Thursday, 24 November 2016
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, motion re the establishment of a special joint committee on the future funding of domestic water services, to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business without debate; No. 2, statements on mental health funding, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 1 and to conclude no later than 1.45 p.m. with the contributions of groups spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes, time can be shared, and the Minister to be called upon to reply not later than 1.40 p.m.; and No. 3, Planning and Development (Housing) and Residential Tenancies Bill 2016 - Committee Stage (resumed), to be taken at 1.45 p.m. and to be concluded no later than 6 p.m. by one question which shall be put from the Chair and which shall, in relation to amendments, include only those set down or accepted by the Government.
I cautiously welcome the Central Bank's changes to the mortgage lending rules whereby first time buyers will be permitted to take out a mortgage on the basis of having just 10% of the purchase price. This goes some way to addressing the situation where potential first time buyers were paying huge rents but were unable to get a mortgage. I am happy with the changes. Although it will increase house prices, the elephant in room is housing supply. The changes have the similar goal to the first time buyer's grant in the Finance Act, whereby the Government is purposely increasing the prices of new builds in order to incentivise builders to build houses. I hope it does not get out of control and hour prices go through the roof.
The Government must address supply by getting rid of development levies, examining the cost of certification of houses or keeping accidental landlords in the market by introducing some form of tax credit for those who bought during the boom. I welcome the Minister's roll-out of the strategic infrastructure and speeding up of planning permissions. There is a crisis in the city. The population, especially in Dublin, is growing at a faster rate than we are building houses. We need to get cracking on building more houses in the city.
The hashtag #streetsofshameis doing the rounds on Twitter. Last night, I thought about it before I came here. It is very easy to blame the Government and the current Minister for everything. The Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Simon Coveney, is trying to push the Planning and Development (Housing) and Residential Tenancies Bill 2016 through the House. There are aspects to it we like and aspects we do not like, and I find the Minister more than facilitating. Last night, when I was looking at the hashtag #streetsofshametweets, it struck me that homelessness did not arise yesterday or the day before. It was not a function of the previous Governments, although we could argue until the cows come home that it could have done some things better. Homelessness is the responsibility of everybody in the country.
Recently, I learned of developers who have held back property in order to cash in on the rising prices in the improving economy.I have learned of one development where houses were held back for three months in order to increase the price by €100,000 and bring the price of the houses up to close to €1 million. It looks like the cub of the Celtic tiger has grown and is about to be unleashed on us again.
As Senators know, I give the Government a lash every time I get a chance. However, in this particular case it is grossly unfair on the Minister, Deputy Coveney. He is trying to do something and it behoves us all, regardless of our political affiliation or our beliefs in profiteering, etc., to get behind him. If he is making a mistake, that will emerge in time to come. However, I do not believe he is; I think he is trying his damnedest. I, for one, am behind him and want to support him in any way I can. I found him to be facilitating yesterday on the Planning and Development (Housing) and Residential Tenancies Bill. If all Ministers were like him, we might get an awful lot more done in this Dáil and Seanad. It may be time for us to lash back a bit at the populism. Maybe it is time we told the populists, "This is nonsense. How many of you would be willing to put an extra five cent in the euro on your tax in order to cover some of the homelessness?".
They walk over the poor divils who are sitting there in the morning looking for the price of a cup of tea. If we are going to talk about homelessness, let us be honest from now on. Let us get behind this Minister and let us try to get him what he needs. If he fails, his political reputation is on the line, but I think the man is trying.
The Sinn Féin group will oppose the motion on the joint committee on the future funding of water services. I want to make it clear that we have no objection to the suggestion that the Chairman would be Senator Pádraig Ó Céidigh. We have no objection to him whatsoever but we have an issue with the process. The Government and the Dáil have instructed the Seanad as to who its delegates should be, which is not acceptable to the Seanad.
Yes, we propose an amendment that it be deleted from the order. They should go back and get this right, consult with all the different groupings in the Seanad and get a delegation from the Seanad that is representative of the House. That is the proposal.
I wish to raise the issue of the health services. I am conscious that the Leader was the Chairman of the previous health committee and is very knowledgeable on the issues. I wish to speak about the hospital closest to where I live, Letterkenny hospital, where the full-capacity protocol has been deployed repeatedly this year. That means that elective surgeries are being delayed. As they are delayed, patients' conditions are deteriorating and they are waiting even longer. There are huge numbers of people on trolleys and more on waiting lists. In Donegal, there is a whole-of-system crisis when it comes to home care packages, community hospitals and right up to the main hospitals. This is because the system has been chronically underfunded for too many years.
I appeal to the Leader to invite the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, to come to the House at the earliest opportunity to outline how he believes what has been allocated in budget 2017 is anywhere near enough to start to address the scale of this crisis. On behalf of my party, I ask the Minister to review urgently the budget allocation for 2017. He needs to understand that unfortunately what has been allocated will not go anywhere near addressing the scale of this crisis. It is not acceptable to anybody in these Houses to see elderly people on trolleys with their dignity taken away. It is not acceptable to see the limited time home care packages we give elderly people. It is not acceptable that we have run down so many of our community hospitals. The system is failing too many people. We need to review the 2017 health budget urgently. The Minister should come to the House for a debate so that people from throughout the State can relay the stories from their communities directly to the Minister until we have the issue resolved.
The Labour group in the Seanad will also oppose the motion on the formation of the special joint committee on the future funding of domestic water services. When the Government was formed, we were promised new politics. We now see Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael dropping the whole idea of new politics when it suits them. I have nothing against the particular Senators who are proposed to be appointed.
I second it. It is totally unacceptable. There is a need for discussion. We are supposed to have new politics. Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael coming together to block the election of a Chairman by a committee is totally unacceptable
I wish to raise RTE's announcement that it plans to outsource children's television. It is utterly unacceptable that the director general appeared before the committee this week and made absolutely no mention of it outsourcing children's television. That has been the incubator of talent for the broadcasting community and the arts. It is totally unacceptable that the director general should sit down in a committee room here knowing that this announcement is coming about and not to inform the committee.
RTE has referred to a challenging financial environment and reducing operation costs. I suggest one reduction in its operation cost is the €4,300 a month it pays to the Phoenix for full-page advertisements. While talking about a challenging financial environment, it is happy to waste that sort of money. The Minister needs to challenge whether we are getting value for money.
We also had an oblique reference to RTE's coverage of the Dáil and Seanad. We are giving it €180 million and it has a remit for public service broadcasting. I know it has very small viewing figures, but RTE gets €180 million to cover politics and the arts. At the committee meeting, the director general said one of her journalists was discussing moving coverage of this House, committees and the Dáil to the digital platform. Yesterday, I was critical of Deputy Dooley. However, he was the only one awake at the committee and picked up on it. That is clearly what was referred to at the committee. We are giving RTE €180 million to cover the arts and politics, and the new director general is talking about moving the coverage to the digital stream and using a journalist to quietly lobby for support around the House, and is meeting journalists on a regular basis.
Ministers are putting off decisions on the funding of public service broadcasting. We had a do-nothing Dáil and we now have a do-nothing Minister in this area. There are serious questions to be asked as to how RTE will nurture future broadcasting talent and over its oblique reference at the committee to how it will cover politics.
I will finish on this. I want the Minister to come to this House very quickly. RTE gets a huge amount of money. It is sitting on a very valuable property site of several acres in Donnybrook. It should not consider cutting services before it liquidates that property asset.We are in the middle of a housing crisis and an awful lot of that land could be used. We want the Minister in here and very quickly. The director general of RTE should be called back to the committee-----
I welcome the comments by the leader of Fianna Fáil about the good news from the Central Bank providing first-time buyers with some help towards affording to purchase homes. This acknowledges the reality in Dublin that a limit of €200,000 was not feasible and that it is very difficulty to find a property now in that price bracket in the capital. I note the comments of Senator Craughwell and I welcome them. I absolutely agree with him. As I listened to the Minister on radio this morning, I certainly felt that homelessness is a complex problem that has been with us and that is getting worse. Its roots lie in the past and the problem cannot be resolved overnight, but I believe the Minister is sincere and honest. He is putting forward a plan to deal with this matter. It is not a quick fix that will unravel in a few months' time. It is a plan that will prevent further homelessness and that will lead to those who sadly find themselves without homes at the moment being housed. No one in this Chamber can countenance the prospect of our children or citizens being reared in hotel rooms or being moved around. School is difficult enough for children and it is where they learn to socialise. It is distressing when they are faced with the prospect of long journeys to school or they are not clear if they can keep going to the same school for a prolonged period. This is quite apart from the fact that there are no cooking facilities in these hotels and that the normality of family life is seriously disrupted for those obliged to live in them. I know that everyone in this House would agree that we need to address this issue aggressively. I know the Minister is doing that but he is also not rushing. He is doing it in a way that is well thought out and that, I believe, will deliver for the future of the State and our children, our most important asset.
Reference was made to Irish Water. I welcome the fact that the company is investing so much money in infrastructure. I was very pleased that the new treatment plant at Rush - where we turned the sod last week - is going ahead. We will again be able to enjoy clean water on our beaches, which are a fantastic amenity for young people and tourists. That to which I refer is happening across the State. One of the most basic things in life is clean, safe water.
I agree with some of the sentiments expressed by the previous speaker and, in particular, with the comments of our leader, Senator Ardagh. The Central Bank and its Governor are behind the curve in respect of first-time buyers in the context of giving them an opportunity to get on the property ladder by purchasing their own homes. For the 18 months since this regulation was introduced, it was well known by most people in the property industry that it was not going to be a help of any kind. I implore the Minister to stop playing with the blinds and to open the window for all those who have been denied the dream of owning their own homes. The cost of building a house is the number one problem. It is the main impediment to kick-starting a functioning housing market. I call on the Minister to immediately reduce the VAT rate on new builds for the interim. This would certainly allow us to tackles some aspects of the homelessness crisis and the low level of supply in the housing sector.
I want to clarify a matter. The Leader and I had a lively exchange yesterday and I want to put it on the record that I have the height of respect for him. Perhaps part of the misunderstanding arose because Pro Life Campaign is a specific organisation. I am certainly in a position to say that the organisation is not - as the Leader said yesterday - well able to get money from abroad and to bring in people from outside.
There may be the odd widow or orphan with an Irish passport who does his or her bit from time to time, but there is nothing comparative with the massive influx of resources from foundations to organisations that are pushing for a change in the law. There are real questions to be asked about whether it is good that big foundations can pump massive amounts of money into a small country in order to engineer a change in the law that will lead to massive social change. Regardless of one's views on abortion, one should be concerned with that situation. Perhaps the Leader meant the pro-life movement generally, I cannot speak to that, but the examples given of Irish people being brought to the US at a given time do not make out that case. My desire yesterday was for clarity. I was not in any way trying to undermine the Leader but I believe he was unfair to the Pro Life Campaign in what he said.
We should be able to get to the point where we can actually clarify issues on their own merits without getting partisan about it. The Leader is capable of that and I will try to be capable of it also. I need to say that. It has not been the case that there has been any kind of influx of money to roll out a campaign. Would that there had been, particularly in terms of the very good educational work involved, but that is not the position. The story here, namely, that George Soros's Open Society Foundations is putting six-figure sums into Amnesty International, should not be ignored. That is a disgraceful situation.
These people used to defend freedom of conscience and now they want to destroy innocent, unborn lives. Consider the Abortion Rights Campaign Ireland or the likes of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties - supposedly a charity - which is getting money to change the law and-----
I want to talk about the plight of young farmers and their inability to access the national reserve scheme. We all know that farmers are the lifeblood of our rural communities and we must be proactive in encouraging young people to enter and remain in farming. It has been really disappointing, and unacceptable, that there was no national reserve in 2016. Any news that it may not open in 2017 would be extremely disappointing. In 2015 there were 6,260 successful applicants in the national reserve scheme. The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Creed, has spoken on this in the Dáil when he said that EU regulations allow for surrender of entitlements that remain unused by farmers for two consecutive years and clawback of 50% following the sale of entitlements without land. If these do not generate a sufficient fund for the national reserve, then we need to look at other options. There has been a thorough updating of maps using computer remote sensing ground inspections. This means that most land parcels have scrub, roads, buildings and other non-eligible features digitised out. It is, therefore, very easy for us to conclude that land parcels claimed by farmers in 2015 and 2016 are unlikely to be different. With that in mind, there will not be enough entitlements returning to the national reserve due to non-use. My overall point is that we need this matter addressed urgently by the Minister. If we are serious about encouraging young people to enter and remain in farming then we need to support them. We need to support them properly by ensuring there is a national reserve open to them in 2017.
I attended a briefing yesterday in the audio-visual room on the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill 2015, which is due back before the House shortly. The briefing was organised by Senator Black. I applaud her tenacity and work in pushing this measure in the interest of public health, and in being determined and steadfast in the face of intense pressure. We have debated the implication of this Bill at length and we know that passing it will dramatically improve the health of our nation. At the briefing, two harrowing personal accounts were provided by families that have been destroyed as result of alcohol.Yesterday morning, we again received a glossy production from the Responsible Retailers of Alcohol in Ireland on the envisaged structural changes that will be required for this measure. In its initial interpretation, it outlined that there would be a cost imposed on each retailer of about €50,000. In yesterday's production, there was not a mention of a single euro. What is it all about? It is about visibility and always has been. It has used the financial burden as an argument and a tool of fear. This lobby is being led by large corporate powers. It has used small retailers deceivingly to further its greedy aims.
We are hugely cognisant of the pressures there are on small retailers. This Bill will particularly impact on businesses in the Border area in which there are already price differentials and currency variations. We should be consulting with our colleagues in the North on this matter and looking at an all-Ireland cohesive alcohol strategy. I wish to finish by thanking the Minister of State, Deputy Marcella Corcoran Kennedy, for remaining firm on this matter.
She could have easily buckled, as so many of her colleagues in this House and the Dáil seem to be doing. I appeal today to members of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Independent Alliance to stand firm, see this lobby for what it is and improve the health of the people across our entire nation.
In response to what Senator Reilly said earlier about water quality, this morning the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, launched the urban wastewater report, which shows that raw sewage is still being discharged from 43 areas across the country. One of the areas of poor quality is the area Senator Reilly spoke about, Rush. I am delighted to hear that there will be improvements in that area. The EPA has said that there has to be more investment in public wastewater treatment infrastructure across the country to protect public health and the environment from the adverse effects of wastewater. Let us face up to the reality.
It is time to take grave stock of our planning system as we see international headlines on the length of time it has taken for Apple to secure planning permission in Athenry. We are talking about an €850 million investment for a data centre that will be fully-fuelled by renewable energy. It was announced by Apple in February 2015 that a data centre would be provided in both Denmark and in Ireland. The sod has been turned on the Danish project and construction is under way. In this country, we are still in the quagmire of the planning process. A balance always needs to be struck. There is a balance in politics and a balance of justice in law. Much emphasis is on individual rights. However, this case is not the only one where we are bringing in the sort of jobs of the future which we aim for from an international company and for which we are repositioning ourselves. For the most part, the people of the area want the project to happen. In this situation, we see that individual rights are actually crippling the progress of a major project. It has to be acknowledged that in our democracy we have to provide a system whereby people can object and individual rights are protected. However, we have to get the balance right.
Eighteen months after the project was first announced, An Bord Pleanála heard objections and gave them permission. We now have to wait until March or April for the matter to dealt with before the courts. It could be thrown back again to the planning process. I believe we need more of a balance. The manner in which these applications are dealt with, the lack of speed and the lack of progress in our planning system, as is highlighted when one compares our system with Denmark's, is not only a travesty for the people of Athenry, but a travesty for our country, because Bloomberg is saying today that this is what one gets when one deals with Ireland. We are already facing the challenges of Brexit. We do not yet know what the implications of the foreign investment policy of the new presidency of Mr. Donald Trump will mean for us. We can be hopeful, but not everything is clear. Something has to be done about our planning process or we will remain crippled and denied of vital development projects that the west, in particular, is crying out for and starved of.
I wish to raise the issue of the second cath lab in Waterford University Hospital. The people of the south east, of which I am one, thought that this issue was enshrined in the programme for Government. The second cath lab was to be delivered. It was a make or break issue for the Minister of State, Deputy Halligan, who was negotiating the matter. It was deemed the best deal for Waterford. A review that was to be carried out was seen as a formality. The funding was to be ring-fenced once the review was carried out and completed. In Waterford University Hospital, there is currently an 18-month waiting time for an angiogram. For an inpatient, there is a wait of seven days to have a procedure done. The case was very well made by the Minister of State, Deputy Halligan, and a report was to be compiled to prove to the rest of the country that Waterford needed the cath lab.
Difficulties then arose and the flaws were in the carrying out of the report. First, the report was based on a part-time system for a population of 500,000 people and there was a comparison with full-time cath labs across the country. Second, it was projected that the travel time from Waterford to Cork was 90 minutes, which is completely incorrect. If one lives in east Kilkenny and has to go into hospital in Waterford and has to be transferred, it would take at least an hour and 20 minutes to get to Cork. Third, the report was interfered with before it ever started because the HSE took it on itself to provide notes and a report to Mr. Herity, who was carrying out the full report. Where is this service now for the people of the south east? Many people have been involved in this, including the practitioners in the hospital and others. Those people will continue to be involved in it because people are affected by this matter on a daily basis in the constituency of Waterford and the adjoining constituencies, including my own Tipperary. I wish to commend Mr. Willie Doyle, who is leading this campaign. There will be people on the streets if this is not resolved in January. Earlier on, Senator Mac Lochlainn asked that the Minister for Health come to the House. I ask that when the Minister comes to the House, he deals with this matter as well. I would appreciate if the Leader would take this matter up as it is very serious. We have been kept in the dark since the big blow-up in September. That is not good enough. The people of the south east want to know what is going on in respect of this matter.
I want to briefly comment on the news from the Central Bank of a relaxation on the qualifying criteria for deposits on mortgages. I would err on the side of caution on this issue. The issue of housing, which has been well documented and commented on, is really a supply issue and a costing issue with regard to the State taking a large proportion of the costs associated with building a house. Therefore, pressure has been brought to bear on the Central Bank. It may not necessarily have been political pressure, but let us call it vested interest banking pressure that was brought to bear on the Central Bank. Interested stakeholders, such as banks, lobbied intensively to change these rules. Unfortunately, where there is a limited supply of housing, particularly in Dublin, and where there are increased resources being made available to allow people to bid against each other, it will drive up the cost of housing. That is what is going to happen, particularly in the capital, where there is a great demand for housing. I would certainly err on the side of caution with regard to those changes made yesterday. I do not think it is the right way to go, particularly when there is a new grant scheme being brought in by the Government at the same time. We will probably debate those issues later with the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Coveney.
I also want to touch on the issue of free speech in the two Houses of the Oireachtas in regard to sensitive issues of social policy.In recent days, two Members of the other House were attacked verbally by Deputy Clare Daly for their views on the eighth amendment. This is a very sensitive issue, irrespective of which side one's views are on. Deputies Mattie McGrath and Michael Collins, the latter from Cork, two honourable Independent Deputies, should not be castigated and their reputations impugned because they hold a certain view. They were called old grey-haired men who should not interfere in such issues.
-----to raise with the Minister for Finance the issue of retirement. People used to be able to retire at 65. A measure has now been introduced whereby they must go on jobseeker's allowance between the ages of 65 and 66. It is absolutely idiotic and makes a farce of the whole idea of jobseeker's allowance. People retire and are then told they must go on jobseeker's allowance. It is an absolute nonsense.
I would like to raise another issue, which I ask the Leader to bring to the attention of the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade or the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. I ask them to talk to the Israeli ambassador. There is a very fine museum in east Jerusalem called the Rockefeller Museum. It has been there for many years and has a wonderful library, a collection of archaeological artefacts and so on. The Israeli authorities decided to transfer the artefacts to west Jerusalem. This is very much the kind of thing the Chinese Government did with the Potala Palace when it moved the Dalai Lama's library to Beijing and so on. It is cultural asset stripping. If the Israelis have their way, there will be nothing left whatever in east Jerusalem. What is most shocking is that on 19 July this year, the Supreme Court in Jerusalem decided after a hearing that the Israel Antiquities Authority was responsible for the antiquities of the Rockefeller Museum and that it had the right to transfer the library and the archaeological artefacts to west Jerusalem. The worst part of the judgment was the decision that Israeli law is supreme in this area and that international law has no standing whatever. The Israeli Government repeatedly takes this position. Its attention should be brought to the fact that international law does have relevance and that the Israeli Government is not immune to the operation of international law.
Last night, Mid-Ulster District Council, which comprises the old Cookstown, Dungannon and Magherafelt district councils, voted overwhelmingly in favour of extending the universal franchise in presidential elections to citizens in the North and among the diaspora. I have raised this on the floor of this Chamber quite often and will continue to do so. Sinn Féin has Private Members' time on this matter next week. Derry City and Strabane District Council will debate the same motion tonight.
I hope that in this instance Senator Norris will respect the international binding agreement and law of the Good Friday Agreement between the British and Irish Governments which extends, as of birthright, Irish citizenship to people in the North. I hope that we as a House will support these calls when they come before us next week. This is an issue of rights, equality and the enfranchisement of all our people. I wanted to make Members aware of this. It is, as I indicated to the Leader a few weeks ago, the inevitable kick-back one gets when one continues to deny people something that is so fundamentally important to them. At a time when we should be embedding links across the country and when we have all expressed concern about any re-emergence of a hard Border, Irish citizens in the North and among the diaspora are genuinely concerned as to what rights and entitlements they will have and what the Irish Government, as co-guarantors of the Good Friday Agreement and as compelled to act as a result, will do to stand up for their interests. In a post-Brexit scenario, but also as a matter of course and a matter of right, they should have such rights.
I wish to raise two matters. I fully support Senator Mulherin on the issue of planning permission regarding Apple in Athenry. The way it is going is a disgrace. Many people in the centre of Galway would be mad keen to get a job there. It is hugely important. Our system creates an impairment for these companies to come to Ireland and create employment.
I ask the Leader to convey the following comments to the Minister for Finance. They concern the Central Bank and its announcements yesterday and this morning about supporting first-time house buyers and the proposal in the Finance Bill that came up recently. There are two aspects to housing loans. One concerns capital. Can a person get the money to buy the house? The Central Bank has to some degree addressed this, as has the Finance Bill. However, absolutely as important, if not more, is whether a person can repay the loan. Many of these people are first-time house buyers, young people starting on the ladder. They do not have the cashflow for the capital. Even if they get money from their parents or other family members to help finance the purchase, they still need the cashflow. I suggest that the Leader bring my comments to the attention of the Minister and that the Minister push the banks on this. For at least the first three years, interest-only repayments for first-time house buyers should be allowed. In other words, they would not pay interest on capital, which would give them the chance to solidify their jobs, start increasing their incomes and aid stability. There is also the revenue side of the matter. If an effort were made with the banks, I believe it would make a huge difference, and that, combined with the Central Bank and the Finance Bill, would open up the whole thing. The money would then stay with the house owner rather than being transferred in extra profits to the developer.
I note Senator Kevin Humphreys' comments on the announcement by RTE that it will outsource children's programming. This is a retrograde step. On Tuesday, 22 November, Dee Forbes, the new director general of RTE, appointed on 1 April 2016, was on a charm offensive at a meeting of the communications committee. She never indicated to the committee her proposals to outsource children's programmes. This is a major blow because children's programmes are very important and highly regarded. Their quality has been renowned. Some of us will remember "Wanderly Wagon", "Bosco", "The Den", "Zig and Zag"-----
Yes. "Bosco" created jobs in Roscommon, where it was made. One influences a nation through its children.If that influence is taken away and outsourced to Britain or the United States of America to save money, then it is a poor reflection. Dee Forbes was appointed on April Fool's Day but she made a fool of the committee on Tuesday because she never raised this issue at it. I raised an issue regarding "Oireachtas Report" and explained to the director-general that both Houses of the Oireachtas are equal. That, however, has not been the case. Most of the time, the Seanad has been ignored by "Oireachtas Report". There was no question of transferring "Oireachtas Report" from RTE 1 to any other station. In fact, she praised the work of "Oireachtas Report", indicating to me and others that she would be expanding and developing the programme and would be in discussion with Members about this.
The Minister, Deputy Denis Naughten, should intervene in the case of young people's programming regard and call the director-general to the Department. I will be suggesting to the Joint Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Environment that she should return to the committee to explain her decision in this regard. RTE is selling part of the Montrose site from which it will raise €50 million. Current affairs programming is very important.
Many of the well-paid broadcasters in RTE are getting more like ten times our wages.
Regarding the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill 2015, there has been much talk about the separation and visibility of alcohol. My concern is that the advertising industry will start to lobby us to reduce the effect the Bill will have on its industry. The objective of the advertising measures contained in the Bill is to protect young people from exposure to alcohol marketing. Research conducted relatively recently by NUI Galway found that more than half of school children reported they were exposed to four or more alcohol advertisements per day. The majority were exposed to traditional or offline advertising while 77% of children were exposed to online advertising. For children, exposure to alcohol marketing, including advertising sponsorship, increases the likelihood of alcohol ending up in their hands and them drinking sooner. The younger a child is when they start to drink alcohol, the greater the risk they will develop harmful drinking patterns later in life.
The Bill will return to the Seanad soon. If there is to be any reduction or removal of measures in the legislation, I hope it will not be a precedent for other industries to start lobbying us. I believe this is only the start of it.
Tomorrow the global 16 days of action campaign against domestic abuse and violence against women will start. The theme of this year's campaign is to change the conversation around the issue of domestic violence. In the recently launched Women's Aid annual report, some of the headline statistics underlined the need for action from us in the Oireachtas. Up to 42% of reported abuse occurs within marriage, 55% of women murdered in the State since 1996 were killed by their partners or ex-partners and 81% of abuse disclosed in 2015 happened in an intimate relationship.
Too often excuses are found for instances of domestic violence after the event. Often, part of the blame is placed on the victim. We see this time and again. I appeal to the media when reporting cases of domestic violence or where women have lost their lives through violence to report responsibly on it.
Domestic violence needs to be seen as the heinous crime that it is, perpetrated by offenders. We need robust legislation to punish these offenders and protect potential victims, as happens in other cases of crime. Why do perpetrators of domestic violence continue to do it? They do so because they know they will get away with it and will not be punished. They also know women are often confined to their homes because they cannot leave as there is no housing or rooms in refuges for them due to the severe cuts that have happened. The perpetrators know they will get away with it. It must be stopped.
Without the consolidated domestic violence Bill and the criminal justice (victims of crime) Bill coming into effect, the Istanbul Convention will not be implemented. The protections victims of domestic violence require will not be available. The Taoiseach has said he will bring in this legislation. Promises are not enough. We need this legislation to be brought in immediately. We need to protect women and children, and sometimes men, in their own homes. That is the unfortunate state in which this country is in 2016.
I want to raise the issue of stroke survivors and the non-availability of rehabilitation facilities for them. An audit was carried out recently by the Irish Heart Foundation, in conjunction with the Health Service Executive's national stroke programme. Unfortunately, it revealed a bleak picture of the services available for thousands of people battling to recover as a result of a stroke. Thankfully, I am glad to report more people are surviving strokes. They are not, however, getting the best chance of survival because of the poor state of some of our therapy services. The after-effects for stroke patients deteriorated last year for the first time since the creation of the national stroke programme.
The audit found several interesting statistics. Almost three quarters of rehabilitation hospitals cannot give stroke survivors the recommended level of therapy. Only one in four rehab hospitals has a dedicated stroke unit. The majority of hospitals lack a stroke specialist to oversee rehabilitation. Fewer than one in three has any access to psychological services. The majority of the 26 hospitals which participated in the study have no access to community rehabilitation teams to continue therapy essential to aid recovery for patients who were discharged. We have only half the acute stroke unit beds needed to meet international standards and an even lower proportion of specialist rehab beds.
What makes this information critical is that the incidence of stroke in Ireland is rising by 350 cases per year. Clearly, the national stroke programme needs to be urgently updated, along with the proper provision of resources to meet the needs of survivors to give them the best chance of possible survival. Will the Leader bring this to the attention of the Minister for Health?
I raise the appointments made by the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Heather Humphreys, to the board of the Irish Museum of Modern Art, IMMA. Of the nine appointments made, only three of them were women. Concerns have been expressed to me about the artistic expertise of some of the nine appointments. I understand a broad range of expertise, not only artistic, is required for State boards. One will appreciate, however, the Government has form with appointments to IMMA.
Gender diversity on State boards should be a key priority for any Minister making those appointments-----
-----particularly in the context of the arts where women and allies have been campaigning for policies of inclusion, equality and economic parity. Will the Minister, Deputy Heather Humphreys, be more ambitious with her appointments and give more consideration to the landscape in which she makes them?
Separately, RTE was already raised in the Seanad today. RTE, in a statement to the Irish Independent, stated "to achieve stronger efficiencies and value for money, RTE is to make changes to how it produces young people's programmes.”It goes on to state "RTE is not reducing its commitment to younger people's programmes, nor its spend". If so, why is this change being made? I suggest it is an ideological decision. Will the Leader invite the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment to the House to address the issue? I am concerned that RTE is failing in its commitment to the Oireachtas committee and young people.
I thank the 21 Senators who raised issues on the Order of Business. Senators Catherine Ardagh, James Reilly, Aidan Davitt, Brian Ó Domhnaill and Pádraig Ó Céidigh referred to the decision yesterday by the Central Bank to ease mortgage restrictions for young and first-time buyers. I thank all Members for their suggestions, which were welcome. It is incumbent on the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Simon Coveney, and the Governor of the Central Bank, Dr. Philip Lane, to listen to these suggestions, some of which were worthwhile. The important point on which we all agree is that we must try to allow first-time buyers to access the property market to buy homes. We welcomed yesterday's decision and will work with the Minister to ensure there will be a supply. We need a functioning construction industry and banks that lend. The help-to-buy scheme announced in the budget will make purchasing easier for first-time buyers. It is important that we allow these measures to take hold. Everyone is concerned about the nearly 7% increase in house prices nationally this year. Reference was made to the Celtic tiger. I hope we will never return to the boom and berserk cycle, but I welcome the news from the Central Bank.
In a genuine contribution Senator Gerard P. Craughwell referred to #streetsofshame. I have not seen that hashtag. The Senator referred to the Minister, Deputy Simon Coveney. As I stated during Private Members' business yesterday, the Minister is someone who is trying. He is honourable and sincere, as demonstrated by his willingness to come to the House at times of political pressure. He accepts that he does not get everything right, but he is willing to engage and listen. The Senator is right that we should support him. I hope the Senator's thought-provoking contribution will change the landscape of politics. As Senator Kevin Humphreys is fond of saying, this is a time of new politics and Senator Gerard P. Craughwell's contribution was an extension of it, for which I commend him.
We all have a responsibility to the homeless and for how we interact with people. Those of us who participated in the Focus Ireland sleep-out will understand it is not a choice for many; that it is forced on them. One person homeless is one too many. Whatever the ideology behind the end result, we should work together to end this scourge on society.
Senators Kevin Humphreys, Fintan Warfield and TerryLeyden mentioned RTE's announcement this morning by its director general, Ms Dee Forbes, on the outsourcing of children's programming. Having met the director general, she is a fine person with a good CV stemming from her involvement in other media outlets across the world, but I agree-----
Senator Fintan Warfield referred to RTE's claim in its press statement, which I find curious, that it would reduce costs without cutting the amount of money being spent. If so, why outsource the programming? We all grew up with-----
To be fair, RTE's output of young people's programming was the vehicle that propelled many of today's stars into stardom. I hope it will continues to allow such creativity to flourish. I do not share Senator Terry Leyden's view that it will be outsourced to America, England and so on. There is a considerable amount of talent and number of creative people in Ireland who could produce such programming and I hope RTE will pursue that approach, but the issue should have been addressed at the committee.
Third, the type of programme "Oireachtas Report" is should be changed. I ask Members to watch BBC's coverage of the British Houses of Parliament and the Stormont Assembly. It is a magazine-type programme. Mr. Andrew Neil's programme on BBC is much better and better reflects the views expressed in the Houses of Parliament and the Stormont Assembly. This is something RTE should consider.
Senators Kevin Humphreys and Pádraig Mac Lochlainn proposed an amendment to the Order of Business. I would wish all Senators to be involved in the committee, but it is welcome that some of them will be appointed to it. It is extraordinary that Sinn Féin Senators are protesting about not being included in the committee, when they did not support the inclusion of Senators from across the House in the all-party health committee. They must reflect on their own position. I regret the fact that not all parties represented in the House have been included, but the Minister's motivation is honourable. He has spoken to Members on all sides of the House and wants every group - parties, Independents and aligned groups - to be represented on the committee. He has appointed an eminent and fine Chairman, whom I wish well. He will be impartial and fair. It is an important committee and the fact that a Seanadóir will be its Chairman will give it status.
Every party, Independent and aligned group will be represented on what will be an important committee. I understand the frustration of my colleagues and friends in the Labour Party and Sinn Féin and wish more of them could be members of the committee, but the Minister has supplied his rationale and it is important that we let the committee do its work. The parties would be-----
I do not know of anyone who is not. Linked with the contributions of Senators Rónán Mullen and Brian Ó Domhnaill, as Leader and a former Chairman of the joint committee on the protection of life during pregnancy, I respect the right of every Senator to have a different viewpoint from mine.It is important that we cherish the right to speech and to one's opinion. I will not, as Leader, in any way try to curb freedom of speech in the House or in debate. Perhaps in my remarks yesterday I was not specific enough; I was referring to the pro-life movement in general rather than to a specific group. There was, and is, outside money being given to the movement. They brought Members of the Oireachtas abroad and they brought people into the committee system to discuss Bills. They had advisors from America during the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill legislative process. Who they were representing or who they were here on behalf of is a moot point. The point is they were here and money was coming in. Philanthropy is a very good thing. It has been the hallmark of our society. I hope we all welcome individuals, groups and organisations receiving money for the betterment of the lives of people.
Senator Hopkins raised the issue of young farmers and the national reserve scheme. I would be happy to have the Minister, Deputy Creed, come to the House regarding that. It is important that young farmers are able to stay on their lands. I would be very happy for the Minister to come to the House regarding that issue.
Senators Devine and Noone raised the issue of the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill. I commend Senator Black for her presentation in the AV room yesterday. The Bill will be coming back to the House. It is about public health and the misuse of alcohol. All of us who are public legislators accept we have a duty to protect all of our citizens. We must get legislation that is right, that will reduce the harm caused by alcohol and reduce the impact it has on the lives of people. People gave personal testimony yesterday of their lives being tarnished and ruined by alcohol. None of us will stop the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill doing its work. Minimum unit pricing is coming in and there are restrictions in terms of advertising. There is discussion about one part of the Bill. The important point is the Minister is sincere. I chaired the health committee that did pre-legislative scrutiny on the Bill. We need to have a huge conversation about alcohol misuse, availability, price, advertising and how we can change the culture and ethos around the misuse of alcohol. We should all work together on that.
Senators Mulherin and Ó Céidigh raised the very important issue of planning, in particular for the Apple location in Galway. I sincerely agree with them on the matter. I commend Councillor Peter Feeney who held a rally in Galway last week. It is important we allow for the development of facilities such as the Apple one in Galway because we need to take jobs out of Dublin and the big urban areas and into rural Ireland. That is why we welcome the announcement that the majority of jobs created in this calendar year have gone outside the metropolis.
Senator Ó Domhnaill referred to free speech. I referred to that already. I would be happy to have the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade come to the House on the issue of the Rockefeller Museum. Senator Norris is right, no one is immune from international law. We should all work to uphold it.
Senator Ó Domhnaill's Private Members' Bill on the diaspora will be in the House next week. I spoke to the Minister of State, Deputy Joe McHugh, who is just back from a trip to the US. Senator Lawless will be back next week. It is something we need to keep on the agenda. The Government is committed to this. The question is how we arrive at the end result. I take the point.
Senator Rose Conway-Walsh raised the issue of 16 days of action on domestic violence against women and commended Women's Aid on its campaign. We have had this on the Order of Business in recent weeks. Senator Ardagh made a very fine contribution on it. The Senator is right. It is important that we have the legislation. The domestic violence Bill, which the Minister is committed to publishing and enacting, will be critical and it will put women and families at the centre of the legislation. We need that enabling legislation. We also need resourcing. The Senator is correct. We must protect women and children and, in some cases, men who have been abused. The Government "What would you do?" campaign is one we should get behind. We should work together to eliminate the awfulness of what is happening. If one meets women and children and talks to them about their life stories and what has happened to them, it is devastating. We all have a duty to get behind the campaign.
Senator Gallagher raised the issue-----
I would be happy to facilitate that.
Senator Gallagher raised the issue of stroke survivors. We have a national stroke strategy. The Senator's point is well made. There needs to be joined-up thinking to improve outcomes, have people treated more quickly and recognise the symptoms. Yesterday, Senator McFadden raised the issue of the community geriatrician. It is about primary care and expanding the way we run our health system. It is important.
I neglected to mention Senator Mac Lochlainn's comments on hospital services. It is important that we acknowledge that the Minister for Health has the highest health budget in the history of the State. What we need to see is a change in how the HSE and hospital groups deliver that budget. It is no good saying we have a budget of €14.2 billion. The issue is how it is administered and distributed. The Senator referred to a hospital. The former Minister, Senator James Reilly was there. Senator Mac Lochlainn and the Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach, Deputy Joe McHugh, have been very strong on that issue. It is important to recognise we have seen greater initiatives created by the Government. One person too many on a trolley or waiting list is not good enough. The winter initiative has seen extra money. I would be happy to bring the matter of Letterkenny hospital to the Minister's attention.
I nearly ran out of paper. I neglected to mention that Senator Landy raised the issue of the cardiac catherization laboratory for Waterford. Dr. Herity produced his report and it is gone for review. Senator Coffey also made the case for the need for such a laboratory. The Minister of State, Deputy John Halligan, has been very vocal about it. There is a process under way. I would be happy for the Minister to come to the House to discuss the matter.
I had a conversation with the Minister for Health yesterday. He is willing to come to the House. It is important that we get legislation passed before the Christmas recess. As Leader of the House, on behalf of the Members, I ask for legislation to be initiated here. We have some legislation and we are looking for more. We can have statements after Christmas. My priority as Leader is to get legislation passed before Christmas. I thank-----
- Ivana Bacik
- Rose Conway Walsh
- Maire Devine
- Paul Gavan
- Kevin Humphreys
- Denis Landy
- Pádraig MacLochlainn
- David Norris
- Trevor Ó Clochartaigh
- Niall Ó Donnghaile
- Aodhán Ó Ríordáin
- Fintan Warfield
- Catherine Ardagh
- Paddy Burke
- Ray Butler
- Jerry Buttimer
- Maria Byrne
- Lorraine Clifford Lee
- Paudie Coffey
- Martin Conway
- Gerard Craughwell
- Mark Daly
- Aidan Davitt
- Joan Freeman
- Robbie Gallagher
- Maura Hopkins
- Terry Leyden
- Tim Lombard
- Gabrielle McFadden
- Michelle Mulherin
- Catherine Noone
- Kieran O'Donnell
- John O'Mahony
- Grace O'Sullivan
- Pádraig Ó Céidigh
- Brian Ó Domhnaill
- James Reilly
- Neale Richmond
- Lynn Ruane