Tuesday, 27 June 2017
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, motion re Educational Research Centre (Establishment) (Amendment) Order 2017, to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business, without debate; No. 2, statements on University Hospital Waterford cardiology services, to be taken at 4.45 p.m. and to conclude no later than 5.25 p.m., with the contribution of group spokespersons not to exceed five minutes and the Minister to be called upon to reply no later than 5.22 p.m.; and No. 3, Inland Fisheries (Amendment) Bill 2017 - Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken at 5.25 p.m.
It was very sad yesterday listening to Michael and Kathleen Devereaux's son on Joe Duffy's "Liveline" radio show. Their son gave us a detailed narrative of how his parents, who are 63 years married, were separated by the HSE. His father was permitted a bed in a nursing home while his mother was not. This couple have been together for 63 years and, on the back of the State, were being separated. I learned today the HSE became involved and the couple will be reunited. Is it not sad that the only way to get some justice and fairness in this country is to resort to Joe Duffy justice? It is absolutely appalling and unacceptable in this day and age.
The second item I raise is the Minister, Deputy Ross's Judicial Appointments Commission Bill which is before the Dáil this week. We in Fianna Fáil believe in reform of the judicial appointments system. It is of paramount importance. However, the Bill published this week by the Government is deeply flawed and that has been pointed out by senior members of the Judiciary. Fianna Fáil has prepared legislation proposing the establishment of a judicial appointments commission, fully independent of Government, that would make recommendations to Government based on the merits of applicants to judicial office. This office would not be a quango and there would not be a back office of administrative staff costing the State more. At the very least, we in Fianna Fáil believe the Bill should provide for a committee chaired by the Chief Justice. Anything less is an insult to the office of the Chief Justice. It beggars belief that the Chief Justice, as the senior custodian of the rule of law, or any of her colleagues, were not consulted on the merits of the Bill in any way, shape or form. With any other legislation that passes through the Houses, we have a complete and robust consultation process with stakeholders, whether it is a Bill on Seanad reform or on physical therapists or physiotherapists.I believe this is one of the most practical and transparent parts of our legislative process and it should not be eroded.
On the subject just raised by the leader of the Fianna Fáil group, that is, the question of the judicial appointments commission legislation which is pending, there are a couple of points I would lie to make. First, as Senator Ardagh said, it is a Bill which has several significant flaws. One of them is that the Act which it seeks to amend and repeal, the Courts and Court Officers Act 1995, provided that the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board would make recommendations but would also inform the Government of the people who had expressed an interest in being appointed. The new Bill, curiously, will just say that three names will be forwarded to the Government and that no information will be given to the Minister as to who was rejected, so that the Cabinet, in looking at the three names, will effectively be like the captain of a submarine without a periscope, wondering what other people expressed an interest who were not included in the list. As I see it, it would actually be an offence under the new legislation to communicate the other people's names to the Government in this context. That is just one of the issues and I raise it to emphasise how infirm this proposed piece of legislation is.
The point I want to raise with the Leader is that it would appear a commitment has been made that this legislation will be passed by both Houses of the Oireachtas before the summer recess. However, the establishment of the commission would take months thereafter. Therefore, it is not hugely important it is done by the end of this Oireachtas term. It is not as if there are appointments pending which are going to be dealt with as soon as the commission is established. I ask the Leader to give us an assurance that this House will be given adequate time, and more than that if necessary, to consider each and every provision of this legislation. The more I look at it, in particular the more I look at individual portions of the Bill, the more problems emerge. We will not be rushed in this House by any political agenda that the Minister, Deputy Ross, may have in regard to this matter. We will carry out our constitutional function, which is to examine this legislation line by line to ensure we improve it as best we can, rather than having it rushed through in order to satisfy a fairly grubby political agenda.
First, I want to refer to Mr. and Mrs. Devereaux. Hearing Mr. Devereaux's pleas yesterday to be reunited with his wife touched the hearts of many people around the country. When we close down hundreds of beds in nursing homes, community hospitals and such facilities, what do we expect to happen and where do we expect the beds to come from? That is what has happened. We heard the other day there were more beds in the 1980s than now, and this has happened under a number of Governments. In my own area, at Belmullet hospital, half the beds were closed down under Fianna Fáil and thousands of home help hours were cut. When that happens, there are going to be situations like this.
I am not sure what we would do if it is was not for "RTE Investigates". RTE seems to be acting as a government in a sense in trying to force the Government to take up its responsibilities. We should not feign shock and surprise when these things happen, given we have actively contributed to the legislation, the actions and the Government decisions that have been made over the years on this issue.
I raise the issue of the Grenfell tragedy, the horror of which we have seen unfolding. I asked last week that the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government would come to the House and this becomes more urgent by the day when we see whole apartment blocks having to be evacuated in London and other areas.It greatly concerns me. Is a similar investigation into the use of cladding being carried out here? There should be a review of local authority houses that have submitted applications for works to be done for health and safety reasons. If the Minister were to come before the House and if we were to have a debate about the matter, perhaps we could allay the concerns of some people who are directly affected by this.
Turning to the issue of rural school transport, I again ask for the Minister responsible to come before the House to examine what is happening with the decisions that have been made on this, particularly in respect of the "nearest school" rules and the increase in the minimum required numbers from seven to ten. It is having a devastating effect on rural Ireland, even in counties such as Mayo. We now have a rural affairs Minister in Deputy Ring. He has his feet under the table, and I very much expect him to examine such decisions being made by Government. We have parishes and families being divided because of them as children are being forced to go to their nearest schools. There must be a degree of flexibility to examine the impact it is having on rural Ireland. I ask the Leader of the House to bring the Minister before the House to have a debate on this as well.
Last week, we saw a report on breastfeeding and the challenges Ireland faces in this regard. We see from the data that were published that Ireland is 31st out of 41 countries, just slightly above Britain, for breastfeeding rates. This is an important public health issue because there are health benefits of breastfeeding not only for the mother, but also for the child. I believe our poor rates are due to the lack of support for mothers and families in our maternity hospitals and often from our GP services in the run-up to the birth of a child, which is a very happy event. We can look at all the different reports that have been published over the past number of years that keep on telling us the huge benefits of breastfeeding, yet we have very poor outcomes in Ireland in this regard. I ask the Leader to arrange for a debate in the Seanad on the rates of breastfeeding in Ireland. It has often been discussed in this House in the context of obesity and the effects obesity has on our children, our young people. It has been shown that breastfeeding could greatly reduce the incidence of obesity in Ireland if it were properly supported by the HSE. Breastfeeding also has economic benefits. A Lancetreport recently stated that the Irish State is losing an estimated €800 million due to our poor performance on breastfeeding, so this would be a win-win for the HSE if it properly supported mothers in this regard. The mother's health hugely benefits from breastfeeding, as does the child's, so I would appreciate it if at the earliest possible date we could have a full debate on this, taking into consideration the benefits for the mother and the child, but also the financial savings regarding the cost to the HSE.
This Friday, the Seanad Special Select Committee on the Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union will lay its report before the Seanad after over 46 hours of public consultation and much more done off-camera by the ten members of the committee, the secretariat and many witnesses. The report is an extremely important one that this House was tasked to commission, and I therefore call on the Leader to set aside time next week for statements on the report with the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee. I believe this will give us a great opportunity regarding future statements on the European Commission's White Paper on the Future of Europe and the ongoing Brexit negotiations.Could we look at possibly having regular statements and discussions post-European Council meetings, shadowing the work done by the Dáil? It would provide for an excellent level of scrutiny of the work done by this Chamber on EU affairs.
I raise the issue of the North-South interconnector, the high voltage electricity cable that will run from the South to the North, passing through the Southern counties of Monaghan, Cavan and Donegal. Owing to great public concern in the past decade the project has yet to proceed, but a very sensible and practical motion has been passed by both Houses of the Oireachtas calling for the Minister and the Department to undertake an independent review of the true cost of undergrounding the cables. Following this, the Minister published the terms of reference for the review which, I am disappointed to say, were totally rejected by all Oireachtas Members and both action groups. We met the Minister again to outline our concerns and he duly stated he would take them on board. Today I received an email from him outlining his second attempt at devising the terms of reference. Following discussions I had earlier today over the phone with both action groups and other Oireachtas colleagues, the new terms of reference are still not acceptable. It is very disappointing, frustrating and, not to mention, infuriating that here we are, with two sets of terms of reference, and the Minister still has not taken on board the concerns of the Oireachtas Members who represent the people of the counties mentioned and the action groups that represent the communities affected. Will the Leader ask the Minister to come to the House to address this issue in order that we can try to move forward with one voice on the issue? Otherwise the second attempt at devising the terms of reference for the review will be another complete waste of taxpayers' money.
I raise the ongoing issue of the judicial appointments commission which has been discussed in recent days in the media and by some politicians. There has been much bile and anger and many words vented about the Judiciary. The former Minister for Justice and Equality, former Deputy Alan Shatter, initiated a public consultation process and invited the Judiciary to make submissions on reform of the judicial appointments process. The information is available on the Department's website which makes it clear that the Judiciary accepted that there was a need for change and did not hide behind the fact. Everyone recognises that there is a need for change. The programme for Government agreed between the Independent Alliance and Fine Gael indicated that there would be a judicial council at some stage and a judicial appointments commission. It has taken a long time. Last year the then Minister was in the House speaking about it being a matter of days or weeks before she would bring forward legislation but that did not happen. Why is there now a rush? I will not go into great detail on this issue because we will have another opportunity to discuss it. Suffice it to say I will strongly oppose and vote against any attempt to statutorily prevent the Office of the Chief Justice from being chairperson of any future judicial appointments commission. I look forward to participating in the debate.
The Leader indicated that the Intoxicating Liquor (Amendment) Bill 2017 would be brought back to the House with amendments before the recess. Perhaps he might deal with the issue today.
The House should remark on the incredible deal between the DUP and the Conservative Party in the United Kingdom. Effectively, it means £100 million per DUP MP and I hope the money will serve all communities. If there is one positive, the deal may help to re-establish the Northern Ireland Executive. I genuinely hope all parties can reach agreement because the Northern Ireland Executive not functioning is not good for politics on the island of Ireland.
We have an issue with flags. I watched coverage of the Glastonbury festival last week and saw the Roscommon GAA flag, but there is a very serious issue with flags.I canvassed in south Belfast with a candidate in the general election. There are paramilitary flags, UVF flags, in south Belfast and they are very intimidating. I would like to pay tribute to the respect shared space rally, which has called for the removal of these flags. There must be some mechanism in place. We cannot have paramilitary flags from either side because they send out the wrong signals on shared space. This House should send out a signal and ask the Minister to articulate our concern that these flags have not been taken down so far. I understand this is not the responsibility of the PSNI but somebody should be responsible. I hope all parties can come together so that these intimidating flags can be removed.
I thank Senator Feighan for his remarks on the strange goings on in the North. I would like to reassure the Senator there is legislation in place to deal with those UVF flags. This is a one-sided issue. I know this House likes to appear balanced and point to republicans doing the same. I lived on the Ormeau Road for 12 years and we lived under those UVF flags. Despite the legislation and the Parades Commission, many people were too terrified to take the flags down. I thank the Senator for bringing this up. The next few days will be important for the Assembly.
A mother named Laura was quoted in The Irish Times on Monday as saying that her ten-year old son wanted to be dead but that nobody would help him. I am again supporting and representing parents and children throughout this country and, in particular, this city who have been affected by the closure of the 11 beds in Linn Dara at Cherry Orchard Hospital. I will keep bringing this up until we have a resolution and those beds are reinstated. In my previous career, I constantly dealt with parents like Laura who were sleeping beside their teenage sons and daughters to keep them safe and stop them from committing suicide. I have also dealt with parents left distraught following the suicide of their children, children as young as nine years of age in some cases. I do not know what to say to those parents. I know of the grief they experience and I have a response. However, when I tell parents to find the services, the services are not there. They expect help to them move towards a brighter future, but the reality is different. The figures as of today are that we have 2,500 children and young people with mental health disorders on the waiting list for child and adolescent services. Of those on the waiting list, 1,167 have been waiting for three months, 500 have been waiting six months and over 240 have been waiting for more than a year. These are our children in distress and this is not good enough.
Will the Leader ask our new Minister of State with responsibility for mental health to explain the nursing and midwifery-funded workforce plan? This is a legal provision allowing the Minister to issue a direction with which the HSE has to comply. I ask the Minister to issue a direction to reopen the beds in Linn Dara straight away.
Like my colleague, I wish to raise a care issue. I appeal to the Leader's compassionate side because we have already gone through all possible channels with the Minister. We know there are problems with the hospitals but this seems to be a very simple issue which is currently causing great distress to a patient. My local Teachta Dála, Deputy Robert Troy, and myself have been working with a lady whose details I will provide afterwards. This woman has been in a bed in Mullingar hospital for the last three weeks. She is waiting for an appointment in the Mater hospital for a very simple procedure. I believe she will be out within the day when she gets it. So excruciating is her pain that she will not be let out of Mullingar hospital. She is in a bed in a very busy hospital and she could certainly be in a better place. She is waiting on a bed in the Mater hospital to get a simple procedure for a kidney stone. It is hard to believe that this is happening in modern Ireland. It is not ideal for anybody. Better use could certainly be made of the bed in Mullingar hospital and this woman should not be in pain.She is in need of full-time care and she does not understand why she is being neglected and left to suffer in pain. I would appreciate if the Leader could raise this matter with the Minister. I will give him the details later.
I, too, want to raise the issue of elderly care. We often apply rules and regulations without compassion. I believe that has occurred in this case. This needs to be resolved as a matter or urgency, particularly in the case of this couple who are married and have lived together for over 63 years and, owing to the manner in which regulations are being implemented, are not now to be accommodated together. We need to ensure that their views are taken on board.
Senator Conway-Walsh referred to bed closures. We now have more nursing home beds than ever before. There are over 23,000 people in nursing homes under the fair deal scheme and we are funding many community hospitals to bring them up to standard. While the Health Information and Quality Authority, HIQA, has assisted in raising standards it has also created problems. For example, I have heard of a case where there were two beds in a room which would have accommodated a couple such as the couple currently being discussed in the media but because the beds were one or two inches too close together, the room was deemed unsuitable for two people. We sometimes need to bend the rules to ensure people are accommodated.
In regard to the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill 2017, as a practising solicitor I have some concerns about the Bill as published. I hope it is not written in stone and that there can be an open debate on it such that the final Bill will serve our best interests, not only from a political point of view but from the point of view of how our judicial system is managed. For the last 80 years, judges have served this country well. They have displayed their independence and pushed out the boat on a lot of issues in respect of which the State has not fulfilled its role and obligation to citizens. It is important that that independence is preserved and that we do not put in place a structure that in any way interferes with that independence. I will be conveying my concerns to the Minister on this matter because I believe some amendment of the Bill is necessary.
I seek leave to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to amend the National Minimum Wage Act to end sub-minimum rates of pay for those who have attained the age of 16 and for those entering their first two years of employment, which is No. 13 on the Seanad Order Paper.
Yes. A number of us had a very good engagement last Thursday with the Irish National Teachers Organisation, INTO. Like their colleagues in the Union of Students in Ireland, USI, they made a very cogent and persuasive case for additional funding for national schools in particular. I was shocked to learn of the contrast between the subsidy per pupil at national school level and the subsidy per pupil at secondary school level. The latter is effectively double, which means that national schools are being asked to cope with the impossible in terms of budgets. Most of us already know this because we have to pay so-called voluntary contributions each year. I think it was Fergus Finlay who made the point last year that it would not take an awful lot to take that money off the table and make national schools truly affordable. In Limerick, in the urban centres in particular, there are 33 to 35 pupils per class, which is shocking. This is not good enough.
It would be timely if before we break up for the summer recess and before budget decisions are made, the Minister for Education and Skills would come to the House to discuss this issue, particularly how we can improve the pupil subsidy at national school level.
I, too, wish to raise an issue related to education. Members are currently receiving representations in regard to the SUSI grants system. Over the past two years, there have been a number of changes to that system.If students are working during the summer or part time at Christmas, that is taken into account with the parents' PRSI, whether it is the mother or the father. In many cases, it brings students over a threshold for grants, which is a major issue. We have the best of young people seeking to go to third level education but the SUSI grant system is not working. I am looking for the Minister to be brought in to speak on this. The PAYE worker and those who have their stamps are not getting a grant because a young family member, whether he or she is a working student, can bring them over the limit.
I read today that Ireland is the second most expensive country in Europe for consumer goods and services. With the exception of electronics, Ireland was above the European Union average for all the price categories. The State ranked most expensive for alcohol and tobacco, with an average price at 175% of the EU average. Ireland was also the third highest priced country for personal transport equipment, including cars, motorbikes and bicycles, at 111% of the EU average. The survey, based on data from 2016, found that Ireland is fourth highest for restaurants and hotels, and fifth highest for food and non-alcoholic drinks, both at 120% of the EU average. We all know how important this is for tourism in Ireland. We love Ireland and we want to promote it but we must ensure we are in line with average prices. This is another crucial matter that should be brought to a Minister.
I welcome the amendment from Senator Paul Gavan, which I second. I am also proud to co-sign the Bill. I rise to discuss another Bill dealing with people who are 16. On 29 March we initiated a Second Stage debate on the Electoral (Amendment) (Voting at 16) Bill 2016. The Government made a decision that week to delay the Bill so a Second Reading would take place in 2018. The Minister of State, Deputy English, was in the Chamber that day and he explained that although the Minister, Deputy Coveney, made it clear he is not against the Bill, he asked for more time to debate it thoroughly. The Bill was ready for discussion and debate. Since that debate I wrote to the Minister, Deputy Coveney, and the Minister of State, Deputy English, who were responsible for the issue at the time. I have also written to the incoming Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, to examine how we can work together to inform the Seanad on the issue in that timeframe and work with the Department to allay any concerns about the legislation. I have only received acknowledgement and a promise to respond to the letter but I have seen no further response. The comments of the Minister of State, Deputy English, were reasonable but my concern is the Bill will return in January 2018 with little or no debate having happened or any attempt to inform the House on what has taken place. I ask the Leader for an update on what we can do before January 2018 to inform all involved on the detail of the Bill.
Níl me an Taoiseach fós. Tá mé an Ceannaire agus tá mé sásta a bheith mar Cheannaire. On my behalf and that of the House, I offer our sympathies to the Hanafin family on the very sad passing of our former Seanad colleague, Mr. Des Hanafin. I extend sympathies to his wife Mona; his son and former Senator, John; and his daughter and former Minister, Mary. We will have expressions of sympathy in due course but as a House we should acknowledge his passing and pay tribute to him.
Senators Ardagh, Conway-Walsh and Burke raised the issue of the Devereaux family and the fair deal scheme. I acknowledge that the story we all heard and read about is unedifying and it should not have happened. It begs the question as to how the decision was made in that manner. One should not have to go on the national airwaves or to newspapers to have one's case heard, as Senators noted, with empathy and compassion.The fact that it was an 85-year old and a 90-year old couple who are citizens of our country makes the case even more bewildering and baffling. There was a complete lack of humanity and commonsense shown in this case. Thankfully, the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, and the Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach, Deputy Paul Kehoe, have intervened. All of us recognise that swift ministerial action caused the case to be reviewed. In fact, other cases will be reviewed as well. The case has brought into question the evaluation that took place. Certainly, an elderly couple should not be treated in such a manner.
I have listened to Senator Conway-Walsh so I am sure she will appreciate, and as Senator Colm Burke rightly said, 23,000 people avail of nursing homes. It was not a question that the beds were being closed to the family in question. In this case, a double room was available to the couple. I have been led to believe that the HSE has been instructed to resolve the situation, that the application had been accepted so the couple will be reunited, and that the Minister for Health had been in touch. It is important to recognise that in this case a very flat decision-making process was taken on board, which should not have been the case.
Senators Ardagh, McDowell, Boyhan and Colm Burke mentioned the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill. Irrespective of one's view on its merits or demerits, and to paraphrase Senator McDowell, whatever type of periscope one uses and whether one is for or against the Bill, it will be taken in the Lower House of the Oireachtas this week and by us in due course. Some people will be in favour of the Bill, some people will argue that members of the Judiciary should be appointed in an open and transparent manner and other people will have a different viewpoint and insist on no change. As Members will be aware, the Taoiseach said in the Dáil this afternoon that it is still, under the Constitution, permissible for the Government to appoint judges but there will be a change in the manner in how judges are appointed. It has been outlined that there will be a lay chairperson, which is not unusual. It happens in a variety of different appointments and has served us well.
As Leader of the House, I am not about to demonise members of the Judiciary or pay mere lip service to the work that they have done. I wish to recognise and repeat, as I have done in this House before, that there is a need for the Judiciary to be independent and that the separation of powers is very important. We must recognise that we have been very well served by the Judiciary.
The Taoiseach and the Government are of the view that there should be no self-regulating or self-appointing. The issue of the removal of political linkage and patronage in the case of a judicial appointment is a suggestion that has been put forward by the Government. What I am clear about is that in the differing viewpoints that exist about this Bill, it is important that we hear about the deficiencies in the Bill. If deficiencies do exist then we need to rectify them. I give an assurance to Members of the House that there will be ample opportunity to debate the Bill but I shall not allow filibustering and grandstanding. Senator McDowell made reference to the agendas of certain people. It is fair to say that there are agendas all over this debate. Therefore, we must ensure that we have a fair and proper debate to iron out deficiencies, if any. We will, under my leadership and with the co-operation of all in this House, fulfil our constitutional duties in analysing and perusing the legislation.
The Taoiseach has spoken about the Bill in terms of appointments being less political and more transparent. We will have the debate in due course. I wish to reassure Members that we will allow time for the debate and allow ample opportunity for the debate to happen. I have no intention of rushing the Bill but I will not stand for filibustering or grandstanding because we have an obligation to pass legislation.We will have a fair debate and work it out at the meetings of group leaders.
Senator Rose Conway-Walsh referred to the Grenfell Tower tragedy in London. I reiterate my sincere sympathy for the families of the people who perished in that tragic fire. The Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, has not been sitting idly since. He has been very proactive in requesting all local authorities to review their multi-storey social housing units to ensure all relevant systems, be it alarm or detection systems, emergency lighting, emergency exits, corridors and stairwells, are in place and fully functional. As I said last week, in apartment complexes, including private apartment dwellings managed by a management company, there can be no second chance for residents and apartment dwellers; therefore, there can be no shortcuts taken. This is about ensuring the safety of all citizens, whether they are social housing tenants, renters, individuals who own apartments in apartment complexes or others in any type of dwelling. The Minister has also been proactive in raising awareness among landlords, including the landlords of households and persons in receipt of social housing supports and rental assistance payments, and in the Residential Tenancies Board. In addition, he has asked that the building regulations, particularly Part B on fire safety, be upheld and implemented. He held a meeting of the management board of the national directorate for fire and emergency management to review and assess the readiness of fire authorities to respond to emergencies. It is important to acknowledge that he has been proactive. However, we all have a role to play as we must leave nothing to chance.
The Senator also referred to the rural school transport scheme. I will be happy to invite the relevant Minister to come to the House to discuss the issue.
Senator Kevin Humphreys highlighted the importance of breastfeeding and benefits for both mother and child. It is timely to have a debate on the issue. There has been movement away from breastfeeding, but there has been a re-evaluation of its importance. I will be happy to arrange a debate on the issue of public health in the House.
Senator Neale Richmond referred to the impending publication of the report of the Seanad committee on Brexit. I commend him for his chairmanship and stewardship of the committee and thank Members for their participation in it. It was a useful exercise which Members took on with relish. I attended a number of meetings of the committee and I am aware, from listening to and reading the contributions made, of the importance many of the delegates accorded to participating in the committee. I am happy that the 46 hours of public consultation and the other elements of the consultation process will result in publication of the report this week. I will be happy to set aside time for a discussion on it either next week or the week after.
Senator Neale Richmond also made an important point on the need for the Minister of State with responsibility for European affairs to come to the House after European Council meetings to discuss them. Whether it be scrutiny of European proposals, Council meetings or summits or Brexit, this House should have a strong role in considering what happens in the European Union. I will be happy to discuss with other group leaders the need to have regular debates on these matters in the Chamber, as well as the making of statements after European Council meetings. Whether it is a matter for the Committee on Procedure and Privileges or group leaders, we should certainly discuss it.
Senator Robbie Gallagher raised the issue of the North-South interconnector and referred to the struggles and travails of the residents who must endure this ongoing saga. The Minister responsible must be cognisant of the points raised by the Senator, but I will be happy to invite him to come to the House to discuss the matter.
Senators Frank Feighan and Máire Devine raised the matter of flags. Senator Frank Feighan is correct that certain flags have no place in any part of the country in view of the taunting engaged in when they are raised.I am sure the Minister, Deputy Coveney, will be very happy to take up the matter as part of the talks in the North. Senator Devine referred to the Parades Commission. It has done a lot of good work. Over the coming important days, it is important that we have a resolution to the talks, power sharing is restored and that we have devolved government in Stormont. We hope all parties will come to the table.
I have asked the Minister to come to the House in due course for a discussion on the issues in the North. Senator Feighan referred to the DUP and the deal with the Conservative Party. One would have to say that, on paper, the amount of money being invested in infrastructure, education and health in the North is to be welcomed. It is important that all sides of the island benefit in terms of the deal for the North and the need to resolve the power sharing matter.
Senator Devine referred to bed closures in Linn Dara. We all agree that child mental health is an issue we need to address. I know that having spoken to the Minister of State, Deputy Daly, he is very committed in his new brief to working with all sides of the House to ensure that funding is provided. Since 2012, an additional €140 million has been provided for mental health services and the budget is now over €850 million per year. Some 1,100 people have been recruited to work in the area of mental health.
The Senator is correct. There is a deficiency in child and adolescent mental health services. The Seanad consultation committee will commence work this Thursday in the Chamber. We will hear from parents and advocates. It is another example of how the House can play a key role in the development of policy and shine a light on particular areas where solutions and a way forward need to be found. It is to be hoped we can bring an end to the scourge of people taking their own lives or feeling vulnerable and isolated. I share the Senator's view that there is a need for a more concerted and unified approach to the issues she raised. It is important that the Minister of State comes to the House, and he is happy to do so.
Senator Davitt referred to a family in Mullingar hospital. I do not have the particulars but I would be happy to talk to the Senator about the matter.
Senator Burke raised a very important issue, namely, the care of our elderly. He also referred to the role of HIQA. We all accept that there is a need to maintain standards, but as the Senator said, in the pursuit of excellence and improvement in the standards of care, HIQA is causing some associated difficulties for community nursing homes. The previous Government invested in community nursing homes and older hospitals, which is to be welcomed. I am happy to have a debate in the House.
Senator Gavan raised the issue of the INTO pre-budget briefing last Thursday, which I was very happy to attend in the National Library. I had the pleasure of meeting John O'Driscoll from Cork. I am beginning to sound very close to Senator Gavan on some issues, which scares me on one level. To be fair, the ask was not huge. The issue of pupil teacher ratios was addressed. There has been a reduction and more needs to be done. We need to examine capitation grants. The pay differences between new entrants and those on existing scales is something we should all be in favour of addressing. I would be happy for the Minister for Education and Skills to come to the House to discuss the matter.
Senator Murnane O'Connor referred to SUSI grants and the Department of Education and Skills. I would be happy to have the Minister come to the House. She also raised the very important issue of Ireland remaining competitive. That is why the former Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, was very much of the view that he wanted Ireland to be the best small country in the world in which to do business. As the Senator knows, he took over a broken economy which the Government has been putting back together.
Senator Murnane O'Connor is correct. We need to be competitive and keep prices in check, in particular in our hospitality and tourism sectors. I hope we will not see a reduction in the price of alcohol because we are trying to address the issue.I believe Senator Murnane O'Connor is right. We need to see our prices in keeping with the EU average.
In response to Senator Warfield, I would be very happy to have the Minister, Deputy Murphy, come back to the Senator with regard to the Bill he has brought before the House. On behalf of the Minister, Deputy Coveney, the Minister of State, Deputy English, gave a commitment of 2018. I would be happy to have the Minister, Deputy Murphy, come to House.
I would be happy to accept Senator Gavan's amendment to the Order of Business.