Thursday, 2 March 2017
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, Heritage Bill 2016 - Committee Stage (resumed), to be taken at 12.45 p.m. and to be adjourned not later than 5 p.m. if not previously concluded. To clarify it for the House, this is not a guillotine but rather that we will conclude our deliberations for the day at 5 p.m.
I welcome the reintroduction of 400 career guidance posts, an action contained in the Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil confidence and supply agreement. It was agreed at the time that this Government would reintroduce guidance counselling to secondary schools and budget 2017 saw that reintroduction with the restoration of 400 guidance posts, commencing in September 2017. In 2012, 600 guidance posts were lost and we hope the number will increase over the years. It is a welcome development and something that should have been done a long time ago.
I also raise the issue of the help-to-buy grant for first-time buyers, which I have mentioned before in the House. Will the Leader of the House bring it to the attention of the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, that although the scheme is starting to work, the administration is very slow? Many applicants are finding it very difficult to get their claim numbers and they have had to go to the Revenue Commissioners office up to three times to do it. They should be able to do this online and there should be a number for a direct line for people to sort this out. No grants have been given to date, and from an administration perspective, the resources do not seem to have been given to the Revenue Commissioners to deal with the number of people applying for these grants. It can be very worrying, especially for first-time buyers who are very nervous about the purchasing process. When there are so many people looking to buy in the market, builders can pick and choose who will buy the houses. There is a fear among first-time buyers that they could lose their house if they do not have a claim number. Will the Minister put first-time buyers at ease and allocate more resources to the Revenue Commissioners to deal with the number of people making applications for the help-to-buy scheme?
As young people are leaving the Gallery, I tell them I am delighted they have come here as their presence is apt to my comments. I presume they are approximately 15 years old. I will make a comment to Members while the students are present. Yesterday, a press release announced a 165% increase in young people self-harming who attend Pieta House. I am not here to advocate for Pieta House, although I am its founder, but rather to speak about the limits and gaps in service for the Health Service Executive and the child and adolescent mental health services, CAMHS. I was also approached by a couple yesterday on my way in who were parents of a 17 year old boy who was refused any help whatever on a Friday evening in one of our hospitals because he was too young. If he had gone to the children's hospital, he would have been too old to be seen. This is where these students or almost grown-up adults are facing a future in our country. We have a terrible system, but with the help of young people, we can get it moving and working in order that people in distress can get help when they need it.
Fair play. So is the Leader. I begin by wishing my comrades in the North well today. As the only 32-county party in the Chamber, we are very proud of our comrades in the North and we hope we get a good mandate today for our calls for equality, inclusiveness and a real start to a new government in the North. I hope we can take an important step on that road today.
As the Leader knows, we are also a party concerned with worker rights. I raise a particular issue that has been raised in the Chamber before, which is the ongoing strike at the Hastings garage in Westport. This dispute is of great concern and there are men on their fourth week of strike. They have stood out in all weather for the past four weeks and their cause is absolutely just. The Labour Court has declared they should get a decent redundancy payment but the Tim Hastings garage has refused point blank to implement that recommendation. These people on strike have exhausted the industrial relations machinery of the State and I will speak to three aspects of the issue.
The first is the role that Volkswagen Ireland should be playing in this dispute. This is one of its dealers and it is a partner of the Hastings garage. Unfortunately, to date it has decided to hide and it refuses to answer e-mails or phone calls. It wants the issue to go away but the message I want to give here very clearly is that Volkswagen has a role to play in it. For every day this strike continues to go on, it is a day of shame for Volkswagen Ireland for not fulfilling its responsibilities to the workers who have given a life of service to the Tim Hastings garage. I call on Volkswagen Ireland to come out from its hiding place, face up to its responsibilities and play a constructive part in resolving this dispute.
The second issue I raise is the silence of public representatives from Mayo because, to be frank, the only representative to date who has tried to engage and build a solution is my colleague, Senator Rose Conway-Walsh.I have been stunned by the silence of Fine Gael representatives in particular - there are quite a few of them in Mayo - and, indeed, those in Fianna Fáil for that matter. I have to ask the question - and I hope I am wrong in raising this issue - is the reason that Fine Gael will not engage on this issue because the garage happens to be owned by the Taoiseach's brother-in-law? Is that the reason for the silence? I am being clear. This is something that has to be raised because-----
There is a rally for the workers on Saturday. I would ask that all public representatives who are concerned for worker's rights to come along to that rally in Westport at 1 p.m. to support these workers and work towards a solution so that they can get back to work. Jobs are precious in the west of Ireland. Real engagement is needed. We have not had that engagement from public representatives to date. To be absolutely clear, it is time that Tim Hastings Volkswagen Garage faced up to its responsibilities and respected its workforce. I hope that everyone in the Chamber agrees with those sentiments.
I wish to draw attention to a letter to The Irish Times regarding the Heritage Bill 2016. Given the day that is in it, the letter might make good reading for people. I acknowledge some of the fears expressed in the letter by stakeholders in the context of the destruction of hedgerows. Senators might take the opportunity today to go outside for a moment and meet the stakeholders to whom I refer who will be gathering outside the gates of Leinster House in the next while. People from BirdWatch Ireland, the Irish Wildlife Trust, An Taisce, the Federation of Irish Beekeepers Association, Hedge Laying Association of Ireland and many more will be present. It would be a good opportunity to hear some of their views before we come in later to debate one of the biggest matters in which they have a stake.
Will the Leader call on the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government to come before the House to discuss an element of the housing crisis which is going unnoticed because of the new wave of homelessness that is taking place. There is an ageing cohort of individuals accessing services for the homeless. These people suffer from everything from Huntingdon's disease to old age dementia and they are still living in low-threshold accommodation without nursing care packages. Some of the hostels are basically serving as nursing homes but they lack the staff and resources necessary to provide adequate care. We have failed to acknowledge and address some of the issues that exist within the homelessness services because we have been primarily focused on the new wave of homelessness that has been happening in recent years.
I want to talk about President Trump and fake news, and our fake news when it comes to Facebook and the way it is run. I am sure many Senators have noticed that there are many trolls on Facebook who may be giving grief, who run out of ammunition after a period and who have to go elsewhere to get more ammunition. What they do in this regard is set up community pages. There could be the Lucan community page, the Trim community page or the Balbriggan community page. It makes them look respectable. They run these pages and the people who visit them, thinking that they relate to their communities, tend to join. Over a period, these trolls build up a serious number of friends. They then start working on the news themselves and putting in their own news and take away people's credibility by putting in false news. Before that, they cry wolf and people stop listening, so they go under this new fake news. I am calling for accountability in respect of these pages. If one contacts Facebook or Twitter or whatever Internet company is hosting such pages, they cannot be found. Many people have been badly hurt and their credibility has been taken away.
Yes, badly maligned. We have all come across these pages because we are all politicians and we have all experienced this. I am calling for accountability from Facebook regarding these pages. I have no problem with community pages that include the correct type of news but when we have these trolls, as I call them, putting false news about people on these pages, it is not right and there must be accountability.
I congratulate the Government and the Taoiseach and, in particular, the Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality, Deputy Stanton. Last night's events in Leinster House were particularly emotional, particularly for anybody who witnessed what happened in the Dáil. After years of people complaining, the Taoiseach, on behalf of the Government and the State, formally recognised the ethnicity of the Traveller community. What happened is great credit to a number of people in this House. In particular, I want to mention Senator Mac Lochlainn who, along with myself and others, pursued this issue through the offices of what was then the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality in recent years. The Senator produced a report for the committee which advocated in favour of ethnicity being recognised. The report in question enjoyed cross-party support. What was wonderful about last night, and many here might agree, was that a debate on any Traveller issue in this House or in the Lower House 20 years ago would not necessarily have involved people speaking with one voice. However, last night every political leader from every political party was absolutely in agreement with the statement that was made. It was incredibly emotional.
I want to pay tribute to the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton. Senator Kelleher, Senator Mac Lochlainn and I have been meeting the Minister of State regularly over the past year, encouraging him and getting updates on progress in respect of what he was trying to achieve, and he did it. He is to be commended for that.
For those who may have had an academic argument or discussion as to the reason for recognition of ethnicity, if they could see the emotion from the Traveller groups last night in the Gallery, the standing ovation they got from Members of Dáil Éireann, the tears that were shed and the hugs and embraces that were engaged in - it was quite remarkable. Sometimes in this House we might lose faith in politics. I know that the Traveller groups had their faith in the political system sorely tested over the past number of years. They have experienced tragedies, as we all know. I am of the view that yesterday was a start of a new engagement and provides a positive platform to engage on a number of issues over the coming years. I want to put on the record of the House my congratulations to the Government, to the Taoiseach - who spoke so beautifully, including a phrase in Cant - but particularly to the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton. When someone does the work and makes the difference, he or she is to be commended and I want to do that today.
I support the comments made by Senator Butler regarding the anonymous trolling that happens on Facebook and other blog pages. I had personal experience of that in a previous Seanad when I famously, or perhaps infamously, made a comment about the seagull situation in Dublin. What my family and I had to undergo on the blog pages for a week afterwards was horrendous. It was terribly upsetting because at the time I did not quite understand that type of comment. I did speak subsequently about it here in the Seanad and, of course, I drew all the trolls on me again, as indeed Senator Butler will, no doubt. If someone wants to express an opinion in a newspaper, writing to The Irish Timesor some other publication, he or she would have to give his or her name and stand over what he or she says. I have no problem whatsoever with that. These nameless, faceless people who obviously have no lives to live of their own and spend their entire time on their computers watching to see who they can attack or abuse next are different. One guy suggested, in quite a detailed manner, that I should be physically assaulted. I have experienced it. Something needs to be done. Eventually, something will have to be done to protect the rights of individuals. In that context, I commend Senator Butler on raising the issue.
During the lifetime of a previous Seanad, I raised a matter regarding the provision of additional services for the handicapped at rural railway stations and action was taken in respect of it. I was zoning in on Charleville in particular at that time, which is the station I use when I travel to Dublin by train. I had watched many elderly people and invalids having to take their cases and climb up a very steep metal staircase to get from one side of the platform to the other. Ultimately, and in fairness to Iarnród Éireann, lift services were provided at Charleville.However, it has been brought to my attention that there are still quite a number of rural railway stations that do not have that facility. The best that can be offered is placing, when a train pulls out, a couple of planks on the tracks allowing a person in a wheelchair to be wheeled across, but that is not good enough in this day and age, particularly given Irish weather conditions. Will the Leader ask the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to consider this issue and come to the House to discuss the provision of services for the disabled in railway stations?
I was also in the Dáil last night for what was a truly remarkable occasion. I echo everything that was said by Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin. I give a special mention to the Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality, Deputy David Stanton, for his long service and commitment in this area, long before he was ever a Minister of State, particularly when he served as Chairman of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality.
I wish to raise a good news item in connection with the new paediatric hospital. It concerns the urgent care unit in Blanchardstown. There was a demonstration of the new model this morning. It is welcome that building is due to start in May. The unit will cater for 20% of the cases that normally arrive in a paediatric hospital. I take the opportunity to commend the wonderful doctors, nurses and staff at Temple Street Hospital and thank them for the decades of service they have given to the people of north Dublin. The new unit will be 50,000 square feet in size and provide consultant-delivered emergency care. It will have short-stay observation unit beds and be staffed by senior clinical paediatricians. It will be open from 8 a.m. until midnight and also provide outpatient services. This is real for the people of the region, particularly those living in Fingal. Commute time to the unit will be 36 minutes from Skerries, 30 minutes from Rush, 16 minutes from Swords, 24 minutes from Balbriggan and only 20 minutes from Malahide and Portmarnock. As I said, building will start in May, to which we all look forward. However, there is a need for a day hospital in Swords in support of the principle that patients be treated as close to their homes as possible in the most appropriate and cost-effective setting. As I have said before, many procedures can be carried out in day hospitals. There are numerous such hospitals around the country and we need one in Swords. It would make a huge dent in waiting lists. I commend the Minister for Health for the progress made to date in this regard. Will the Leader to invite him to come to the House to express his views on day hospitals and the role they can play in addressing waiting lists? In day hospitals one does not see operations cancelled owing to overcrowding in emergency departments. This means that such patients do not end up presenting at emergency departments. I, therefore, ask the Leader to invite the Minister to come to the House to express his views on day hospitals and their role in reducing waiting lists and within the health service more generally, as well as his plans in that regard.
Before calling Senator Gerard P. Craughwell, I acknowledge the presence in the Visitors Gallery of Deputy Marc MacSharry who was a long-serving Member of this House. I like to see former Members who moved to the Lower House acknowledging this Chamber by paying us a visit occasionally. Deputy Marc MacSharry is most welcome.
This morning as I was driving towards Dublin I was listening to the CEO of Allied Irish Banks, AIB, trumpeting the tremendous profits made by the bank and declaring that it was about to pay a dividend of €250 million to the State, the largest shareholder. While that in itself is good, let us examine it more closely. It is the most cynical move I have ever seen in my life. In fact, it is disgusting that this organisation trumpets its tremendous profits, given that they were gained on the backs of citizens who were thrown out of their houses onto the streets. Many years ago I lost my house to a bank and know the pain and suffering involved. I also know how long it takes to get over a repossession. I am still paying off my debts. I know what it is like and was appalled to hear the CEO talk casually about how the bank still had some distressed mortgages on its books which it would sell on, not to a vulture fund but to a financial institution. However, as the Leader and everyone else in this House knows, highly distressed mortgages are not sold on to entities that want to allow families to remain in their homes. The bank is selling them to kill off the debts on its balance sheet. The citizens of this country have been good. They have helped to rebuild it. In no uncertain terms, the recovery is due largely to the efforts of the last Government of Fine Gael and the Labour Party. It put us through hell, but at the end of the day, we are seeing the economy recover. It is now time for the banks that were saved to start being good corporate citizens by recognising the pain and suffering they inflicted. AIB went as far as trying to diddle people out of money by not passing on tracker mortgage rate reductions. I ask the Leader to organise a debate with the relevant Ministers on what constitutes good corporate citizenship on the part of the banks and financial institutions. I would like to send a message to the CEO of the AIB to the effect that he should go away and learn how to show a little citizenship and humility and thank the people of the country who saved him, his bank and his job.
I join others in expressing solidarity with all members of the Traveller community and their settled allies following yesterday's historic announcement. It was an historic day for members of the Traveller community and a momentous day for Irish society in recognising Traveller ethnicity, which was the right thing to do and about time. As I sit beside Members like Senator David Norris, I think of people like Tonie Walsh and other members of the LGBT community who waited unnecessarily long for equality. Last night the wait ended for members of the Traveller community. In his contribution in the Dáil Deputy Gerry Adams noted the 1963 report by the Commission on Itinerancy which had a huge bearing on the State's approach to and policy on Travellers. It established the policy on Travellers for the following 20 years and is one of the most shameful reports in the history of the State.
I wish to read some of the terms of reference of the commission, even though it genuinely pains me to do so:
(1) to enquire into the problem arising from the presence in the country of itinerants in considerable numbers;
(2) to examine the economic, educational, health and social problems inherent in their way of life...
They also include the promotion of their "absorption into the general community". In 1964, a year after the report was published, the song, "The Travelling People", one of the first folk songs I ever learned, was written by Ewan MacColl. It is worth quoting:
I've known life hard and I've known life easy
And I've cursed the nights when winter winds were storming
But I've danced and sung through the whole night long
Watched the summer sun rise in the morning
We knew the woods and the resting places
And the small birds sang when winter time was over
Then I'd jog with my horse and dog
They were good old days for the rover.
May there be many more good and better days for the Traveller community.
Last December the House of Lords commissioned a report on Brexit and the impact on Ireland. The report was very measured and took the Irish angle into consideration, which was very welcome.Yesterday, the UK Government was overruled by 358 votes to 256 in the House of Lords. The peers were worried about demanding rights for EU citizens in the UK. There are times like this when we feel the peers are out of touch. It is good news. It can, and probably will, be overruled again by the House of Commons. Somebody once said that in the Houses of Parliament there is very goodwill but, sometimes, there may not be the same understanding. We must put on the record of this House the understanding of the rights of EU citizens in the UK. It came from the House of Lords, and this House must welcome it. Somebody said EU nationals should not become bargaining chips in the UK's exit from the EU. This is very welcome news.
Last week, the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Heather Humphreys, spoke here on her plan for rural Ireland. I had a detailed look at the plan afterwards. If the Minister is sincere about supporting villages and country life, I call on her to consider designating a one-off business in a village, such as a pub, garage, shop or post office, as a hub for the area. Everything possible should be done to keep the designated business open. We should make a financial contribution to that business, which would be very easy to do by exempting it from rates.
It would be a very simple move. I read the whole document, which contains a lot of nice, flowery language, good intentions and many good plans to bring people back into rural Ireland and spend money on dwellings and renovate housing. However, the little post office, shop or pub is the life and soul of any village. Children are often dropped off from school, messages are left, people can buy the newspaper. It is a house for all things, as people from rural Ireland know. Such a business should be designated a village hub and be exempted from rates. While the rates are minimal in most of these places, it would show that we intend to help these little villages stay intact.
Laois and Westmeath stand together on it. While he comes in for a lot of criticism, and rightly so, I welcome the fact that President Trump has launched Irish-American heritage month, which happens in March. There was much talk that he was not going to do it, which would have been a backward step for relations with Irish America. I roundly welcome it.
I ask the two main political parties to stop acting the maggot about water charges. It is a complete and utter farce and members of the public are fed up to their back teeth with it. There is a lot of posturing by Fianna Fáil. Let those in that party remember it was they who started the idea of introducing water charges in the first instance. Fine Gael has softened its approach down to charging only for water that is wasted. There is a clear area for agreement, unless Deputy Barry Cowen goes charging in like a bull in a china shop and causing an election. We have to pay for water. What amazes me is that there was no such protest about property tax. Property tax is utterly iniquitous. I do not care if every other country in the EU has it. It is wrong in this country to charge people on their homes. It goes right back to the 19th century when the Land League campaigned against rack-renting. The property tax is rack-renting by another name.
Will the Senator allow me to speak or will he make a real interruption instead of grunting? I like intelligent interruptions, but grunts I can do without. If one is in an area where the Luas arrives, one's property value, and property charges, goes rocketing up. If one's area becomes fashionable and gentrified, the property charges increase. I bought my house 40 years ago for £25,000. I have spent a couple of million euro on it. I am punished for that. One of the objectives of Dublin City Council is to restore the Georgian core of Dublin, yet one is punished for doing so. I call for a campaign against property charges. The party that introduces it in the next general election will do bloody well, and will get my vote.
It is good to see that Senator Norris is ecumenical in how he regards all parties. I welcome the fact that the Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality, Deputy David Stanton, has brought legislation through recognising Travellers as an ethnic group. I represent many Travellers and it is a positive move. I hope it will be a catalyst for real change.
Last night, there was a tragic car accident on the M7 between junction 27, Birdhill, and junction 28, Castletroy. One man tragically lost his life. Many cars were involved in the accident. There was severe weather along the stretch of road and I have e-mailed the CEO of Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII, formerly the National Roads Authority, Mr. Michael Nolan, asking him to carry out an investigation into the circumstances of the accident. The stretch of road in question is in County Tipperary but it leads towards Gooig bog. Many of people have told me there are issues relating to the road in terms of flooding and aquaplaning. I pass my sympathies to the family of the man who lost his life on the route last night. We need to ensure that the route is safe.
The good news is that figures from the Central Statistics Office, CSO, show that there are 44,000 fewer unemployed people than this time last year, which is a major improvement. Now that we have got over the major unemployment difficulty, we need to start planning for the long term. Part of that planning should involve infrastructure development. We have not had a major debate on that matter. Senator Kieran O'Donnell has raised the Cork to Limerick road or, as he would say, the Limerick to Cork road, and the Cork city north ring road. We need to plan for infrastructure development and set out a clear plan including sourcing the funding to do this work.
The population of the country will continue to increase. There is no point in responding to it after it has increased. We need to plan for the increase. Part of it is about rail, road and the whole infrastructure, including our health care system, school system and third-level institutions. We do much of our planning in our urban areas in a piecemeal fashion. We produced a Cork area strategic plan. Although it was great to do a plan, not all of it was implemented, and it causes the bottlenecks that subsequently arise. I might be appropriate to have a debate on the issue of infrastructural development and decentralisation from Dublin.Rather than having 200 jobs in 40 or 50 different areas, we should focus on five or six key areas. We need to debate the matter.
I thank the 15 Senators who contributed to the Order of Business.
Senator Ardagh mentioned the help-to-buy grant. The figures available last week show that 2,161 applications have been made and 307 have been approved to proceed to finality. As the Senator quite rightly said, the scheme is about assisting first-time buyers to put together a deposit and encouraging the construction of new homes. The Minister is committed to commissioning an independent review and impact assessment of the scheme with the budget of 2018. The Senator made that the point that it should be easier for people to access the scheme. I am happy to talk to her about it and then to converse with the Minister.
Senator Freeman raised the issue of mental health. I am unfamiliar with the case she mentioned. I understand that 17 year olds go to child and adolescent mental health service, CAMHS, and persons over the age of 18 go to the adult psychiatry services. The Minister of State responsible for mental health services is committed to improving access to mental health services. She has received the highest budget ever for mental health services. We must ensure people can access the available services. It is important to highlight that the Department and the HSE, through the existing liaison psychiatric service for hospitals, provides psychiatric consultant-led cover in hospital and emergency departments for both out-of-hours and weekends, and there is a national clinical programme for the assessment and management of self-harm. These have all been initiated and are in place. I am sorry that Senator Freeman is not here. If she wants to give me the details of the case, I am happy to talk to the Minister about the matter.
It is important to put on record that an awful lot of work is being done in our health system around mental health. For the impression to be created that there is not and that nothing is being done is a bit unfair to the people who work in the system. A great deal of work is being done. For example, an additional €2 million was made available in 2016 to address the specific mental health needs of homeless persons in Dublin.
I do not think people realise, and it is happens regularly, the effect that the noise generated by phones located near recording equipment has on the people who are seated in front of me, in particular the person who must wear earphones. The noise is extremely annoying and irritating. If possible, when people are speaking or near a speaker, I ask everyone to please put their phones some place that does not affect the logistics. I do not blame the Leader. Interference with the recording equipment happens regularly.
It might have been my iPad and I apologise if it was.
It is important that when we debate mental health, we put on record that a lot of work is being done and there is investment. We need to do more because mental health services were the Cinderella of the health service for years. There has been investment and we have a Minister of State committed to the service.
Senator Gavan raised the issue of the Hastings garage. It is an issue that Senator Rose Conway-Walsh also has raised. I am unfamiliar with the case. I do not hide behind a cloak or relationship with anybody. If there is a Labour Court or Workplace Relations Commission finding, there is a need for it to be upheld and implemented. There is also a need for both sides to talk. The Senator referenced the issue of Volkswagen Ireland. Perhaps it has a role. I would maybe agree with the Senator on the matter but I am unfamiliar with the specifics of the case. It is important that people talk. If workers' entitlements and rights have been awarded by the mechanisms of the State, they should be honoured, in my opinion.
Senator Ruane mentioned the Heritage Bill. We will debate the legislation later today so we can discuss her matter at that time.
The Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government will be here on 21 March to discuss and present to the House an update on the action plan on housing. On that occasion we can debate the issues Senator Ruane raised about housing.
Senators Butler and Ned O'Sullivan raised the issue of accountability in terms of social media, in particular Facebook. The Senators are right that there is a need for accountability and to ensure fake news is not promulgated or that a person's name or character is not maligned. Those of us who are in the public eye as politicians or public people receive a lot of commentary on our Facebook or social media feeds. Some of it is done by trolls and some is a genuine engagement in discussion. There is no place for cowardly comments or acts being made against people who genuinely hold views. There is a need for accountability.
Senators Ó Ríordáin, Warfield, Kieran O'Donnell and Reilly mentioned the importance of yesterday's decision by the Government and the declaration by an Taoiseach about Traveller ethnicity. Yesterday, remarks were made about it in the House during the Order of Business. As Leader, I congratulate the Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality, Deputy Stanton, on his role. Yesterday, in his absence, I paid tribute to Senator Ó Ríordáin, the former Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality, and Senators Mac Lochlainn and Kelleher on the work they have done in this area.
Today is an important day of celebration. Senator Warfield quoted a folk song. The words of a Christy Moore song came to my mind, "This the day the cuckoo likes and so do I." It is a new beginning and new dawn for the Traveller community. As I said yesterday, I had the pleasure of serving as chair of the Traveller consultative committee on Cork City Council. Yesterday was a good day for the men and women who engage positively, who want to see their lives improved and who want to see the Traveller community respected and recognised. I commend all the people who were involved in the work to make yesterday happen. As the Senators correctly said, 20 years ago the Government would have been in a different space and there would have been political rivalry in terms of different sides of the debate. Yesterday and today are good days.
Senator Ned O'Sullivan also referenced the issue of disability access at rural train stations. He is right to highlight the matter. Iarnród Éireann has a responsibility and an obligation to provide access for disabled persons and people who need assistance. I am happy to invite the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to the House to debate the matter. To expedite the matter I suggest the Senator tables a Commencement matter. He made the valid point that Iarnród Éireann has an obligation and duty that it must live up to.
Senator Reilly raised the issue of health. I congratulate him on the work he has done to provide health services in many parts of the north of this city. I am happy to invite the Minister for Health to the House to discuss the matter raised by the Senator.
Senator Colm Burke has highlighted the issue of building new hospitals. We have not built too many new hospitals in a 40-year period. As part of the overarching debate on health we should consider the matter.
Senator Craughwell mentioned AIB. I did not hear the radio interview given by Bernard Byrne this morning. I heard the news headline that a proposal has been made to pay a €250 million dividend to the State as shareholder. All of us in this House fully understand how the public feel. We feel frustrated and annoyed at the way banks have treated people, whether it is business owners or home owners. These people have worked hard and are trying hard to retain their businesses or homes and to live in their homes. I fully understand the remarks made by the Senator. It is important that we, as a State, get our money back from the banks. We bailed out the bank, in this case AIB, and we need to get money back as well. We must strike a balance between restoring a bank to health but not at the expense of the customer or citizen. I am sure and confident the Minister will be able to strike a balance. As I said yesterday, it is important that banks work with people. Banks must recognise that they have a role and a duty to play in working with people to ensure every effort is made to retain their homes or businesses.
Senator Feighan mentioned the vote that took place in the House of Lords yesterday. It is important for us to acknowledge that the Irish angle is very important. The decision yesterday recognised that a debate is still taking place in England. As Prime Minister May said, Brexit is Brexit.
I commend Senator Richmond who has commenced his work as Chair of the committee doing preparatory work for the Seanad Brexit committee. We need to highlight the importance of Ireland in the Brexit negotiations. As Senator Feighan has said, we must tap into the goodwill that exists for Ireland.
Senator Davitt made the very good suggestion that we should have a village hub. Senators Davitt and Butler should get together to lobby about rates because both of them have banged that drum for a period in the House.The contribution the Senator made this morning is worthwhile and one that should be put to the Ministers. Perhaps Senators Davitt and Butler could get together and put together a cross-party motion on it that could get the support of the House.
Senator Norris re-opened the issue of property tax, which I am not going to go into, and the issue of water. I believe we should all read the piece about water by Mr. Stephen Collins in this morning's edition of The Irish Times. Maybe the Senators opposite will go back to Deputy Micheál Martin and ask him to stop playing politics. Mr. Collins wrote "Fianna Fáil’s cynical approach to water charges has demonstrated that the party is unfit for government for the foreseeable future." For me, that is the line of the morning. The Fianna Fáil Senators might reflect upon that.
The question Senator Norris posed about property tax is with what would it be replaced. It goes back to the old question we all have on how to fund the provision of services and the provision of facilities for people.
I join with Senator Kieran O’Donnell in extending sympathy to the deceased man’s family after that tragic motorway accident. He is right to highlight the issue of aquaplaning. A road on which the Cathaoirleach travels most weeks, from Sarsfield Road to Wilton and from Bishopstown to Ardarostig Cross, is equally conducive to aquaplaning. Either in this House or before the transport committee, TII needs to discuss and debate the quality of the infrastructure in parts of the country where some of the issues raised by Senator O’Donnell can be seen.
Senator Colm Burke raised an issue that I am sure we will debate with the Minister, Deputy Coveney, about Ireland 2040 and the future of planning infrastructure, which was requested yesterday. The Senator is right to underline the importance of planning for the future.
Before I ask if the Order of Business is agreed, I acknowledge the Leader and the others who resolved the problem we had on Thursdays where we normally had no legislation or debate in this Chamber because of the voting system in the Dáil. I understand that the Independent Alliance Deputies and Deputy Mattie McGrath in particular have agreed to provide a pair for whatever Minister is needed in this House for that period. There was a lacuna on Thursdays from 12.30 p.m. to about 2.15 p.m. because the Ministers were all tied up in the Dáil. That has been temporarily and hopefully permanently resolved so that we can get on with the business. I would like to acknowledge that.