Wednesday, 17 May 2017
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill 2016 - Order for Second Stage and Second Stage, to be taken at 12.45 p.m. and adjourned not later than 2.15 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes; No. 2, statements on the second interim report of the Commission on Mother and Baby Homes, to be taken at 2.30 p.m. and adjourned not later than 4.15 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes, those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes, and the Minister to be given eight minutes to reply to the debate; No. 3, Medical Practitioners (Amendment) Bill 2014 [Seanad Bill amended by the Dáil] - Report and Final Stages, to be taken at 4.15 p.m.; No. 4, statements on childhood obesity, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 3 and to conclude not later than 6 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes, those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes, and the Minister to be given eight minutes to reply to the debate; and No. 5, Autism Spectrum Disorder Bill 2017 - Second Stage, to be taken at 6 p.m., with the time allocated to the debate not to exceed two hours.
I wish to raise two issues. The first is the ongoing crippling costs of motor insurance. I commend my Fianna Fáil colleagues in the Dáil who have a motion on this issue on the clár today. The report issued for the first quarter by the Government recently shows that three of the ten recommendations to be completed by the first quarter of 2017 remain to be completed. This is a sad indictment of the Government and its performance on this issue, which has been ongoing for more than three years. As Members will be aware, in 2014, motor insurance increased by 11.5%; in 2015, it rose again by over 30%; and during the 12 months to December 2016, it rose by a further 12.2%. It can be seen clearly how this is crippling our citizens. To give Members a practical example of this, a young gentleman who recently returned from six years in Australia received a quote in excess of €4,000 for his motorcar. This is despite the fact that the same gentleman had more than six years' no-claims bonus before he emigrated. When he contacted his insurance company, it told him it only takes into consideration the most recent two years and he was therefore excluded. What is ironic about this is that he was dealing with the same insurance company. This highlights just one example of how such a simple thing as this is causing serious problems. To add insult to injury, at a time when we are encouraging our young people to come home, they will be burdened with serious motor insurance bills upon their arrival back home, and this is clearly not good enough. I ask the Leader to ask the Government to expedite a resolution of this matter.
I will raise the other issue very briefly. On this, the day the leader of Fine Gael and our Taoiseach is to give notice to our Fine Gael colleagues this afternoon about his departure-----
-----I wish him well. However, one of the many legacies in respect of which he may look in the rear mirror and feel very disappointed would be health. As I stand here, there are in excess of 666,000 people on hospital waiting lists in our State. This is clearly a sad indictment of the health policy of this Government. When one considers the recent statistics from our census that over the next 30 years it is estimated that the population of those over 65 will double and the population of those over 85 will quadruple, two things are clear. We have a serious problem but, more importantly, our increasing population and the age of our population highlight that it will get worse. Will the Leader ask the Minister to come to the House and advise us of the immediate actions he plans to implement to tackle the current problem and the future plans he has to tackle the issue of our ageing population?
I wish to raise one simple issue. I refer to the National Rehabilitation Hospital on Rochestown Avenue in Dún Laoghaire. I have continually raised this issue in Seanad Éireann over the past year without success, so today I propose an amendment to the Order of Business. It is the first time I have ever done so but it is now required. I call on the Minister for Health to come to Seanad Éireann today to explain to the Seanad why the National Rehabilitation Hospital has not been provided with the necessary staffing, resources and special supports that are required to enable it to provide a safe and appropriate level of rehabilitation care to patients up to its full bed capacity and to commit immediately to reopening 12 beds that were closed in January 2017.
I have examined the record of various comments of the Minister and officials. We were told the matter would be looked into, but nothing has happened. I spoke to a National Rehabilitation Hospital official yesterday who confirmed that since January, those 12 beds have been closed and have not been reopened. Yesterday, 209 people were waiting to get access to the hospital.Many of these patients are occupying acute beds in hospitals because they cannot access the rehabilitation services they require. Patients with spinal and brain injuries are in limbo as a result of the Minister's failure to immediately re-open the 12 beds closed in January. The Minister appears to have done nothing about this issue and must, at a minimum, come to the House to explain what he is doing. We hear platitudes and words about health. Do people learn anything from all the scrutiny, publicity, television programmes and documentaries? We have not been able to get the Minister to re-open 12 beds the hospital wants to open.
A new facility to be built on the site of the national rehabilitation hospital has been repeatedly delayed. If 12 beds cannot be opened in the existing facility, I do not know what is being done to build a new hospital on the site. The position is unacceptable. I have taken advice on this issue. There are patients with spinal and brain injuries waiting in acute hospital beds trying unsuccessfully to access the specialist service of the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Dún Laoghaire. I am a reasonable person. Will the Leader guarantee that the Minister for Health will appear in the House urgently? Unfortunately, the special committee will discuss Brexit again tomorrow and the Seanad will not meet again until next Tuesday afternoon. This is a serious issue and morale among professional staff in the hospital is low. They do an extraordinary job in extraordinary circumstances and they are committed to doing something about this issue. There are 209 people on the waiting list at the National Rehabilitation Hospital. Will the Minister come to the House to provide an assurance that the 12 beds will immediately re-open?
I echo Senator Boyhan's concerns and support his call for the Minister for Health to explain to the House his plans regarding the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Dún Laoghaire. This is a serious issue that affects the entire country. I know people who are waiting to access the centre. The 12 beds to which Senator Boyhan referred must be opened as soon as possible.
I gave notice yesterday that I would propose an amendment to the Order of Business today. I propose that non-Government motion No. 18 be taken today. The motion can be debated instead of statements on childhood obesity, which are due to be taken between 4.30 p.m. and 6 p.m. Speaking last week on the lack of legislation coming before the House, I stated there was no point in providing time to debate issues on which there is agreement across the House because everyone will say the same things. We need to deal with some serious issues on which cross-party agreement is needed. If agreement is not reached on this, I propose that the motion be taken without debate at the conclusion of the Order of Business. It is the same motion that Sinn Féin proposed to take without debate last Tuesday. The reasons given by Fianna Fáil and other parties for voting against the motion was that the vote clashed with a meeting of the Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine. For this reason, we ask that the motion be taken today. I gave notice yesterday that we would raise the matter today so nobody can claim not to have been given notice.
I also note the Leader stated last week that he would need a briefing from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine before he could make a decision on whether to support the motion. I trust a week has been sufficient time for him to receive a briefing.
As the Leader is aware, this is an important issue in rural Ireland. It must be dealt with as a stand-alone farming issue to address current inequality. I will not allow the waters to be muddied by bringing other farming issues into the mix. During the most recent negotiations on the Common Agricultural Policy, small farmers in the west were told not to worry about what would happen in Pillar 1 and to allow bigger farms to receive bigger payments because this would be made up in Pillar 2 under the green low-carbon agri-environment scheme, GLAS. It was not made up, however. The same excuse has been given since 2001 and the reference years on the single farm payment. Farmers trying to farm on land in disadvantaged areas and areas of natural constraint need to receive payments.
I refer to another farming-related issue, namely, the independent appeals mechanism in the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, which I may also raise as a Commencement matter. It is taking up to four years to process appeals through the office. This is not right as payments are being held up for up to four years. The reason for the delay is that under legislation, only one director in the appeals office can handle appeals. This must change and I will write to the Minister today seeking a change. I am shocked that only one director can deal with claims that cause farmers' payments to be delayed for years.
I express sadness on the death of the late journalist, Dara Quigley, who took her life on 12 April, five days after she had been detained by gardaí under the Mental Health Act. We all know that a Garda video of her detention was posted on Facebook shortly before Ms Quigley's death. Her family recently said their distress had been compounded by the publication of her name on many different social media websites. They also criticised the lack of services available for persons with dual diagnosis such as Ms Quigley. In my experience, there are no services for dual diagnoses in Ireland. Working as a therapist in the Rutland Centre, I have no doubt that mental health and addiction are very closely linked. Anybody I have met who has an addiction problem has a mental health problem and the people I have worked with who have a mental health problem often have addiction problems and use substances to numb them. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Health to the House to outline what action is being taken on dual diagnosis. Services are currently separate, which means that someone with an addiction problem who engages with the mental health services will be refused access to the service, while those with a mental health problem who contact an addiction service will be refused access to that service. This is not good enough and the issue needs to be addressed. It is time for change, particularly with regard to addiction and mental health services and dual diagnosis.
I thank the Leader for accepting the Bill proposed by the Labour Party group, the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (Gender Pay Gap Information) Bill 2017, which we will propose on Second Stage on Wednesday, 24 May in Private Members' time. This is an important Bill to tackle the ongoing issue of a gender pay gap, which remains persistent despite equal pay legislation being in place for more than 30 years. I look forward to securing the support of colleagues for the legislation.
I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on policing, now that the detail, terms of reference and membership of the root and branch review of An Garda Síochána have been announced. I understand that while the review group will report within 16 months, it envisages making a series of rolling recommendations. I ask the Leader to arrange a series of rolling debates as the recommendations emerge from the review. I am pleased with the strong membership of the review group, which includes independent individuals, including academics and practitioners from Ireland and elsewhere, and will be chaired by Ms Kathleen O'Toole. It is vital that we keep the matter under political scrutiny through the Oireachtas, as well as having the review group do its work. Given that the review will make rolling recommendations, we should examine these recommendations as they emerge.
The Fianna Fáil Party's position on this matter is untenable. It has indicated it would seek to remove the Garda Commissioner within six months of taking office if it were elected to government. It is bizarre that the party is not willing to move on the Commissioner's position now, having made an announcement that clearly destabilises her. Who knows what will be the Fine Gael Party's position, given the announcement we are expecting from the Taoiseach today? I also request a debate on domestic violence and perhaps the Leader will indicate when the Domestic Violence Bill will return to the House. Today's reports in the newspapers show a dramatic increase in calls to the Women's Aid helpline, a 70% increase on last year, and its helpline is now a 24 hour facility. It received 16,000 of these related calls in the past year compared with just over 9,000 the previous year. This is a very disturbing and concerning report, especially given the horrific accounts of deaths in recent weeks in the context of domestic abuse. I note that the Women's Aid report says that 80% of the abused women who contacted it had been abused by current or ex-partners. It is a very real and current issue for many families around Ireland and perhaps the Leader might tell us when we might have the legislation back to the House.
There is no doubt that the Government is still trying to grapple and deal with the consequences of the Fianna Fáil legacy that was left to this country and its impact on public services. This was outlined by various speakers in the House. There are many problems that remain to be addressed. I will speak on two examples that are of concern to me. There was a recent announcement by the HSE in Waterford of the temporary closure of more than 16 beds in the Sacred Heart unit at Dungarvan Community Hospital. This is a hospital for older people where beds are provided for step-down, respite and rehabilitation, with some long-stay beds. The Leader will agree that this announcement of closures is unacceptable. It puts pressure on our acute services and, in fact, we need more step-down and respite beds. The reason given by the HSE for this temporary closure is nursing staff shortages and the difficulty in recruiting nurses, not only in this sector but right across the health services in the State. Eight nurses are required to reopen the Sacred Heart unit and I know the hospital is actively advertising for them. This will have a knock-on impact on acute services in University Hospital Waterford where step-down beds are no longer available. Patients will then be retained in the hospital and it will add to the waiting lists. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Health to the house to outline the HSE's plans to recruit nursing staff urgently to alleviate these pressures.
Recruitment difficulties are not just related to the nursing sector. I note the recent report of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Education and Skills which said that only 2% of current school leavers are entering apprenticeships. When a comparison is drawn with the likes of Germany, where 60% of school leavers enter an apprenticeship programme to look at earn and learn options, it is clear that it should be a concern to us all that there are not enough apprentices to meet the growing needs of our economy. Not all school leavers are academic and this can be seen in the numbers of students dropping out of various third level programmes. The country is experiencing a skills shortage. I acknowledge that the Government has announced a national skills strategy. Will the Leader invite the Minister for Education and Skills to outline his plans and strategy to deal with these skills shortages. Beyond traditional apprenticeships, we need more programmes to encourage apprentices and trainees into sectors such as medical devices and financial services. This debate is urgently required to address these shortages.
Today is a very special one for Ibrahim Halawa whose trial is pending. I have been in touch with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to find out exactly what the progress is and if it is happening at this point. They are about one hour ahead there. I have been trying to get through to the ambassador in Cairo but have failed to do that. This situation is beyond belief. An Irish citizen has been in prison in Cairo for four years and has not had a proper trial. His trial in court has been delayed 22 times. We all know about the case. Every Member of the Seanad and the Dáil has been supportive of the case for the release of Ibrahim Halawa without delay. This has gone on for far too long. The Ceann Comhairle, Deputy Seán Ó Fearghaíl, led an all-party delegation to Cairo some months ago to plead Ibrahim's case. The Egyptian President has given a commitment that when the trial is finished, Ibrahim will be released on humanitarian grounds, but there has been no progress in this respect. It is hard to believe that we are allowing one of our own citizens to remain in Egypt, which was such an advanced society in the past with the Pharaohs and its tremendous history, for four years without a proper and immediate trial. Justice delayed is justice denied. I know the Taoiseach and the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade have been very active and have written letters but maybe the President might intervene at this point. I know the President is above politics but he is a man who may have influence with the President of Egypt. All we can do today is hope that the trial will proceed and that Ibrahim will be acquitted and return to his home as quickly as possible. All we can do today is send best wishes to him and his family and to work with a united approach to bring Ibrahim Halawa home.
I echo the remarks made by Senator Leyden. There has certainly been broad cross-party support on this issue and for this cause and I am sure and certain that the support will prevail in securing a release.
Iarraim chun cúrsaí Gaeilge ó Thuaidh agus an Lá Dearg atá beartaithe i mBéal Feirste ar an Satharn beag seo a phlé. The Leader is aware, as I have raised the issue before, that the current situation in the North still allows for the retention of one of the Penal Laws, the Languages Act 1737, to prohibit the use of the Irish language in court. There is a concerted, large-scale, broadly representative, cross-community campaign to lobby for legislation to protect the rights of Irish speakers in the North with an Irish language Act. This is an outstanding commitment from the St. Andrews Agreement. Some of the support for that has manifested itself on the floor of this Chamber, including from the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Flanagan, who, on behalf of the Government and along with representatives from all parties and the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, has supported the call for the Irish language Act. The UN and the European Union Council's Committee of Experts have all called for the implementation of that agreed Act.
On Saturday, Irish language supporters, speakers, enthusiasts and people who support the progress of rights and equality will descend on Belfast for what is being called An Lá Dearg. They will march from the Cultúrlann on the Falls Road in the heart of the Gaeltacht quarter to Belfast City Hall for a celebration of diversity and the Irish language. I draw Members' attention to this outstanding issue and encourage them to support that call. Conradh na Gaeilge has organised buses from all over the country and Members can consult Twitter or the Conradh na Gaeilge website to see if any buses are going to be close to them. I have not yet seen any from Cork so perhaps the Leader could sort that out. Tá mé ag iarraidh é sin a ardú agus iarraidh ar dhaoine ní hamháin bheith i láthair don mhórshiúl Dé Sathairn ach a bheith linn san fheachtas ar son cearta do Ghaeilgeoirí.
I wish to ask the House to welcome home the 109th Infantry Battalion from UNIFIL. The troops return home today from Lebanon having served for six months. It was great to see families being reunited in the airport this morning. The State is immensely grateful to the soldiers for the wonderful, invaluable work they do abroad, and for the distinction with which they represent Ireland. We must acknowledge the sacrifices they and their families have given to the State over the past six months. It has not been easy for them. In view of the "Prime Time" programme last night, it is very apt that we will have the Minister in the House next week to discuss the pay and conditions of members of the Defence Forces. We are proud of the Defence Forces and now is the time to address this issue of pay and conditions for the members of the Defence Forces, in particular private soldiers. I acknowledge the homecoming of the 109th Infantry Battalion, as we did last week when we wished the 110th Infantry Battalion well when it was going out. I am grateful to the Leader for inviting the Minister next week to address the issues.
Tacaím leis an méid atá ráite ag an Seanadóir Ó Donnghaile maidir leis an Lá Dearg. Tá súil agam go mbeidh daoine ábalta a bheith ann.
We have a very serious situation with homelessness in the State. I have raised previously the issue of homelessness in Galway.One of my colleagues in Galway City Council, Cathal Ó Conchúir, was told that there are 26 people sleeping rough in Galway at the moment and that the supports that were there to help them over the past number of months have been discontinued because of a lack of funding. That is a very serious situation, because there is no housing support available to them.
I also want to discuss an issue that I previously raised in the Seanad about the support workers in organisations such as The Simon Community and COPE, who are supported by the IMPACT trade union. They are known as the sleep-over workers, and they support people who are homeless overnight. They are paid a measly €4.50 an hour because of the situation that they are in, and still have not had their pay reimbursed even though they have had a Labour Court ruling in their favour. I do not believe the organisations in question are to blame here - they are happy to pay these moneys - but the HSE is withholding the funding. The Department for Health and the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, are responsible. Even though we have many platitudes about the plight of the homeless, it is quite clear that the Government is withholding funding to these organisations in this situation via the HSE so that they can pay those sleep-over workers. I see that strike action is possibly pending from IMPACT on this issue. I call on the Leader to use his offices, and perhaps we could have a debate here once more and discuss the situation. We have had many Government announcements and initiatives, but the particular issue of homelessness needs to be debated again.
I support the comments by Senator Bacik about the Women's Aid impact report for 2016. The figures are very stark and startling, including 20,769 disclosures of domestic violence against women and children, 3,823 disclosures of child abuse and 16,000 disclosures of domestic violence against women. The organisations that support women in these scenarios are completely under funded. For example, Domestic Violence Response, DVR, in the Connemara area is certainly struggling to cope with the level of phone calls it receives. A debate on what the Government is doing about the issue of domestic violence would be very welcome as well.
I would like to speak again about the Book of Kells today. Senator Norris is not in the Chamber, which is a shame, but I thank the people from all over Ireland and abroad who contacted me about the book when I spoke about it in the Chamber on the last occasion. The question everyone was asking was who owns the Book of Kells. Is it the Irish people or Trinity College Dublin? I saw a sign this morning when coming through the Phoenix Park which said "Our shared heritage". The people of Kells and Meath were robbed of their heritage down through the years when it came to the Book of Kells. In April 2000, one of the gospels was damaged when it was brought to Canberra in Australia. While my late father and friends in Kells-----
Good people such as John Bruton, John Farrelly and Brian Curran, town councillors and county councillors, were fighting to get one of the volumes back to Kells to the new heritage centre. The book could be brought around the world, but the peasants in Meath and Kells were not getting any volumes. If we are serious about the Ancient East tourism trail, the people of Meath and Kells want one of the volumes. Even it was only on loan for three months of the season, it would be lovely. Tourists could visit the Boyne Valley, Tara, the Cross of Kells, the Book of Kells, Lough Crew and then go to Trim Castle and back to Dublin.
It would not be stolen, I assure the House. It would be well minded. I will ask the Minister who owns the Book of Kells, and I will do so during Commencement Matters, because the only way I can see this problem being solved for the people of Kells, Meath and Ireland is through the courts.
I am afraid so.
This must be a priority for this House and Sinn Féin is clear on what this House should look like. It should have direct election by way of a universal franchise for all citizens on the same day as a Dáil vote, Northern representation, representation from across the diaspora, 50% representation of women and representation of traditionally marginalised groups in Irish society. On 12 successive occasions, reports have been produced proposing reform and yet none of those has been implemented. After speaking with the Leader yesterday, my intention was that I would write to the Department of the Taoiseach calling for urgency in the appointment of a chairperson to the interim implementation body. This House should collectively write to the Department of the Taoiseach to outline our call for urgency in the appointment of that chairperson. I assume, following the Taoiseach's call for nominees, that those have been fulfilled. This House should call collectively, with urgency, for a chairperson for that committee.
Over the years we have had many calls from politicians that Ireland should host the Olympics. That is a worthy call and I very much support the Rugby World Cup bid for 2023. This was supported by the Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, but also by the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly and all the countries involved in that. In 2014, the Commonwealth Games were held very successfully in Scotland, and the host event was held in Parkhead, which is the home of Glasgow Celtic. The Commonwealth Games 2018 will be held in the Gold Coast, but Durban, in South Africa, has pulled out of hosting the 2022 Commonwealth Games. It is open now for any country to apply to host them. Liverpool, Manchester and Birmingham are hoping to apply.
This is a wonderful opportunity for Northern Ireland to apply to host the Commonwealth Games in 2022. There is a party in Stormont which actually can try to unite the people of Ireland. We could have the Commonwealth Games hosted by Northern Ireland but it could be on the island of Ireland. We have Croke Park, Windsor Park, the Aviva Stadium, the National Sports Campus, and many more. This could be a wonderful opportunity to bring the Commonwealth Games, which involves 71 teams and over 5,000 participants to this island.
We have to think differently. People talk about a united Ireland and uniting the people of Ireland. This is a wonderful idea to sell the island of Ireland. Northern Ireland, through the Executive or through the games committee, should now apply with the idea that it could be located on the island of Ireland. The 2021 Youth Games are to be held in Northern Ireland. It is a huge opportunity to have rowing, perhaps in Lough Rynn in Leitrim, to use the National Aquatic Centre and many other facilities in the island of Ireland. Then we can truly unite the people of our country.
I have previously raised the issue of 1916 commemorative medals rightly being presented to members of An Garda Síochána, the Defence Forces, and the National Ambulance Service. However, fire and rescue personnel, with the exception of County Kilkenny, were not presented with such a medal. They feel that this is indicative of the treatment they receive and the disrespect that exists from the authorities to fire and rescue personnel. A number of questions have been put to various Ministers, including the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Coveney, and the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Humphreys. It has been said that they are not responsible. Surely a directive or a guidance note was issued to local authorities and somebody somewhere, who was responsible for these commemorations, must have looked at these medals being presented to everybody except fire and rescue personnel across the State. I am asking that even now it be addressed. I do not believe that anybody in these Houses would object to the fire and rescue personnel receiving their 1916 commemorative medals. I ask the Leader to raise this with his relevant colleagues and to please report back to me and other Members of this House.
I also want to raise the issue of the gorse fires. I raised issue this last week. Where is the oversight on this issue? In the Inishowen peninsula a fire burned for four days. We are talking about part-time personnel who are on retainers and who have other jobs to do and responsibilities to meet.For four days, they were pinned down on the hills in Inishowen. Nobody was advising them in terms of helicopters, water, Defence Forces or anything like that.
In terms of oversight that leads up to the national emergency co-ordination group, which is led by the Minister, Deputy Coveney, what are the criteria given to local fire services? How many days must these part-time firemen be on the ground before they are given backup? What are the criteria and framework given to local fire services in this regard? I would greatly appreciate answers to these questions.
I also second Senator Conway-Walsh's proposal on the motion.
They also both relate to Limerick.
The first is the issue of motor insurance. The cost of motor insurance has continued to increase. Earlier, I heard a colleague looking for a debate. It is urgently needed. There are elderly people for whom the cost motor insurance is climbing and many people cannot get insurance. I ask that the Minister responsible come before the House immediately to debate on it. The question of motor insurance companies operating cartels is being examined but as far as I am concerned they are and we need to take them on at full blast.
The second issue relates to Irish Rail. For a four-week period, between 4 June and 25 June, Irish Rail is effectively closing down Limerick station while new signal boxes are going in. I have two questions. This appears to have come out of the blue. The company is now talking about rescheduling train times and it is more than likely that people will be transported to Limerick Junction. I have put in a call to Mr. Barry Kenny of Irish Rail on the matter and we need clarity on this issue. Although a new facade and a fantastic new promenade have just been put in place at Limerick railway station, it will be out of commission for four weeks. We need answers as to why this has arisen now. What rescheduling is being put in place? Will the buses be disabled-friendly? Why is this work not being done at night when trains are not running? This is something about which I feel very strongly. I will put this to Irish Rail and to the Minister, Deputy Ross, to find out exactly what is going on with Limerick train station.
Roimh an Cháisc chualamar roinnt de na torthaí ó dhaonáireamh 2016. Ceann de na rudaí nach raibh mórán cainte air, agus nár chualamar ón Rialtas mar gheall air, ná an méid daoine a labhraíonn Gaeilge lasmuigh den chóras oideachais sa Ghaeltacht. Is é an figiúr a fuaireamar ná go bhfuil 20,586 duine a labhraíonn Gaeilge sa Ghaeltacht lasmuigh den chóras oideachais. Faraor, laghdú 11% atá ansin ón figiúr a bhí ann i 2011. Ba 23,175 an figiúr ag an am sin. The fall in the daily number of Irish speakers in the Gaeltacht since the last census - over five years, there has been an 11% reduction down to 20,586 people speaking Irish outside the education system - is very troubling. It confirms research findings in 2015 that indicated that on current trends, the language as a community vernacular in the Gaeltacht will not continue beyond 2025.
For many people in pobal na Gaeilge, the drop in the numbers using Irish frequently in the Gaeltacht demonstrated in the 2016 census was shocking and disappointing. No doubt Senator Ó Clochartaigh, who knows much more than I do about this and who is very directly concerned with these matters, will back me up on what I am saying. One of the specific objectives of the 20-year strategy for the Irish language was to increase the number of people in the Gaeltacht speaking Irish on a daily basis by 25% and to promote language invigoration in these regions. That was said to be critical to the overall strategy.
I am conscious that I am speaking at a time when it appears that the Taoiseach is about to lay down the burdens of office. We know that he is a very proud Irish speaker and is happy to demonstrate his fluency on State business in Europe. It is not clear that either of the two front-runners to succeed him have a particular commitment to the Irish language although I might be wrong. I am not out to score points, however, but to seek information. It seems to me appropriate that the Taoiseach, even when he leaves that office, should come before this House to give an account of his stewardship in various areas. To look at the areas where there have been successes but also those where there remain challenges. If a man like him who is committed to the Irish language has presided over a situation of manifest decline, where we see the failure of Irish language legislation, the Official Languages Act, where people in various agencies are turning a blind eye to their responsibility to promote the availability of services to Irish speakers, then I worry for the future.
I thank the Cathaoirleach for his indulgence and conclude by asking that the Taoiseach come in and among the issues he should deal with is the need for strong leadership in the area of promoting and preserving the Irish language as a spoken language in the Gaeltacht and elsewhere -----
I begin by agreeing wholeheartedly with the sentiments expressed by my colleague, Senator Feighan.
Once again, I call on the Leader to invite the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Donohoe, to come into the House and allow us to have a real debate on the capital investment review that is ongoing. The consultation has just concluded. In the context of Brexit, it is hugely important for the island of Ireland to take control. Yesterday morning, Senator Craughwell had an important Commencement debate with the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, on our transport infrastructure needs. When we look at our port, road and rail networks, they are hugely in need of upgrade in order to deal with the change in how goods and people will enter the country but this is also the case with our educational and civic institutions and many more sectors. It is important that we have a serious debate. Many people will speak of potential boons to the economy in terms of pay or structure but we need to lay down a marker that our infrastructure needs to be brought up to speed in order to deal with the headache that is Brexit.
Yesterday, I was going to speak on the revaluation of commercial rates that has been happening across the country. This is happening in my home area of Carlow and Kilkenny at the moment. I believe the confusion over the revaluation is the way the system has been set up. It is a new system. It is very confusing when businesses have received their rates. In my area it is multiplied by 0.269. There seems to be a whole different system. I have concerns about it. I will address it to the Minister. I am raising it because I want to compliment Carlow County Council, which is holding a day for businesses there to explain the system next Monday.
Under this new system, there are appeals. Unlike before, commercial rates will be put into categories, which I think is good, but some rates have gone up and others down. It is crucial that the appeals system works with businesses because they are only surviving. I also have concerns about crèches. Crèches and nurseries are now educational. I have represented many crèches where their rates have increased by €1,000 or €1,500 or more. It is an awful amount. I am asking that the Government look at this system and the genuine appeals. These are genuine people who are merely making ends meet. These new criteria should be addressed but the appeals system is crucial.
I join in the earlier call for a debate on domestic violence in light of the Women's Aid report, which was published today. The statistics are quite shocking and on a personal level, it is terrible to think what some women and children deal with from physical, sexual, emotional and financial abuse.Of particular concern to me is the fact that the report is critical of the way our courts and judges deal with domestic violence, particularly in the case of access and custody. I am concerned that the impact of domestic violence on children has not properly been taken into account and this dovetails with a debate I heard on "Today with Sean O'Rourke" yesterday on the issues which judges, in good faith, are taking into account but on which they seem to be misguided. There is an issue around training of judges to deal with this issue. Where violence was involved and a barring order given, some judges seem to think that is the end of the matter and do not take into account the manipulation of children. Domestic abuse can be perpetrated by either sex but, for the most part and in 80% of the most extreme cases, it is perpetrated by men. We can put in all the social workers and gardaí we need but if the proper care and protection of children and women is not taken into account by the Judiciary we will end up with the wrong results. Judges are well briefed in the area of law but psychology and the emotional side of things are a different matter and, if we are serious about protecting children, even if they only witness this abuse by their parents, we need experts in court so that judges can make informed decisions where there are concerns that there will be manipulation of children and further abuse, psychological or otherwise. Notwithstanding the removal of a parent from a family setting, this needs to be recognised in judgments.
Just off the N52 in Rathconnell, a heavily populated area near Mullingar, there have been numerous leaks in the mains water infrastructure on a one-mile stretch of road. There have been seven breaks in the asbestos line in one year and I am working closely on it with Councillor Bill Collentine, who is well equipped in this field.
I have received calls from several locals asking me a question which I have found hard to answer, so I wanted to ask the Leader. Is there any likelihood they could be poisoned from the asbestos line, which is in very poor condition and is constantly breaking? I am afraid to tell them they will not. A lot of work has been done with the new water authority to get the line upgraded but it is kicking us to touch at present. Can the Leader clarify the matter or invite the Minister to the House to clarify the position? It is only a one-mile stretch of pipe but it is constantly breaking and leaking and it would be great if it could be upgraded.
In June last year the Select Committee on the Future of Healthcare was set up. Our colleagues in the other House made sure we were barred from sitting on the committee but I will raise the issue of infrastructural development relating to hospitals.
Every week in this House people talk about the need for infrastructural development for our education system and our roads but we need to talk about it regarding hospitals. We know what is going to happen in Dublin with the new children's hospital and three new maternity hospitals but we have not looked at infrastructural development for hospitals in the rest of the country, where the population is growing in many areas but where no additional facilities have been developed in the past 30 or even 50 years. We need a 20-year plan, not a five-year or ten-year plan.
I ask the Leader for a debate on this issue. People will say we cannot deal with it until the future of healthcare document is produced but we need to do it now and we need to ensure the Department of Health is planning for these things. We should not put it off for another 12 months or two years. We have seen how long it has taken to roll out the children's hospital and we now have a problem with the roll-out of the maternity hospitals. We should include the rest of the country with Dublin in our discussion of these issues.
Last week there was an excellent presentation in the AV room by early years educators from Dublin, Cork and the rest of the country. It was well attended and it was disappointing to note that the only party not to send anyone was Fine Gael. Early years educators are in crisis and precarious work dominates, with temporary short-term contracts and rates of pay barely above or at the minimum wage. It is shocking for a country that prides itself on investing in education that our investment in early childhood education is the lowest in Europe and half the level of investment in the UK. One knows one is in trouble when one invests half of what the Tories invest. A very good campaign is being run by SIPTU, my union, for a sectoral employment order to set pay and conditions for the sector, improving both pay and standards. We need to debate that. Everybody in this Chamber should recognise that investment in early years education has not been made and we should make it a priority.
I wish to highlight a very interesting voluntary project conducted in Kilkenny, where communities are connected with people abroad of Irish descent who are interested in genealogy tourism. Last year, 22 genealogy tourists came to Kilkenny as a direct result of one person in the locality taking a simple and painless saliva test, which in some cases costs as little as €50. In the coming months, the project is expecting five different groups of people to come from Canada and stay in Kilkenny for over a week. I believe there is potential for DNA genealogy to be used on a larger scale as a broader tourism initiative.
One idea could be to subsidise the refund of a DNA test cost if a visit is made by an individual or group. Alternatively, funding could be provided to offer a free DNA test to a number of suitable people in each village, connecting them via DNA to the wider diaspora globally. We are doing very well in tourism overall but genealogy tourism is an added area we could publicise more heavily and I would like the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to consider incentivising foreign visitors who wish to discover more of their heritage, or companies who wish to avail of such a service.
Following what Senator Noone said, I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to the House for a discussion on tourism, including on how Brexit is affecting us at the moment, how it will affect us in the future and how sterling may affect tourism. The tourism industry is very important to our economy and our nearest neighbours are the biggest tourist group coming here.
I thank the 24 Senators for their contributions on the Order of Business. Senators Gallagher and Kieran O'Donnell raised the important issue of motor insurance and the need to reduce the costs of insurance.Not only has the Minister of State, Deputy Murphy, who has responsibility in this regard, set up a commission to examine this matter, to be fair to him, but we have also seen for the first time in five years, according to the CSO figure, a 2.6% reduction in the cost of insurance on this time last year. I share with Senators O'Donnell and Gallagher the desire for more questioning of, and more accountability on the part of, the insurance industry regarding the cost of motor insurance. The Minister of State, Deputy Murphy, is committed to overseeing the implementation of the report and deserves credit and praise for his proactivity regarding the matter of motor insurance. I think we all recognise there is a need now for the motor insurance industry to be transparent and to be held accountable for the quotes it gives and costs it places on people.
The report of the working group has six main themes. The important themes for me are the protection of the consumer and reducing insurance costs, along with ensuring that insurance fraud is dealt with and the uninsured driver is held to account. The action plan has a timeline for delivery, the implementation of which Government is driving. The Minister of State, who, as I said, is being very proactive, has the report. There are 71 action points, 45 of which are due by the end of this year. I look forward to working with the Minister of State to ensure we commit to the action plan and see, as Senator O'Donnell said, such cartel activity eliminated. It is in the interests of all motorists to have a competitive, cheaper and transparent motor insurance quotation system and that we see more people on the road with insurance and reduce the number of people tempted to break the law by having no insurance.
Senator Gallagher also raised the issue of hospital waiting times, and Senator Coffey in his contribution referred to the issue of respite care. I am loath to begin a political row, but there are legacy issues we must recognise. The health budget is at its highest ever level. The Minister is very much aware of the inordinate and unacceptable waiting times, as all of us are in our own constituency offices from dealing with people - friends, family and members of our communities. However, it is important to note that the National Treatment Purchase Fund, NTPF, which published figures in this regard just last week, confirmed that over 52% of patients have now been waiting less than six months for either an inpatient or day-case procedure, and 93% have been waiting less than 18 months. However, this is too long for people in huge pain. There is a need to reduce waiting times for those who have been waiting longest, and that is a commitment of Government. It is for this reason the Government, in the most recent budget, allocated €20 million to the NTPF, with a commitment to increase this to €55 million in 2018. The Minister for Health is conscious of the matter and is working to achieve a waiting list initiative that will see more people being treated more quickly. I accept there is more to be done, but the Minister is committed, and the proof of that is in the budget recently announced.
Senator Boyhan raised the very important matter of the National Rehabilitation Hospital, and I know Senator Hopkins has raised this in the House previously. It is important we join Senator Boyhan in acknowledging that the reduction in the number of beds in this case is unacceptable and that the HSE has delayed too long in recruiting staff and reopening the beds referred to by the Senator. Since the Senator's contribution, the Minister of State with responsibility in this regard, Deputy McGrath, has asked me through my office to tell the Senator that he is happy to speak to him before the end of business today.
It is important to recognise the huge work being done in the national rehabilitation unit in Dún Laoghaire. The Government has committed to a rehabilitation programme which will see better outcomes for the patients and families who require these services. The HSE service plan for this year has identified a number of key priorities for the hospital, including finalising and progressing the framework of the national neuro-rehabilitation strategy. As a former health committee chair, I, with Senator Colm Burke, have worked very hard to see the strategy brought to fruition and to see investment in the National Rehabilitation Hospital. Senator Boyhan is right to highlight the matter.
Progress has been made on the redevelopment of the campus in Dún Laoghaire. A new 120-bed hospital with integrated therapies and support services will be made available. Planning permission, as the Senator will be aware, has been granted. Like the Senator, I wish this could be done more quickly, but a procurement process has begun, with the appointment of a contractor to be made later this year. The Minister of State, Deputy McGrath, is happy to liaise with the Senator. If he is not happy with that, I would be happy to have the Minister of State come to the House next week to have a debate on the matter. It is a hospital with which we all have a great affinity because many of us have friends and family members who have been in the hospital, and the care, service and attention they have been given are second to none. I think we all would like to see the situation improve and I would be happy to work with the Senator in that regard.
I made an offer to Senator Conway-Walsh last week on the issue of the motion on the Order Paper, but her party pushed the vote, which was its right and prerogative. I again compliment Senator Daly on his approach in this regard. The Minister, Deputy Creed, will come to the House next Wednesday. I am happy to facilitate statements on the matter rather than a motion, and I made this clear yesterday on the Order of Business. I am happy to do so again today, and that is my position.
Methinks Senator Mac Lochlainn protests too much. The other issue Senator Conway-Walsh raised was the independent appeals office. As she said, perhaps she should raise it as a Commencement matter. I do not have information on the matter to hand so I cannot give her a definitive answer.
Senator Black referred to the untimely death of the journalist, Dara Quigley, and I join her in offering sympathy to her family. This is mental health awareness month, and I have asked the Minister to come to the House next week or the week after to have a debate on it. The Seanad Public Consultation Committee will be doing a piece of work beginning on mental health, and Government is very proactive on the issue of mental health. I would be happy to have the Minister come to the House to discuss the matter Senator Black raised.
Senator Bacik raised the issue of policing, and the Minister yesterday outlined the issue and the appointment of personnel to the independent commission to review policing in Ireland. I would be happy to have a debate on the matter. Both Senators Bacik and Mulherin raised the issue of domestic violence, which is a very serious one. As Senator Mulherin rightly said, it is a compendium of physical, mental, sexual, financial and other violence which we need to address. Legislation in this regard is forthcoming, and I am happy to report back on the status of that legislation at a later date. We need to prioritise this as a Government.
Senator Coffey raised the issue of respite care, in particular in the Sacred Heart unit in Dungarvan, and the need to prioritise it. This is the fundamental reform of our health system to which Senator Burke referred last week on the Order of Business. We need to have a continuum of care for our citizens. This means we need to plan care and have, as Senator Burke rightly said again today, an investment programme in infrastructure which includes not just primary care, but also respite care, including emergency respite care. We have nearly 2,000 short-stay beds in terms of step-up facilities, intermediary care, rehab and respite care. However, we need to do more, and this is certainly something we need, as a country, to plan for. The HSE needs to be much more proactive on respite care. I do not wish to get into controversy with my next remark, but I think the Health Information and Quality Authority, HIQA has a role to play in respite care on the road we are travelling because, as a State, we see more people requiring care, including intermediate care, week stays for step-down care and care for those with long-term disabilities.We need to see an increase in respite provision. We need to ensure, as part of the national carers strategy and the action plan for carers, that this is implemented.
Senator Coffey referenced the national skills strategy. The Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Bruton, and the Minister of State, Deputy Halligan, have been before the House in that regard. However, the Senator is correct that we need to think outside the box in regard to our skills strategy. More programmes related to different aspects of our workforce are needed. I am happy to ask the Minister to come to the House for that debate.
Senator Leyden raised the issue of Ibrahim Halawa, whose case has been ongoing for far too long. The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Flanagan, has raised the matter, as has the Taoiseach. All of us are united in the hope that this case will be resolved for the Halawa family and Ibrahim.
Senator Ó Donnghaile raised the issue of the Act of 1737 and the use of Irish in the courts in the North. I am happy to ask the Minister come to the House for a debate on that matter.
I join with Senator McFadden in welcoming home the 109th Infantry Battalion and thanking its personnel for their superb work on behalf of all of us. As I said yesterday, the Defence Forces provide a huge service on our behalf around the world. We welcome back those Defence Forces personnel. I am happy to set aside time next week for a debate on the Defence Forces.
Senator Ó Clochartaigh spoke about the homeless agencies in Galway. I find it staggering that there has been a withholding of funding for homeless services in Galway at a time when the Minister and the Department are allocating more funding than ever to resolution of the homelessness issue. On the issue of sleep-over workers, which the Senator has raised before, I would be stunned and disappointed if there was a deliberate obfuscation by the Department and the HSE in regard to the matters raised. Senator Ó Clochartaigh also raised the issue of domestic violence and women's aid.
Senator Butler raised the issue of the Book of Kells. The Senator, in terms of his very passionate remarks and the wonderful picture he painted, has been a strong advocate for the Ireland Ancient East project. During the campaign for the Seanad elections many of us passed through many of the historic sites he referenced. I would not like to see anything happen to the Book of Kells that would destroy it. It is important not just as a tourist attraction but as an historical artefact.
It is beyond my pay grade to say where the Book of Kells should be kept but it is important that we preserve it. I thank Senator Butler for his firm advocacy on behalf of the people of Ireland and in terms of the importance of Ireland's Ancient East.
Senator Warfield raise the issue of Seanad reform. I hope that the current Seanad is modern and effective and that all of us, as representatives, are modern, effective voices for the people we represent. I hope that during the lifetime of this Seanad we will see reform of how the Seanad is elected, which is currently a matter of disagreement among some people. There are differing viewpoints on how we get there but the Senator is correct that Seanad reform remains an issue. I hope that we will see change.
The Senator might find disagreement on that. However, it is his prerogative as the proposer of that idea to seek support for it among other Members of the House. I cannot answer for all members. It is a debate we have had and will have again in the next couple of months.
Senators Feighan and Richmond raised the issue of an all-island approach to the hosting of the Commonwealth Games, which is an important issue we should consider in terms of the promotion of North-South relations.
I share Senator Mac Lochlainn's view on the first responder and fire and rescue personnel issue. As the Senator will be aware, I have raised the issue with various Ministers but I have not yet had a conclusive response. I am happy to work with the Senator to see that happen. It would be disappointing to see a differentiation between personnel in respect of the issue raised.
Senator Kieran O'Donnell raised the issue of Irish Rail. The Senator was right to raise the matter in the first instance with Mr. Barry Kenny. I hope that Irish Rail will not discommode the people of Limerick. The Senator might consider tabling the issue for discussion as a Commencement matter, which may provide him with a quicker response.
I have already responded on Senator Mulherin's passionate contribution.
Senator Richmond also asked that the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Donohoe, be asked to come to the House to debate the capital investment review. I have put in a request to the Minister's office in that regard and I hope that this debate will take place in the next couple of weeks.
Senator Murnane O'Connor again raised the issue of revaluation of commercial rates in Carlow. As the Senator is aware, it is an independent process but it is being driven from afar by the Minister, Deputy Coveney. We need to see results in this area. Some of the businesses mentioned by the Senator are commercial entities. Some crèches are community crèches but others are private and operate for profit. As I said, this issue needs to be addressed.
Senator Mullen raised the issue of cúrsaí Gaeilge. Tá brón orm nach bhfuil Gaeilge flúirseach agus líofa agam ach tá suim mhór agam i gcúrsaí Gaeltachta agus cultúir. Tá suim mhór ag an Aire Stáit, an Teachta Kyne, agus ag na hAirí ar labhair an Seanadóir fúthu, an Teachta Varadkar agus an Teachta Coveney. Tá Gaeilge acu. Senator Mullen, unfortunately, brought members of the Government into the issue of the Irish language. The Ministers he referenced, Deputies Coveney and Varadkar, are committed to the Irish language and so it was unfair of him to do that. The Taoiseach has an extraordinary ability to communicate in the Irish language. Irrespective of what he announces today, his support in his role as Taoiseach for and contribution to promoting the Irish language has been second to none, for which he deserves our thanks.
Senator Davitt raised the issue of investment in Irish Water and water infrastructure. The Senator is correct that there is concern regarding water infrastructure in Rathconnell, which is proof of the need for investment, which some colleagues here do not want to see happen, in our infrastructure and Irish Water.
We can bring solutions to the Irish people in terms of the lack of investment in infrastructure. I hope that Irish Water, which has a strong investment plan and programme of investment for water infrastructure and the delivery of clean drinking water to communities like Rathconnell, will do that. I commend Senator Davitt on raising that matter this morning.
Senator Colm Burke referred to the Committee on the Future of Healthcare. The Minister could not allow Senators to be members of that committee because of opposition in that regard from the other House, which was disappointing. The committee's report, which we all await with bated breath, will, hopefully, contain key recommendations around the development of infrastructure in our hospitals. In previous remarks Senator Burke spoke about the lack of new hospitals in our country, which is an issue that also needs to be addressed as a matter of priority.
Senator Gavan raised the issue of early years provision. I was unable to attend the meeting in the AV room last week but I am happy to inform the Senator that I facilitated a meeting with the Minister, Deputy Zappone, and early community child care providers in Cork South Central. As a former Chairman of the then Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children, I am very committed to working with all providers of child care on issues such investment in early years education. The Minister, Deputy Zappone, who bears responsibility for this area is committed to improving the quality and staffing, including and pay conditions, of early child care services. The Senator's remark was a little unfair when some of us are very committed to this area and have a long history of involvement in it.
Senator Noone raised the issue of the genealogy tourism project in Kilkenny. It is a good news story for today's Order of Business and I commend Senator Noone on raising it. It is important that genealogy is used as a tool to promote Ireland, in particular in North America and Canada, whose people love to trace their roots across generations.I commend those involved in Kilkenny. I hope that we will not just see the five groups from Canada visiting, but a variety of tourists from North America and elsewhere around the world.
Senator Paddy Burke asked for the Minister to attend the House. He was right, in that the issue of visitors from the UK post Brexit must be tackled. The tourism sector's link with the UK must continue.
I will not accept Senator Conway-Walsh's amendment in light of the fact that the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Creed, will attend the House next week to discuss the matter. It is important that we have that debate.
Senator Boyhan has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That a debate with the Minister for Health on the need to re-open 12 beds at the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Dún Laoghaire in order that the hospital can operate at full capacity be taken today." Is the amendment being pressed?
I listened to the Leader, but I do not believe in having a sideshow with the Minister downstairs. That is not how we do our business. This is the Chamber and where we debate. This is where we hold people to account. Therefore, I would be happy to withdraw the amendment on the basis of a commitment that the responsible Minister would attend the House on Tuesday and time would be set aside to question him and get a full explanation of what is happening at the National Rehabilitation Hospital. Nothing less will do. Will the Leader agree to that?
Ivana Bacik, Frances Black, Rose Conway Walsh, Maire Devine, Paul Gavan, Alice Mary Higgins, Kevin Humphreys, Pádraig MacLochlainn, David Norris, Trevor Ó Clochartaigh, Niall Ó Donnghaile, Grace O'Sullivan, Fintan Warfield.
Colm Burke, Paddy Burke, Ray Butler, Jerry Buttimer, Maria Byrne, Paudie Coffey, Paul Coghlan, Martin Conway, Paul Daly, Aidan Davitt, Frank Feighan, Maura Hopkins, Tim Lombard, Gabrielle McFadden, Michelle Mulherin, Jennifer Murnane O'Connor, Catherine Noone, Brian Ó Domhnaill, Kieran O'Donnell, John O'Mahony, Ned O'Sullivan, James Reilly, Neale Richmond.