Wednesday, 23 November 2016
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, Planning and Development (Housing) and Residential Tenancies Bill 2016 - Committee Stage, to be taken at 12.45 p.m., to adjourn at 4 p.m. and, if not previously concluded, to be resumed on conclusion of No. 2 and adjourned no later than 9 p.m.; and No. 2, Private Members Business - Micro Plastic and Micro-bead Pollution Prevention Bill 2016 - Second Stage, to be taken at 4.30 p.m. with the time allocated not to exceed two hours.
I recently read that, following a year-long campaign, Trinity College Dublin is set to divest the €6.1 million it has indirectly invested in fossil fuel companies. Fossil Free TCD has been lobbying and campaigning very diligently on this issue for many months, with the culmination this week of a commitment to divest. I believe the students should be applauded on their resilience and commitment to the cause. I know that Senator Ruane, when president of TCD Students' Union, campaigned and lobbied for the same result. Trinity also has endowments in various other sin stocks, such as arms and tobacco companies, which in recent years students have taken issue with. They feel that these investments contrast with the university's vision. I too feel that the investments made by the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund, ISIF, using taxpayers' money are out of line with the vision we have for a tobacco-free Ireland by 2025. This is an issue I have raised before and will continue to raise. In the words of Professor Luke Clancy, it is unconscionable.
Since I first brought this issue to the House on 19 October, 500 people will have died from smoking-related illnesses. If that does not portray the urgency of this issue, I have no idea what does. In response to a parliamentary question I submitted through Deputy Jack Chambers, the Minister for State, Deputy Marcella Corcoran Kennedy, said that she would, in consultation with her colleague, the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, express concerns to the Minister for Finance about the appropriateness of these investments in tobacco companies in the context of the review of the investment strategy and exclusion policy. I have brought a Commencement debate to this House. I have written to the Ministers, Deputies Donohoe and Noonan, asking them to beseech the ISIF to divest immediately from these holdings and I have also written to the CEO of the National Treasury Management Agency, NTMA. To date, I have received no substantial response. I repeat that 500 people will have died from tobacco-related diseases in the last month.
Later today, I will meet representatives from ASH Ireland, the Irish Heart Foundation, the Irish Cancer Society, the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland and the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland to seek joint collaboration to bring an end to this hypocrisy. I also have a motion before this House proposing that Seanad Éireann calls on the Minister for Finance to bring to an immediate end the investment of taxpayers' money by the NTMA and ISIF in the three separate tobacco companies in which they have equity holdings. Based on the lack of response and urgency from the Government, I have been consulting with a number of party colleagues and have legislation prepared which would prohibit the investment of any taxpayers' funds in tobacco companies and seek the immediate divestment of any funds currently invested. This legislation is currently with the Bills Office and I expect it to be published in the coming days. I put the Leader on notice that I will be calling for the support of my colleagues in this House to ensure this legislation is successful. I look forward to debating the public health (prohibition of tobacco investments) Bill 2016 in the near future.
I believe we need to invite the Minister for Health to come before the Seanad to debate the regulation of crisis pregnancy services. The Second Stage of the Labour Party's Private Members' Bill on this issue, which enjoys Government backing, was debated in the Dáil last week. In principle, I wholeheartedly support the idea of regulating counselling services in this area. However, in the Dáil last week, the Minister, Deputy Harris, kept referencing an anti-abortion counselling agency that featured in a recent newspaper exposé. However, he chose not to mention the well-documented illegal and life-endangering counselling practices at State-funded clinics run by abortion-campaigning group, the Irish Family Planning Association, IFPA.
The Minister, Deputy Harris, knows well that IFPA counsellors were caught on tape telling women to lie to their doctors to say they had a miscarriage and not an abortion where complications might arise after their abortions. That was the advice that a master of a Dublin maternity hospital said would put women's lives at risk. The Minister, Deputy Harris, also knows that IFPA counsellors were caught on tape coaching women on how to illegally import abortion pills to self-administer without medical supervision. These are just two of many abuses unearthed at IFPA centres.
It beggars belief that the Minister for Health would not condemn what went on there. Such double standards are breathtaking. In the Dáil last week, Deputy Joan Burton even thanked the IFPA for its assistance in drafting the Labour Party Bill. This is banana republic territory. A whistleblower from that IFPA investigation contacted me this week to say that she was sickened after watching last week's Dáil debate. She described it as a slap in the face to the many women who suffer in silence with life-long regrets as a result of bad advice they received at the hands of the IFPA and others. I also believe there is no excusing the dismissive attitude of the Minister, Deputy Harris, in the Dáil last week when Deputies Mattie McGrath and Michael Collins raised legitimate and well-researched concerns.We could also talk about the IFPA receiving six-figure sums from George Soros's Open Society Foundations to promote abortion in Ireland. We could discuss how we feel about large international foundations funding and directing abortion campaigning in Ireland. For now, I call on the Minister for Health, Deputy Simon Harris, to meet the whistleblowers who exposed the IFPA wrongdoing. It is the very least he could do, particularly after last week's Dáil performance. I propose we invite the Minister to come here and debate the issue as a matter of urgency.
Yesterday, I referred to my colleague, Máirtín Ó Muilleoir, who announced a ministerial plan to reform the rates system in the Six Counties. His reform package includes a recognition that small businesses that have not thrived under the previous rates system are in need of assistance. Provincial towns that have not yet benefitted have been mentioned as the areas that will receive rates relief. Recently, I called for a review of rates to be carried out for businesses in the South, mostly in rural Ireland, which are plagued by poor or non-existent broadband connections and basic telecommunications systems, as well as other vital infrastructure including flood protection. The disadvantage placed on these businesses must be taken into account and it is unfair to expect them to pay the same as those receiving functioning, reliable broadband services and proper infrastructure.
I acknowledge the forensic work by my colleague, Deputy Pearse Doherty, on the recent Finance Bill. An amendment to the Finance Act will severely limit the abuse of tax breaks for non-resident vulture funds. The use of Irish collective asset management vehicles to hold money for five years and thus avoid paying taxes on disposal gains has been practised by a number of individuals. When it was highlighted on Committee Stage, the Minister of State at the Department of Finance agreed to introduce an amendment. I highlight these two cases as examples of Sinn Féin's commitment to island-wide economic equality. While there are two separate Administrations, some of the most effective measures have come from co-operation in the North-South institutions and between individual Ministers. An example is the growth in the agrifood sector. One can only imagine the benefits that would come from an all-island approach to some of the biggest economic challenges facing families and businesses across the country. Again, I urge fellow Senators to read the excellent report on modelling Irish reunification, by Professor Kurt Hübner. If the Leader has not seen it, I will lend him a copy. It is an excellent document that needs to be discussed in the House, with the Minister present to facilitate the debate.
I was disgusted and furious yesterday at 5.30 p.m. to receive a notice from the office of the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Simon Coveney, saying Seanad Éireann declines to give the Micro-plastic and Micro-bead Pollution Prevention Bill a Second Reading. I am disgusted because it is undemocratic. Several weeks ago, I brought the Bill to the House. I first informed the House. The Bill was prepared and ready. There have been many weeks during which the Minister or the Department could have consulted with me or my team to discuss the Bill if there were shortcomings. It is an issue of marine pollution. Other countries such as the UK, the Netherlands and Italy are already working on similar Bills. The Minister said my Bill is breaching Articles 34 and 35 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. Based on the precautionary principle, Article 36, it is fine. It is a simple Bill, designed to pass through the House. It is relatively straightforward. The Minister said he would do the be all and end all for the marine environment and fisheries. He has not. He has had years. He now is responsible for a housing crisis, which he is not managing. He certainly is not managing my Bill because at 5.30 p.m. on the day before the Bill was to be debated, he informed me that he wanted the Bill killed.
There is something with the Bill. It is poor management, untimely and unacceptable. I move for a suspension of the sitting under Standing Order 25 to allow for the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Simon Coveney, to attend the House to explain why the Government has moved an amendment to block the Second Reading of the Micro-plastic and Micro-bead Pollution Prevention Bill. Further, I urge the Government to withdraw the amendment in order to allow the debate to go ahead.
To allow for the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Simon Coveney, to attend the House to explain to me why the Government has moved an amendment to block the Second Reading of the Bill.
To be helpful, the Senator may not understand. The two-hour debate will go ahead. The Government has an amendment to her Bill and there will be an opportunity during that two hours for the Senator to make her point to the Minister here. There is no need for an amendment to the Order of Business.
The motion will be debated before the House. I talked to the Minister this morning. He is prepared to speak to the Senator before the debate. I will explain in my response to the Order of Business. The motion is being put to the House. There is no attempt on the part of the House to deprive the Senator of the opportunity to debate the motion, and we are happy to do it. I will talk to the Senator further.
While I am not suspicious by nature and I do not buy into these theories, I sense the dark hand of Fianna Fáil and Deputy Timmy Dooley in the amendment to the Bill. Fianna Fáil has requested its senior member in the coalition to ensure the Senator's Bill be killed off in order to allow Fianna Fáil to come forward ahead of it. If Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are a coalition, they should stop playing games. They operate together. They vote together. Fianna Fáil Members sit there and wait to see which way each vote will go.
To accuse Fianna Fáil of being in conspiracy with Fine Gael and to accuse a Member of the Lower House and of my party of being in conspiracy, and some sort of a conspiracy being brought into this House, will not be stood for by my party, and I want Senator Humphreys to withdraw it.
I know well the anger of many Senators about the late election and the cloak and dagger politics that went on during that period. I can understand Senator Wilson's annoyance. I would say the bed was warm for Fianna Fáil Members when they got in there. They have made a right mess of it since they got there.
Out of respect to the Leas-Chathaoirleach, I know it is difficult. It always has been difficult to control Fianna Fáil when it was crashing this economy and causing over 15% unemployment, but I can understand Senator Wilson's annoyance. I am glad we will have a full debate-----
Senator O'Sullivan explained it as a simple Bill. It is an important Bill. Yesterday, Senator Noone raised the issue of the housing crisis. The Bill is being debated at present. There are a couple of matters that are not being addressed in the Bill and I would ask the Leader to respond.
I refer to the effect that Airbnb is having on the rental sector, especially in urban areas. We have lost 2,500 units that were in the rental market. These have now moved into Airbnb. I allowed to raise two points and I was so rudely interrupted by Fianna Fáil.
I have two points, one of which is on the effect Airbnb is having on the rental market within Dublin city. Also, I very much would appreciate it at some stage if we could have the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, into the House to discuss the property tax.
I will attempt to be as brief as possible. In this post-Brexit world, we are looking constantly for opportunities for the Irish economy to make the most of a bad situation to attract investment and workers to the country. One area that a number of companies and employees are looking at is the education sector. This morning I call on the Leader to bring in the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Bruton, to have a discussion on the feasibility of introducing the International Baccalaureate examination to the Irish education system. At present, there is only one secondary school, a private secondary school in Dublin, that offers the International Baccalaureate at second level. There are two smaller ones at primary level. It is increasingly becoming an issue with large multinationals and Irish companies that require a multinational workforce that they are not able to identify appropriate educational needs for the families of workers moving to Dublin. I would ask the Leader to call in the Minister to discuss that.
I request the Leader of the House, Senator Buttimer, to arrange a debate on consumer rights and the question of rip-off Ireland. I note that Fine Gael has dropped that from its website. It used to have a campaign one time, when we were in power, called rip-off Ireland. It suddenly disappeared from the Fine Gael website, probably never to be reconsidered.
I would like to examine the issue of people being ripped-off. I will reintroduce a campaign, which I launched in the House previously and called Name and Shame - we have that privilege in this House - to be a consumer watchdog. I bring to the Leader's attention that people ring 11811 for directory enquiries. The charge is €2.74 for that call, but Pure Telecom, an Irish company with two directors whom I will not name and which was ripping me off, is charging €5.50 for that privilege. That is a rip-off. That is a 100% increase. I am saying to consumers, "Beware of Greeks bearing gifts." Pure Telecom representatives rang me and, in my innocence, I changed from Eir to that company.
I am trying to do both at the same time. I got that cold call. I thought it was a great offer but they did not tell me what was between the lines and that I would be charged €5.50 for one call to 11811. I am saying to consumers to be wary of such cold calls coming in and making the subscriber an offer to change electricity provider, telephone provide or buy this or that. There is something wrong. I will use this House, as long as I am a Member, to expose such matters.
I also appeal to RTE broadcasters to refrain from promoting shopping north of the Border. They should remember who is paying the licence fee. We south of the Border pay €160 per year for that honour. These great offers north of the Border are a myth in most cases but those going up there think otherwise. They should also check their insurance cover that they are insured to drive north of the Border because, whether we like it or not, they are leaving the State. I do not like it but they are technically, from an insurance point of view, leaving it.
These are the kinds of issues I will bring to the attention of consumers. The Consumer Association of Ireland and the National Consumer Agency should wake up. They are not doing the job they were set up to do. We have to do their job now in this House. I will continue to do so, now that Fine Gael has decided to drop the rip-off Ireland campaign.
New politics is alive and well in the Seanad this morning. It is great to hear about people jumping in and out of bed and various other matters. I am delighted that Fianna Fáil Members found a warm bed when they arrived after the Labour Party, even if they did have to change the sheets.
It is despicable that somebody has tried to steal the Green Party's clothes on the issue of that party's Bill. The Green Party is part of the rise of change in Ireland and it is despicable to try to scuttle the Bill at the 11th hour in order that somebody else can take it.
My colleague, Senator Gallagher, mentioned the genderisation of education and the failure of the education system to attract a significant number of men. Anybody who works or has worked in the education area, as the Leader has, cannot but be aware of the fact that fewer men are coming into it. I attended a meeting of men called Men's Voices. I am not 100% behind any particular pressure group, but one issue that was raised which has merit was the establishment of a men's council of Ireland. It would include organisations such as the White Ribbon and Men's Sheds. It has merit in so far as it should be possible to establish such a council and ensure it gets funding from the State. I would ask the Leader to consider that and maybe discuss it with the relevant Minister to see if it has some traction within the Department. Last year, Senator Paul Coghlan, now the Leas-Chathaoirleach, delivered an excellent report in the previous Seanad on cross-Border smuggling. An area that we seem to neglect or ignore, probably because it does not rise on our trajectory very often, is the role played by customs personnel. Members of this House should congratulate them. They put themselves in more risk than personnel in any of the other services because the type of people they deal with, the criminals the Leas-Chathaoirleach pointed out last year, are very dangerous. The customs men and women fearlessly go about the country seizing illicit cigarettes, fuel and alcohol, and they do that for the State. They deserve our congratulations and support.
I welcome the statement by some of the major employers in Limerick and the mid-west region that they have no intention of pulling out of the mid-west region. Most of them are American-based companies about which there has been a good deal of scaremongering. However, the heads of companies such as Cook Medical, Uber and Northern Trust came out yesterday to state they are delighted they employ up to 9,000 people in Limerick and almost 8,000 in the Clare area around the Shannon free zone. It is a positive move that the heads of those companies have stated they are delighted to stay in Ireland and have no intention of relocating anywhere else. The head of Dell EMC, which is based in Dublin and Cork, has said that the company has been committed to Ireland for 30 years. It, too, has pledged its support for remaining in Ireland. Most of these companies said that they are looking at the skills set available on their doorstep and that they need access to Europe. I want to allay the fears of people who were afraid these companies would pull out of the region because they are major employers. I congratulate the heads of these companies on coming out with such a statement.
I raise the issue of Lough Foyle. The Leas-Chathaoirleach may know that last week in Britain, in response to a parliamentary question, the British Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, James Brokenshire, asserted that the whole of Lough Foyle is within the United Kingdom. That is an arrogant and provocative statement that the Irish Government has contested. We know that Lough Foyle has been disputed for many years. We also know that the Loughs Agency responsible for administering Lough Foyle and Carlingford Lough under the Good Friday Agreement has repeatedly called for this dispute to be resolved.
What is the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade going to do about this matter? A report in one of today's newspapers refers to a charter from 1662. That is the basis on which the British Government claims Lough Foyle. A lot has happened since 1662. The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Charles Flanagan, should come into the House and reassure the communities around Lough Foyle that those waters will be shared to the benefit of all to ensure their fisheries and tourism potential is fully realised. I ask for a firm rebuttal of the comments of the Secretary of State, James Brokenshire, and a firm statement that we are moving forward working together on this island. As for those who want to pander to the Brexiteers and those who want to refer to a charter from 1662 and to live in the past, that is their business. However, we need the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade to assert Irish interests and make it clear that whatever they are doing about Brexit, they will not destroy the livelihood of fishermen and tourism interests in the north west of Ireland.
I want to highlight a number of issues. Last week, I spoke about the lobbying that took place on the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill. I am still frustrated about that and want to highlight it. As I find it very difficult to bring in family members to talk to all Deputies and Senators about the impact of alcohol misuse on their families, I have decided to hold a briefing today to which I hope all the Members here will come and listen to these people, who have been impacted by alcohol misuse, the culture around alcohol and the devastation it causes. I encourage every Senator to attend. When representatives of RGDATA were in here they were able to take photographs in the briefing room but we are not even allowed take photographs of the people who will speak today. That is terrible. We have to go outside the gates. There is something not right with that picture. I do not know why that is the case.
As someone who has been in this House for more than five years, I would say to my colleagues that they should not be disappointed about the way Departments react to Private Members' Bills. To get the Department to agree that the Minister would come into the House to discuss the Bill I had before it two weeks ago, I had to agree that I would not refer the Bill on to Committee Stage. Members should not be disappointed. Unfortunately, there is a tendency in Ireland to ensure that if a Bill does not come from a Department but is a Private Members' Bill, it goes no further. One must work at it. I published the Bill I had before the House for discussion two weeks ago in 2014 and for two years, I could not get a Minister to come into the House to debate it. I do not care what the Department says on it. There is resistance when a Bill does not come from a Department. We should be honest about those matters. Members have to continue to fight for that because if they believe firmly in a Bill, which I know is the case with Senator O'Sullivan, they have to keep lobbying, fighting and working with their colleagues to make sure they get the necessary support to bring about change. It is part of the system we have to live with. We might not like it but, unfortunately, that is how I have seen it happen in the past five years. Perhaps that is something we should seek to change so that we can take on board the views of people with expertise in particular areas. The best example was the committee set up to do a ten-year strategy for health. There was resistance to having Members of this House on that committee.
I want to raise one or two more issues. The first concerns the banking sector. Reports in today's newspapers-----
It is about banks that want to come into Ireland. There appears to be some resistance from the banking sector here to banks based outside Ireland coming in here. If that story is true, and I am extremely concerned about it, the Minister for Finance should come into the House to clarify that there is not resistance to those jobs being created here. There would be a huge spin-off from the point of view of the economy and it is something we need to develop. I did a calculation on the number of jobs created since 2012 and in the past four years, 199,000 new jobs were created. We should keep that going, and the banking sector can play a part in doing that. We should have the Minister in the House to give full clarification on the issue.
I raise the issue of the scourge of online gambling addiction. People in Ireland spend over €5 billion a year on gambling.This figure is not verified but that is the minimum figure the experts quote.
Heretofore gambling problems were noticed by friends, other users of bookmakers or even bookmakers or cashiers living in their communities but this model no longer exists. We are facing an online gambling problem of epidemic proportions. It is estimated, through research in other countries because there is not much here, that 10% of all gamblers have full-blown gambling addictions.
Any family that has suffered as a result of gambling addiction is all too aware of its traits: depression, serial deception, cheating, theft, financial destruction, broken homes, lost friends and often suicide. Adolescent years have been proved to be formative years and problems, particularly pathological ones, develop during these years. I call on the Minister to address the House and explain why the gambling control Bill was never enacted.
There has been a lot of work done on it. Since then bookmakers’ hours have increased. They can open from 7 a.m. until 10 p.m. The Betting (Amendment) Act 2015 was brought in to assist in the provision of licences for online gambling firms. This is a serious issue. It is getting out of control in Ireland and the Minister should address Members and bring forward this Bill as soon as possible.
I am requesting the Leader to invite to the House the Minister of State at the Department of Defence, Deputy Kehoe, in his capacity as chairman of the Government task force on emergency planning. The "Be Winter-Ready" campaign for 2016-17 was launched recently and he might update Members on plans to tackle issues such as flooding and severe cold weather, particularly on salt stocks, grit, pumps and the early warning systems. He could update us too on the reporting and preparations local authorities are undertaking and how they are measured by the Government task force, and could indicate where people can contact local services if an emergency arises from the extremes of the winter weather.
I note that Ger Fleming of Met Éireann is not very pessimistic about the long-range forecast but he stated that it can be accurate only for two to three weeks. I think we must be ready. I come from an area where people have had to deal with floods many times in recent years and would like to think we have in place an early warning system and that we are as ready as we can be to protect people’s homes and businesses.
Ba mhaith liom ábhar an athmhuintearais a lua ar maidin. This morning in Clifton House in Belfast Sinn Féin launched a comprehensive discussion document entitled "Uncomfortable Conversations". Its focus is on the process of reconciliation across the island. It is ironic to be talking about this, given some of the exchanges this morning. We could all do with a degree of reconciliation now and again. Almost 20 years after the Good Friday Agreement, the process of peace and reconciliation cannot ever be taken for granted. It can never be allowed to remain stagnant or static. We must always be very conscious of the need to reassess, reinvigorate and re-energise that process. We have made monumental change. The next step on that journey, as widely acknowledged, particularly but not exclusively in the North, has to be the national dialogue around reconciliation.
We have had a national dialogue and will have more on Brexit. It is important. There have been calls in this Chamber and others for a dialogue about preparations for Irish reunification. In parallel with those discussions we need to have a conversation about respect, equality and embracing and cherishing one other’s views, perspectives, cultures, languages and practices. In the North, there is an acute sense that political Unionism has failed to step up to the mark in respect of its responsibilities to the equality agenda, to respecting a sense of Irishness and Irish identity, the Irish language, as well as expressions of our culture and national identity. As part of a process of nation building we have to have that process of national reconciliation. I am very proud of the role that republican leaders, particularly Martin McGuinness in recent years, have played in that process. It cannot happen in isolation and we should not allow it to happen in isolation. We all have a role to play. If the conflict affected all our lives and history across this island, so too must the process of reconciliation. I hope this Chamber can help to facilitate and convene some of that dialogue.
Will the Leader invite the Minister for Health to the House to debate or listen to suggestions from Senators as to how we might tackle the problem of people on trolleys in the accident and emergency departments? There is a lot of talk about people on trolleys in hospitals and of needless admissions to hospitals. We all know of occasions where elderly people presenting with needs such as intravenous medication are transferred to hospital from their homes or from nursing homes. They must go in to the hospital through the accident and emergency department. If there was a consultant-led, community geriatrician team many of these elderly people could be assessed and treated in the nursing home or their own homes.
At Christmas 2015 I went to Mullingar hospital where there were 20 people on trolleys, 16 of whom were elderly and most of them needed to be rehydrated because they were ill. They had been in nursing homes but there was nobody there who was trained to put up a drip to hydrate them. If there was a community-based team with a consultant and nurse that could be done within the person’s home or the nursing home and would save much hardship. Thankfully, this morning there is nobody on a trolley in Mullingar hospital. This could help to reduce overcrowding in the accident and emergency departments in hospitals such as Mullingar on a bad day. Just as important, it would also preserve the dignity of older people and save their families the stress of a hospital admission. Others here have suggestions and I have asked for this over the past 18 months and was told it would happen as a pilot scheme and I do not think it has. If it has, I cannot seem to find it.
I will not go into detail about my colleague’s motion today because we will have an opportunity to debate it this afternoon. This practice of putting forward a last-minute amendment is very unfortunate and does not help democracy. There is an irony in the legal concerns being produced at the 11th hour in this regard. If the Government has such strong concerns about the fundamental treaties for the functioning of the European Union I expect it will also urge its Members of the European Parliament to support the proposal going before the European Parliament today that the investor court system be referred to the European Court of Justice. A serious concern has been expressed in this House about legal issues in respect of the Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement, CETA, between Europe and Canada, the key focus of which was on investor courts and their operations.Investor courts have now been identified as potentially violating fundamental European founding documents. There have been strong calls for their reference to the European Court of Justice. If there is such a desire for consistency with treaties, I would expect that not only the Government parties, but all parties here in the House who have representatives in the European Parliament, and I know some do, will take action to ensure that investor courts, as a stand-alone element, are challenged. The investor courts have poisoned our trade policy across Europe and led to our lack of success in numerous trade agreements. We must, therefore, consider whether to proceed with them. We must proceed with a positive constructive trade policy that focuses on appropriate areas of tariff and an exchange of goods. Unfortunately, there is no hope of that because yesterday the European Parliament voted against debating this issue.
I apologise to the Leas-Chathaoirleach but I need to underscore the following point. All of this has happened at a time when democracy must be re-enforced and when everyone acknowledges that the European project is under threat. Those of us who are passionate about the European project and democracy must assert and show the citizens of Europe that checks and balances are in place and that we take our role seriously. The Government chose to ignore the democratic decision of the Seanad. The Government must now not bypass the proper democratic and legal process at European Union level. These decisions are political and responsibility must be taken.
I support Senator Davitt's comments about online gambling and his call for a debate. The previous Leader of the House did a lot of work on this area. Everyone knows that online gambling is a big problem. Gambling is hard to detect and online gambling is even harder to detect. As we all know, gambling destroys families. Experts say that gambling is the worst addiction due to it being undetectable. A debate on the matter is welcome.
I note with interest and welcome the fact that the Central Bank will announce the outcome of its review on mortgage rules this afternoon. The existing restrictions set limits on how much home buyers can borrow in respect of their income and the size of deposits. I agree that we must do all in our power to prevent the irresponsible overheating of the housing market again. However, the lack of available houses and soaring rents in the past two years means many couples dream of owning a home has fallen between two stools. Senator Humphreys mentioned this issue this morning but I have touched on it too as these matters are connected. I suggest we discuss the matter with the Minister when he attends for a debate.
I commend Senator Davitt on raising the important issue of online gambling. I also support the comments that Senator Higgins made about CETA.
Today, I wish to raise the issue of Palestine. As the Leader will be aware, there was a vote in the Dáil and the Seanad to recognise the state of Palestine two years ago. Indeed, a commitment to recognise the state is contained in the programme for Government, yet any time my party leader or others bring up the issue, we are fobbed off by the Taoiseach. I ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade to come to the House to debate the matter.
I recognise and acknowledge that there are people across the Chamber who feel strongly about Palestine and support the Palestinian people. I ask my colleagues in Fine Gael who feel strongly about the issue to raise it within their parliamentary Oireachtas team. There is no need for legislation to be enacted in order to recognise the state of Palestine. We simply need the Taoiseach to stand up and say that this State recognises the state of Palestine.
I remind Senators that the situation in Palestine gets worse by the day. We met an impressive group of people from the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel a fortnight ago. They described the demolition of 252 Palestinian homes this year to date, which made 1,100 people homeless, including 500 children. We know that the Israeli authorities are increasingly refusing to allow people into the West Bank or Gaza because they are afraid of what people might say when they return home, thus exposing the horrific nature of the apartheid state in Israel.
I appeal to the Leader, hopefully on behalf of a number of Senators in this Chamber, to please talk to the Taoiseach about recognising the state of Palestine. The people of Palestine should not have to wait another day for this State to recognise the state of Palestine. The programme for Government contains a commitment to doing so. Let us work on this together and ensure we make progress.
I dtosach, ba mhaith liom mo chomhbhrón a chur in iúl do mhuintir agus do chlann Phádraig Ó Méalóid, a bhásaigh roinnt laethanta ó shin. Bheadh aithne mhaith ag daoine ar Phádraig mar chraoltóir agus iriseoir. Fear álainn den scoth a bhí ann. Suaimhneas síoraí dó siúd.
I am concerned about the time available to debate the Planning and Development (Housing) and Residential Tenancies Bill. The Leader is optimistic about debating Report Stage tomorrow but my experience of these Houses has taught me that the Bill will-----
I thank the Leader for clarifying the matter.
I have called for a debate on rural issues on numerous occasions. We have had some interesting discussions at the Joint Committee on Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs about the depopulation of rural areas, particularly peripheral areas. We have called for the debate in the South on numerous occasions. The Leader has said that he wants the debate and will arrange it. Will the debate take place this side of Christmas?
We also need a debate on the issues that affect the Irish diaspora this side of Christmas. The Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Joe McHugh, visited the United States recently and spoke to people there. In the aftermath of the US presidential election, I have been contacted by many documented and undocumented people who live in the United States but are concerned about their situations. It is important to find out what the Irish Government will do to support them. The Irish diaspora will also be affected by the Government's decision to row back on its promise to introduce presidential voting rights during its lifetime.
I support Senator Black's comments about families who suffer as a result of a family member abusing alcohol. The Senator is right to raise this important issue and it should be included in the dialogue on the legislation she mentioned. I commend her on arranging a presentation on the matter. Unfortunately, I cannot attend because I must attend the debate on housing legislation in the House later in the afternoon.
I want to ask the Leader about No. 9 of the non-governmental motions. I refer to the short motion that deals with the situation where the Bank of Ireland unilaterally withdrew facilities from the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign. The motion states: "That Seanad Éireann strongly condemns the Bank of Ireland for its arbitrary and undemocratic decision to close the accounts of the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign and requests that they immediately reverse this decision.”
When I raised this matter first, there was pretty unanimous agreement throughout the House. My understanding was that the Leader had indicated that he would make Government time available. I am not sure if there has been a row back and I hope not. I am sure that the Leader's good feelings and decency would indicate that we will debate the motion. When it is envisaged that the motion will be debated? Is it envisaged that is will be dealt with during Government time? Will it be possible to debate it before Christmas?
I thank the 21 Senators who raised matters on the Order of Business.
I join Senator Ó Clochartaigh in paying tribute to the late Pádraig Ó Méalóid. He was a wonderful orator on television in his presentation of the news trí Ghaeilge. We extend our deepest sympathies to his family. Last night, I was shocked to hear news of his death. Many of us grew up listening to him and at his peak he was the Ghaeilge voice of the news. I pay tribute to his family and to him on our behalf. He was a very pleasant and presentable face of the Irish language in conveying the news. I was very upset last night to hear news of his death because I am of an age where people remember him fondly. I thank the Senator for raising the matter this morning.
Senator Swanick raised the important matter of divesting shares and stocks in tobacco companies. He is right that we should consider doing so as a State, particularly as we move towards a tobacco-free Ireland. I commend him on his work on the issue. Smoking kills and there has been a raft of legislation to curb tobacco usage in terms of public health.We need to look at how we can divest immediately from this source of income being accrued to the State. I do not know about the Government but I am happy to personally support any Bill the Senator brings forward because it is one we need to look at. The Senator is right.
Senator Mullen raised the issue of counselling services. He raised a very important point. Accurate information should be provided - in the case the Senator raised - to women no matter what their ideology is. The Minister has a very balanced view on it. He is very clear. If the Senator reads the transcript of the Minister's remarks it is about having factual and accurate information on women's health. The Government is looking at the issue of regulation and it is important we look at the whole issue of regulation of counselling and psychotherapy. At the moment, one can do a weekend course, put up a plaque, advertise to give a course no matter what the area is, and can give information to people which will affect their mental health and which will affect them in a variety of ways. If we are genuinely interested in the provision of accurate information whether it is on women's health or mental health, there needs to be regulation. It is important that it is done. The Senator raised the issue of money and I do not want to have a row with him but the pro-life campaign is well able to get money from abroad and bring in people from outside.
I did say to Senator Mullen in my reply that I did not want to have a row with him. In reply to the Order of Business, there were Members of the previous Dáil and Seanad brought to the United States of America prior to the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill, paid for by members-----
Senator Conway-Walsh raised the issue of the report. I did not get the name of the report and I apologise to her for that but I would be happy to have the Minister come to the House to discuss the issue she raised.
Senators O'Sullivan, Humphreys and Higgins raised the issue of the Bill.I have spoken to the Minister. To be fair to the Minister, he is willing to engage with Senator O'Sullivan on the Bill. The Minister is not, in principle, disagreeing with what the Senator wants to achieve through her Bill. He said that the Bill as it is presently presented will present complications and it cannot enact what is-----
It cannot achieve what the Senator is trying to achieve. He is very happy to start the process, to speak with and meet the Senator in regard to that. I remind Members it is the prerogative of Government to accept or reject Private Members' Bills. As Senator Burke rightly said, it happens to Government Members as well as Opposition Members. Equally, there is an obligation on Members of the House not to oppose Government at every opportunity which some Senators in here do the whole time. If we want to talk about new politics, then let us look at how we can work together on some occasions in regard to Bills.
Senator Humphreys raised the issue of dark hands in the Bill. The cynical, dark side of Senator Humphreys is beginning to come out. There are no games being played in regard to this Private Members' Bill because the Minister, Deputy Coveney, is more than willing, as he has demonstrated in the past, to work with Senators on different legislation and to come to the House. The game is being played by Senator Humphreys and he is playing to his own gallery.
The issue of Airbnb is a very important one that was rightly addressed. The Minister, Deputy Noonan, has been dealing with that issue. Senator Noone raised the issue yesterday in terms of housing and the critical need to increase supply in the private rented sector and in public housing. I will have the Minister come to the House on that issue.
Senator Richmond raised the issue of the international baccalaureate post-Brexit. I would be happy to have the Minister, Deputy Bruton, come to the House. The Senator has raised a very important point on that.
Senator Leyden, in his dynamic and unique style, raised the issue of rip-off Ireland. I assure him from a Government perspective, the Government is trying to reduce costs to the consumer. We are very mindful of the fact we are the custodians of the people while in Government. In terms of rip-off Ireland, the points the Senator makes are best taken up by the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission. The two bodies were amalgamated under the previous Government. The points the Senator makes are very important. The consumer should read the small print because sometimes when the doorbell rings and a person is asked to switch energy providers, which is just one example, the small print catches them out. He raised two issues in regard to the telecoms industry. The charges are exorbitant. I would be happy to have the Minister, Deputy Mitchell O'Connor, come to the House. I am not quite sure what the Senator meant about RTE promoting North of the Border sales. Advertising is a source of income for the national broadcaster. The point he makes is worth looking at again.
Senator Craughwell raised a number of issues. I would be happy to work with him on the issues he raised. The important point from Senator Craughwell's point of view is that cross-Border smuggling is an ongoing issue. I commend the Leas-Chathaoirleach in his previous role as rapporteur of the report on that issue.The Government, through the Garda, Defence Forces and Customs and Excise, has been very vigilant on it, particularly around the North-South axis of the Border but equally on our coastline. We must be very vigilant and keep on top of it. I am happy the companies Senator Maria Byrne referenced have committed to staying in Ireland.
Senator Pádraig Mac Lochlainn raised the contentious issue of Lough Foyle. I share his view. At the recent North-South Ministerial Council meeting in Armagh, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Charles Flanagan, was very clear that he did not accept the British claim and wants the matter to be resolved. The Minister is on record as saying it at the meeting. The view of many of us in this part of the country is that there should be no hard border on land and no border at sea. I have always had the view that we have a part of the Lough Foyle jurisdiction and I see no reason it should be changed. If the Senator wants to raise it on the Commencement debate, he may.
Senator Frances Black raised the issue of lobbying. I commend the Senator on her very proactive work on alcohol. We need to be very strong on it. As part of our society and community, people are entitled to lobby. Every day, we are lobbied about legislation and issues. It is a question of how one differentiates between different types of lobbying. This is why the Regulation of Lobbying Act exists and there has to be a register.
Senator Colm Burke raised a number of issues regarding banks being discouraged from coming to Ireland. I would be very happy for the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, to come here to clarify the position and the role of the Central Bank.
Senator Colm Burke referred to the lack of representation of the Seanad on the Oireachtas Committee on the Future of Healthcare. It is very disappointing that there is no representation from this House on the committee. The Senator referred to the number of jobs being created. A staggering number of people are back at work. All Members will commend the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Mary Mitchell O'Connor, and her predecessor, Deputy Richard Bruton, on the role they have played, with the IDA, in getting people back to work.
Senator Michelle Mulherin raised the very important matter, at this time of year, of emergency planning and the "be winter-ready" campaign. The Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach and Defence, Deputy Paul Kehoe, will come to the House, hopefully before Christmas, to discuss the matter. It is timely. Senator Ó Donnghaile raised the launch today in Clifton House. I am not sure whether his title was correct. Was it "unfavourable conversations"?
Yes, all sides. I would be happy for the Minister to come to the House to have that uncomfortable conversation.
Senator Gabrielle McFadden raised the issue of the need for consultant-led geriatrician teams in communities. This time of the year is an interesting time in our hospitals. Yesterday, there was a huge surge in the number of people attending emergency departments. The Government has taken a number of initiatives around the winter initiative, allocating an extra €40 million to it. It is important we promote an alternative to going to an emergency department. This year, 4,500 more people have attended emergency departments. However, 2,000 fewer people have been on trolleys than this time last year. It is unacceptable that any person has to spend any inordinate amount of time on a trolley. The Minister is committed to working on delayed discharges and providing more people with home care packages and aids and appliances. I would be happy for the Minister to come to the House to discuss it.
Senator Ó Clochartaigh raised a number of issues. I am trying to have the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Heather Humphreys, and the Minister of State, Deputy Joe McHugh, come to the House before Christmas. The issue is that legislation takes priority over statements. I will talk to Senator Norris about No. 9. I have no issue with it being taken. I would be happy to have it discussed.
I neglected to reply to Senator Higgins. I also neglected to respond to the issue raised by Senators Davitt, Noone and Gavan, namely, online gambling. The Senators are right. It is a major issue and has a profound impact on the lives of the people affected and their families. The gambling control Bill is overdue. It has been three years in gestation. The Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality, Deputy David Stanton, has responsibility for this area. I have spoken to him and he wants to progress the issue. The general scheme of the Bill has been outlined. It is important we have the debate and bring the debate forward as soon as possible. Online gambling is open at any hour of the day or night and it is growing in popularity with online access. It is a worry. I would be very happy to have the Minister come to the House to discuss it. We all agree the Bill must be progressed.
Senator Higgins raised the European Parliament. We have no jurisdiction over Members of the European Parliament. In terms of a dispute settlement mechanism, it is important to have an international trade deal. The investor-state dispute settlement will not prevent governments from regulating in the public interest. It is a bit unfair and a bit of a myth that it will allow big companies to do what they want. I do not think it will. The Government supports and recognises the need for both CETA and TTIP. We had a debate in the House and the Minister will happily return to the House. The Senator may bring forward a Private Members' Bill or a Commencement matter. It is important we bring balance to the debate.
I apologise for missing the Senator. I have no problem about having the Minister come to the House to discuss Palestine. There are different views on the issue, and it is important to have the debate. The Senator may raise it during Private Member's time or by way of a Commencement matter. The Minister would be happy to come to the House to debate it in the new year.