishop Martin was present, as were an Assistant Garda Commissioner and other significant dignitaries. It was a wonderful celebration of 20 years of that institution in Irish public life. It has made a great contribution to Irish life and the House should congratulate it. The centre is holding an exhibition week for ten weeks starting today. I advise Senators and anyone in the area to visit Clonskeagh and see the contribution that culture has made to Ireland and the world.
I pay tribute to everyone involved in the 2016 Remembrance Day ceremonies in Northern Ireland and the Republic to commemorate those soldiers who fought in the First World War. Some 9 million soldiers and 7 million civilians lost their lives in the four-year war.This is a stark reminder of the personal price paid and ultimate sacrifice made by individuals and families. As 49,500 of those killed on the battlegrounds of Europe were Irish men, the loss was deeply felt across Ireland, not just in the United Kingdom. It also serves as a reminder to us that the seeds of division in the future are sown when a war is entered and the Great War was supposed to be the war to end all wars. There had never before been a war of its type in terms trench warfare and people being slaughtered on battlefields. The treaty the arose from the First World War was a significant contributory factor to the Second World War. The commemorative events should serve to strengthen our resolve to ensure war will not be seen as the way forward.
Will the Leader raise with the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Heather Humphreys, the possibility of directing decade of centenaries funding towards local communities for the erection of monuments to people from the locality killed in the First World War? I pay tribute to the many communities throughout the country who have held such ceremonies. A total of 154 people from Ballina and the surrounding area lost their lives during the First World War. There were many casualties in the Connacht Rangers. My point is that up to now most of the commemorative ceremonies have been held in Dublin and elsewhere in Europe. While I understand the reason for this, there is need for recognition of all of the communities that were affected and paid a price and which up to now have been written out of history. As I said, a commemorative ceremony was held in Ballina, but many people from Foxford and other towns in the west also lost their lives. I ask the Leader to bring this matter to the attention of the Minister to ensure proper recognition of the totality of Irish people who died in the First World War.
I am sure everyone was taken aback this morning when he or she saw the ice sculptures on display outside Leinster House. They really brought home the fact that our planet was melting. This morning I also attended a briefing in Buswells Hotel organised by the Stop Climate Chaos group. It was an eye-opener. The format was great in that Deputies and Senators from particular electoral areas were asked to sit with constituents from them. This led to the formation of small intimate groups which allowed people to be educated a lot easier and quicker. The United Nations' report which was published yesterday declared 2016 to be the hottest year on record. Despite the belief of some Independent Members of the Oireachtas and triumphalist leaders worldwide, we all have to face up to the fact that we are damaging our future and that of our children and generations to come through our selfish behaviour. We need to act. Climate change has massive repercussions for the world. The Stop Climate Chaos group has made three recommendations, including that a fair payment be introduced in the case of solar power, with supplies produced by households and businesses in excess of what they need being returned to the national grid at a price that benefits the owner; that taxpayers' money be divested from the use of fossil fuels and that there be increased investment in cycling initiatives and the use of clean public transport. We need to be forward-thinking. On the massive housing programme required, we all hope the State will ensure green planning will play its part to ensure energy efficient buildings will become the norm.Communities need to be supported through green planning and the building of efficient, green transport systems. This issue crosses almost every Department and I call on the lead Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government to climate proof everything the Government does, across all areas.
It is simply unforgivable that the Government is investing taxpayers' money, through the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund, in harmful fossil fuel industries which we know are destroying our world. Like the plastic bag tax and the smoking ban, this is an area in which we can lead by example and protect our homes and our planet. Ireland is known as the emerald isle, the country of 40 shades of green; let us have a green economy and environment to match.
I would like to follow up on Senator Mulherin's comments on the Great War memorial events that were held all over the country last weekend. It was fantastic to see the Taoiseach attend an event in Northern Ireland. I would also like to congratulate the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Charlie Flanagan, for remembering the French people who lost their lives in Paris one year ago.
I was in Trim, County Meath, laying a wreath on behalf of the Taoiseach and the people of Ireland. I would like to thank the Trim commemorative committee for its wonderful work and the other committees all over the country. We have come a long way in this country in remembering our war dead. I echo Senator Mulherin's comments about funding for the commemorative committees which are operating with very small budgets. It would be great to see some funding being made available to them.
When I was growing up in the 1970s and 1980s my family had a supermarket in Kells. There was a photograph of my great uncle, Peter Laffey, on the wall of the mineral shed because my parents were afraid to display it in our house. As the song goes, "In an old photograph, torn battered and stained, and faded to yellow in a brown leather frame". He was 25 when he died in France and I was honoured to honour him on Sunday as well as all of the other Irish men and women who lost their lives in the two world wars.
I would be very grateful if the Minister for Education and Skills would come into the House to address a particular injustice being inflicted on teachers who are not members of any trade union but who are being subjected to the financial emergency measures in the public interest, FEMPI, legislation. I have been contacted by one such teacher in a designated community college who is not a member of any trade union. This individual, like many other teachers, continues to engage in supervision and substitution duties and to complete the additional hours required under the Croke Park agreement. However, like approximately 1,000 other teachers, this person is being financially penalised every month because he is not a member of a trade union.
When the Department of Education and Skills went to apply the FEMPI penalties to members of the Association of Secondary Teachers of Ireland, ASTI, it did not consider that it was allowed, under data protection legislation, to access information about which teachers are members of the ASTI, even though the Department would have such information for payroll purposes to allow for the deduction of ASTI dues and so forth. Therefore, the Department decided to ask teachers in designated community colleges, for example, who were members of the TUI, to identify themselves as such to the education and training boards or to the Department itself so that the benefits of the Lansdowne Road agreement could be applied to them. Any teacher who did not indicate that he or she was a member of the TUI was treated as not subscribing to the terms and conditions of the Lansdowne Road agreement and faced the penalties of the FEMPI legislation. This is simply unjust. It seems to me that there are constitutional issues involved here when one considers that one has a right to associate and indeed, not to associate or be a member of a trade union. For teachers not to have been given the opportunity to opt out of the FEMPI legislation simply because they were not members of a designated union is, quite frankly, invidious.
I have been in touch with the Department about this and I got what I can only describe as a Sir Humphrey-type response to the effect that there is no proposal at this time to treat teachers separately based on the fact that they are not members of a trade union. That answer is simply not good enough. We are talking here about teachers who did not want to be precluded from enjoying the benefits of the Lansdowne Road agreement, who carry out their substitution and supervision duties but who, because they do not fit the Department's easy model and are not in a particular trade union, have been denied their rights.This is a serious matter. I call on the Minister for Education and Skills to come to the House to explain the position and, more important, to set out what the Department proposes to do to rectify this injustice.
I support the call made by Senators Black and Bacik on Traveller ethnicity. The debate on this issue is critical and badly needed for all the reasons the Senators outlined. It is an issue to which I will return in the coming period when, I hope, the Minister appears in the House to have this debate for the reasons eloquently outlined.
It is important, given the week that was in it, that a number of Senators reflected on remembrance and it is right that we remember. We are in a climate of great maturity about how we approach this issue, North and South and between Britain and Ireland. I am proud that republican leaders have played a key role in reconciliation and engagement with those on this island who come from a British and Unionist tradition and have such a stake in the issue of remembrance, particularly around the First World War. The Seanad should examine how we can contribute positively to this theme.
Notwithstanding this, I urge caution because remembrance is a complex issue which gives rise to much hurt. If it was solely concerned with the tragic and unnecessary slaughter of the First World War, it would be a straightforward matter. As I stated, however, the issue is much more complex than that. The legacy of the British army and British presence is still felt acutely and with great rawness. While we can and should discuss this theme, the debate must be broader and include the legacy of conflict that persists to this day. For example, the issues of justice and truth recovery are being hindered by a British Government which seeks to use national security to veto progress on matters such as the Dublin and Monaghan bombings in which the British army and its intelligence services were up to their necks. Let us have a debate and let us remember and reflect responsibly on the loss to this island. There is a serious sense of self-loathing in evidence when calls are made to the Minister to erect memorials to British soldiers while, at the same time, Moore Street lies in rack and ruin. We need to take a universal and inclusive approach to this issue, one which reflects all traditions and experiences.
In the past four or five years, I have raised many issues related to junior doctors about which an issue has arisen in recent days. One of the concerns I raised previously was the withdrawal of education grants. A large number of junior doctors are on training programmes. It is important that they have available to them a clear career path in order that they can see where they will be in five, six, eight or ten years.
Junior doctors are constantly attending courses and conferences to acquire new skills but many of the grants available to them previously have been withdrawn. I understand this issue forms part of the ongoing negotiations between the Department and the Irish Medical Organisation, which unfortunately are not making progress. The Minister should come to the House to set out his proposals for dealing with the issue of junior doctors over the next 12 months. Some 38% of doctors working here did not graduate in Ireland. We are losing a large number of good doctors to other jurisdictions and they will not return.We need to set out a clear path on how to deal with this issue. I ask that the Minister come into the House to set out how he proposes to deal with the exodus of so many graduates from the State, especially when one considers the €90 million per annum the State spends on medical education. Within a very short period of time some 50% to 60% of the money invested by us has disappeared out of the State. It is something we need to deal with. I wish to mention one other issue-----
With regard to the broadband issue, we are losing sight of an important point. The State has set out clear guidelines on planning applications for development; there must be access to roads, water and sewage services. We have not made it a planning condition that there must be access to broadband services and it is now a key ingredient in any housing development. It should now be part of the planning process.
I remind Senators that as second speakers they are entitled to two minutes in which time they can raise one item. This is clearly indicated in the Standing Orders but some Senators take advantage. I try to be fair to everyone.
I wish to speak on an issue which I previously raised in 2013 around the use of old telephone boxes as locations for defibrillators that would be easily identifiable in a town or a city. I want to congratulate the Heart of Killarney project which has actually reconstructed a telephone box and installed a defibrillator. It would be a really good idea to replicate this around the State. Unfortunately, since I raised this matter initially - and I had done quite a bit of work on the proposal at the time - many of the telephone boxes have been destroyed. Local authorities do not always know what to do with unused telephone boxes and this would be a really good use. They could be constructed at a relatively cheap cost. I am sure they would be easy to design and construct. It would mean there would be 24 hour access to a defibrillator by way of calling the emergency services so a person could be allowed access outside of nine to five hours. People might say that the place for the defibrillators is on GAA premises but they also need to be in other areas. It would be a really good idea and it is linked to the issue of technology and broadband which, I suppose, is part of the reason telephone boxes have become obsolete.
I join with Senators Rose Conway-Walsh, Colm Burke and Joe O'Reilly who raised the broadband issue. I was shocked to hear the statistics and the fact that there are some serious black spots around the State. Children in rural communities are being denied access to vital online mental health services and so on. I like Senator Burke's idea that broadband provision be included in planning permissions because it is a basic, fundamental necessity that we have broadband throughout the State. As Senator Joe O'Reilly has said, we need to get the matter to the top of the agenda.
I thank the 18 senators who made contributions to the Order of Business the afternoon. I will begin with Senator Ardagh's contribution on housing. All of us involved in politics recognise the importance of the Government's strategy around housing and the priority the Government has given to the issue of homelessness and getting people out of emergency shelters, especially young children and young families. The Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Coveney has been in the House repeatedly, and will be again tomorrow, to discuss expediting the infrastructure around housing supply. It is a legacy issue on which the Government is working but we all agree that the action plan for housing and homelessness has ambitious targets to deliver residential homes. We need to start building houses and we need to start creating supply. The Government has made a number of changes and they will be outlined again by the Minister in the House tomorrow. We must support him in that and acknowledge the work he has been doing as Minister with the action plan for housing.
Senators Boyhan and O'Mahony raised the Rugby World Cup. It is important to congratulate and salute the IRFU on this very ambitious bid to host the Rugby World Cup in 2023.It would be of huge economic importance to the country and a massive fillip to our tourism industry. It would certainly be of added importance to us in terms of our sporting prowess as a nation throughout the world. It will not be easy to secure the hosting of the Rugby World Cup. It will require all of us, if I may, to stand shoulder to shoulder, to unite both North and South and to bring together all sporting codes that have the capacity in terms of their stadia to host matches and to be part of the bid. I wish the IRFU well. The Taoiseach and many Ministers were at the launch this morning. We should all stand together to see this delivered. It is of absolutely importance for us. The hashtag #SupportTheBid has already been started. We should all support the bid.
Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh raised the issue of Harriett Bruce and her husband. I expect the Minister is aware of the facts. It is a matter for the Minister. The briefing this afternoon by Senator Ó Clochartaigh is welcome. Arising from it and his contribution today, the Minister could look at the case again.
Senators Frances Black, Niall Ó Donnghaile and Ivana Bacik raised the issue of Traveller ethnicity. The Minister of State, Deputy David Stanton, is committed to the implementation of the national Traveller and Roma inclusion strategy. This will be done on an interdepartmental basis and will encompass cultural identity, education and housing. The closing date for submissions on the strategy was 30 September. The Minister of State is committed to reverting to the House on the issue. I commend Senator Black on her work on Traveller ethnicity. We will have a further debate on it.
Senators Bacik and Rose Conway-Walsh raised the issue of domestic violence. This is a matter of huge concern. One in four women suffer physical domestic violence or abuse in the country and one in two are sexually harassed. Those figures are far too high. It is not acceptable. All of us involved in politics and civic life, along with different organisations, must work together to ensure we end this scourge in our society. I commend the SAFE Ireland conference that was attended by 35 global leaders yesterday. That it was so attended speaks volumes about the importance of the issue and the scourge that it is in society.
The Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, is committed to the domestic violence Bill, which, as she stated at the conference, will put domestic violence at the centre of our justice system. It is important to acknowledge that we can all play a role in ensuring we treat people with respect and that language does matter. Whether it is that of the President of the United States of America or that of a teenager in school, our language and behaviour is important. We must send a positive signal to women of all ages and young girls, in particular, that they are to be respected and can live their lives without fear of any type of abuse. This applies to everyone from the leader of the free world to the youngest person in our society.
Broadband was mentioned by Senators Robbie Gallagher, Rose Conway-Walsh, Joe Reilly, Gerry Horkan, Colm Burke and Catherine Noone. I agree fully with Senator Burke on the absolute importance of broadband to attracting and locating industry in rural Ireland. This should form part of planning criteria. Planning officials, in tandem with suppliers of broadband, should ensure that broadband is available to those in rural Ireland. Senator Horkan is correct that many of us in urban areas take it for granted. However, when we go beyond the Pale, as we did in the Seanad campaign, and visit other parts of the country, we see that telephone connectivity dips. This happens even on the Cork-Dublin motorway. The same applies to broadband.
The Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Denis Naughten, is committed to the national broadband strategy and to increasing the service to 1,000 Mbps per home and premises in rural Ireland. Its roll-out will begin shortly with the majority of it being done prior to 2018. It is important to recognise that there will be issues with regard to some of the more rural and isolated communities but there must be a process in which we can roll out broadband to the majority of the country. All of us agree that broadband is currently a missing part of the infrastructure that is necessary to attract people economically to locate in the country and to allow people to stay and live in their own communities.The Minister is committed to that. We have a national broadband strategy which the Minister is anxious to see introduced. The survey Senators mentioned was conducted over a 12-month period from July or August 2016. It shows improvements in broadband speeds and reflects investment by the telecoms industry in upgrading the network over the past four years. However, we all agree that there is a digital divide and there are certain parts of the country that cannot access high-speed broadband, which is unacceptable. The Minister and the Government are committed to incentivising and accelerating the use of broadband through the national broadband strategy and plan. I would be happy for the Minister to come before the House again to discuss the matter.
Senator Ruane raised the issue of drugs. I would be happy for the Minister of State, Deputy Byrne, to come before the House to discuss the issue.
Senator Harkin referred to the Islamic Cultural Centre and congratulated it on its anniversary. It is important that we build an inclusive society which respects people of all faiths and none. I very much welcome the celebration. I join with the Senator in congratulating Senator Feighan and his wife, Elaine, on the birth of Francesca.
Senators Mulherin and Ó Domhnaill referred to the commemoration day. I will not get into a war of words with Senator Ó Domhnaill because we can all remember the legacy of violence on our island. Many of us wish that blight had not affected the legacy that has been left by the Troubles. It would be disingenuous to do what he said in his remarks. Senators Mulherin and Butler referred specifically to the commemoration and remembrance day last Sunday. The men and women of our country fought and should be recognised. There is a national commemoration day in July, which we all attend. We are proud to support the men and women of our Defence Forces who represent us most admirably across the world in many troubled areas. It would be unfair and wrong to associate last Sunday with particular issues North and South. I understand the day is about the commemoration of those of Irish descent who served. I welcome that the Taoiseach laid a wreath at Enniskillen. Senator Mulherin's suggestion regarding centenary funding should be considered as a way to acknowledge those who have died from around the country.
Senator Devine raised the very important issue of climate change and referred to ice sculptures outside the Houses today. Unfortunately, I was not able to attend the briefing. The Minister of State, Deputy Naughten, will be in Morocco tomorrow to address the UN's COP22 meeting. He will reaffirm our position that we must, as a nation, individually and collectively, take responsibility for tackling climate change. We owe it to future generations to do so. Like Senator Devine, unlike some in the other House, I do not believe that this is an act of God. It is not. We all have a duty of care to the Earth and are stewards of its creation, and must make the Earth we inhabit better, not just for ourselves but for future generations. Tomorrow, the Minister of State will speak about our commitment to becoming a low-carbon economy and having a consultation process for a national plan to mitigate the effects of climate change, building on the Paris agreement from last year. It is important that we put that on the agenda and I am happy for the Minister of State to come before the House, following his visit to Marrakesh, to have a debate.
Senator Mullen referred to non-union members. It is predominantly a matter for the Minister for Education and Skills. At the risk of upsetting the Senator, perhaps he could table a Commencement matter. As a former active member of the ASTI, I suggest that the teachers involved might be able to sign the agreement with the Department separately if that is their desire. We all have to incur the wrath of FEMPI. If he is willing to provide more information, I would be happy to revert to the Minister.
Senator Burke referred to junior doctors. He has been a stalwart in championing their plight. I hope junior doctors who, through the IMO, are party to the Haddington Road and Lansdowne Road agreements will reflect on that.The Government is committed to engaging with the INMO on matters regarding junior doctors. I am a former chairperson of the health committee and we were very proactive in commissioning a report on the working conditions of junior doctors and the relevant European directive. They are a pivotal part of our health system and they should not be disrespected or undermined in any way. The living out allowance is under consideration and should be considered in the context of a public sector agreement on pay. I certainly hope the INMO will engage in further talks with the Department.
Senator Noone raised an important issue concerning a defibrillator being made available in many parts of the country and I share her view. I welcome her suggestion that old telephone kiosks be used and we could take this up with the relevant Ministers and Departments. I will convey to Senator Coghlan her congratulations on the Heart of Killarney project. I am sure he will be delighted that Senator Noone mentioned Killarney on the Order of Business today.
I thank the Cathaoirleach for the role he has played in the relocation of the Seanad. I know he said he would not hold a debate on it but I thank him for the role he has played in shepherding us from this Chamber to the Ceramics Room in the National Museum. He is right that work on this Chamber is essential. We will be welcome tenants on a temporary basis. I hate the use of the term "temporary arrangement" but we have to move and we are conscious that we are using the workspace of the people in the National Museum. I acknowledge the huge amount of work by all sides in this House, and particularly by the Cathaoirleach. He has facilitated a briefing tomorrow and it is important we recognise that there are needs on both sides of the compound. The idea of a forum established by the Ceann Comhairle is one we should all welcome.