Wednesday, 29 March 2017
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, Heritage Bill 2016 – Committee Stage, to be taken at 12.45 p.m. and to conclude no later than 9.30 p.m., if not previously concluded by the putting of one question from the Chair which shall, in relation to amendments, include only those set down or accepted by the Government, with the debate to be interrupted at 5 p.m. and to resume at 7 p.m. on conclusion of Private Members' business; and No. 2, Electoral (Amendment) (Voting at 16) Bill 2016 – Second Stage, to be taken at 5 p.m., with the time allocated to the debate not to exceed two hours.
Today the UK Prime Minister, Theresa May, will trigger Article 50, which will eventually see the UK leave the EU over a two-year period. We are all concerned about the impact this will have on Ireland, especially the threat of a hard border. Today it is easy to forget the problems our country faced before the Good Friday Agreement. We take for granted free movement between North and South. At only three Border crossing points, there are as many as 325,000 crossings per week. In 2016 Ireland and the UK traded approximately €39 billion in goods and services. We are faced with a situation that could lead to job losses and have a massive impact on the economy at large.
The Government has made some superficial moves to deal with Brexit, but mostly we have seen only rhetoric on the common travel area, preventing a hard border and protecting the terms of the Good Friday Agreement. The Government has yet to appoint a Minister with responsibility for Brexit as Fianna Fáil has advocated. The Government seems to have completely ignored the impact Brexit will have on key sectors of the economy in which we trade most with the UK, for example, agriculture, food, engineering and manufacturing.
In Northern Ireland the undisputed facts include we have had two Assembly elections in the past year, we have had parties refusing to serve in the Executive, and we have had Sinn Féin withdrawing from the Executive because of a refusal to establish an inquiry into cash for ash, which has actually been established. Now, we have a standstill in the formation of the Assembly at the hour Prime Minister May is triggering Article 50, and at such an hour we need to be united. We learned this morning a civil servant, David Sterling, has taken control of the Stormont Government budget in the absence of the establishment of an Executive. All departments in the North, from health to education, may be affected by this action, as a civil servant's budget is a reduced budget. This inaction by the leading parties in Northern Ireland is inexcusable. We need to acknowledge the period of peace over the past two decades. We need to work together to commit to continued peace in Northern Ireland. Ultimately, we need to see a united approach to reducing the impact the triggering of a hard Brexit will have on our country and our island.
Today is the sixth day of the bus strike and 2,600 employees have been on strike. The Minister has gone to ground. He will attend a committee hearing today to give us an update. I understand he will not interfere in the bus strike and he will give some sort of acknowledgement there will be a review into transport services. This is not enough. We need to see action today. Dublin Bus and Iarnród Éireann employees will support their colleagues at lunch time, which I support. The Minister needs to take some action. He cannot sit on the fence on every issue. He needs to meet union members and sort out this crisis. Traffic in the city is beginning to be massively affected and workers throughout the country are being discommoded because of his inaction.
I rise to discuss the Garda Síochána again. I was disturbed all night last night thinking about the pressure on Commissioner O'Sullivan to resign and step aside. I did a little bit of work on the Garda Síochána, and it is interesting to note that in the history of the State no Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces has been forced out of office. Since the foundation of the State going back to the Geary case in Ennis in the 1920s, and a Fianna Fáil Government in the early noughties compensated Mr. Geary for how he was hounded out of the Garda Síochána and it is to be admired for it-----
I appreciate that and I am coming to my point.
I believe 60% of Garda Commissioners have been hounded out of office since the foundation of the State. In senior Garda management today there is somebody who knows what is going on and is afraid to speak. I put out a call today and I hope the Leader will support me. Whoever that person is, let the entire force not be tarred with a rotten brush. Somebody knows what is going on and is afraid to speak. It is just possible the Commissioner is under pressure from her management group and that she is not able to speak out. If somebody there has something to say I am sure any Member of the House would be willing to meet him or her and assist with a protected disclosure. We cannot allow this to go on indefinitely. Hounding Nóirín O'Sullivan out of office will not solve the problem at the end of the day. There is something rotten and the ordinary gardaí on the street need support at this point in time. If somebody there feels he or she has something to contribute, let that person come forward. I am sure the Leader would be happy to meet such a person. I would and so would anyone in the House.We must not allow this situation to continue. I cannot believe how gardaí must have felt this morning or any day when reporting for duty. If someone has something to say, come out and say it.
I wish to raise two issues relating to industrial relations, the first of which is the bus strike. SIPTU and NBRU members will be outside the building today. I hope that we can all go out and engage with them. I would like to hear a clear call, particularly from the Fine Gael side, for the Minister to do more than just sit on his hands. It is Fine Gael's Government. As I stated yesterday, each day that it leaves these people out on strike is its responsibility. It needs to stand up and be counted. People know what needs to be done. SIPTU has spelled out a means of resolving this dispute by establishing an employment regulation order, ERO, but I have not heard anyone in Fine Gael engaging on that point. I invite them to engage and to do something constructive about the dispute.
I wish to discuss community workers, who provide crucial support to many within our society - older people, people with disabilities, young people and vulnerable families. Work is focused on areas such as providing child care, combating poverty, supporting those with mental health issues, human rights advocacy and family support. The workers providing these vital services have endured years of cuts from the Fine Gael-Labour and Fianna Fáil Governments. That continues to this day.
Matters have taken a dark turn. A SIPTU delegation explained to us last week that, although a high-level forum had been established for the community sector, the civil servants are not engaging with the union and, worse, the Department of Social Welfare in particular is refusing to attend the Workplace Relations Commission, WRC. I must be clear on this - that is unacceptable. As a matter of urgency, will the Leader find out why his colleague, the Minister, Deputy Varadkar, is refusing to attend the WRC? If a Minister refuses to attend the industrial relations machinery of the State, what message does that send to rogue employers?
What message does it send to the workers concerned? They have not had a pay rise in nine years and have lost their jobs without receiving proper redundancy payments. A woman in Cork who had worked on a Traveller site providing education for 15 years was paid the princely sum of €7,000 in redundancy.
The Government refuses to engage. This is coming from the top. Bus Éireann workers are protesting outside Leinster House and the Fine Gael Government is refusing to attend the WRC regarding community sector workers. What does that tell us about Fine Gael and its attitude towards trade unions? We want answers on this issue today, please.
I wish to raise an issue that I discussed on 7 March when we debated the Grace case. I asked how many similar cases there were and whether there were other cases in which the HSE, Tusla or the Garda had been made aware of sexual or physical abuse allegations against a foster parent but the child had not been removed from the home. It is important that we know that no other children are living in homes against which abuse allegations have been made.
Today, I read in the The Journalthat a woman was left in the care of a foster family for two years after allegations of sexual abuse were made against the foster father. An intellectually disabled woman known as Mary was left with the family even though allegations were made in 2014. Despite a decision being taken in September 2014 to remove Mary from the home, the order was not executed until February 2016. However, because Mary was 18 years of age and deemed to be an adult, she was no longer in statutory care or under Tusla's remit. How could this be allowed to happen? How many other cases are there of children or vulnerable people who are still in foster care despite allegations of abuse being known to the authorities? Are the cases of Grace and Mary just the tip of the iceberg? We need to get assurances from the Minister to the effect that children in foster care are not in danger of being abused, that where allegations of abuse are known to one agency, this information is made known to other agencies with responsibility for the issue, and that action is taken immediately.
Today is the day that British Prime Minister Theresa May triggers Article 50. She will address the House of Commons on the issue within the next hour. The Seanad's Brexit hearings are a welcome initiative, but we also need to consider raising the issue of Brexit in other debates in the House. Yesterday, we in Labour published our detailed Brexit policy, outlining 20 concrete actions that the Irish Government should be taking. We expressed our concern at the lack of detail from the Government regarding what it proposed to do as the Brexit negotiations got under way. What positions will it take?
The Government needs to ensure that adequate money - €1 billion from the rainy day fund - should be deployed for the capital investment likely to be needed as a result of Brexit. A €250 million Brexit trade adjustment fund should be set up to support directly Irish businesses that suffer because of trade upheaval with the UK. New transport connections will be needed, in particular at major ports and airports. Others have pointed to the instability in Northern Ireland. The prospect of Brexit negotiations is not helping that situation. A special status for Northern Ireland needs to be incorporated in the negotiations. At a minimum, a new Irish protocol to the EU treaties recognising the common travel area, the Good Friday Agreement and the unique situation of the Irish Border must be negotiated.
There have been disturbing signals about what might happen because of Brexit. In an article in today's The Irish Times, Ms Patricia King points out the downward pressure likely to be applied as a result of the UK no longer having to observe minimum terms and conditions of employment as set down in EU treaties. The concern is that there will be a race to the bottom among Irish businesses. Pressure will be placed on Ireland and other EU countries to reduce the quality of workers' terms and conditions.
On behalf of Labour, I express solidarity with the Bus Éireann strikers, who will be protesting outside Leinster House today. We have called for the Minister, Deputy Ross, to take a stand on this matter. He has been absent, as others have stated. He needs to be engaged on this and convene a stakeholders forum. The Government must commit to increasing subvention for public transport to EU levels. A sectoral employment order must be introduced for all transport workers in order to ensure the protection of their terms and conditions. Given that this issue is crucial, will the Leader arrange for the Minister to attend the House to discuss it?
Like others, I am worried about the new executive order from US President Trump - not on immigration this time - reversing environmental protections, many of them put in place by former President Barack Obama, and thereby causing immense concern among environmental groups, NGOs and the UN that there will be a serious encroachment on international measures to prevent climate change. It is a retrograde step by the US Government and we may need to debate it in the coming weeks and months.
I welcome the Tolands from Limerick, who are in the Visitors Gallery. I am delighted to see them. They are present as guests of my colleague, Senator Kieran O'Donnell, and I hope that they enjoy their visit.
I welcome the Defence Forces roadshow that is under way in all barracks around the country. There is a need to recruit 850 people to the Army. There is a colourful exhibition and attendees get to hold the various machine guns and equipment that the Army uses. Attendees are also shown an exhibition on life-saving operations. This is a positive opportunity for anyone who would like a career in the Army. Many more such roadshows will be held around the country and I encourage people with an interest to attend.
I raise the issue of car parking charges for cancer patients attending hospitals throughout the country. Charges represent a major cost for many cancer patients at a time when they are going through physical and psychological stress, not to mention financial pressure. The Irish Cancer Society is to be commended for its work on highlighting this matter through a campaign that encourages the HSE to have a national policy on the issue.The society called for free parking or subsidised parking. Unfortunately, the campaign has fallen on deaf ears to date. I appeal to the Leader to urge the Minister for Health to implement a national policy so that cancer patients undergoing hospital treatment can park free of charge or avail of subsidised parking. Some cancer patients have spent up to €16 per day just on parking charges, which is unfair on them while they are under the pressures that I have outlined. I appeal to the Minister to instruct the HSE to adopt a national policy to tackle this issue.
I shall comment on the local infrastructure housing activation fund, LIHAF, which is critical infrastructure funding that was announced by the Government yesterday. The funding is welcome. As much as €226 million will be spent on the critical roll-out provision of essential infrastructure for the development of new homes.
The scheme will cover 34 sites and 15 councils. I would like to ask the Minister why the scheme will only be rolled out to 15 councils. I call on the Leader to invite the Minister to come in here to answer my question. There are 31 local authorities yet funding has only been allocated to 15 of them. I am open to correction but I think 22 councils applied for the funding.
Both Galway city or county local authorities applied for critical infrastructure funding for social housing, private housing and affordable housing. I am disappointed, following yesterday's announcement, to learn that neither authority received funding. The scheme will cover 34 sites around the country and will produce 70,000 new homes. There is a 10% gain for social and affordable housing, which is a plus. The scheme will lead to a win-win situation. I want to acknowledge the work done by the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government and the Government. I thank them for funding this scheme, which forms part of the Rebuilding Ireland initiative.
I suggest to the Leader that it would be appropriate for us to invite the Minister to the Chamber to explain the rationale behind the scheme and to keep us up to speed on what is, perhaps, one of the single biggest problems facing everyone at the moment. I am referring to access to a home be it social housing, affordable housing and to purchase a house at a reasonable and fair price. I acknowledge yesterday's good news story. I ask the Leader to arrange for the Minister to come to this Chamber in the next few weeks to tease out how the scheme will be rolled out.
It has been brought to my attention that the Department of Social Protection's website has been down since Sunday. I ask that the Leader communicates with the Minister for Social Protection and his officials and ensures that every effort is made to get the website, welfare.ie, up and running. People have had to resort to using the Citizens Information's excellent website called citizensinformation.iefor all of their queries.
Senator Boyhan mentioned the activation fund. Two worthwhile projects in Limerick will receive €15 million. Housing is a huge issue but Greenpark racecourse and Mungret College in Limerick will receive funding to build distributor roads to ensure lands can be developed for housing. Affordable starter homes must be a key element. If the State is stepping in to assist by providing the infrastructure to enable houses to be built then it must ensure that the people contracted to build these houses provide affordable starter homes.
A number of colleagues have mentioned the triggering of Article 50 by the British Government and its intention to leave the European Union. Many of us have not looked forward to this event. We have anticipated and waited for it because we want to hear about the proactive response this Government will make to the move made by the British Government.
I do not need to tell anyone that Brexit presents a very dangerous situation for Ireland, both North and South. Brexit actively undermines and usurps the integrity and the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement, which was overwhelmingly voted for by the electorate in this State and, indeed, in the North. Last February, a Dáil motion was passed that called on the Irish Government to make a case for special designated status. That is the most responsible and logical position, alongside other necessary positions, that the Irish Government can adopt not just to protect the integrity of the Good Friday Agreement and the democratic expression in this State but also for the economic, social and cultural well-being of this island.
The Leader will know that the Tories have no mandate in Ireland either for Brexit or other policies of theirs. The Taoiseach has received the clearly expressed mandate from the people in the North, and on this island, that we want to remain in the EU. In the immediacy of the period that we are now in, which is against our will, it is critical that we hear from the Taoiseach. I appreciate his earlier stance but we no longer wish to hear aspirational intentions and what the Government hopes to achieve. We must now hear the practical steps the Government will take to negotiate the best deal. The best way for the Taoiseach to do so, and I offer him my sincere suggestion, is for him to work with all of the parties. We are all unified in seeking to have Ireland's national interests defended. Therefore, we all want the peace process and the Good Friday Agreement to remain sacrosanct. We do not want a return to a hard border and we want Ireland's interests defended. We need to hear about these matters from the Taoiseach as soon as possible.
An tseachtain seo caite, labhair mé anseo mar gheall ar an obair thábhachtach i gceantair Iorras i gContae Mhaigh Eo. Leanann an obair go stóchúil agus Dé Domhnaigh seo caite tugadh isteach corp Captain Mark Duffy.
The dignity with which Captain Mark Duffy, from Rescue 116, was borne ashore on Sunday last is something that will stay with me forever. He gave his life so that others might live. Along with his colleagues, he was a hero and somebody to hold up as a role model to our children. Heroes do not arrive out of nowhere. They are the embodiment of their family and often their communities. Captain Mark Duffy will be laid to rest tomorrow in his home village of Blackrock in County Louth. It is striking that his funeral notice reads: "Mark's wish would be for you to carry an organ donor card." It is very fitting that this notice by the Duffy family comes just at the start of Organ Donor Awareness Week that has been organised by the Irish Kidney Association. Many people here in the Seanad have done great work to promote the importance of organ donation, including my colleague, Senator Mark Daly. Approximately 700 people in Ireland await life-saving heart, lung, liver, kidney and pancreas transplants. Thanks to the gift of organ donation over 3,000 people in Ireland enjoy an extended life. Just like the thousands rescued by the Irish Coast Guard, they too have been rescued and given a new lease of life.
While the focus of Organ Donor Awareness Week is to raise awareness, I was heartened to hear what the Minister for Health said yesterday. He said:
[He has prioritised] the development of legislation to provide for an opt-out system of consent for organ donation. My Department is currently working on this in the context of the work required to develop an overarching human tissue policy and legislative framework.
He also said that he intends to bring a memorandum to Government shortly on this matter. I urge the Leader and his Government colleagues to keep the pressure on so that this can happen as it will save lives.
Senator Craughwell remarked that since the foundation of the State, 60% of Garda Commissioners have been hounded out of office. That fact does not surprise me. The first time it happened was in the Dáil in the 1920s when Austin Stack and others made unjust remarks about District Inspector Kearney who was due to be made the Commissioner of the newly-formed Garda Síochána.Why I am interested in disrespect of Kearney is that he was the man who arrested Roger Casement. He was the man who left the door open for Austin Stack, and many others, to release Roger Casement. It was at their ineptitude that they made these scurrilous remarks. District Inspector Kearney moved to Boyle and saved my grandfather's life from a Black and Tan assassination squad. Those allegations were made and he and his family had to high-tail it to London because of the remarks made in this Oireachtas by Austin Stack and many others.
I have now seen the way Alan Shatter was treated. I have seen many Garda Commissioners. My grandfather was one of the first garda in An Garda Síochána. The men and women of An Garda Síochána stood for this State and defended it and I will have no truck, as a politician, with other politicians using parliamentary privilege to make comments about the men and women of An Garda Síochána. If it is true, make the comment. There is a frenzy out there. We need to reflect that, sometimes, if we make remarks in the Chamber, we do a disservice to men and women, and to the Garda reputation. Perhaps we should draw the line at the men who held the line in setting up, and saving, the State. If it is true, then say it, but Alan Shatter did not get many apologies from the press or from Members of the Oireachtas. I think we should be strong enough and mature enough, if we make a mistake, to say that we made a mistake on the record of the Dáil or the Seanad.
Last week I raised the issue of the discriminatory introduction of Garda vetting of access students at Dublin Institute of Technology, DIT. I would like to put on the record that since last week it has reversed that decision and realised that it was a negative move. I would like to congratulate it for reversing that so quickly.
I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Education and Skills to the House to discuss the issue of discalculia, which is the maths form of dyslexia and which can be really debilitating for anybody who suffers from it. I have personal understanding of the suffering that is involved in trying to access third level education. Currently Trinity College Dublin is, I believe, the only college offering a maths waiver. The problem is, if a person accepts this maths waiver, they drop maths from the leaving certificate. That is a positive for someone that has this disability, but the problem is that if a person drops maths from the leaving certificate the other institutes of higher education, HEIs, do not operate the same waiver system, so if that person has applied to other universities on the CAO and they drop maths, they will not get into any other university and their only option is Trinity. That is something we need to look at.
We have moved really far in the area of dyslexia but we have not moved very far in recognising the disability of discalculia. This is something that we need to discuss with the Minister. He has outlined many areas on which he wants to work in respect of numeracy but unless we address disability attached to numeracy, we cannot address numeracy as a whole.
I want to raise two issues with the Leader today. The first issue is that of Jadotville. As the Leader knows, a motion, signed by the majority of Senators, is ready to be submitted that deals with the injustice that the Jadotville veterans and their families have faced for all these years. It calls for a medal ceremony in Áras an Uachtarán to recognise the scale of the injustice that they have suffered. I know he has raised it already, but I ask the Leader to raise it with the Minister and his Department officials again. I want to avoid submitting a motion and dividing this House, though I will if necessary. It is important that we unite together and address this issue in a dignified manner. I ask the Leader again to raise this. If necessary myself and Senator Craughwell, who co-sponsored the motion at the outset, would be happy to meet with the Leader and the Minister to try to resolve this issue.
The second issue has been raised with me by members of the fire services and was news to me. I knew that members of the Defence Forces were presented with 1916 commemorative medals last year to mark the centenary. I am led to believe that all members of the Defence Forces, An Garda Síochána and the National Ambulance Service were presented with commemorative medals last year. The only front-line emergency service that were not is, apparently, the fire services. Clearly this would be a very serious omission. The firemen who have raised this with me are understandably aggrieved as to what has happened. I assume it is because of the structure of the fire services under the management of local authorities but I ask the Leader to raise that with the relevant Minister, who I assume is the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Heather Humphreys, to address this anomaly and to ask her to, even now, belatedly ensure that they are presented with a medal to mark that commemorative year. It would be important.
Arising out of what Senator Feighan said earlier, it is important for us in this House to look at what has emerged in respect of the governance of An Garda Síochána. In my view, what has emerged is disgraceful. A systematic pattern of cover-up, procrastination, deception and facade-keeping has characterised the management of An Garda Síochána.
The issues with the fixed charge penalty point system have been known for a considerable period of time. The people who knew about it did nothing about it until it came into the public domain. To say that they instituted an audit within the force to examine it is wholly unacceptable. When it is found out that there is a problem, the Minister is told. There is a really big problem here. It looks to be in the region of 10,000 to 15,000 miscarriages of justice. We are on the ball now. We are going to do something about it.
This same applies to the mandatory alcohol tests. The problem was known about. Even Gay Byrne signalled the alarm on the basis of a former Garda reservist who had resigned in disgust on the basis of a letter sent to him two years ago. Nothing was done about it thought there were signals everywhere.
The third point I want to make is that we do not need a Patten Commission or a root and branch reform of An Garda Síochána based on some lengthy process. We need action now. We need the Minister with responsibility, that is the Tánaiste, to institute the changes that are necessary in a matter of weeks. An Garda Síochána needs to be led by somebody who the force has faith and confidence in and who the public has faith and confidence in. That situation does not exist now.
There is an idea that we can kick the can down the road and that we can have another major inquiry, which might take two years. How long did the Patten Commission take for that matter? We cannot wait. An Garda Síochána must be reformed now. There is one person who has ministerial responsibility under the Ministers and Secretaries Act to ensure that reform starts now and that is the Tánaiste. She must put in place a leader of An Garda Síochána who commands public respect now. Not later, now.
I welcome the announcement by the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Simon Coveney, of the infrastructure fund. The €200 million that has been announced will, it is hoped, open up 32 sites for housing, which will be very important for the housing strategy. There is a local dimension to that. There are moneys for roads in Cork, but they are very positive and it is a very positive project. There were independent audits regarding which projects got the go-ahead. The independent factor is very important and should be duly noted.
One of the key issues I would like to raise here is in regard to Garda vetting and where we are going with that programme. I note from the newspapers that there are 721 teachers who have still not been vetted and that there is work ongoing towards a resolution of that process at the moment. The entire way we carry out Garda vetting has to be looked at. A person could be vetted four or five times regarding different institutions or organisations they are involved in. That is inappropriate. There should be one vetting and then a person should be on the list. That should be the routine.
I came across an issue in the last few weeks where an under-21 team in a GAA club had minors, that is 17 year-olds, on a team. Given that they were under 18 years of age, they were informed that the rest of the team would have to be vetted because they are in the same dressing room. There has to be logic in this. Someone has to say that Garda vetting is important, but that it makes no sense that there is a need to vet all the 21 year-olds because there is a 17 year-old in a dressing room. Work needs to be done here. A complete reform of the system is required.That needs to happen in order that something can be done speedily about this issue.
Like others, I call on the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to intervene as a matter of urgency in the Bus Éireann dispute. Members of the various unions involved in this strike will protest outside the House later while the Minister addresses the Joint Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport. He should not only address the committee; he should address the unions and the company. While acknowledging that the company is loss making in its present guise and that the workers have a right to strike to protect the rights they have earned over many decades, more than 100,000 people, mainly in rural Ireland, depend on bus services, which are a vital part of the infrastructure of rural Ireland, and they are the real victims of this strike. This is day six. How many more days are workers going to have to endure the picket line? How many days will ordinary commuters, who depend on the bus company to get to and from various locations throughout this island, have to wait because eventually this will have to be sorted? There are those who say the bus company is waiting until it is such a dire financial position that it has to go into examinership. If that is the motivation behind what the management are at, that is disgraceful and a stop needs to put to that immediately. I call on the Leader to use his good offices to impress on the Minister, who has an opinion on every Department except his own, to intervene in this dispute before it gets too desperate for the workers, the company and the more than 100,000 people who depend on bus services to go about their daily business.
Yesterday, Senator McDowell raised the issue of judicial appointments. The former Minister has a great opinion on this. I endorse everything he said in that regard. The Judiciary has served us well since the foundation of the State. It is a function of whichever Government is in power to appoint judges and there is a system in place to vet those who apply to become judges before the nominations are put before the Minister and the Cabinet for appointment. While the process should be left as it is, I would like the Leader to impress on the Minister for Justice and Equality the important point made by the director general of the Law Society. He said that since it became possible for solicitors, who comprise 80% of the practising legal profession, to become judges of the superior courts, less than 8% of appointments have gone to them. That needs to be addressed. Senator McDowell used the word "excellence". There is excellence among that 80% and they should be given credit for that.
I welcome the new protocols discussed by Cabinet yesterday for children in care and access by them to HSE disability services once they reach the age of 18. The Cabinet discussed the Mary case yesterday and the horrific abuses wrought on young women.
The latest revelations regarding Garda misuse of funds and tax avoidance seem like they are part of tsunami of allegations, abuses and criminal activity all rolled into one and it has been going for a long time. When Martin Callinan was dismissed a number of years ago, we all thought an external appointment was needed in order that there would be someone with a new broom and an independent eye to oversee the running of the keepers of the peace in our society. That did not happen but there have been more revelations about phantom breath tests, phantom checkpoints and tax avoidance. Nóirín O'Sullivan needs to step down and Sinn Féin has asked for that. She needs to take responsibility for the good of An Garda Síochána and allow an external investigation and an external appointment to the Commissioner position. The force is in need of a root and branch overhaul and cultural reform. These scandals are bigger than individuals and the reform must happen now. I have spoken to gardaí on the beat in my locality of Rialto and Kilmainham and they are absolutely despondent. They are embarrassed and the embarrassments are piling up. They are more disrespected and more prone to ridicule and many of them do not want to turn up for work. We have always prided ourselves in this country on our honest and integrity but we are no longer the island of saints and scholars. There are far too many somethings rotten in this State and we need a clean sweep with integrity at the heart of what we do.
On this infamous day that Article 50 is being triggered, I would like to raise a matter closer to home, namely, an ongoing stand-off in Belfield, UCD, between college authorities and the Irish hockey association in respect of the upgrade of the AstroTurf pitch there. The upgrade is vital because a ranking hockey match has not been played in the national hockey stadium since 2015. I call on the Leader to raise this with the Ministers for Education and Skills and Transport, Tourism and Sport. Ireland has had huge success in this realm in recent years with the men's team qualifying for the Rio Olympics. The fact that our national hockey stadium is no longer certified to host international hockey matches is an absolute disgrace and this stand-off has to be resolved as soon as possible.
I raise a matter of national interest that greatly concerns me. The GAA does so much good in the country and it is part of the social fabric that makes Ireland unique. I am surprised by a diktat issued by GAA headquarters in recent weeks. They wrote to county boards and asked them to reduce the minute's silence to 20 seconds silence. It is one of the most bizarre requests I have heard of in quite a while. The GAA is very much a roots up operation as opposed to a branch down operation and I was disappointed to hear about this coming from headquarters. I was delighted that when this proposal came before the delegates of the Westmeath County Board, there were strong voices in opposition. Billy Foley and others told those in the higher echelons that Westmeath would not carry out this diktat. A minute's silence does not happen too often. Those who have played for the county or have been heavily associated with the county set up are acknowledged with a minute's silence before a game if they died recently. It is the very least we could do for people who have borne colours for the GAA, filled cars with kids, marked pitches and travelled the length and breadth of the country to facilitate games for nothing. It is a poor day if we cannot even given them one minute to say, "Farewell".
I welcome the representatives of Retail Excellence Ireland who are in the Visitors Gallery and I would like to raise the issue of out-of-town business parks. During the Celtic tiger era, the majority of these parks were set up for manufacturing industries or offices and not for retail outlets. They have had a huge effect on town centres. A legal challenge has been taken in my county relating to why retail units were allowed into the business parks. I would like to ask local authorities what are the rules and regulations governing the parks because, as far as I can see, they make them up as they go along.When this challenge came, the local authority ducked and dived. I want to ask the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government for a debate on this issue. There are retail hardware stores, clothes shops, shoe shops and even churches in these business parks. There is no paid parking and people have to go down the town for the privilege of paid parking. Businesses are struggling and we need a serious debate on these out of town business parks.
I agree with my colleagues on some aspects of their criticism of the current difficulties with the Garda. There has been debate about the lack of trust but one issue that has not been highlighted is that there will now be a difficulty accepting the evidence of gardaí in courts. It is important to resolve the Garda's current difficulties at a very early stage, in particular, where judges accepted the evidence of gardaí that the fixed charge notice had been served and there is now clear evidence that it had not been. A number of legal colleagues were on to me over the weekend about cases in which people went into the witness box and gave evidence under oath that they had not received the fixed charge notice. The doubt was created but they had to go through all of that and it is an issue we need to address. We need to build that trust not only in the Garda, but in the gardaí presenting their evidence in court.
I join my colleague, Senator Lombard, in thanking the Minister, Deputy Coveney, for the announcement yesterday that a major infrastructural development will take place to assist the building of new houses. In my area of Cork North-Central, over €30 million has been allocated which will enable more than 1,600 houses to be built. It is a welcome development which could yield over 3,600 houses in the long term. It is important that the infrastructure is put in place to fast track all the requirements for housing and that there are no further delays outside the planning issue. Once planning permission was granted, there was always a delay in trying to put in the infrastructure. It is important it is now done. I welcome the announcement that was made in the past number of days. It is important that all local authorities around the country identify projects that can assist the building of new houses. It is the biggest expense people have in their lives and, therefore, the State must do everything possible to make it affordable for people. The important part about the development is to make sure we have all the necessary infrastructure such as roads, water and sewage systems. I welcome the development and the need for it to be fast tracked.
I commend the Minister of State, Deputy Corcoran Kennedy, and the Minister, Deputy Harris, on signing the plain packaging legislation into law. No conversation about tobacco is complete without mentioning the 700,000 people who die unnecessarily across Europe every year because of this product - 6,000 of those people are in this country. It causes misery for tens of thousands of others who suffer with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, cancers and various other ailments that would be utterly avoidable if they did not smoke. Plain packaging is a major initiative and one that is very important. It does one of the most important things we can do, which is protecting children from ever taking up smoking. Children are not stupid. The Irish Cancer Society did a little survey where they showed children the current cigarette packets which they thought were nice and lovely to play with and they wanted them. They were then shown the plain packs and they recoiled in horror. Who would ever want to smoke? This measure will save tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of lives in the future. It will save the State a huge amount of money, some €10 billion annually, that we spend on health and as a result of lost productivity. This is a great day for children and for all smokers because these packs will remind them of the damage they are doing to themselves. The House will agree we are all trying to support smokers to stop smoking. We are not anti-smoker, rather we are anti-smoking.
I will be brief. Members may recall that I raised certain questions last week about wages and conditions in this House. As a trade unionist, it is perfectly legitimate to do so. I will add one final thing to show how utterly ludicrous the notion of making us fob in is - a majority of Fine Gael Members in Dáil Éireann do not fob in. They are Ministers so they do not have to do so. A majority of the Government party is not fobbing in. When will we get a bit of sense and tell the bureaucrats to bugger off and that we are not fobbing in? They should fob off.
I thank the 24 Senators for their contribution to the Order of Business this afternoon. Senators Ardagh, Bacik, Ó Donnghaile and Richmond raised the issue of Brexit. It is a monumental day in the history of the European Union and our country. I reassure all Members of the House that the Government is not just paying lip service. It is not just rhetoric by Government but absolute action led by the Taoiseach and Ministers across Europe and the world. Senators can have a viewpoint about having a Minister for Brexit but I will pose a question to the Members opposite who asked for one. Which Department would they get rid of? Under the Constitution, we can only have a set number of Ministers so which one would they get rid of?
Which Department would they get rid of? Senator Gavan is saying we should get rid of the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport. That is the Sinn Féin policy. Sinn Féin wants to get rid of the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport. That is fair enough. I posed the question to the Members opposite. Let me make it quite clear that the Taoiseach, as the head of the Government, is leading a whole-of-Government approach to Brexit. I agree with Senator Ó Donnghaile that we must be united as a country, North and South, in our approach to Brexit. It is one of the most important decisions that will face our country for a generation. Its impact is profound. I reassure Senator Ardagh and others that the Government is under no illusions about the task ahead. I agree with Senator Bacik that perhaps the Seanad, notwithstanding the good work that has been started by the Seanad Brexit committee, should have a debate in the House. I would be happy to have it but it is important to dovetail with the Seanad Brexit committee. I am happy to have that debate here.
The Taoiseach has been here before. The Minister, Deputy Flanagan, will be here tomorrow for statements on the North. The Government is committed to protecting and advancing Ireland's cause across Europe. Nobody wants the return of a hard Border. As the Taoiseach says, nobody wants to see the creation of a new border in the future. The Government will defend the Good Friday Agreement as we have always done. We are working with Mr. Juncker and Mr. Tusk and if one reads their recent comments, one cannot but be heartened by the importance Ireland has been given in their remarks. The position paper will be published by Government before 29 April. We will have a very strong case across Europe but it requires the support of all parties. I commend the Labour Party on its position paper. Deputy Donnelly is Fianna Fáil's newly created spokesman on Brexit. I am sure we will all work together to ensure Ireland has a united voice. We should all wear the green jersey. We should not put naked political partisanship up the pole but should all stand to fight for Ireland.
Senators Ardagh, Gavan, Bacik and Wilson raised the issue of Bus Éireann. I reiterate the remarks I made yesterday. Nobody is winning in this dispute. Nobody wants to see an all-out ballot of any union - in this case the bus workers - or of Dublin Bus or Irish Rail. It is in no one's interest. As Members have said, it is not in the interest of the workers, the company or the travelling public. There is an absolute certainty here. There is a need for management and unions to re-engage. I appeal today to all sides to take part in talks.The Workplace Relations Commission, WRC, and the Labour Court are available. Let us use their good offices to engage in talks to resolve the issue. It is time we had movement by both sides in talking again. Members of the House keep repeating an old chestnut. The Government has given €230 million in the PSO levy. If one includes rural transport services, the total investment comes to €277 million. Funding was increased in the past two budgets and the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Leo Varadkar, is examining the provision of funding for the free travel scheme. From my reading of it, the core of the issue is efficiency. Such issues are best resolved at the WRC. Everybody wants the dispute to be resolved. I agree with Senator Diarmuid Wilson in that I do not want management in Bus Éireann to keep the dispute going to the point where a solution cannot be found. I appeal to it to be the first, if necessary, to accept the need for talks and re-engage. The pillorying of the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Shane Ross, will not solve the problem. He might be a very handy-----
It might be fun and a cheap political gain for some, but the Minister is very much aware of the urgency of the issue and will be before the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport today.
Senators Gerard P. Craughwell, Frank Feighan, Michael McDowell, Máire Devine and Colm Burke referred to An Garda Síochána. The Government is committed to resolving the matter and an independent review is to be carried out. I agree with Senator Michael McDowell that it is about governance and that the issue must be rectified immediately. It amuses me when I hear Members of both Houses, in particular, Fianna Fáil Members who were in government for 14 years in a row and appointed many of those in management in An Garda Síochána, look for a head to roll. The removal of the Garda Commissioner in itself would not lead to the cultural change and reform needed. Let us not race to the bottom in politics to get someone sacked. The substantive issue is the way in which An Garda Síochána is operated and how it is viewed by the public. The challenge presented by the change of culture and regime requires serious political consideration and debate. We all need action in An Garda Síochána. It is awful and nauseating in waking up every morning and listening to "Morning Ireland", or whatever programme one listens to, to hear a new story emerge about An Garda Síochána which does nothing for the morale of rank and file gardaí who are doing the very best they can. As the party that founded An Garda Síochána, which has always held it in respect and that stood up for law and order when others did not, we will stand by it and see a new force emerge. We need a Patten-type report. I agree with Senator Michael McDowell that it should not take two years, but we need to see reform which must happen now. I am very committed, as are the Minister for Justice and Equality and members of my party, to standing by An Garda Síochána and bringing about regime change. There is a need for a regularisation of affairs with the Revenue Commissioners and significant reform. It was the Fine Gael Party in government with the Labour Party that changed the appointment method for Garda Commissioners and promotions to other senior positions. Let us be clear: it was not the parties opposite but my party that changed the regime. What we must also do is restore public trust and confidence in An Garda Síochána which, regrettably, are at an all-time low. I am a member of a number of policing fora in Cork city and county and pose the question to myself every time I attend a meeting as to whether the statistics read out are correct. An Garda Síochána must re-establish the trust and confidence of the public, an gnáth dhuine. There is a need for a forensic review of operations to put in place a new An Garda Síochána. We should all look at the Garda Inspectorate's report, Changing Policing in Ireland, which contains some very good information and which will result in action.
Senator Paul Gavan referred to community workers and the Minister involved attending the WRC. I am not aware of the matter. If the Senator wishes to send me an e-mail, I will be happy to take up the issue with the Minister.
Senators Grace O'Sullivan and Frances Black raised the cases of Grace and Mary. Senator Máire Devine also touched on the issue. It is important that there be accountability and transparency in the protocols between Tusla and the HSE for persons in care and those involved in fostering because it is a specialised area in which so much joy, relief and comfort are brought to people. However, there is an issue that must be addressed and I will be happy to have the relevant Minister come to the House to discuss it.
Senator Ivana Bacik referred to President Trump's new executive order. It is absolutely baffling to have a President reverse the environment policies of President Obama because, as the Senator rightly said, the issues of global warming and climate change are very important.
I was going to refer to that fact, that, thankfully, 23 states were standing up to him on the issue.
Senator Maria Byrne referred to the Defence Forces. We were due to have a debate on them in the House prior to St. Patrick's Day. I hope we will have it soon.
Senator Robbie Gallagher raised the issue of car parking charges for cancer patients. I know that there is a protocol in some hospitals whereby cancer patients and their families are given a derogation. I hope it can be applied universally across the country. I will be happy to talk to the Senator about the matter.
Senators Victor Boyhan, Colm Burke and Tim Lombard mentioned the very good news yesterday about funding for and investment in local authority housing. I cannot indicate why councils in Galway and one other county, the name of which I cannot remember, have not yet received funding. A total of 34 sites have been unlocked, while 15 councils have been allocated funding to the tune of €226 million to be invested in infrastructure. It is a good news story.
Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill indicated that the website of the Department of Social Protection was down. I will be happy to ask the Minister to address the matter.
Senator Keith Swanick raised the issue that was raised yesterday by Senator Máire Devine about organ donation. I join him in hoping the very fine report of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children will be implemented and that we will have a soft opt-out system. I will not get into a debate with him on the role of certain people in helping the cause of organ donation, but what we must do is ensure that we collectively change the policy in order that more people will assist in organ donation.
I congratulate Senators Lynn Ruane and John Dolan on the reversal of the decision on DIT access students. The issue of discalculia and the waiver for maths is important. In the short term perhaps Senator Lynn Ruane might table a Commencement matter to which the Minister for Education and Skills would come to the House to respond. I accept that it is an issue that must be addressed.
As Senator Pádraig Mac Lochlainn is aware, I am endeavouring to broker an agreed motion on those who were involved at Jadotville. I agree with him that it is a motion that requires the support of all of us to give the members of the Defence Forces who were involved justice at some level. I know that what is being sought is not much in terms of change and the Senator and I are on common ground in that regard. I am trying to make progress on the issue. To be fair to the Minister of State, he is very amenable but work remains to be done. I am happy to work with the Senator on the issue. As regards front-line service personnel, I am surprised by what the Senator said that fire brigade personnel do not receive commemorative medals, given that other first-line responders do. Perhaps we might raise the issue as part of our discussion with the Minister of State. The current arrangement does not make sense to me.
Senator Tim Lombard raised the issue of Garda vetting. The Minister for Justice and Equality was in the House last week to respond to a Commencement matter on the issue. It is important that we address it. It is an area in which improvements have been seen, but we must ensure transparency and uniformity of approach.
Senator Diarmuid Wilson also raised the issue of judicial appointments. I reiterate what I said yesterday, that we all recognise the importance of having an independent judiciary. We accept the excellence of the Judiciary in the work it does and the role it plays. I will be happy to have the Minister for Justice and Equality come to the House to discuss the issue in the context of the judicial appointments Bill.
Senator Máire Devine referred to children in care. She raised the issue of access to HSE disability services in the context of the memo to the Government yesterday. We all accept that it is an important step. We are aware of what was said in the debate yesterday on the health Bill about free GP care. We have some distance to travel in the provision of disability services and I hope the Government will be able to put together a package in that regard.
Senator Neale Richmond referred to the stand-off between the Irish Hockey Association and Belfield. I have seen the new national hockey stadium at Belfield. It beggars belief the last game played there was in 2015, given the investment made in what is a fine stadium.There was a world cup there in 2014.
It needs to be addressed.
Senator Davitt asked about Cumann Lúthchleas Gael and the proposed reduction in the minute's silence to 20 seconds. I was in Páirc Uí Rinn last Sunday at the Cork-Tipperary game and to the best of my knowledge, a minute's silence for the late Michael Maher and Tony O'Mahony, two fine former officers of Cumann Lúthchleas Gael at Munster and Cork levels, was held. I agree, however, as a member of Cumann Lúthchleas Gael on the question of the minute's silence being reduced. It is important we acknowledge and pay tribute to the work of volunteers and players. Senator Feighan said the FAI had a round of applause, which is a nice way of acknowledging the role of deceased persons.
Senator Butler mentioned the fact Retail Excellence Ireland was making a presentation today and he also brought up the question of out-of-town business parks. He raises a very good point because many businesses have moved to the periphery of our major towns. Retailers in the towns are competing with these business parks as well as with online shopping, and parking is also an issue. There is a need for a common-sense approach to planning and I encourage him to set up a cross-party delegation with the Minister.
Senator Reilly raised the issue of plain packaging. I commend the respective Ministers, Deputies Corcoran Kennedy and Harris, on signing the Bill, which was passed in the previous Oireachtas, into law today. It was commenced under the leadership of Senator Reilly as Minister for Health and he deserves credit and our congratulations for the role he played in standing up to big tobacco and for taking to fight across Europe.
Yes. We acknowledge his support and that of the former Senator Jillian van Turnhout, who played a key role. I also thank the Irish Cancer Society for its role. Senator Norris raised the issue of wages and conditions. We got into a bit of bother last week for some of our comments. I am on record as saying that fobbing in is not a way to do business. In city and county councils members attend 80% of the time and that may be the way to proceed, though how we would work it out is a different matter. It is for the commission to decide and I would be happy to work with the Senator to help reach a common-sense approach