Tuesday, 13 December 2016
Order of Business
I refer to the lack of protection for private defined benefit pension schemes, particularly the Irish News and Media, INM, pension scheme dispute. Last week the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Leo Varadkar, sought legal advice from the Attorney General in an effort to intervene in the dispute. It was a very admirable move by the Minister who said: "I have asked the Attorney General if I can intervene on behalf of the public interest in this case to essentially ask the courts to do what was done previously in relation to Aer Lingus, for example, where the company would have to engage and negotiate with the trustees before going ahead with this." Today I ask the Minister to be a super-hero again in this House where he will actually have an opportunity to bring forward legislation to protect defined benefit pension schemes. Senator Alice-Mary Higgins has tabled an amendment to the Social Welfare Bill which was previously tabled by Fianna Fáil in the Dáil and the Seanad to prohibit the closure of a defined benefit pension scheme, except where it has reached a minimum funding figure of 90%. The amendment has been ruled out of order. However, I call on the Minister to support a Bill that will be tabled by Fianna Fáil very early in the new year which will reflect the body of that motion. I ask him to make a very firm commitment that he will support the Bill which will deal with the protection of defined benefit pension schemes before any more are closed. This is a matter which needs to be addressed promptly.
Ba mhaith liom dea-scéal a chéiliúradh i dtosach báire. I welcome the announcement yesterday and the information that followed it that Kleber Silva Medeiros, for whom we had campaigned in the Houses, was to be allowed to return home after the deportation order against him had been revoked.I thank the Members of the Houses and the Leader for intervening as well as the Minister for allowing and making this happen. At a further date, we can examine why it happened, but today it is great news for him and his wife, Harriet Bruce. Itinerary permitting, it is hoped that he will be able to travel home for Christmas.
We have been proved right that we were being sold a pig in a poke when we debated rent certainty in the House in recent weeks. There was an awful lot of talk and we were told to wait to see the rental strategy as it was going to solve all the problems and that the Government would tackle all the issues in the rental sector. We argued vehemently that we did not have faith in it and, on initial reading of the strategy for the rental sector, I am afraid my fears have been realised. Rather than putting a brake on rent increases, the document will allow landlords to increase rents 4% every year for the next three years. At the core of this strategy is a guaranteed rent increase of 12% over three years. This will continue to heap more pressure on struggling renters and lock low-income families and single people out of the rental market.
Thanks to the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Coveney, a family renting an average home in Dublin at €1,500 a month will pay an additional €4,500 in rent over the next three years. In Cork city, families will be out of pocket by an extra €3,200 over the same period. For those living outside these so-called rent pressure zones, rents will continue to rise. As I have constantly intimated to the Minister, the latest quarterly rental report for daft.ieshows that tenants in Galway city face an average annual rent increase of 10.9%. In Limerick, it was even higher, at 13.2%. This rental strategy will do nothing for those in Galway who are struggling with their rents. When debating legislation on the matter recently, Fianna Fáil stated it would revisit the situation if the Minister did not deal with this issue in a meaningful way. It will be time to do that if this legislation to enable the rental strategy comes before these Houses in the next week or so. I hope Fianna Fáil will be on side with us. At the moment, we need to discuss those issues with all parties and groupings across these Houses to ensure that proper rent certainty is introduced.
I welcome the efforts made by the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Zappone, in terms of refugee children being brought here. However, she also has a crisis on her own doorstep in terms of the child care regulations to be introduced in January and she is burying her head in the sand. I have been inundated with calls from centres that may well have to close down because they will not be able to comply with the regulations within the time specified. Workers that have been working in services for years may have to relinquish their jobs because they do not have FETAC level 5 qualifications, which will be required. It is totally and utterly impractical to expect this to be implemented in January. In Gaeltacht areas, it is even more difficult because they are looking for people with Irish to fill positions. Further, the wages in the sector are one of the reasons that it is so difficult to find staff as it is. We need an urgent response from the Minister. She needs to rethink what she wants to impose from January onwards because it simply will not work. It will put people out of business and close down services.
I welcome today's announcement of the rental strategy and commend the Minister for delivering the strategy before the end of the fourth quarter, as promised. As referenced by Senator Ó Clochartaigh, we all know that this is a really important strategy. One in five now lives in rented accommodation and depends on us, legislators, to regulate and manage the sector effectively. I look forward to examining how the proposals in the strategy measure up in terms of rent certainty, security of tenure, supply, standards, services, the new rent pressure zones and how they will work, the tenancy in situarrangements, the increased number of inspections and the commitment to create longer tenancies with the end goal of creating tenancies of indefinite duration. Like most things, the devil will be in the detail and I would welcome an opportunity to have a debate on the detail of the rental strategy as soon as possible. In particular, I would like to cross-reference the strategy against submissions made by civil society groups such as Threshold, the Simon Communities, Uplift and others. I would be grateful to the Leader if he were to invite the Minister to the House for such a debate.
I call on the Leader to arrange a debate on fossil fuel divestment.One year on from the historic Paris agreement on climate change I am delighted to say that yesterday Trinity College, Dublin, became the first university in Ireland to sign up to fossil fuel divestments following a 15 month student campaign, Fossil Free TCD, and the college will now sell up to €6 million worth of investment in oil companies as part of a global movement for divestments in fossil fuels. Some 677 institutions have pledged to divest from fossil fuels as part of a major global divest-invest campaign. I was delighted to join some of the students from the Fossil Free TCD campaign and the students' union earlier today outside Leinster House to highlight the campaign.
We had a debate on climate change last week and will have a series of statements on climate change, but I would like us to examine fossil fuel divestment which can play a major part in resolving issues around climate change. I commend Trinity College and all of those involved in the campaign for signing up to this. It is to be hoped other universities and institutions around the country will follow.
I also welcome the publication of the House of Lords report yesterday on UK-Irish relations after Brexit. It is worthwhile and welcome to see it placing such a priority on the need to ensure preservation of the Good Friday Agreement and the peace process, and making the key point that Northern Ireland must not be relegated to a mean bargaining chip in tough negotiations between Britain and the EU. It is a very welcome report which makes some sensible proposals about how best to ensure that a soft border is maintained on the island after Brexit.
I had the pleasure of meeting Hilary Benn, MP, earlier, who is the chairperson of the Exiting the European Union Select Committee and will speak at a Labour Party seminar today as part of an ongoing process of an examination of and discussion on Brexit. We will discuss the matter with the Committee on Procedure and Privileges. I would welcome a debate and discussion in the Committee on Procedure and Privileges on how the Seanad can best play a role in the negotiations on Brexit and have an input into the process.
I note the appalling situation in eastern Aleppo today. There are reports of brutalities and at least 82 civilians have been killed. Some 11 women and 13 children were shot as they tried to flee from a brutal Syrian and Russian Government bombardment of eastern Aleppo. The UN has called it a complete meltdown of humanity. I have called for a debate on Aleppo and Syria many times, and the House unanimously passed a motion condemning the bombardment of Aleppo which with I went to the Russian ambassador. We questioned the Russian ambassador and pro-Syrian regime representatives who came before the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade.
The latest carnage we are seeing in eastern Aleppo is appalling. We may see an endgame, whereby the moderate secular opposition is being entirely wiped out in Syria. It is distressing to see what is happening. I ask that we have a debate on the matter in early course.
I welcome the announcement yesterday from the Minister for Tourism, Transport and Sport, Deputy Shane Ross, on the Shannon Estuary drive following calls from me for the inclusion of Limerick in the wild Atlantic way. I am glad the Minister has announced the initiative. It will be a touring route and a pilot scheme will be run in conjunction with Fáilte Ireland. It will involve an inland visitor experience. It is linked from Foynes, which is already on the Wild Atlantic Way, to Killimer, County Clare. It will benefit small businesses and the hospitality and tourism industry.
The initiative also ties in with the timely announcement from Paul O'Connell, of rugby fame, about his appointment to head the new interactive rugby museum on the main street in Limerick. Limerick is synonymous with sport and tourism. The fact that these initiatives have been announced at the same time is very positive. I welcome both and hope they will work together in terms of attracting tourists to our streets.
I would like the Leader to ask the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Richard Bruton, to address the shortage of substitute primary teachers in our primary schools. School principals are reporting that they are finding it increasingly difficult to get substitute teachers on a short or long-term basis. Last week, a number of principals highlighted that in the case of maternity leave cover some 25 texts were sent but, apparently, only one reply was received. Another principal said when a request was sent for maternity leave cover no one responded to the advertisement.Last summer a firm recruiting teaching staff for Dubai, recruited 50 primary schoolteachers in one hour. They were offered lucrative contracts in Dubai for two years, including paying for rent. That is what we are competing against. It is a serious issue that we need to address. I ask the Leader to raise with the Minister for Education and Skills the number of substitute teachers available. There are indications that the figure could be as low as 50. What plans, if any, does the Minister have to address the issue so that it does not become a serious problem?
I join Senator Bacik in congratulating the British House of Lords on an excellent report on Brexit and UK-Irish relations, which makes some excellent suggestions. For those who have not read the report, I recommend that they do. I was somewhat disappointed as I felt that more people would have been interested in meeting the delegation from the House of Lords. I understand they had bilateral meetings with political parties yesterday. I was delighted to be with Senators Richmond and Coghlan in meeting Lord Jay.
What the House of Lords has done is extremely important. It has put itself out front and centre, showing concern for the relationship that exists between our two islands, which is vital. That matter needs to be followed up rapidly. They would probably welcome some more interaction between this House and the House of Lords, something we should consider in the not too distant future.
Senator Bacik also raised the issue of Aleppo. Every few days or weeks we hear something about Aleppo. When we go home and switch on the television we look at rubble, which is all that is left of that city, and we talk about the horror of it. Does anybody really give a continental damn? It seems to be caught in the middle of a political argument between the great powers and nobody seems to care. When I look at what is there, one would not put children out to play in it. However, children have to be brought up and educated in it, and hospitals are trying to run in it.
I agree with Senator Bacik that we should have a debate in this House, but I would invite the Russian ambassador to sit in on that debate as a guest in the House to hear what is being said because clearly he is not listening. We might also get the US ambassador to sit beside him and get them all to listen to what is being said. Somewhere along the line the message is failing on deaf ears.
I welcome last week's report from the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment on the impact of a potential nuclear accident at Sellafield. The report outlined four scenarios with an estimated loss to this country of between €4 billion to €161 billion. In the worst-case scenario, the impacts would extend to 60 years, though the most substantial economic impacts arise in the first 30 years.
Four new plants are set to come on stream in Britain. I have done some homework on them and if any of the Senators are interested I have maps showing where they will be located. The development at Hinkley Point on the Celtic Sea has been given planning permission. There is one in Oldbury, one in Wales, Heysham and Sellafield. Chinese investors and French companies are involved in a €16 billion investment. The British taxpayer is looking for cheap electricity. It looks like Montgomery Burns in Britain because it is all about the shareholder and not the people.
We need the Minister to come to the House for a debate on what the Government is doing. Is it monitoring this situation, including the security issues? The British Government has failed to live up to scratch when it came to Sellafield and in the process badly letting down the Irish people.We have a huge issue here with four new plants coming on stream. There are seven new nuclear plants in France, four of which are up and running with the other three coming online in the near future. These are in our back garden. There they are for everybody to see. They are going to come down by the Irish Sea and the Celtic Sea and they are going to be in our back garden. What are we doing about it? We have to go over and see what is going on and have our input. As far as I can see, we are doing nothing about it at the moment. It is being hidden away. Do we start to go back and issue iodine tablets again? We have seen what Sellafield did and the destruction it wreaked on the Irish Sea. Certain areas were decimated when all of that poison was leaked into the Irish Sea. Let us not make the same mistakes again. Let us go and see what is going on.
Ireland's reputation as a country that facilitated - yes, I use the dreaded words - tax avoidance on a grand scale over successive decades was brought back to the fore in recent days with the publication of a report by Oxfam. We have to get real on this. The poverty rates and inequality we have allowed to develop in our society can never be addressed as long as we continue to allow these companies to avoid tax on such a grand scale. The Government, through the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, has totally rejected these findings, of course, as has the Department of Finance itself. They have stated that we, as a country, did not meet any of the international standards to be considered a tax haven and that our corporation tax rate and incentives do not make our country a haven. This is fine, of course. We would expect nothing else. However, it does not mean we have to agree with such sentiments. I record here and now that we certainly and absolutely do not agree.
Sinn Féin has questioned the tax collection methods relating to corporation tax for years. The so-called "double Irish" was closed because of massive pressure internationally, in particular from the EU. We were then able to come up with a replacement scheme in the knowledge box. We should be charging the applicable rate of corporation tax in its entirety and ending poverty in this country. I can anticipate the response from the Leader. He will say we are ruining Ireland's reputation, are anti-jobs and are always negative. I will write the script for him.
There have been too many question marks surrounding tax collection for years, most recently in respect of Apple. Sometimes, one just has to call a spade a spade. I am calling for a debate on the findings of the Oxfam report and on how we can go about collecting the effective rate of corporation tax with zero reductions. Our citizens deserve it.
I want to highlight two issues quickly but before doing so I note that I was disappointed our amendment to the Social Welfare Bill, which we will be discussing later, was ruled out of order. It is a missed opportunity. I urge the Leader to engage with the Minister to ensure that he proposes some solid and meaningful alternative way to take action in relation to Independent News and Media on the specific issue of its pension funds. While I know we will have the opportunity to debate that properly later, an opportunity has been missed and we will certainly be expecting a very solid and clear message from the Minister when he attends the House later this afternoon.
I was very happy to be part of the fossil-free divestment moment outside the Houses of the Oireachtas today. It is becoming a burning issue and it is very important. While Trinity College has moved ahead with divestment, I happy to see that NUIG has also made a commitment to divest itself from over €3 million in stocks it holds in fossil fuels. I commend the fossil-free NUIG campaign for driving that.
On the question of the environment and climate change, the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Shane Ross, attended the House a few weeks ago and was asked about his plans for cycling in Dublin and the national cycling strategy. We now know that Dublin has won the opportunity to host Velo-city, the largest international conference on cycling globally.It is a key opportunity so I urge the Leader to ensure that when the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport comes in to talk to the House about his commitments relating to climate change, he would make sure cycling is specifically addressed.
With the Cathaoirleach's permission-----
When a person other than the leader of the group stands up, they can only raise one issue. People frequently break that rule and go on about other issues. The Senator spent a minute talking about debate and ran out of time. If she is very brief, I will let her in but in future, I cannot do so. She should remember that she cannot be the second speaker and the leader at the same time. I must have rules.
I will be very brief. It is a matter of some urgency. I am simply asking that in reflection of the motion on Aleppo that was passed unanimously in this House, the Leader remind the Government of that motion and urge it to take immediate action to press for a ceasefire. I know we have talked about a debate. We have seen those on the ground who called for a three-day ceasefire now calling for a three-hour ceasefire to ensure that extraordinarily vulnerable citizens have an opportunity to get out and access safety. The crisis is urgent. I would love it if the Leader would report back - perhaps even tomorrow - as to whether the Government has been able to reflect the motion by pressing for a ceasefire wherever possible.
I also welcome the report by the House of Lords on the implications of Brexit. It is fascinating that this report was simultaneously announced in Dublin and the UK. The report argues that the British political establishment misunderstands the nature of free trade and overstates the negotiating position of the UK. The report also argues that it is a huge challenge for Ireland, the peace process and the special nature of UK-Irish relations.
We must welcome this report and thank the committee for being as generous as it was. It has looked for bilateral talks with the Irish Government. I do not think this can be done on a formal basis but they certainly need to be agreed by the EU. We have come a long way in the past 40 years and can now have open debate, dialogue and conversations in this report. I agree with Senator Craughwell. This House should do a lot more in forging relationships with all the Parliaments on the islands of Ireland and Great Britain because we have done so through the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly. It is generous, open and the way forward. Once again, we must ensure that there is a special solution for the special nature of UK-Irish relations.
Will the Leader consider a debate on Nos. 9 and 11, which are non-Government motions? They concern the massacre of people in Iran in 1988. I think there was general agreement in the House that this was an important issue.
I return to the issue raised by Senator Devine, namely, the Oxfam report released yesterday. It is a devastating report because it exposes the world's worst tax havens. Ireland is at No. 6, which is pretty staggering. When one considers that developing countries lose out on $100 billion annually, it is pretty serious. Countries like Ireland provide incentives and loopholes for multinational corporations in a way that is extremely damaging. There are two main reasons Ireland is on the list. First, it facilitates large-scale corporate tax avoidance and, second, it has not implemented any effective rules to prevent this. The allowance of inward profit sharing by US multinational corporations is an estimated €93 billion of excess profits.This is an extraordinary figure and we are allowing this to on under the guise of silence. In addition, Ireland has produced no data or research to demonstrate it has made any effective attempts to address this situation. It has also failed to support country-by-country reporting through the European Union. This would make a huge difference because multinational corporations produce a global account system that does not indicate the countries in which the profits are actually generated. They are then chiselled out of their due rights. I put this in the context of the statement by the Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, on 7 September this year that we are a strong supporter of tax transparency, that administrative co-operation is a key factor in tackling the global problems of tax avoidance and aggressive tax planning and that the core principle underpinning this work is that tax should be paid where economic activity takes place. I agree absolutely but let us see some action on it. These are fine words but the behaviour of the Irish Government contradicts them. If we are cleaner than clean, why is it that Brazil has ruled that Ireland is a very low tax or no-tax country? This effectively adds us to those countries on its tax haven blacklist. This is a very important matter that deserves discussion in Seanad Éireann.
I know the Leader has a motion on Thursday, but we are coming to the end of our session and I want to know when the next Stage of the Planning and Development (Housing) and Residential Tenancies Bill will be taken. I understand time has been set aside until midnight for the meeting of the select committee of the Dáil, which is not a matter for us and it is going on as we speak. More than 180 amendments have been tabled. There is a very tight timeframe with regard to how we will do our business to complete the process next week. The Bill is due to come back to the Seanad next Tuesday. Will the Leader tease out what will happen? I am led to believe from my contacts that it will be very difficult to turn around the amendments and have a report ready for us for next Tuesday. There is a timeframe and it may mean the Seanad needs to meet next Wednesday; I do not know. It would be helpful were the Leader to address these details tomorrow. There is an awful lot of work to be done. I understand the Department and the officials expect to come here and there will be further amendments. We need a passage of time to see how it will spin out over the coming days.
The documentary broadcast last night, "The Crossing", did a very good job on showing how the Naval Service and the Defence Forces work to save lives, as well as their dedication and commitment to their job. They work very much as a team to ensure the maximum number of people can be saved in their rescue missions in the Mediterranean. I also compliment the producers of the programme. It is a huge lesson for all of us about the difficulties of people forced to take very dangerous craft to try to get a better way of living and live in a safer jurisdiction than where they live now. My compliments to everyone involved.
We have a major problem with the private nursing home sector. In the public sector, the cost was allowed to increase by 13% over a five-year period but in the private sector, an increase of 1.7% only has been allowed with regard to the amount paid by the NTPF. There is no right of appeal once the figure is set for a nursing home bed. There is also a major problem now whereby the HSE is recruiting people from private nursing homes and offering them packages the private sector cannot afford to pay.In the public sector, HSE nursing homes cost €1,700 per bed whereas the NTPF is paying as little as €800 per week in the private sector. This major issue must be examined. Will the Leader bring it to the attention of the Minister and arrange for a debate?
I second Senator Freeman's proposed amendment regarding the Mental Health (Amendment) Bill 2016 - First Stage.
Will the Leader invite the Minister for Communications, Climate Change and Environment, Deputy Naughten, to the House to discuss Coillte's discontinuation of the Compass Club afternoon courses? This was highlighted today by-----
The Compass Club afterschool courses. The matter was highlighted on Joe Duffy's "Liveline" programme today. It was a worthwhile exercise on the part of that show. The clubs, which are organised by Coillte, allow young people of between six and 12 years of age to study nature, wildlife and forestry. An educational programme, it has been operated by experienced people after school.
As and from the end of December, however, the Compass Club afterschool courses will be dropped. They give children a foundation in outdoor skills and activities, running one day per week over six weeks. Courses are available throughout the school year, so if a child misses one, another will start. Someone from Killarney National Park spoke on today's programme. Senator Coghlan might be aware of him. The man was 67 years of age and was delighted to get the opportunity in September to work with and help young children, but he received a phone call on Friday to tell him that the programme had been discontinued.
We gave 600,000 hectares of countryside to Coillte. It is a poor excuse to blame the programme's discontinuation on Brexit export issues. A PR company sent a message to "Liveline", but that company will get more money than the whole programme would have absorbed.
This is a Scrooge-type operation ahead of Christmas. It is unfair. Coillte is a semi-State company that has our land. I call on the Leader to take up the issue on behalf of the young children of Ireland who are interested in the programme.
I wish to raise the issue of Yemen. Every ten minutes, a child dies of starvation in Yemen and 400,000 children are facing that stark fate in the coming months. Ten thousand people have been killed in the Yemen civil war. We are playing our part in that war. We helped to bring cluster bombs - imagine that - through Shannon Airport to Saudi Arabia in November 2014. It is on the record. The Government's information confirmed this under a freedom of information request. A total of 272 flights with various materiel, including bombs, were permitted to go through Shannon in 2014. I am glad to say that the Government has since taken decisive action, in that it has decided not to release information now.
Let us call a spade a spade. I concur with those who express concern about Aleppo. As to inviting the Russian ambassador to Leinster House, however, we are in no position to talk while we are supporting the bombing of men, women and children in Yemen on a daily basis through Shannon. Are we pretending that it is not happening? I would like to hear from other Senators in the Chamber. It should not just be Sinn Féin raising this topic.
Given that the Labour Party in particular recognised that there was a problem at Shannon Airport five years ago and had the issue incorporated in the programme for Government, I do not understand the silence on that front. During its five years in Government, there was silence about Shannon Airport. It is time that we all faced up to our responsibilities in this regard.
We can have no credibility talking about Aleppo until we tackle the elephant in the room and confront the fact that, according to the Government's figures, cluster bombs were transferred through Shannon Airport.So of course I am calling for the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade to come to the House. I have been calling for that consistently week after week. I hope he will come in as soon as possible after Christmas so we can debate the issue and hear what everyone has to say.
I too would like to add my voice of support to the House of Lords European affairs committee's report, Brexit: UK-Irish Relations. I was delighted yesterday, along with colleagues, to meet Lord Michael Jay and his colleagues, and to have met Lord Tim Boswell, chairman of the committee, some time ago when he visited us. They visited in the course of their talks in Northern Ireland, in Belfast, as well and they consulted rather widely. They consulted also with two former Taoisigh, who I gather were very helpful to them. The key point is this is a useful and positive report. The committee has shown great interest and understanding, I might say, of our situation vis-à-visthe North and the various agreements and how we must protect all that is involved in that, which has been embodied in European law as well.
We are virtually on the same page as them but it also is very important at this time and in the future because there will be many more developments and twists on the road before Article 50 is invoked by the British, not least the Supreme Court judgment to come in January. I am very much of the view offered previously by Senator Bacik. I appeal to the Leader to pursue this further at the Committee on Procedure and Privileges because it behoves us to have continuing contact with that committee - this House with that House - to advance matters further. I accept that lawfully, under standing agreements we cannot negotiate separately or make arrangements bilaterally until the button has been pressed, that is, when Article 50 is invoked. However, there is nothing to prevent us continuing to do the good work behind the scenes so that hopefully, when the time comes and we are formally engaged in negotiations, the EU will be able to give its blessing, if not fully then at least substantially, to what is in the best interests of Ireland and Britain, in particular this island of Ireland.
I note over the weekend there was talk again about draining the Shannon, which is wonderful, but I would like to have a debate in the new year about the Shannon Estuary. I seek a wide comprehensive debate on the estuary and its pivotal role in the infrastructure of the mid-west region and especially its key role in the future of energy security in the country. I have raised this ad nauseam. Members are sick of me talking about it but we have had some of the most successful industries in the estuary, including the Aughinish Alumina plant in Foynes, the Tarbert power station and the Moneypoint power station but very little has happened in the past decade apart from a lot of talk and political promises from all sides. People are fairly sick of it now. There is a major project in the offing, of which the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Naughten, is very well aware. In fairness to him, he has taken a good interest in it and has received a number of delegations from the community, business interests and foreign investors on a liquified natural gas project, which I mentioned previously in the House. I ask the Leader to investigate the possibility of moving the issue forward in the House. It is something that would be of interest, in particular to Members from counties Galway, Clare, Kerry and Limerick - the entire mid-west. Something fruitful could emerge in the near future.
I thank the 19 Senators for their contributions on the Order of Business this afternoon. The opening contribution was from Senator Ardagh on the INM defined pension scheme. All of us are united on the need to take a common approach to the issue and the events that have occurred, which left many of us aghast. The reality is that it is a private pension scheme and the Minister has no direct role in it but he has asked the Attorney General for advice. He has also met with the chairperson of the Pensions Authority on defined benefit schemes. What is disappointing is that even if action can be taken, it cannot have retrospective effect, which is a worry.The standard model that some people have been speaking about does not necessarily do what one wants it to do. Having spoken to the Minister, Deputy Varadkar, and his departmental officials, I know they are anxious to try to do something. It is a matter of whether or not it can be done.
I am sorry Senator Higgins is no longer here and am disappointed she has left the Chamber. She raised a matter on the Order of Business and, to be fair, she should be here like other Senators who raised matters. The amendment was not ruled out of order by the Leader. It was ruled out of order because it was not in order and the Senator was given the reason. It was not a decision taken by the Leader.
It would be better if we left that in the hands of other people. However, the amendment was not ruled out of order by me, although that impression was given. It was done by others in authority and I respect and accept their decision and we should accept that. We should all work together to ensure that we find a solution to the vexing issue with which we are all unhappy and uncomfortable.
On this occasion, I think it is a point of order. Could the Chair remind the Leader that it is regarded as inappropriate to refer to the absence of a Senator, which he did in quite a marked fashion. There may very well have been a good reason, such as an emergency telephone call.
It was not a marked response but I raised it because it is a very important matter. To be fair, I was not singling out anybody. I do not mean to be pompous, but one sits through the Order of Business every day and one may discover that of 19 Senators who spoke today, some may leave. There are genuine reasons but if someone raises a matter on the Order of Business, the least they could do is wait for the reply at the end of the Order of Business.
The Leader was entitled to mention it. He could have ignored it. There was a ruling by the last Leader that if Senators raised an issue on the Order of Business and left, their matter would be ignored. He did not say it in any defamatory way, he just mentioned it.
Senator Freeman made a request concerning the Order of Business and I would be happy to accept that. I thank her for that.
We all join with Senator Ó Clochartaigh in congratulating the Medeiros family and the good news of Kleber Mederios's impending return. It shows the importance of a story's humanity being heard. It is a lesson for all of us that the people we meet in our constituency offices have genuine cases, although some may not. In this case it was genuine, however. The Minister, or whoever made the decision, recognised that. I commend the Senator and the Minister for the decision that was taken.
Today is an important day concerning the rental strategy. The Minister will be back in the House with the Bill. The strategy for rent certainty recognises that our rental market is not delivering either for tenants or landlords. Therefore, we need a strong and viable rental market as a long-term strategy for those who want to rent as well as providing for landlords who seek a secure investment environment. The Minister's decision is based on a number of strategies, including security, ensuring greater tenure and rent certainty, supply, standards, services and broadening the remit of the Residential Tenancies Board. The Minister has done much good work and should be commended for that.
As regards rent pressure zones in Dublin and Cork, annual rent increases have been above 7% in those areas in the past year or 18 months.
-----to be discussed because there are child care provisions with a serious question mark and I would be happy to work with the Senator on this. I have already met with the Minister in that regard. The Minister is aware of the issue and I would be happy to have her come to the House on the matter.
Senator Kelleher welcomed the national strategy and asked to be given the chance - if the Senators would have listened to her - and to be fair to the Senator she has expertise in this matter. The Minister will be in the House again before Christmas, as Senator Ó Clochartaigh knows quite well.
Senator Bacik proposed a debate on fossil fuel divestment, as did Senator Alice-Mary Higgins, and I congratulate the Trinity Senators on being the first to this issue. It is part of a whole conversation the State needs to have around that.
With regard to Aleppo, I believe all Senators agree the need to see international action sooner rather than later because the situation has gone beyond the acceptable words. The pictures and images, as Senator Craughwell spoke of, are real life.
I join with Senator Maria Byrne in welcoming the announcement about the Shannon Estuary. I thank her for being an advocate for this in the area and especially around Limerick and the Wild Atlantic Way. I welcome the museum. Senator Gallagher raised a very topical issue about the lack of substitute teachers. I would be happy for the Minister to come to the House regarding that issue.
Senators Craughwell, Feighan and Paul Coghlan raised the issue of Brexit. The House of Lords report is a very fine tome. Members should read it and reflect upon it over the holidays. There is much very interesting commentary and observational analysis contained within, not least the fact that: "The implications of Brexit for Ireland are therefore more profound than they are for any other Member State," which is correct. Another line from the report that struck me was: "The implications of the 23 June referendum result for UK-Irish relations are often overlooked, at least on this side of the Irish Sea," meaning the UK side of the sea. This is not an unfair comment.
I will put it to one side, the Cathaoirleach is alright. I will actually hide it from him so he will not see it. Brexit is a huge challenge for us. As the Minister said yesterday, we do not have the ability to have a bilateral relationship between the UK and Ireland but under the umbrella of the EU-----
-----but it is important that we would all find the common ground and that any negotiation must recognise the importance of the North-South axis in this State and the North's axis with England, Scotland and Wales, and from us as an island to the UK. It is impressive that this report is one of six that have been published. It is one that we will discuss with the Committee of Procedure and Privileges tomorrow and I hope that the House can play and active role in that regard. There will be no objection from this side of the House to any of us being able to play a significant role regarding the matters discussed around Brexit.
Senator Butler spoke about Sellafield and I would be happy to ask the Minister, Deputy Naughten, to come to the House on that matter and on the issue of the growth of nuclear power plants in the UK. Deputy Butler has raised this before in the House.
Senators Devine and Norris spoke on the Oxfam report.I will remind the Senators of what is stated in the Oxfam report. I reject any allegation that we are a tax haven, because we are not one. What the report actually states is that-----
First, Ireland does not meet any of the international standards for being considered a tax haven. Second, we are fully compliant with all international best practice in the area of tax transparency and exchange of information.
Ireland has a limited number of targeted incentives that are fully in line with international best practice. I challenge the Senators to come back to the real world and to recognise that we are not a tax haven. We are fully compliant. The House knows from the Minister for Finance, in terms of the knowledge box and the update he published on budget day on Ireland's international tax strategy, which highlights our continuing efforts in this regard-----
Senator Alice-Mary Higgins raised the issue of climate change and the national cycling strategy. I join with her in congratulating Dublin City Council. I will arrange for the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, to return to the House in the new year.
I am happy to discuss with Senator Norris the items he raised regarding the Order of Business. It probably will not be before Christmas but consideration certainly will be given to having them discussed.
Senator Victor Boyhan raised the Planning and Development (Housing) and Residential Tenancies Bill 2016. The Bill is scheduled to complete all Stages in the Dáil on Friday. As agreed at the meeting of group leaders on Wednesday, it is the intention to take it in this House on Tuesday afternoon. We can sit from whatever time it comes into us on Tuesday afternoon until as late as we want. It will certainly be-----
I ask that Senator Coghlan allow me finish. As Leader, I have to consider Members of the House, their staff, the staff of the Seanad and those in the Minister's office, which is why we should try to get it done on Tuesday. I believe there is ample time to do it on Tuesday given that the amendments will be presented to the Dáil this week. Those amendments, if passed, will be contained in the Bill that will come to this House. There will be no changes, if Members know what I mean. The amendments will be presented in the Bill that will come before this House. There will, therefore, be no new information. I do not see a need to do anything other than that which we have already agreed, which is to sit on Tuesday. I am happy to discuss the matter with Senators though.
As Members know, all of the amendments will not be accepted or agreed. Neither might all the Government amendments be accepted. In the interests of fairness and not wishing to be obstructionist, we should wait until Thursday morning or afternoon. However, it is my intention, as agreed at the meeting on Wednesday, to bring the Bill to the House to be debated on Tuesday of next week. If it takes until whatever time on Tuesday night, so be it. I will not rush it, but I do not think there is a need to sit other than on Tuesday.
Yes. It will be an amended Bill coming back to this House.
Senator Colm Burke raised "The Crossing" on RTE last night. I commend the producers and narrators of the programme and pay tribute, on behalf of all Members, to the members of the Naval Service and the Defence Forces on the fine work they do.Senator Burke raised a very important issue and has been a very strong champion of nursing homes and public and private relationships. I would be happy for the Minister, Deputy Harris, to come to the House to discuss the issue of recruitment from the private sector to the public sector by the HSE.
Senator Leyden referred to the Compass Club, which is run by Coillte. I was not aware of the issue until he raised it. I am amused that it is being stopped, given that we are in an era where alternative energy is being promoted and there is a need to promote awareness of our environment. The Senator made a very good point. If a PR company was involved, it would probably earn more than those providing the courses. I would be happy for the Minister to come to the House to discuss the issue. The Senator could submit a Commencement matter on the issue.
I accept that. I understand the relevant Minister is a constituency colleague of the Senator. It is a very interesting point.
Senator Gavan referred to the very important issue of Yemen and the loss of life in its ongoing civil war. I have already given him a reply on the use of Shannon Airport. He can submit a Commencement matter to bring the relevant Minister to the House to discuss the issue. We all join with him in the condemnation of killing and the need to preserve and protect life in the area. Any of us interested in a resolution to the conflict recognise that this is a matter that cannot be allowed to continue.
I addressed the matter raised by Senator Coghlan. Senator O'Sullivan referred to the Shannon Estuary. I would be happy to have a debate on the issue in the new year.