Tuesday, 18 July 2017
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, motion regarding the establishment of the Joint Committee on the Future of Mental Health Care, to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business, without debate; No. 2, Financial Services and Pensions Ombudsman Bill 2017 – Second Stage, to be taken at 2.15 p.m. and to conclude no later than 3.30 p.m., with the contribution of group spokespersons not to exceed seven minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed four minutes, with the Minister to be called upon to reply to the debate no later than 3.26 p.m.; No. 3, Mediation Bill 2017 – Second Stage, to be taken at 3.30 p.m. and to conclude no later than 5 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed seven minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed four minutes, with the Minister to be called upon to reply to the debate no later than 4.55 p.m.; No. 4, Planning and Development (Amendment)(No. 2) Bill 2017 - All Stages, to be taken at 5 p.m. and to conclude no later than 6.15 p.m. by the putting of one question from the Chair which shall, in relation to amendments, include only those set down or accepted by the Government, with the time allocated to the contributions of group spokespersons for the debate on Second Stage not to exceed six minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed three minutes, with the Minister to be given three minutes to reply to the debate, and Committee and Remaining Stages to be taken immediately thereafter; No. 5, motion for the earlier signature of the Planning and Development (Amendment)(No. 2) Bill 2017, to be taken on conclusion of No. 4, without debate; No. 6, National Shared Services Office Bill 2016 – Second Stage, to be taken at 6.15 p.m., with the time allocated for the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed seven minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed four minutes; and No. 7, Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank Bill 2017 – Second Stage, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 6, with the time allocated for the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed seven minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed four minutes.
I welcome the new drug and alcohol strategy launched by the Government, but Fianna Fáil has some concerns the strategy does not go far enough. The most obvious gap in the strategy is that many of the initiatives are aspirational, with a lack of tangible deadlines and commitments. The report is not costed and will require significant investment. Many charities, such as the Simon Community, which Senator Devine and I visited recently, are stepping into the gap. We visited a Simon Community site in Dublin 8 that specialises in detox beds for drug rehabilitation and it has plans for more beds. I hope the Government can look at supporting projects such as these, which stand into the breach when the Government has failed.
Ultimately the strategy is vague on timeframes and resources. I very much welcome the aspects of the report which deal with services for pregnant women suffering from drug and alcohol addiction and the various provisions on mental health actions in the report. The report is crucial in terms of trying to deal with how addiction affects families, children and our communities. I welcome the fact we are following a public health led attack on addiction rather than a criminal justice focused approach.
I also wish to raise the issue of public service recruitment and retention. I raised this issue last week and I spoke about recruitment and retention in the Defence Forces. Today I wish to raise the issue of recruitment and retention of nurses. According to the INMO, patient care in St. Finbarr's Hospital in Cork is significantly compromised due to shortages of nurses, and patients are in jeopardy. This is an issue throughout the health services. Recently we saw in Cherry Orchard the closure of the Linn Dara adolescent mental health ward due to staff shortages. This is an urgent matter not only in the health service and Defence Forces but throughout the public sector. I call on the Minister to come to the House and outline his strategy on staff recruitment and, ultimately, retention.
I wish to raise an issue I often raise, namely, the circumstances pertaining to city and county councillors throughout the country. I am aware of the fact the Association of Irish Local Government, AILG, and the Local Authority Members Association, LAMA, met the Minister recently and a review is in place. This morning, I received an email I want to share with the House. I will not share the name of the author or the council involved. The man explained his workload has become overwhelming. There are increased meetings, contacts by phone, emails, text messages, Facebook, letters, face-to-face meetings, house calls and clinic days.He talked about the particular area in which he was living and said it had lost five town councils and its county council had been revised. A total of 65 seats have been reduced to 18 seats to cover the entire county. He also talked about the number of young county councillors who have resigned. He said that their resignation letters stated that their workload on the council while trying to hold down a job had become impossible.
My brief is no more than that of any other Member of this House. We are all subject to the consideration of the city and county councillors. We are the representatives in the Oireachtas and we have to do something for them. Their travel rates have been reduced for the first 1,500 miles. Deputies and Senators do not pay rates on their offices, yet county councillors who open offices have to pay rates. Councillors cannot claim back the rental on their offices. There are no support services available to them in terms of the cost of envelopes and of mailing letters to the people they represent. The majority of the Members of this House will be calling to county councillors at the time of the next election. We have to show that we have done something to alleviate their problems. We cannot allow young people - who represent the future of this country - who get involved in politics to become disillusioned by virtue of the fact that they cannot afford to carry out their jobs.
I have received countless emails from female councillors with children who simply cannot afford to stay on in their roles. There is no childminding facility available to them or payment for them when they attend council meetings. This is grossly unfair. Democracy works from the ground up. I know every Member of this House and I am not taking any particular stand that any other Member would not take. All Members view this issue in the way that I do and they would want to see this resolved. Surely to God we can do a better job for those who are in the front line all day, every day. As one councillor said to me recently: "I cannot go to the toilet but somebody will stop me on the way in or the way out to tell me about a local problem". We cannot stand over that. I ask the Leader to ensure that we start to address this issue as early as we can in September.
I want to repeat my request for the Taoiseach to come into the House to outline his commitment for Seanad reform. I propose an amendment to the Order of Business to provide that this item be taken immediately after the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank Bill 2017.
The other item I want to raise is the impact on Swinford and the surrounding area of the closure in 2013 of the Swinford district headquarters of An Garda Síochána. Prior to its closure, a superintendent and ancillary staff covered a large area in east Mayo, including Charlestown, Foxford, Kiltimagh, Kilkelly, Kilmovee right down to the Mount Falcon in Ballina. It was then amalgamated into one Garda division and the headquarters was moved to Claremorris. That happened despite my Sinn Féin colleague, Senator Pádraig Mac Lochlainn, when he was a Deputy, asking a parliamentary question on the floor of the Dáil in January 2014 when the Government of the day denied that the plan was to reduce Swinford Garda station to part-time opening hours.
The Garda management called a public meeting in Swinford in summer 2014 to inform the public that Swinford Garda station would be reduced to part-time opening hours and the hours were to be between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. and from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m., Monday to Friday. On Saturday, it opens for one hour, from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. and on Sunday it opens for another hour, from 12 noon to 1 p.m. With those opening hours, it is impossible to provide a proper policing service for the area. Even those limited hours have often been denied due to lack of personnel. It should be noted that Swinford Garda station is in close proximity to two main national routes, the N17 and N5. It is also close to Ireland West Airport Knock which caters for more than 700,000 passengers per annum. From a safety strategic viewpoint, this Garda station needs to be fully operational 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The bottom line is that Swinford Garda station needs to be re-established as a district headquarters. I ask that the Minister for Justice and Equality be invited to come into this House to discuss the strategic review on the reopening of Garda stations and for him to realise that it is not only Stepaside but areas such as Swinford that need a Garda station. Given its strategic location and the large area between Ballina and Claremorris that does not have a full-time Garda station, I ask that Swinford Garda station be reinstated and that the resources, both financial and personnel, which forced Garda management to make this decision now be made available.
In order for the force to be fit for purpose and meet the demands of community policing, the Government must increase investment in Garda personnel to bring the numbers back to pre-recession levels. In our pre-budget submission for last year we allocated €17.558 million towards the recruitment of new gardaí in addition to the €1.875 million for resources to tackle youth crime. It is very difficult for people in Swinford and the surrounding areas, and other areas that are affected, to stand back and see what has happened with respect to the way resources were used in Templemore and yet their area has been deprived of a Garda station with full-time opening hours. I ask that the Minister would come into the House to discuss this matter.
I would like to acknowledge the launch of the national disability inclusion strategy by the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, last Friday and the welcome attendance at the launch of Ministers, Deputies Shane Ross, Simon Harris and Regina Doherty and the Minister of State, Deputy Kevin Boxer Moran. I acknowledge that a range of measures have come into place over the past year, namely, the extra funding for disability services, the approximately 10,000 children who are now getting medical cards, the launch of the Make Work Pay report earlier this year and the personalised budgets work which is to come to fruition by the end of this year.
There is a range of practical commitments in that strategy. However, despite all that progressive news, I felt that I had to write to An Taoiseach yesterday. In that letter I recalled his commitment of 14 June last, on his appointment, to the ratification of the UN convention by the end of this year. I then stated that on reading the whole-of-government implementation plan for the National Disability Inclusion Strategy 2017-2021, I could not find in it that timeline for ratification that he gave in the Dáil. I requested that he would confirm his commitment, as given to the Dail, regarding the ratification by the end of this year.
I do not particularly want to rehash the sorry saga of commitments and recommitments made in and since the programme for Government of early last year. If that omission was in error, that is forgivable, but if it was deliberate, it is not forgivable while there are more than 600,000 people with disabilities and their families. Otherwise, it is a serious issue to make one statement in the Dáil and literally 30 days later to find that it does not appear in the Government's implementation strategy for people with disabilities. What is most notable are comments on post-ratification timelines for two actions in particular on page 11 of the strategy, related, first, to ratification of the optional protocol and, second, the work to review and advise on implementation. However, under the timeframe heading for those actions, and elsewhere in the strategy, it does not state that it will be done by the end of 2017.
The Dáil is in recess from late July until late September. It went into recess last Friday and this House will rise in two days time. I call for the Taoiseach to come into this House before we rise for the summer recess to confirm the end of 2017 deadline for the ratification of the UN convention. I respectfully ask the Leader and the Members of this House to facilitate the Taoiseach in this regard.
Europe called for a review of the renewable energy directive of 2009 on 30 November 2016. The Commission has proposed to review those targets. Those targets range from 10% for Malta to 49% for Sweden and our target is 16% for 2020.These are renewable sources of energy such as solar and wind.
A consultation process in respect of this matter was to take place with the Minister. I have a number of concerns about such processes. We have to learn lessons from the past regarding wind energy and poor consultation with local communities. If the consultation takes place in the months of July and August, that is a time when people's minds are focused elsewhere. In rural Ireland, it may be a busy period in farming, with the harvesting of crops and other work to be done. There is a clear need for the Minister to announce when this review and the public consultation will take place. He must also ensure that communities are very much involved in the process. It is a beautiful sunny day today and many people are talking about the possibility of solar energy adding to renewable energy projects in the future. Will the Leader ensure that the consultation process takes place as soon as possible in order to ensure that people are informed and can contribute? Will he ensure that the leaders in those specific areas are consulted also, especially regarding solar energy. If he could do that as soon as possible, it would be helpful in terms of ensuring that the public can engage in a proper manner.
I raise the issue of the working hours of employees in the horse racing and horse-breeding industries. There was a time when the horse racing and horse-breeding industries were linked to agriculture under 1990s legislation that dealt with employees' working hours. That legislation was amended by the 2015 Act, but for some unknown reason the horse racing and horse-breeding industries were excluded from that. As a result, the Workplace Relations Commission, WRC, is taking action against the horse-breeding and horse racing industries for the hours worked by their employees. It is only proper that the workers' pay and conditions are regulated, but we need a debate on the industry also. This is an industry that relies on flexibility. Horses have to be fed and watered seven days a week. They have to travel distances to get to race meetings across the Irish Sea, in France and elsewhere. It is an industry that requires a large degree of flexibility on the part of its workers. All the people working in the industry realise that the pay and conditions should be regulated.
I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, or the relevant Minister in terms of the Workplace Relations Commission, WRC, to the House for a debate on this issue. If it is necessary to do so, I ask that the existing legislation be amended. I urge the Leader to ask the relevant Minister to ensure that nothing be done in the context of actions that may be taken by the WRC until amended legislation is put in place or until the Minister comes into the House for a proper debate on this industry, which is worth millions of euro to the economy and is a major employer. As I said, flexibility is needed. Every situation is different. There are large and small trainers and breeders. Every operation is different and every situation is different. A debate is urgently needed, but no action is required until we have that debate and until amended legislation is put in place.
I raise the issue of class sizes in primary schools. The Department of Education and Skills recently launched a report, which gives a school-by-school breakdown of class sizes for the 2016-2017 academic year, and it makes for grim reading. A total of 120,000 primary school children are in classes of more than 30. On average, almost one in four primary pupils is in a class of more than 30. Among the worst areas in the country are Monaghan, Limerick, Cork, Waterford, Wexford and Meath, to name but a few. The Irish National Teachers Organisation, INTO, recently accused the Government of failing in its commitments regarding this issue. It should be noted also that Ireland has the second largest class sizes in Europe. That makes modern-day teaching practices in schools almost impossible. It is not fair on the students and it is certainly not fair on the teachers. This issue needs attention. I ask that the Leader bring it to the attention of the Minister for Education and Skills so that adequate funding can be allocated to ensure that this very important issue would be addressed for the benefit of our schoolchildren who will be the adults of tomorrow.
I second Senator Rose Conway-Walsh's amendment to the Order of Business.
Shortages of nursing staff are, according to the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation today, compromising services. We have been highlighting that for a long time. Safe care and dignity of patients is at risk. The HSE has removed provisions for agency staff in many services and the Health Information and Quality Authority, HIQA, has repeatedly pointed to hospitals being decimated, patients receiving minimum care, poor hygiene standards and the administration of medicines being delayed. There are more than 3,000 vacancies to be filled and that is just to keep services ticking over. There is no room for expansion in the context of our growing population. We are in the bizarre position where nurses with years of professional experience are being denied access to work here, even as the HSE is making a worldwide appeal for nursing staff. I have talked to several nurses who are back here having left in 2004 in order to work in America and whose applications to be put on the register have been denied. Over 100 have made such applications and only nine have been placed on the register. I ask that the Minister would instruct An Bord Altranais to review the criteria, to act with urgency on the obligatory theory hours and to gain an understanding of the American education system. More than 100 additional nursing posts would provide a great boost, particularly in terms of patient care.
I wish to refer to an incident that took place at Bengal Terrace, Old Cork Road, Limerick. The mains pipe burst and ten houses had to be evacuated as a result. As Irish Water does not have senior personnel on call at weekends, there was nobody available to deal with the incident. I compliment the social worker from Limerick City & County Council who turned up very early that morning and spent the day at the location to ensure that people were transferred to appropriate accommodation. They were put up in hotels over the weekend. One elderly lady had to be taken to hospital by ambulance as a result of the incident. There was up to 2 ft. of water in some of the houses, yet nobody from Irish Water was available to come to the location. The council staff turned up on behalf of Irish Water to fix the mains pipe that had burst. Early yesterday morning, a senior person came from Irish Water and the first comment made to the residents was that they should inform their house insurers. That is not acceptable. As the day went on, they changed their approach and offered to put people up, especially people with young children and those who wanted to move out of their houses, in a house for a month. Three families are moving into one house and a few more are moving into other houses. I would like the Minister to intervene and confirm to Irish Water that when an emergency happens, somebody has to be available to deal with the issue. I was in a number of the houses and while they were provided with dehumidifiers, they are not the answer to the problem. Floors, furniture and everything else has been destroyed. A complete compensation package will have to be put in place by Irish Water to compensate the residents. I ask the Leader to bring this issue to the notice of the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Denis Naughten.
I welcome the national drugs strategy and congratulate the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Catherine Byrne, and everyone involved. The strategy is really good and I welcome many parts and actions contained in it. I look forward to seeing some of those actions brought to life, which is the hardest part of any strategy.
I acknowledge the fact that Senator Higgins and I witnessed the drowning of a young man at Portobello Bridge last Friday night. He entered the canal and two young men jumped in after him to save him. Drownings often happen in the Royal Canal. I am not sure what has been done to educate and inform people about the dangers posed by swimming in canals, especially at night. The drowning I witnessed took place around 10 o'clock at night. I send my condolences to his family. My thoughts are with the young men who spent over ten minutes trying to resuscitate him before the ambulance arrived. They are probably at home and have not received support to assist them to cope with this tragic experience.
I express my frustration at the lack of progress with the Heritage Bill. We debated the Bill for numerous months in the House and it has reached Committee Stage in the Dáil. The legislation has flaws and issues. I am sure the people who promoted the Bill, of which I am one, are annoyed that we have reached the end of this term. One of the key principles behind this legislation was an ability for certain landowners to cut their hedges that are located at dangerous roads and junctions. It is almost August and it will take at least another 12 months before the Bill is enacted or its practicalities are enacted. The debate in the Dáil last week was disappointing because Fianna Fáil did its best to slow the progress of the Bill in order that it would not go further or be sent to this House today for debate. We need action on this Bill and it is badly needed. We have debated it at length and ad nauseam. We need to have this debate, we need to have it sorted and we need the legislation put in place.
I was heckled in this Chamber when I raised the issue of hedge cutting and I was told it was not an issue. I have received a large amount of representations from people complaining that they cannot walk on the roads because of overgrown hedges and grass verges. Inaction shows how out of touch other people are. We need movement on this Bill. We need to ensure people can cut hedges in the month of August. If not, people will be killed, which will be a disgrace.
The legislation is being debated in the other House and, therefore, we have no control over it. We have dealt with the Bill in the Seanad. Until such time as the legislation is enacted and signed by the President, it is not law. The Senator has no choice but to wait it out.
I am delighted to hear Fianna Fáil's sudden interest in the size of classes. I join the party's representatives to raise the issue as well as to propose an amendment to the Order of Business. I remind the Fianna Fáil representatives in this House that the previous Government managed to protect class sizes in their entirety and bring them down in the last budget over which we had influence. There is a line in the confidence and supply agreement between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael that says they would reduce class sizes. It was not acted upon in the previous budget and there was no reduction in class sizes at primary level. Rather then make speeches in this House, I suggest that the leadership of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael implement the agreement they signed together. The initiative would cost around €6 million but it was not acted upon in the previous budget and they have no one to blame except themselves.
With the Cathaoirleach and Leader's permission, I request a change be made to the Order of Business. I formally request that No. 24, the Education (Welfare) (Amendment) Bill - First Stage, which the Labour Party launched today, be taken before No. 1.
I welcome the HSE's report on type 2 diabetes in Ireland that was released last week. The report claims there are 200,000 people in Ireland who have type 2 diabetes. I would say there are another 200,000 to 300,000, which is a conservative estimate, who do not know they have type 2 diabetes. The report called on GPs to do more about the issue and wants GPs to advertise the seriousness of type 2 diabetes.
People can be given a chance to improve their health, and I am the living proof, if we implement giving a free blood test for type 2 diabetes to people once they have reached a certain age. I make the suggestion because it costs €60 for the first appointment with a GP, €25 for a blood test and finally €45 to see the GP a second time to get the results. Many people do not have €130 to spend in this way. Last August, I was 50 years of age and weighed 17 stone and 11 pounds when I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and today I weigh just 11 stone and 8 pounds. The diagnosis acted as a wake-up call, particularly when I was told I had to take nine tablets a day for the rest of my life. When one is diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, one becomes part of the long-term illness list scheme, which costs the taxpayer a lot of money. A free blood test and awareness campaign will save money in the long term because type 2 diabetes can eventually worsen and become type 1 diabetes. I ask for the Leader to invite the Minister to come to the House to debate the report. I want us to ask him to roll out a free blood test, which would give people a chance in life.
I want to reply briefly to Senator Paddy Burke who asked for flexibility to be shown to the horse racing industry. At one point he requested that no action be taken by the Workplace Relations Commission, WRC, which is frankly quite shocking. I know first-hand from my time as a trade unionist the level of exploitation in the horse racing industry. For him to request that no action be taken is disgraceful. It is about time the Fine Gael Party stood up for workers' rights for once as opposed to employers' rights.
I know the Irish Sign Language Bill will not go through this week, but it is to be hoped we will have it in September. Last night we had a very good meeting in Limerick, and some of my colleagues in Fine Gael attended, where the deaf community expressed particular concern about the potential watering down of the Bill. First, I acknowledge the very good work done by Senator Mark Daly and I acknowledge my colleague, Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, for supporting this Bill. I understand progress is being made. Last night we heard very heartfelt pleas by members of the deaf community. In particular, one lady explained that if she had to go, God forbid, to the Rape Crisis Centre, she would be supplied an interpreter in Dublin but not anywhere else. There is real concern that unless there is a legal underpinning for the deaf community, especially for the voucher system, we will end up with well-intentioned legislation that does not enable rights.
I was intrigued by one comment posted to the Facebook page for the campaign. It was alleged that a civil servant said, "If we do this for you then other people will want equality." Is that not a good thing? We should all be in favour of equal rights. Will the Leader invite the Minister to come to the House as soon as possible in order that he can reassure us? I expect that everyone in this Chamber is willing to support the Bill as drafted by Senator Daly. We should not short-change the people in the deaf community. If we can afford tax cuts for the wealthy and reductions in capital acquisitions tax and inheritance tax, surely we can afford some decency and equality for the deaf community in Ireland.
I formally second the proposition made by my colleague, Senator Butler, for an education campaign coupled with free blood tests for type 2 diabetes. He set out his case very well and I will not repeat his arguments. He set out a number of merits. In addition, a free blood test could diagnose other conditions that might be dealt with quickly and thus reduce the health bill. The Senator's proposition is radical and valuable. It could save an enormous amount of money for the health services and achieve a lot of good and improve the quality of life for people. I urge the Leader to take this on as a serious proposition.
I wish to raise a crucially important issue for the entire country but very specifically for my area of Cavan-Monaghan. A debate has developed in the media and in certain quarters among commentators to reverse the reduced rate of VAT in the hospitality or tourism sector.The reduction of the VAT rate from 13% to 9% was one of the most radical and successful initiative of the previous Government. It had huge implications for job creation and job maintenance. With the fall in sterling following Brexit, the number of UK visitors to my area of Cavan-Monaghan will radically reduce. There is empirical evidence to support the argument that the numbers are reducing. This is why the cushion of the lower VAT rate is very important and why I want to maintain it.
Tourism jobs are vital in my area. The agricultural sector in my area could face huge threats following Brexit. It is for that reason that maintaining tourism jobs is crucial. I appeal to the Leader for a pre-budget debate on the hospitality sector and the need for this VAT rate. I agree with those who are annoyed by the exorbitant hotel rates in Dublin. They are correct. It is an abuse that we must find another way of dealing with but it is not a reason to dislocate jobs in my community.
I thank all Senators, including the Sinn Féin Senators and Deputy Ó Caoláin, who is Chairman of the Oireachtas Committee on Justice and Equality which subjected this issue to pre-legislative scrutiny. Following this pre-legislative scrutiny, the committee's report highlighted the fact that the members of the deaf community suffer from extreme marginalisation because of their inability to interact with State agencies for the most basic of issues regarding social welfare, housing and health. While the Bill is not perfect and does not address all the issues that confront the members of the deaf community, it will address the issue of access to the Rape Crisis Centre and other organisations. Members of the deaf community should not have to travel from Limerick, Kerry, Cork or anywhere else to Dublin to access the interpreting services. In a country that seeks equality we should, with the agreement of this House, be able to pass that legislation.
The Minister has agreed to look at the amendments and together we will, hopefully, get a Bill that is as near as possible to being perfect passed by the Dáil before the end of the year. I thank all colleagues for their support. I know Members have met people from the deaf community who have talked about the difficulty involved in accessing ordinary services that we take for granted. We all know that even accessing Members of the Oireachtas proves to be a challenge in terms of setting up meetings and having an interpreter. Who would pay for this interpreter? This is why the issue of the voucher scheme is so important to members of the deaf community. Hopefully, we will be able to get the Bill passed in September and sent to the Dáil.
D'fhoilsigh an Coiste um Chuntais Phoiblí tuairisc an-tábhachtach an tseachtain seo caite. Last week, the Committee of Public Accounts issued a very important report on the funding of third-level institutions, an issue I have been raising in this House for a number of years. The issue and the report deserve further scrutiny, particularly the issue of some of the subsidiaries operated by some third-level institutions. It has come to my attention that Trinity College Dublin has a subsidiary called Trinity Online Services. A number of serious issues have been raised with me regarding the operation of that company. When one checks it on Google, one finds that it comes up as a Trinity College entity but whenever there are any issues with the company, Trinity College washes its hands of it even though the board of directors is fully owned and the directors of the company are senior Trinity College staff.
The allegations relate to some very serious issues. There are questions of staff being poached from educational rivals and material appearing on the website that is similar to material on other educational websites. Serious HR issues have been raised about the company. From the material I have seen, the person who raised those issues has been practically ostracised by that company while Trinity College seems to be taking a very hands-off approach to any of these HR issues and does not seem to want to engage whatsoever. In many cases, particularly this one, these companies operate under charitable status so there are serious questions about governance, oversight and responsibility in companies like this and others operating under third-level institutions. When we come back in September we should, in the context of a debate on the report by the Committee of Public Accounts, look at the operation of subsidiary companies under third-level institutions in this country because it is not good enough that they can cherry pick all the good parts and benefits of having such a company but not take on responsibilities relating to workers and other issues that have been raised with us. I ask the Leader to raise it with the Minister for Education and Skills and to arranged for a debate on this when we return in the autumn.
I commend Senator Butler for raising the issue he raised and for the challenge he met so supremely well. I also commend Dr. Velma Harkins who conducted a study that shows comprehensively that 80% of complications from diabetes can be prevented if it is managed on a regular basis in general practice. This will require funding. It is a great testament to a long piece of research that shows that we do not need expensive in-hospital or outpatient care in hospitals to achieve great outcomes for a huge number of people in our population.
I commend Senator Mark Daly on the Irish Sign Language Bill. I am delighted that we are supporting this. We met with a group and I have had emails from some members of the deaf community. I want to make it clear that Fine Gael and I support their cause. In respect of general practice, it is shocking to see an adult's privacy compromised by the fact that like many GPs do not have Irish Sign Language and sometimes must discuss very intimate medical details through a child. That is not proper or right and I therefore fully subscribe to addressing this issue.
I wish to mention a terrible event that happened in Swords at the weekend. A man lost his life following an assault. This was a local man - a businessman and a man who had contributed to his community and went about his business in an orderly and quiet fashion. That a person cannot go out on a weekend night without being assaulted and losing their life is deeply disturbing. I know the gardaí are doing their best but Fingal is a growing area with a very young population. Skerries and Lusk have only part-time Garda stations while the station in Rush has closed and there is no station in Donabate. I have raised this issue with previous Ministers for Justice and Equality along with the current Minister. It concerns bringing back gardaí on bicycles. Their presence around a town has a huge impact. We had them in Skerries a few years ago and they were very effective and popular. They broke down barriers with many young people in terms of getting to know gardaí and realising that they are there to offer help and support and were not, by any means, an authoritarian force. I ask that we get the funding to put extra gardaí in place on bicycles, particularly in towns like Rush that do not have a Garda station until such time as the Garda station is re-opened. The Cabinet received a very positive report on this issue and a decision will made later in the year. I hope that the decision will be made to re-open Rush Garda station. I thank An Garda Síochána for all the hard work it does. Although we thank the Minister for an additional five gardaí for that area, this is a growing area and we need more gardaí.
We need to re-imagine our national cultural institutions to ensure that they are inclusive and accessible to all in terms of structure; geography; increased regional outreach; digital responsibilities; increasing staff numbers to levels seen in Wales, Scotland and England; opening hours; and and beginning plans for a cutting-edge storage site to preserve access to digital and physical collections for future generations.However, Sinn Féin believes that, following a national conversation on the display and an independent survey of such material, the natural cultural institutions should be directed to repatriate all identifiable stolen treasures and loot stemming from our time in the participation of the British empire, provided their final destinations are safe and secure. I have in mind locations such as Burma, China, Egypt and so on. On 9 November 2013, Fintan O'Toole wrote on this topic. I encourage all Senators to reflect what he wrote. The arts, culture and heritage have great power when shared internationally, but we should not forget that these treasures and remains will always be part of the heritage of indigenous people throughout the world. Billy Fitzpatrick, a citizen who wrote to the press calling on the Government to direct our national cultural institutions to begin the process of repatriation of all identifiably stolen objects, said "such a gesture would put pressure on London, Paris, Berlin and other former imperial capitals and help bring to a close one of the more visible and shameful reminders of Europe's colonial past." This is a conversation society needs to have. It is a conversation that the Seanad can lead on, especially in light of our move to the National Museum of Ireland.
I heard my fellow Senators raise two issues. Senators Conway-Walsh and Dolan sought to call the Taoiseach in today to discuss two noble causes. I passed a novelty sock shop around the corner. I imagine the Senators would have a better chance of getting him there today than they would of seeing him in the Seanad. In any event, I will move on to more serious matters. That was merely a light-hearted suggestion for the Leader.
The housing crisis is one of the largest crises facing our country at present. There are up on 500 registered housing associations but many more are operating in Ireland at present. Many of these are sitting on pretty and large bank balances. I am aware of one that is sitting on over €2 million. That is only one of which I am aware and with which I had some interaction. Some of them are working hard but many are unproductive and are sitting on a lot of money belonging to the State.
I will move on to the second aspect of this matter. Councils should be rewarded in the context of the block grants they get to run their services and everything else. These include the block grants relating to roads that come from the Government and the Department. One of the criteria should be connected to the housing they are providing at present. The grants should definitely be paid on that basis.
There are two areas that we could squeeze and where we have to get more productivity if we are to address the housing crisis. The former Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Coveney, had a very long-term plan and he put considerable work into it. We are where we are in the context of housing. We cannot say that the previous Minister did not try, but it is simply not working. We have to start at the base. The councils have the land. If they say they do not have the resources, then these can be provided through the block grant from the Government. That would be one of the quickest ways to address this problem. It is a matter of starting from the ground up and dealing with issues that are feeding into our housing problem. Moreover, we have to make the housing organisations more accountable. We have to discover what assets they possess. We have to make these people who are not working their assets sweat them a little harder.
I thank the 20 Senators who spoke for their contributions to the Order of Business. Senators Ardagh, Ruane and Ó Ríordáin made reference to yesterday's launch of the national strategy on drug and alcohol use in Ireland. I welcome that it is a health-led response. I congratulate the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Catherine Byrne, on her role. I compliment the former Minister of State, Senator Ó Ríordáin, for the strong leadership he displayed in the Department when he was there. I commend John Carr on his work on the strategy. I wish to echo the Taoiseach's remarks. We adopted a national road safety strategy campaign and approach. The issue of drugs and alcohol requires an integrated strategy. That is why we have an approach to take us from 2017 to 2025. The way forward must be in an integrated public health approach. It must address the issue of why people resort to the misuse of drugs and alcohol. Obviously, it must understand and address why there is a development of problems, not only in certain areas but across society.
Let us consider the issue. I watched last night's edition of "Tonight with Vincent Browne" on which Senators Ó Ríordáin and Ruane appeared with the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Catherine Byrne. It is not about marginalised communities per se; it is about the value we put on the actions out of the report launched yesterday with 50 key actions. It is about reducing harm. It is about supporting recovery and supporting people. It is a people-centred approach that we have put in place. I commend the Minister of State on the work she has done. I commend the report and the strategy in particular because it is about ensuring that we have a public health response led by a cross-section of Departments, especially the Department of Health. This is a positive way forward. I would be happy for the Minister of State to come before the House to discuss the matter.
Senator Ardagh stated that there are no timelines. The timeline is the report itself, as well as the 50 actions arising from it. It is a new departure for Ireland's drug policy.
I have to give Senator Ó Ríordáin credit for the work he did and for the courage he showed in challenging the system and the value that was part of the system. To be fair to him and the Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne, they stood firm in the face of opposition. I know that Senator Ó Ríordáin might think that we are having a love fest this morning.
In fairness, however, we must give credit where it is due. It is imperative that we work on this strategy. A working group has been established and this will examine alternative approaches regarding possession for personal use as well as how considering how this programme might be rolled out across different communities. The idea is to encapsulate what Senator Ardagh rightly said in terms of the approach of some of community groups in community areas. There is a real need to incorporate community awareness regarding the issue of drugs and drug misuse. This is an issue on which we need to have a collaborative approach.
Senator Ardagh and Senator Devine made reference to the issue of nurse recruitment. The HSE and the Government are committed to public sector reform and have opened up a recruitment campaign. There are now more people working in the public service than was the case in 2014. A number of career open days have taken place throughout the country. I recognise the importance of the nurses in our health system. I pay tribute to them for the work they undertake on behalf of all of us. They operate at the coalface within our health system. They are fine ambassadors for our HSE and for the health system. A recruitment campaign is under way. An attractive package has been put together by the HSE. We must look at ways in which we can incentivise and continue to attract nurses not only to stay in Ireland but to come back and work here, whether in nursing homes or the public health system.
Senator Ardagh made reference to St. Finbarr's Hospital. The hospital is in the city of Cork and provides a range of services to our elderly people and the local population in general. The issues that were highlighted this morning in the Irish Examinerneed to be addressed.
We are competing in a global market for nurses. In general, we need to see more activity and incentivisation. A range of measures have been undertaken by Government. Agreement was reached at the WRC between the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation and the various Departments in terms of how we can recruit 1,280 nurses in this calendar year. A programme is under way. I accept that we need to do more. However, the programme to which I refer is in place and I would hate to have people think that nothing is being done. This is happening and we are recruiting more nurses. It is imperative that we continue to do so.
Senator Craughwell made reference - not because councillors are constituents of ours - to the important issue of local government and the pay and conditions of all people who are public representatives in local government. The former Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Coveney, undertook a campaign. This is being continued by the Minister of State at the Department, Deputy Phelan, and the current Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, in tandem with the Minister of State, Deputy English. They have met people from the various groups that represent councillors. Like all Senators, I share the view that this work needs to continue in an active way, particularly in the context of arriving at an outcome that is positive.We need to have a system of local government that works for the people but that also ensures that we have quality members elected to serve at local authority level, which we have, but we need that to be incentivised. As part of the work in the autumn, we can reconvene under the chairmanship of Senator Gabrielle McFadden, who has been very active, as has Senator Craughwell, in the all-party committee of this House regarding councillors' pay and conditions.
Senator Rose Conway-Walsh made reference to the issue of the Taoiseach and Seanad reform. I have requested that the Taoiseach come to the House in the autumn to speak to us on a variety of matters. I am sure one will be Seanad reform. I will not be accepting the Senator's amendment to the Order of Business today because, as I said last week in the House, and as I said at a group meeting on Wednesday, the important point for this week is to ensure that we have legislation passed. I accepted the Senator's suggestion that we would have statements on the summer economic statement, and that is the only piece of Private Members' business other than Private Members' legislation that we have this week in the House. I have requested that the Taoiseach come to the House and I look forward to a positive result in the autumn. The Swinford Garda district is an operational matter for the Garda, but I would be happy to take that back to the Minister in question.
Senator John Dolan made reference to the national disability strategy and also to the issue of the UN convention. To be fair, it is a good news story. Some €1.65 billion is being unfurled by Government as part of a national disability strategy. The Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, has said on behalf of Government that we will sign up to the UN convention. He said that there is a guarantee that we will see the convention ratified. As the Senator knows, discussions are ongoing around the number of issues that are particular to families and different organisations as part of that. There are 114 actions in the national disability strategy which must be completed by 2021, encompassing eight areas, including education, employment, housing, transport, accessible transport and many other issues.
Last week in the Dáil and on his appointment, the Taoiseach said that we will sign up to the convention. His aim is to have it done by 3 December, which is the UN International Day of Persons with Disabilities. I certainly hope that we can do that. The strategy itself is a standalone document. It does not necessarily require us to sign the UN convention, but I would be happy to have the Taoiseach come to the House, and he can address us as part of that. My priority this week has been the passing of legislation and to ensure that we will have that done by the summer. The Government has committed to €1.65 billion. If Senator Dolan will accept my bona fides that the Taoiseach will come to the House in the autumn and that we will have that discussion in the autumn, I would be happy to have that conversation with him about that.
Senator Kevin Humphreys referenced the issue of renewable energy and the need to have a wide consultation process. I would be happy to have the Minister, Deputy Denis Naughten, come to the House in the autumn to discuss that issue. If the Senator wants to talk to me later about putting together more structured information about the Bill, I would be happy to talk to him about that and to facilitate that.
Senator Paddy Burke and Senator Paul Gavan made reference to the issue of horse racing and the issue of pay and conditions of workers in the sector. If legislation needs to be amended, I as Leader of the House, give the commitment that we will facilitate the passage of that legislation. I will, in light of the comments from Senator Burke and Senator Gavan about the need for the Minister to come to the House, prioritise this upon our return. It is an important sector, not least in its economic value, but also in terms of the number of jobs provided. I disagree with Senator Gavan, who never loses his chance to critique the Fine Gael policy of employment. Our record on employment is quite good.
Senators Robbie Gallagher and Aodhán Ó Ríordáin made reference to the pupil-teacher ratio. I would be happy to accept Senator Ó Ríordáin's amendment to the Order of Business, continuing our love-in this morning. We disagree in this case. The budget for 2016 committed to reducing the pupil-teacher ratio, as does the programme for Government. The Government allocated €458 million extra in the budget for 2016, which has the net effect of creating 2,400 new posts in our education system, 900 additional resource teachers, and 1,500 mainstream teaching posts.
The budget for 2016 reduced the pupil-teacher ratio for primary level to 15.7:1 from 16:1, and in post primary, to 13.7:1 from 14:1. I accept that we have a road to travel with regard to that. We have created 4,800 additional posts, and the last Government was clear about pupil-teacher ratios, the need to increase special needs assistants and teachers' posts in education. The record of this Government and the last Government with regard to education and posts is quite good.
Senator Maria Byrne made reference to the issue of Irish Water in Limerick. I would be happy to have the Minister come to the House, but perhaps Senator Byrne might want to raise it as a Commencement matter and might get a quicker response than we will this week in the House.
Senator Lynn Ruane made reference to the tragedy on the Grand Canal at the weekend. I join with her in thanking the people who stepped in to assist with the rescue. We need to have a discussion about a national policy on how we can help and counsel people who intervene and come to the assistance of others. I know we have a bravery awards system for people who do such great acts, but as Senator Ruane referred to, the immediate need to have a chat or conversation with a professional needs to be looked at. I would be happy to work with the Senator to progress something along those lines.
Senator Tim Lombard made reference to the Heritage Bill, though the Cathaoirleach rightly said it is a matter for the other House. It is important that we allow for a certain trimming of our hedgerows. This is especially so at this time of year when we have many people on our roads, in particular on our narrow country roads where people are trying to navigate between bicycles, tractors, farm machinery, cars and buses. It is about public safety as well as protecting our environment. I share the Senator's views that there is a need to see action, but it is a matter for the other House, as the Cathaoirleach quite rightly ruled.
Senators Ray Butler, Joe O'Reilly and James Reilly made reference to the issue of diabetes and the need for a national campaign about the issue of blood and having blood tested so that people can be made aware of their situation. Senator Butler is a walking ambassador for the need for proactivity. I do not say that to be patronising. It is important that we all understand the need to have ourselves checked out. There is a need to recognise that this is a matter that can be moved to general practitioners and primary care, and it is part of how we can change the primary care system. I would be happy to progress that with Senator Butler on any occasion, because it is important that we create awareness among people who might not necessarily undertake that activity.
I apologise to Senator Paul Gavan because I did not get the second part of his contribution if he made a second contribution. I have one note down, but if he made a second one, I apologise to him.
Sorry. I have a group here comprising Senator Paul Gavan, Senator Mark Daly and Senator James Reilly. I cannot read my own writing given how bad it is.
As Leader of the House, I have given a commitment that we will not stop or obstruct the passage of the Recognition of Irish Sign Language for the Deaf Community Bill. It was on the schedule for this week, but at Senator Daly's behest, it has been taken off. Rather than have a Bill that does not achieve what we want it to achieve, and rather than have false information given, we have not been found wanting to date with regard to that Bill on this side of the House. We have been involved at every step with Senator Daly. I have not opposed him once on it. We on this side have worked with all parts of the deaf community on that Bill, whether family members, interpreters, political figures, the Department or the Minister. One might not think so, listening to Senator Gavan's contribution, but I wish to impress upon him that we have been doing so, as Senator Daly will attest. We want to see a Bill that can be enacted that can seek to give rights and entitlements to members of the deaf community who have been sidelined and marginalised for far too long.
I will work with all people in a non-political way to advance the cause of all peoples who are marginalised in our society and community, and Senator Daly will attest to that. It is important that we get a Bill that can be delivered and acted upon immediately rather than being lost in the other House. That is the fundamental goal that we both share.
Senator Joe O'Reilly made reference to the issue of the importance of the tourism sector and the jobs in that area in the Brexit scenario around the Border area. He makes a very good point regarding the VAT rate. There is a need for that VAT rate to be looked at now, given that today we saw the price of hotel rooms around the U2 concert. There was a 53% increase.As somebody who supports and advocates for our tourism sector and the need to have the VAT rate retained, it does pose the question of whether we are getting value for money, and how we can ensure that the price of a hotel room, whether it is in Cavan, Monaghan, Dublin or Cork, is not abused. That is a matter that the tourism sector must address. The Senator makes a good point in terms of the importance of jobs in the sector. I agree with Senator Gavan that in some cases the pay and conditions of those working in our tourism sector do not reflect the profits that are being made in that sector. There has to be fairness as well.
The issue of third level education is an important one. We had a briefing last week from the Union of Students in Ireland and a debate on the Labour Party motion. The Cassells report is before the committee on education, and I would be happy to have the matter discussed in the autumn when we come back, and to work with Senator Ó Clochartaigh in terms of progressing the issues that he has raised. I am not familiar with some of the situations he raised, but I am happy to talk to him later.
I join with Senator James Reilly in sympathising with the family of the gentleman killed in Swords at the weekend. The loss of life of any person is to be regretted, and in violent circumstances even more so. The issue raised about the Garda is a matter for the Department, the Minister and the Garda authorities. The Senator also raised the very important issue of community policing and the need to have more visibility. I believe that we need to see an increase in and expedition of the civilianisation of An Garda Síochána which would allow more gardaí to be on the street and allow Garda stations to be open and in service in many key areas. Senator Reilly makes reference to Garda stations in his own constituency, but also across the country.
Senator Warfield raised the issue of national cultural institutions. I would be happy to have Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Humphreys, come to the House to debate the matter he raised.
Senator Davitt raised the issue of the housing crisis and the 500 registered housing agencies. The Senator makes a very good point regarding their role and remit, how much money they have and what they actually do. I would be very happy to have that debate in the autumn. The Senator linked it to the issue of the councils. That is a good point. We have the Planning and Development (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2017 in the House this week. It is important that we allow for councils, whether it is by way of planning permissions, vacant land or unused buildings, to have a plan in place to quickly turn these around so that we can provide housing.
I am happy to accept Senator Ó Ríordáin's amendment to the Order of Business. Regretfully I cannot accept the amendment from Sinn Féin, but I have issued an invitation to the Taoiseach to come to the House in the autumn.
Ivana Bacik, Frances Black, Rose Conway Walsh, Maire Devine, John Dolan, Paul Gavan, Alice Mary Higgins, Colette Kelleher, Pádraig Ó Céidigh, Trevor Ó Clochartaigh, Niall Ó Donnghaile, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, Grace O'Sullivan, Lynn Ruane, Fintan Warfield.
Catherine Ardagh, Colm Burke, Paddy Burke, Ray Butler, Jerry Buttimer, Maria Byrne, Martin Conway, Mark Daly, Aidan Davitt, Robbie Gallagher, Maura Hopkins, Gerry Horkan, Kevin Humphreys, Billy Lawless, Tim Lombard, Gabrielle McFadden, Gerald Nash, Kieran O'Donnell, John O'Mahony, Joe O'Reilly, James Reilly, Neale Richmond.
Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business, "That No. 24 be taken before No. 1". However, as this amendment was not seconded it cannot be taken. I suggest the Senator raise it tomorrow morning and the Leader will indicate his willingness to be of assistance.