Tuesday, 6 December 2016
Order of Business
The public library service makes an enormous contribution nationally. Public libraries have been the focal point for many communities in Ireland for more than 100 years and have been used as a safe haven for schoolgoers, college students, the elderly, the homeless and active retired people. The friendly and professional staff in our libraries have formed part of the social fabric of many communities with many movements and community organisations having started life in the public library setting. The move towards staffless libraries is a bad one for the country. The schemes have been rolled out in Dún Laoghaire, Offaly and Sligo have been rightfully met with discontent by members of the community and staff. It is understood that 12 and possibly more counties plan to introduce staffless libraries. This move should be blocked and discouraged.
Statistics for the staffless libraries in Offaly and Sligo show that the use of the library is down when no staff are present. Many vulnerable members of our community may be less willing to use a staffless library because of safety concerns. Having friendly and experienced staff in a library tends to create a non-threatening community space that all can enjoy without fear or anguish. Any savings that may be created will be diminished by the decreased use of public libraries and the loss of the innumerable hidden gains that staffed libraries provide.
In a move towards less face-to-face contact in libraries, banks and other front-line services, it is understood that the area office in Crumlin village will also be closing. This is a very distressing move for members of the community who rely on many of the services provided by Dublin City Council, with other area offices around the city closing also. Less face-to-face contact with service users will make this a more insular society and create even more social problems at a higher cost to the Exchequer.
I wish to emphasise at the outset that what I say about water being brought from the Shannon to Dublin is not based on any concerns about the effect it would have on the Shannon or about farmers seeking compensation for wayleaves across their land. In the last couple of days, I received correspondence from a Ms Emma Kennedy, suggesting that the State is making what she considers to be a major mistake in commissioning the Dublin-Shannon pipeline. Her thesis, which is an elaborate one, is that Dublin aquifers and underground water sources would be quite adequate to serve the city of Dublin. The point she is making in her report, which she has sent to some Members of the House and to the Taoiseach, is that the total expenditure on this Shannon-Dublin pipe system would be of the order of €1.2 billion. Her thesis is that there is plenty of subterranean water in Dublin and plenty of sources in Dublin to make the pipeline redundant and to service Dublin's projected needs for water much closer to the city.
As far as she is concerned, the data on which the Shannon-Dublin water project was decided are faulty and the analysis underlying it is faulty as well. I am fully in favour of getting ahead with infrastructure if it is the right option. However, the Houses have not debated whether or not this thesis of there being plenty of water available in the Dublin region through using different technology to extract it from the earth has been adequately examined. I ask the Leader to ask the Minister with responsibility for this to make himself available to discuss this issue with the House. That is not the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Naughten, but it is the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Coveney, because the water issue was given to his Department.
It is a huge piece of infrastructure. It will cost €1.2 billion. If it has to be done, I am fully in favour of it. However, if there is a significantly cheaper alternative, I believe that somebody in this House or the other House should raise the issue of whether we are making a mistake here, bearing in mind the information that has been furnished to Members of this House. I ask the Leader to ask the Minister, Deputy Coveney, to come to this House to brief us on whether it is the case that the Shannon-Dublin water main idea has been fully considered in light of alternatives, including aquifers closer to the city of Dublin.
I dtosach báire, ba mhaith liom aitheantas a thabhairt go bhfuil réiteach gearr-thréimhseach sroichte ar an ngearchéim a bhaineann leis an seirbhís farantóireachta go hInis Mór. I want to recognise that there has been a temporary reprieve in the Inis Mór ferry service scenario, but there really needs to be a knuckling down now to make sure that it is settled on a longer-term basis.
I concur with the sentiments of Senator Ardagh on staffless libraries. We had a presentation in the AV room on that issue two weeks ago. I concur completely with the Senator that we do need a debate, and I think I called for it at the time, on the role of our library services and how they are going to be impacted by the staffless library system.
I cautiously welcome the announcement by the Minister, Deputy Naughten, on bin charges. This House can take credit for the bin charges being kicked to touch for six months, due to issues that we raised here in a number of debates with the Minister, Deputy Coveney. I do not believe that kicking it into touch for six months is the best scenario, however. Going into the summer period, we will have issues with bags and dumping, particularly in tourist areas where bags cannot be bought and tourists will not know where to dispose of their refuse. There are also still issues in some areas with monopoly scenarios being run by some companies.There is a lack of consistency in pricing policy throughout the country. Prices are different in almost every constituency to which one travels. Sinn Féin is in favour of going back to a local authority delivery of service. However, it would be a good idea for this House to have another debate on bin charges, with the Minister, Deputy Naughten, as opposed to waiting another six months to see how this issue can be resolved and to put forward positive proposals.
At this time of year, many of us will go to Christmas parties and restaurants but I have been contacted by a number of workers in the hospitality sector, particularly in Galway, who are being abused within that sector. I am hearing of cases of verbal abuse and payment and tips being withheld. I am also hearing of cases of sexual harassment and sexual abuse that go unreported. People are afraid to report them in case they get sacked. Those in temporary employment arrangements certainly find it difficult to do that. There are two sides to the hospitality sector. It is positive to see the improvements in the sector but we need to examine the workers' rights issues relating to it. I am of the view that it would be useful to have a debate on the abuse of workers in the hospitality sector in which we could examine all the issues. I would look to raise more such issues during that debate.
Last Saturday, I was invited to speak at an event organised by my colleague, Senator Ruane. The event was called Tallaght Talks and the emphasis was on mental health issues. There were a number of great speakers present on the day but what had the greatest impact on me was the response from the people attending the event, which was very emotional. One man shared his experience of depression. He spoke about how difficult life is for him and how he might not make it to Christmas because he felt so low and that he might end up taking his own life. His story was one of many. Another woman pleaded for help because so many of her family have died by suicide. One young lad asked how he could support a friend who had lost a loved one to suicide. There were numerous stories like that on the day.
The overwhelming feeling in the room was one of abandonment and lack of support services. People felt unrepresented by the Government. In recent years, communities were being commended on their contribution to the country by suffering the austerity measures imposed on them. The advice at that time was that everybody had to tighten their belts in order that we might get over this crisis. The old saying "No pain, no gain" was put forward. The people in the room on Saturday had felt the pain of austerity and had not benefited from any gain. They were not looking for gain in any selfish way but in the form of proper support for the less well off in the community. They felt totally abandoned.
Suicide is one of the major problems facing society. The reports that 16 people died by suicide in Cork county in a two-week period should ensure that all party-political concerns are put aside and that a concerted effort is made to tackle this issue by means of the provision of all the necessary supports. I ask the Leader why a state of emergency has not been declared in order to support the thousands of people who are struggling with mental health issues and who believe they have nowhere to turn to for support, the families who have lost loved ones to suicide and the large number of children who will be homeless this Christmas. People do not see any urgency in tackling the problem of suicide and they are disillusioned with a system which continually refers to tackling the homelessness issue but which will not introduce rent certainty. The less well off in society need to be a priority. It should be a case of looking after those people first and putting their needs before those of any vested interests. Our society should be judged on how we look after our poorest, not on how the rich are getting even richer.
It is an issue bout which the Leader is enthusiastic. I am pleased to see that Fine Gael is not engaging expensive media monitoring firms because when I was on "The Pat Kenny Show" this morning, Senator Buttimer engaged by tweeting a very welcome comment. I acknowledge his role in terms of making Ireland a more equal society. I congratulate him on that and I hope we will have Government support for the legislation when it is introduced and debated here in January.
On more mundane matters, last Friday morning, staff at the SuperValu store in Drogheda showed up for work as normal but they were locked out of the premises and the doors were closed for good.Out of the blue, the company, which ran this particular store for more than 20 years, ceased trading. Almost 30 staff, some of whom worked there for almost 20 years, have been left without work this side of Christmas.
We know businesses fail every day. We all feel a sense of sorrow when businesses do fail and people are let go. Nobody puts more work into a business than the business owners themselves. However, this is a tragedy for everyone involved. When a firm is careering towards insolvency, is in difficult trading circumstances and ends up being liquidated, everyone will agree there are better ways to treat staff than to merely shut the door in their faces and leave them depending on statutory redundancy at the expense of the taxpayer. In a normal collective redundancy scenario where a business fails, there is a requirement on the employer to engage in a 30-day consultation process with employees to discuss enhanced redundancy packages and so on. No such requirement falls on a business owner where his or her business ceases trading and goes into liquidation. When the Drogheda SuperValus of this world decide they are going to close their doors, it is the State which is on the hook for the payments.
There is a solution to this. After the Clerys scandal, I worked closely to engage with experts to understand how the law could be changed to better protect workers in insolvency situations like that. The Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation has an expert report, the Duffy-Cahill review, on this. It was initiated by me and developed by Kevin Duffy, former chair of the Labour Court, and an expert company lawyer, Nessa Cahill, to identify ways in which workers could be better protected in scenarios like this. The Minister has been sitting on this report, however. The public consultation on the report has concluded, yet we see staff in SuperValu in Drogheda and Pumpkin Patch in Blanchardstown and Liffey Valley shopping centres experience the loss of their jobs last Friday as the doors of their companies were closed in their faces.
There is a better and fairer way of doing this. It is high time the Minister introduced legislation to give effect to the proposals in the Duffy-Cahill report to better protect workers in insolvency scenarios.
Next week, the European Council meets for the last time this side of Christmas. It will discuss the important issue of the future of Europe, especially focusing on child and youth affairs. Will the Leader invite either the Minister of State, Deputy Dara Murphy, or the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Katherine Zappone, to take statements on this so we in this House can share our vision for Europe, both the short and medium term, as well as taking into account the many changing factors happening across the European Union?
I propose an amendment to the Order of Business, that No. 29, motion 9, be taken without debate before No. 1. This motion pertains to the investment by the National Treasury Management Agency, NTMA, and the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund in equity holdings in three separate tobacco companies.
Smoking is the leading cause of preventable deaths in this country. As Professor Luke Clancy said, it is unconscionable to think that the State would invest taxpayers' money in the tobacco industry and contribute to its commercial viability. I formally wrote to the Minister for Finance over six weeks ago about this issue. Since then, 500 people have died from smoking-related illnesses. I also have had constructive dialogue with non-governmental organisations such as the Royal College of Physicians in Ireland, Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, the Irish Heart Foundation, the Irish Cancer Society and ASH Ireland.
Smoking-related illnesses cost over €500 million a year to the health care system with up to 6,000 people dying because of them. It is estimated there are 31,000 hospital admissions due to smoking-related diseases every year. Each admission costs €5,400, which comes to an approximate cost of €170 million per year. It is an important issue. I had prepared legislation in this regard. Unfortunately, because of the constitutional constraints of the House, I was unable to push that legislation. My colleague, Deputy Sean Fleming, will be taking this up in the Lower House.
I want to highlight yet again the Midlands Regional Hospital in Portlaoise. Following the tragic preventable deaths of infant babies in this hospital over the past number of years, HIQA produced a report setting out hundreds of recommendations to restore safe and quality services. An updated report, published in the past few days, stated that some progress had been made but there remain serious concerns in relation to the provision of services there. The hospital is dangerously understaffed and there is a distinct problem recruiting non-consultant doctors and midwives. Given the tragedies that occurred in this hospital, it is shocking that there are still only 32 midwives working in the maternity area where there should be 52. This is indefensible and the Government, along with the Department of Health, has to take full responsibility for it.
Listening to the response of the CEO of the Dublin Midlands Hospital Group was alarming to say the least. Stating the updated report contained no surprises and was balanced and fair, while making comparisons to other hospitals nationally which face similar challenges, simply does not cut it. This attitude is almost accepting defeat and will also accept the inevitable tragedies that occur into the future at this troubled hospital unless determined leadership is shown and a clear long-term strategy is put in place. The uncertain future of Portlaoise hospital is compounding the problems with rumours and counter-rumours leading to recruitment issues and low morale among existing staff. I am calling on the Minister, Deputy Harris, to publish the action plan for the hospital which has been submitted to his Department to ensure that the services in the hospital are sufficiently staffed to prevent further tragedies and to make a statement to this House confirming how and when the problems in the hospital will be rectified for the safety of mothers and babies.
Senator McDowell, sorry. Pardon me. Dare I say, it was a senior moment.
Senator McDowell raised an interesting point about aquifers. I would like to see that report and consider its accuracy. We have had a lot of discussion about that in north County Dublin where there is a large aquifer but the information I had at the time was that it certainly would not be sufficient on its own to supply the requirements. Nonetheless, the Senator's point is well made.
I endorse and support Senator Swanick's request for a motion. This is an area that I have been very interested in for quite some time. I raised it with the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, when I was Minister for Health and subsequently again, if memory serves, as Minister for Children and Youth Affairs. I have written to the Minister more recently to find out what is the up-to-date position. In fairness to the Minister, at that time the moneys concerned were quite small and he certainly intimated to me that there would be an orderly wind down of any investments in the tobacco industry. I believe it is questionable to have investments, as such, with an industry that has caused so much misery, hardship, hurt, harm and death right across the globe.
Will the Leader of the House consider having a debate with the appropriate Minister on the report of the Athlone boundary review committee, which was published recently? Some 28,000 people objected in County Roscommon to the extension of the boundary from the Athlone urban area to Roscommon in the Monksland-Bellanamullia area, which was a land grab by another local authority. I commend the chairman and all the members of the committee, and all the councillors in Roscommon who fought, and, indeed, all the Oireachtas Members. We all fought to ensure that part of our beloved County Roscommon would not be annexed into County Westmeath.
The situation is unsatisfactory. The report's summary states: "Roscommon and Westmeath County Councils should provide to the Minister a Joint Implementation Plan within 6 months of the publication of this report to indicate their proposals and timelines for completion of these tasks..." It goes on to state that if they do not co-operate, the Minister will extend the boundary into Roscommon. That is the threat in this report and I want to see that threat withdrawn. I want the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government to come to this House and state categorically that Bellanamullia-Monksland will remain an integral part of County Roscommon.There is a case to be made for naming the area as Monkstown or another suitable name and to turn the area into a town as opposed to a townland, which would give it more authority. The western side of Athlone is the most neglected part of County Westmeath. It would be more practical to extend the Roscommon boundary to the River Shannon, which is the natural boundary between the west and the east. Part of Athlone on the western side of the river is in Connacht whereas the other side is in Leinster. I am happy to retain what we have and not to make any grab for Westmeath but I would like a debate on this. If the Minister will not come to the House, I will seek a Commencement matter debate in this regard. The fight continues. This is only a fob to fight the next general election to ensure Fine Gael gains a seat.
Last Saturday would not constitute history. It was UN International Day of Persons with Disabilities. The Minister of State with responsibilities for disabilities, Deputy Finian McGrath, said the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities will not be ratified by the end of the year. Every party and political entity that took part in the general election was insistent that the convention would be ratified by the end of the year or as quickly as possible. In November of last year, the outgoing Administration committed to having it done by the end of this year. The commitment is in the programme for Government. Last June, the Minister of State, in reply to a Commencement matter I tabled, confirmed that it would be ratified by the end of the year, which would be important to trigger the road to progressive implementation. It is a serious matter for 600,000 people with disabilities, 200,000 carers and their families. I expect the Taoiseach to come to the House as soon as possible to explain what is the position. We are told there are backlogs with regard to legislation.
At the end of 2016, 100 years from a particular event, are those people not valued children in this nation? Surely, ratification should have been undertaken. Priorities continue to slip and change. This is a massive issue and people are losing faith with everybody involved in the political process because priorities continue to slip. I strongly seek ratification on behalf of those people.
A claim has been made that licences to shoot the highly protected red deer in Killarney National Park and its vicinity are being sold for substantial sums. A detailed report of at least one alleged instance where a red deer stag was shot by a hunter tourist who paid thousands of euro to a commercial company for the experience has been made to the Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. The stag was shot out of season under a permit issued to a landowner under strict conditions, which was allegedly obtained by a commercial company. That is a serious matter, if it is true. If any culling is to be done, it should only be of the non-indigenous sika species and not red deer. Only aged or infirm red deer should be culled. That species was down to 60 in number in 1970 but now there are more than 600 in the herd.My information is that the Department does not issue so-called section 42 licences to non-Department wildlife personnel other than landowners who are suffering crop damage on their own lands. Only ten of these are in existence under very strict conditions. We all know that deer can be dangerous and can wander onto roads and so on. On the western side of Killarney, which I am very familiar with, it is largely sika deer and they have been hit a few times by cars and could cause an accident. There are signs everywhere warning motorists.
I am calling on the Leader to have the Minister attend the House to have a debate on this matter and deer in general. The matter should be investigated and I presume it is being investigated. Perhaps we will have more information shortly and can take it up with the Minister.
I support the senior Senator for Kerry, Senator Coghlan, in this issue because I am also very concerned about reports which seem to suggest the hunting of the Killarney red deer has now become a purchasable pleasure. The Killarney red is a subset of the red deer and, as the Senator said, is an internationally protected species. It appears one can now get a licence to shoot them for the sum of €5,000. I do not know how exactly this developed. It seems that the only people who are entitled to shoot deer are the forestry and wildlife people for appropriate reasons. This is a new departure altogether. It is an offence to hunt, stalk and shoot these deer. It is reprehensible that wealthy Americans - in this case - can come over and shoot these deer to stuff them or, even worse, to cut their heads off and mount them on the walls of their dens, drawing rooms or clubhouses. The Minister, Deputy Humphreys, should come to the House and speak to us about this issue, tell us how this occurred and reassure us about what she will do to make sure it does not happen again. She should assure us that if these people are breaking the law, no matter how wealthy they are, they will be subject to the rigours of the law.
I have not had a chance to digest the statement that issued from Cabinet this morning on the pay-per-weight bin charges but I am somewhat concerned about what I have picked up on. I want the Leader to know that in Kerry we have been operating a pay-by-weight system for refuse collection for quite some time. It is very successful. My gut instinct is that Government is stepping back because of the debacle over water charges. No party has come out of it with any kudos. All the main political parties have succeeded in making a bunch of extreme Trotskyites look good. People who think it is good politics to lock two defenceless women into a car for four hours are looking good now because of the way we have handled water charges. I presume the Minister is afraid the bin charges will go the same way. I say this as a taxpayer on behalf of middle Ireland and the coping classes. I do not mind those who cannot pay but we will be paying for those who will not pay. Will we now be paying the bin charges and the refuge charges again for those who will not pay? Undergraduate politicians with megaphones are going around shouting down the people and it is very worrying.
Ba mhaith liom fáilte a chur roimh an gcomhaontú agus an réitiú atá déanta, tá súil agam, ag muintir dúchais Mheiriceá Thuaidh. I cautiously welcome the apparent resolution to the protest at Standing Rock by the Sioux tribe. The Leader will know the protest has been going on against the proposed Dakota access pipeline for a long period.The pipeline involves a 1,200 mile link between North Dakota and Illinois which, as proposed, would threaten the native people's water supply, cultural heritage and burial sites. There appears to be a resolution to that protest and the permission to finish the pipelines has not been granted. There are, however, many concerns among the Native American tribe because of the President-elect and his associations with the company responsible, and the resolution may be short-lived.
In this country we know the importance of environmental indigenous heritage sites and the danger that a capitalist agenda partnered with a compliant government can pose to such sites. Through the Leader I ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, when he is engaged with colleagues in the United States, to ensure that Ireland's voice is very clearly heard in support of those people standing in defence of Standing Rock. He should ensure a message of solidarity and support for the Sioux tribe there goes from this Chamber.
I note with concern that there is a decision to help increase the price of a postage stamp. The Minister has asked the Cabinet to remove the price cap in order that An Post can continue to carry out its five-day postal service. Last week I sent a letter to another European country that had to go overnight and it cost me €33. An Post is under pressure but it should not be subsidised in such a way.
I have raised the issue before at the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission of how Deputies and Senators used to get an allocation, with Deputies getting 1,200 or 1,300 pre-paid envelopes every month five or six years ago, and Senators getting much less. I worked it out that this was less than €2 million per year. Whoever did the deal on behalf of this Parliament ten or 15 years ago got a discount of 1 cent per envelope. In effect, we paid 54 cent in advance and got postage of 55 cent. All the envelopes, even those which people write on, are prepaid. They were paid for three or four years ago.
On the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission we reduced the cost by nearly 50%. We helped save this Parliament and taxpayers more than €1 million per year. More can be done.
I will speak for a moment about the banking whistleblower, Mr. Jonathan Sugarman. I speak in the wake of Senator Norris, who brought this up in 2010. Mr. Sugarman was the risk manager at Unicredit Ireland and he went on to-----
This particular individual was ignored by his bank, our banks, the regulator and political parties. People can say it is in the past but it is not, and it will not be in the past for 40 years. It is certainly not in my past because it brought a decrease in my salary and pension in the form of the universal social charge which is applied to everything we earn. Therefore, it is not in our past at all.
This man was not allowed to speak at the banking inquiry. Through the Committee on Procedure and Privileges I would like to invite this particular gentleman, who I am not allowed to name-----
-----to the Seanad.Since the man could not speak at the meetings on the banking crisis and he has not spoken in the Dáil, I would like to bring him in here because I want to ask him a lot of questions. I would like him to tell us why he cannot get a job for the past eight years and what happened when he was in Ireland in 2007. I want him to tell us the truth. I am asked almost every day, or it feels like it is every day, about the financial crisis. I want to know what is going on with the public that has left them disengaged from politicians and feeling angry. The disenfranchisement and financialisation of people's lives is one of the reasons that people are angry. We will soon have to pay for air.
I ask the Leader to invite the gentleman, who I am not allowed name but everybody knows because they have heard him on radio and television, to attend the Seanad in early January. It would afford us an opportunity to speak to him, for him to speak to us and then we could question him since he was not allowed comment at the banking inquiry and he has not spoken in the Dáil.
In order for the Senator to do so, she would have to change the Standing Orders and the rules of CPP. It is CPP that grants approval and if it agrees, then the invitation will come before the House where Senators can vote on the matter.
Since my experiences in the last presidential election, I could hardly be described as an admirer of the journalistic trade. However, I think that what has happened in Independent Newspapers is an utter and absolute disgrace. Yesterday, I attended a protest at the O'Callaghan Alexander Hotel. There are people who have spent decades in service of the Independent Newspaper and are within six months of receiving their pension but who have been cut off with virtually nothing. Their pensions have been absolutely savaged. I refer to a company that is in profit. We have seen the case of Clerys where there was absolutely disgraceful behaviour. Somebody had the cheek to erect a Happy Christmas sign in the window of Clerys and I felt like throwing a stone through it the other day.
There is a defect in the law. I ask the Leader to contact the Government and ask it to produce legislation to deal with this matter. In England, a company that is in profit is not allowed by law to walk away from its obligations to pensioners and this is what should happen in this country.
I ask for a debate on transport, particularly in respect of the city of Dublin. The city manager of Dublin has made the moronic suggestion that cars throughout the city should only be allowed to travel at 18.5 mph. If that were the case, cyclists could pass cars. The call has been made because the people in charge of Dublin City Council, formerly known as Dublin Corporation, hate motor cars. They do everything they can to create danger all over the city and are a liability in Dublin. I refer in particular to the spikes at the back gate of Trinity College and having two bus lanes but only one for cars on Pearse Street. Everything is done to stop people using their cars. Also, due to work on the Luas, the streets have been dug up all over the place. The new Luas system was an idiotic proposal. In the beginning, there were two separate lines that were totally unconnected and there was no spur to the airport. I tried many times and we nearly got the powers that be to create an underground.
I listened to Paddy Cosgrave from the Web Summit. He was asked how the summit in Lisbon had gone and his first reply was that it was absolutely brilliant because there was an underground at the airport. He said that the underground made the difference between Dublin and Lisbon. Can we debate the need for an underground? The matter has been masked. People have placed a veil across the matter and claimed there can be no underground due to safety concerns. That is absolute rubbish. It is the hatred of the two principal officials of Dublin City Council for the motor car. The real cause should be exposed as such. Citizens have a democratic right to their motor cars, particularly people who live in the inner city like myself. I can scarcely use my car because of so many one-way streets, areas blocked off and having bicycle this and that. It is absolute rubbish - here's to the motor car.
I was delighted to see that representatives of the Defence Forces and Reserve Defence Forces have been presented with a specially commissioned medal to mark the role they played in the 2016 centenary year.The presentation was made by President Higgins last Sunday. The medals are in recognition of the role played by soldiers, sailors and Air Corps personnel in the 1916 commemorative events this year. This presentation is very welcome and is a fitting tribute to the role played by the Defence Forces this year, one of the most important years in our history. Throughout the year members of the Defence Forces played a vital part in many large and small events in every part of the country. One function that stands out for most people is their involvement with the primary schools. Teachers and parents have told me how much the students enjoyed the presence and involvement of the Defence Forces when they visited their schools. It brought an important and serious ceremonial dimension to events. Children, many of whom had never met Defence Forces personnel previously, were enthralled and impressed by their visitors. We should also recall the vital and necessary functions carried out by the Defence Forces each year, including their peacekeeping activities across the globe. Their work in humanitarian peacekeeping is a matter of global citizenship and enhances the reputation of our country. They do their duty without the right to take industrial action and they do it willingly and without rancour or complaint. It is fair to say that the credit they received last weekend is long overdue. It is great to see them finally being recognised.
In addition, I welcome that the Garda Representative Association, GRA, voted yesterday to accept the Labour Court recommendation. I understand the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors, AGSI, is meeting today and I hope it follows suit. The lesson to be learned from this sad debacle is that the closely connected Ministers should stay in touch with these unions to ensure that situations such as this do not arise in future.
I second Senator Nash's proposal.
There was an incredible turn of events in this Chamber last week. For over a week, Fianna Fáil led us to believe that its Senators would support a Sinn Féin motion urging the Government to fulfil the call of the Constitutional Convention to hold a referendum to change the Constitution and allow people from the North and the Irish diaspora to vote in the next presidential election, which is due to 2018. I thank the Senators who supported the motion, particularly Senator Lawless who explicitly supported it. There was great expectation that this nationally, and indeed internationally, important issue would be supported and that the motion would be carried, but at the 11th hour the leadership of Fianna Fáil dramatically changed its position and supported Fine Gael's amendment which, at best, delays the constitutional referendum and, at worst, buries it until after 2018. The Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Coveney, said on the one hand that it is a priority for the Government but, on the other, that he could not foresee any movement until 2019, three years from now. That would be five years after the recommendation being made by the Constitutional Convention. What is the delay? The Government could sort out this matter in the morning. However, there is a lack of will to do so, and this must change.
Tens of thousands of people across the North and similar numbers across the world are keen to vote for the President in 2018. What does the Government say to these people? What does Fianna Fáil say to them? What has Fianna Fáil to say to its supporters after doing a U-turn on supporting this? I spoke to many Fianna Fáil activists over the weekend and they could not believe what the party had done in not supporting the motion. Why has Fianna Fáil ditched its party policy on this crucial issue? Last week was a missed opportunity. However, all is not lost. I call on the Government to change course on this matter and I call on Fianna Fáil to revert to supporting the right of people in the North and in the diaspora to vote in presidential elections. I call on the people to organise in support of the campaign to have voting rights in presidential elections extended to people in the North and in the Irish diaspora. The relevance of this House to Irish citizens in the North and abroad will be judged on how sincere Members are about prioritising presidential voting rights for Irish citizens, regardless of where they live. Make no mistake - the battle for equalisation of Irish citizenship will continue.
The question that arises today is, when is a property right a property right? Why is it always the working class that pays? Why do we see the same fat cats always win?I am raising the issue of Independent News and Media, but I may well be talking about Aer Lingus, decent public servants who have seen the abatement of their pension schemes. Was it a property right when they got it? It seems other people can claim property rights are untouchable. But the property rights of the working classes are never untouchable. I hear today of people who are taking a 70% cut in their pension. Surely, the Oireachtas can do something, send in some inspector to see why shareholders are about to get a dividend after so many years when the poor old guy who built the company with his sweat and blood, the journalists who went out and tracked down the criminals of this country are being cut to the bone and are being left in their old age desolate and with nothing. Why can they do it? They can do it because they know the State will pick up the allowance if they are broke. They know the State will have to fund them in hospital if they are broke. This has gone beyond a joke. Since 2008, workers have been crucified and yet the same God-damned names keep appearing and they are making millions. They are making millions on the backs of the people. It has to stop. We have to do something about it. For the life of me I do not know what to do about it, other than to run them all out of the country. I do not suppose we can do that but we must do something. Perhaps we should have the Minister for Finance come to the House and have a debate on this matter. A pension right is a pension right and should not be touchable by anybody.
First, I second the amendment to the Order of Business proposed by my colleague, Senator Swanick. I think he is to be lauded for his efforts in this regard in the past number of months. I think it is unfortunate that the National Treasury Management Agency and the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund have been investing taxpayer's money in three tobacco companies while at the same time, tobacco companies have been threatening to sue this State as a result of the efforts it is making to stop young people from taking up this deadly habit.
I support the call by my colleague, Senator Leyden, that the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment be called to the House, to discuss both the particular issue he raised in regard to the potential breach of the boundaries in County Roscommon and the urgent need for a constitutional referendum on the Lower House in order that there can be positive discrimination towards rural Ireland. The sooner that is done, the better. If the population growth continues to occur on the east coast and in the major urban areas, rural Ireland will end up with very few Members of the Dáil or Seanad. I urge that we debate this as soon as possible when we come back in the new year.
I wish to clarify an issue raised by Senator Conway-Walsh for the benefit of the House. She is indeed, correct and I have already apologised to the Sinn Féin Whip, Senator Paul Gavan, on Wednesday last. I indicated to Senator Gavan that the Fianna Fáil Party would support his motion, not a Bill. However, on closer examination, it was indicated to a colleague of mine - unfortunately I was not available due to personal reasons that afternoon - that we would prefer to examine in more detail a definition of what exactly the diaspora is and set the cut-off point. Does everybody who has an Irish passport and who may never have been on the island of Ireland have a vote for the presidential election? There were concerns.
I apologised to the Chief Whip of the Sinn Féin Party and I am doing so again in this House. He is not to blame.There was a concern that we should look at the motion, rather than the Bill, in more detail. That is why it was decided that we should vote with the amendment. That is the situation as far as I am concerned. There is no hidden agenda. As a party, we are still totally committed to giving votes to our diaspora. It is important that we identify exactly what the diaspora is before we go any further.
I thank the 21 Members who made contributions on the Order of Business this afternoon.
Senator Ardagh referred to the movement towards staffless public libraries. As someone who served as chairperson of Cork City Council's library subcommittee when I was a member of the local authority, I am aware that it is a matter for local authorities to fund their own services. The staff of libraries certainly play an integral and strong part in our experience in libraries. I might have the Minister come to the House to discuss the matter.
Senator McDowell spoke about the water pipeline between the River Shannon and Dublin. I will be very happy to invite the Minister, Deputy Coveney, to come to the House. There have been issues with water supply, and particularly water pressure, in Dublin. Those of us who stay in hotels when we are in Dublin will have seen water conservation notices in the lifts and public areas of hotels. It is important that we have a debate about how to ensure there is continuity and safety of supply in the Dublin area. Senator McDowell mentioned that he has received a paper from Emma Kennedy on this issue. Perhaps he might circulate it to Members as a means of reference. It is important that we learn and broaden our horizons. I will get the Minister to come to the House in this regard.
I join Senator Ó Clochartaigh, who also referred to libraries, in recognising the excellent work of the Minister of State, Deputy Kyne, in bridging a solution to the ferry issue last weekend. I thank the Minister of State for intervening and thereby showing his power and his ability to bring people together. Senator Ó Clochartaigh is right when he says that a long-term solution is needed. We have got a reprieve until 4 January, but we cannot have déjà vuor Groundhog Day on that date again. The point the Senator made about bin charges is to be welcomed. I will come back to that again.
The fundamental point made this afternoon by Senator Ó Clochartaigh is that all Members of the House should play a part in helping to eradicate the mistreatment of men and women who work in the entertainment and hospitality sector, including waiters, waitresses, bar people, glass collectors, doormen and doorwomen, taxi drivers, nightclub DJs and band members. We enter their workplaces when we go into restaurants and public houses. They deserve to be treated properly and with respect and decorum. I hope that as public officials, we lead the way by ensuring people in our parties and groups treat these people with respect and courtesy as they do their day's work or night's work. Senator Lawless, who is present, plays a strong role in the hospitality sector in Chicago. It is important for us to stand up for and stand with those who work in the sector.
Senator Black raised the issue of mental health. Everyone in this House has a role to play in promoting positive mental health, wellness and well-being. The Government has committed funding to this area. It has become a popular cant to blame the Government or public bodies for difficulties in the mental health sector. The Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, like her predecessors, Kathleen Lynch and John Moloney, has demonstrated her willingness to prioritise mental health. An additional €115 million has been invested in mental health this year. This represents an increase of 20% since 2012. There has been a recruitment and advertising campaign. I was in Cork City Hall yesterday when the Lord Mayor of Cork, Councillor Des Cahill, held an informative and important briefing on the issue of mental health and suicide in the city of Cork. We all have a role to play in this regard. It behoves all of us to ensure mental health is prioritised. I join the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, in trying to do that.
I am happy to accept the amendment to the Order of Business proposed by Senator Nash. Many Members of the House, including Senator Norris, who has left the Chamber, are playing a role in making our society more equal and more progressive. While it might not be as simple as Senator Nash thinks to achieve the aims of the Bill to which his amendment relates, we should collectively sign up to support it as a means of ensuring we can send a message to those who were persecuted and treated badly by the State, and their families.I join the Senator in condemning the treatment of workers in Drogheda. They have been locked out, in some cases, without any recompense or by-the-by after 20 or 30 years of service. Certainly, the issue of the Duffy Cahill review is one to which we can come back if we happen to have the Minister in the House.
Senator Richmond raised the matter of the EU Council meeting on the future of Europe. He is right. There is a need to have dialogue on the future of Europe, not least in the context of what we have seen with the Brexit vote, the vote in Italy at the weekend and the implications for the European Union, in particular, for fiscal stability. The issue of the growth of certain populist trends throughout the European Union is important as well.
Senator Swanick proposed an amendment regarding No. 29, motion 9, on the Order Paper. I am happy to accept it and join and commend him on his strong words and action around the tobacco industry. I commend the former Minister, Senator Reilly, on the role he played as Minister for Health in this regard. All Members can send a collective message to the effect that we do not want to see people dying of smoking or smoking-related diseases. If we can progress the health and well-being of our nation, then any stepping stone in that direction should be approached with acclamation by all.
Senator Devine raised the matter of Portlaoise. It is an important matter and one with which we should not be playing politics. I chaired the previous Joint Committee on Health and Children. We dealt with the HIQA report and we had some of the families affected before the committee. It is important to recognise that steps have been taken on foot of the events. It should be put on the record that it was the bravery of women and their families which has allowed us to come to this day, when we can have another report on the services in the hospital.
I must have listened to a different radio programme this morning, because I thought the chairperson of the group was clear and strong on the need to have a strategic plan. The plan is with the Minister to be implemented. He emphasised that we need to protect and ensure the safety of women and their babies and that this concern is paramount at all times. I fully agree with the Senator's point that we must see a strategic plan put in place. We must safeguard the lives of women and children and protect staff as well. That is why there has been an increase of 18% in Government funding to the hospital, something to which Senator Devine did not refer. That is why we have seen an additional 16 midwifery posts put in place as well as two additional midwifery management posts and an arrangement with the Coombe Women and Infants University Hospital.
It is important to put on record that the Minister has asked the HSE to address the immediate issues as a priority and to ensure the hospital is appropriately supported. No one wants to see anyone being treated badly or dying in our hospitals. It is important to put on record our thanks to the women and families who have come forward and to acknowledge their bravery. However, we must also give recognition to the Minister and the Government as well as the previous Government for putting in place increases in staffing and funding. That is not something Senator Devine referred to in her contribution.
Senator James Reilly reinforced the messages of Senator Swanick and Senator McDowell.
Senator Leyden raised the contentious issue of the Athlone boundary. I join Senator Leyden in hoping that Senators Feighan, Hopkins and McFadden are in the next Dáil. I hope Senator Leyden will join me in supporting their election to the next Dáil because they are three fine public representatives from the area.
I need not add any more than that. I will go back to the Senator's point. It is an important point in terms of any boundary review and I take the Senator's point. In my city of Cork, a boundary review committee is examining the matter and it is an anxious time. It is fair to say that the review is one that may not receive universal approval, no matter where it comes from or what conclusions it arrives at.
The recommendations of the report included a call for a unified vision for Athlone and a joint local area plan along with a retail strategy. I imagine we would all agree that is needed. Monksland is part of the retail strategy.Both counties have six months to reply and present a view for a joint implementation plan. It is important to hear both sides of the debate. I am not familiar with all of it but I will be happy for the Minister to come the House.
I commend Senator Dolan's work. Last Saturday was International Day of Persons with Disabilities. The Minister of State with responsibility for disability, Deputy McGrath, will issue a statement later today about the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. I understand from the Senator's remarks and the Minister of State's remarks that it will not be ratified by Christmas because the enactment of the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Act 2015 has an impact on it. We must aspire to having it signed into law. All sides aspire to that. I hope we will do that before the end of the first quarter of 2017. I will be happy to invite the Taoiseach to the House at a later date.
Senators Coghlan and Ned O'Sullivan mentioned the red deer in Killarney National Park. This is a very serious matter. Many of us would have a very uneasy feeling about hunter tourists. The matter is being investigated by the National Parks and Wildlife Service which is meeting with the Wild Deer Association of Ireland which has made the allegation. The licensing period is 1 September to 28 February. I am told, however, that permission is only granted where there is evidence of danger and a person can get a licence only on a case-by-case basis and must outline why the culling is taking place. The Senator might submit a Commencement matter on this issue or we can invite the Minister to the House, whichever the Cathaoirleach decrees.
Senators Ned O'Sullivan and Ó Clochartaigh raised the matter of pay-per-weight waste collection. The Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Naughten, has announced that it will not happen at the start of next year but in the middle of 2017. There will be no dual pricing system in that period. There is an opportunity for us to have a debate on the matter in the new year. I would be happy to invite the Minister to the House to discuss that. As Senator Ó Clochartaigh said, it shows the importance of this House that we could have the debate at an early stage and inform the Minister of our shared experience.
Senator Ó Domhnaill raised the issue of the North Dakota pipeline. I would be happy to have the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade raise the matter with his relevant counterparts in the United States. Senator Feighan raised the matter of postage stamps. I would be happy to invite the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment to the House to discuss the matter.
Senator O'Donnell raised the question of a particular gentleman whom I cannot name coming to the House. That is a matter for the Committee on Procedure and Privileges, CPP. The Cathaoirleach has given a ruling on that and I will be happy to have the matter debated at the CPP.
Senators Norris and Craughwell spoke about the funding of pensions at Independent News and Media, INM. It is disappointing and upsetting for people who have paid into a pension scheme to be suddenly faced with a payment cut of 70% or whatever it is.
It is important that when the scheme is in profit there is a need to protect the workers. I would be happy to invite the Minister to the House to discuss the matter. It is one that needs to be exercised. We can debate it.
It is a much wider debate than just giving a reply to the Order of Business and I would be happy to have that debate in the new year. Senator Norris also raised the matter of Dublin transport. I would be happy to have the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, come to the House. It is important that we promote an alternative to the car within cities, whether bicycles through the shared bike scheme or public transport. I do not necessarily share Senator Norris's view that bikes are here and there.
I agree that sometimes some of those who cycle on the streets of Dublin should do so with more care for pedestrians.I know that motorists are often paralysed by fear of going left or right, or even driving straight. One is nearly afraid to move because one could get taken out by a bike or is afraid of the look one might get. I am sure Senator Norris is brave enough for the cyclists anyway.
I would not advise that.
Senator Gallagher raised the matter of the Defence Forces receiving the medal of honour in recognition of their role in 2016. I had the pleasure and privilege of attending the flag-raising ceremony yesterday in City Hall in Cork, in which the flag was flown to end the year of commemorative activity. I thank the men and women of our Defence Forces who brought great colour, dignity, decorum and pageantry to the ceremonies. One of the highlights of the 1916 commemoration for the students in schools was the member of the Defence Forces coming to the school with the flag and the ceremony around that. I thought it was a tremendous idea.
I commend the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, on her role and how she played her part in the ceremonies.
Senator Rose Conway-Walsh raised the matter of the debate last week. There is a viewpoint being expressed by members of Sinn Féin on the right to vote in elections. They do not have all the answers. It is not as black and white as the Senator said it was. She has to reflect. I would not allow anyone to criticise or castigate Senator Wilson because-----
The Government's job was not necessarily to agree with everything the convention said, but to report back. I accept that, in some cases, the reporting back was tardy from the Government. Perhaps the Sinn Féin Members should go back and listen to the remarks of the Minister, Deputy Coveney, last week and reflect themselves on how we can end up with the result we all want, which is to increase the franchise. That may mean Sinn Féin having to compromise along with everybody else. However, coming in here and lecturing us all is not going to get us to where we want to go. Let us do that now.
I make the point that there is a cosy consensus within Sinn Féin that Members must be in the Chamber for every debate. The Senator is only here less than 12 months and is still learning. The Senator's day is not going to be spent in the Chamber every day.
Senator Norris, allow the Leader to conclude, or else I will suspend the House for 15 minutes and delay the Social Welfare Bill. The Senators are most unruly today. It is unfair on the Chair. I also ask the Leader to respect the Chair.
Absolutely. I want to protect the Members who make contributions in the Chamber. To be fair, we actually had a very good debate on the matter last week. I ask Members to reflect on what the Minister, Deputy Coveney, said and to then come to me. We might have another debate about it then.
I discussed the matter Senator Craughwell raised, but we should have that debate.
Senator Wilson spoke about the growth of rural Ireland. I believe he is right. There is a need to have a debate about the growth of rural Ireland. I know that the Minister, Deputy Coveney, might take the approach of a second national spacial strategy along with the Minister, Deputy Humphreys. It is one we need to consider. One particular area in which Senator Wilson is right is in the context of the local election boundaries, which positively discriminate against rural Ireland, as well as the Dáil constituency boundaries. They should be looked at because they should be about the representation of people.
I am happy to accept the amendments to the Order of Business.
Senator Keith Swanick proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That No. 29, motion 9, be taken before No. 1, without debate." The Leader has indicated he is willing to accept the amendment. Is that agreed? Agreed.