Thursday, 20 July 2017
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, motion re exchange of views with Mr. Guy Verhofstadt at two or more joint committees, to be taken without debate at conclusion of the Order of Business; No. 2, motion re orders of reference of the Seanad Special Select Committee on the Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union, to be taken without debate at conclusion of No. 1; No. 3, Financial Services and Pensions Ombudsman Bill 2017 – Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken at 12.45 p.m.; No. 4, Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank Bill 2017 – Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 4; and No. 5, National Shared Services Office Bill 2016 – Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 4.
On the basis that we will not be here again, I thank and commend the Cathaoirleach's team and Bridget Doody's and Martin Groves's team for all the help they have given us this year.
I would also like to move that No. 7 on the Order Paper, the Mental Health (Amendment) Bill 2017, be taken today. I was delighted to see that the Bill, which seeks to amend and extend the 2011 Mental Health Act and give patients more say in their treatment, passed all Stages in the Dáil last week, and I look forward to its swift passage through this House as well.
I was horrified to learn over the weekend of an attack on a young Spanish student. It is frightening that such a prolonged attack, part of it in broad daylight, could happen in our city. It is understood the alleged attacker was on bail for another crime at the time of the attack. I ask that gardaí be vigilant about any further such attacks in the city. The thoughts of the Fianna Fáil group are with the victim and her family, and I hope the matter is resolved and the facts come to light.
The second matter I wish to raise concerns housing. I have raised the issue of housing every week we have been here. I refer to the most recent Dublin City Council report on the matter. A Sinn Féin councillor, Daithí Doolan, is the chair of the council's housing committee. He commented that it would take 180 years to clear Dublin City Council's current housing list. What I am calling for, and have been for a long time, is a citywide State social housing building programme like the one Fianna Fáil set up in the 1950s and 1960s. It is an awful reflection on the Government that such a situation has been maintained. As I have said, the Government needs to act expeditiously to ensure the housing crisis, which is the worst crisis affecting the city, is resolved and something is done about it without delay.
There have been many recurring themes over the past year, including health, housing and education. I will not spend any time on them today, but they are all linked and are very important. That they keep recurring as Commencement matters and items raised on the Order of Business means we clearly need to focus more on them in the next term.
I wish to keep my comments to Article 28A of the Constitution, which I will quote because it is relevant: "The State recognises the role of local government in providing a forum for the democratic representation of local communities, in exercising and performing at local level powers and functions conferred by law and in promoting by its initiatives the interests of such communities." I appeal to all my colleagues, both party and non-party, that we work together across all parties very early after we come back for the next session of the Seanad to focus on local government. I know the Leader indicated that the Minister of State, Deputy John Paul Phelan, will come to the House once he has his letter of credentials from the Minister for his devolved functions, and he has a special function regarding local government and electoral reform, but this is very important. We should spend more time focusing on the practitioners of local government, namely, the county councillors throughout this country of whom we all know because many of us have travelled that journey and have been there. We need to address issues of real local government reform and local finance. We need to address how local government can be sustained, how greater devolved powers can be handed to local authorities and local councillors, how we can recognise the professionalism of these men and women, who make great sacrifices and work seven days a week for our communities, how they are recognised in their communities and how they receive their remuneration and appropriate expenses. We can do something about this, and the secret is that we work together on it and prioritise it as a very important aspect of our programme in the next term.
I also ask that the Minister come to the House to address the issues arising from the local boundary changes and share with us his plans in respect of those changes.
I wish to return to what is perhaps one of the most important issues, namely, direct provision. We heard at great length yesterday about issues with direct provision, the plight of people who are suffering and the number of children who are suffering. The report published yesterday found that young children and their parents are living in fear in their homes.These are young children whose parents are living in fear. That has to be a great challenge to us. In many years we will look back on this era and hold our heads in shame. We will ask what we, as politicians, did. Will we be looking back on another Magdalen laundry situation? It is a very important issue. We need to come together and work across all parties and all spectrums to address the serious plight of people who are suffering.
I thank the Cathaoirleach and his team for their support and how the Seanad has been conducted this year. I thank Martin Groves and Bridget Doody and the team in the Seanad office who have given us unstinting support in our work. I also acknowledge the Leader, Senator Buttimer, Orla Murray and the rest of his staff. We could not do this work without all the background people who assist us and lead us through the process. I thank them all.
Before I call Senator Conway-Walsh, I acknowledge the presence in the Distinguished Visitors Gallery of two former parliamentarians from Australia. I understand they are from the Queensland area. They are Mr. John Sullivan and Mrs. Karen Sullivan. They are welcome to our humble Parliament.
As today is our last day, I also acknowledge the work done here. I thank Martin Groves, Bridget Doody, the Cathaoirleach and all the team in the Seanad office as well as the Leader of the House for the support given to the Sinn Féin team here. I also thank the staff and ushers for all the help when I had my cast on for eight weeks a few months ago.
Today I want to talk about rare breeds. I want to leave Fianna Fáil alone.
Tell them to stop heckling me.
At EU level recently there has been much discussion on plans for CAP 2020 and beyond. There is a great deal of focus on food sources and protection of the environment. There is no focus on the importance of rare or native breeds. The increasing threat of climate change and its impact on food security means that maintaining the genetic integrity of our native breeds is even more important. These native breeds are suited to farming on this island. They naturally help to protect the biodiversity of areas in which they are farmed. Not only are we seeing an increasing number of non-native breeds introduced into Irish agriculture, but our native genetic resources are also being exported, leaving us very vulnerable. I ask that the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine should include this point in any future negotiations on the CAP.
I also ask the Minister to examine the genetic resources grant aid scheme. According to the Department's website, the effects of the grant aid awarded by the advisory committee are far-reaching and play a vital role in fulfilling Ireland's international obligations on the conservation of plant and animal genetic resources.
I understand this important fund is disproportionately limited within the €4 billion RDP budget with an annual competitive process sharing out €50,000 between five sectors. This fund is heavily oversubscribed and was in 2017 for native breed-related projects alone. Vital research and collaboration projects were declined due to the lack of funding. This appears to be out of sync with the current efforts to support native breeds. Given the objective of the national strategy and the importance placed within the EU and the UN on animal breeds, the limited funding is discouraging research and conservation, and deterring future applications to carry out vital work in this field.
I therefore ask the Minister to respond positively to recent locally led initiatives that need further support by elevating this important agriculture and food component to the forefront of relevant national policy and CAP reform, and make immediate tangible measures to enhance support measures under the RDP for stakeholders and societies in this important field.
I wanted this taken as a Commencement Matter but was unable to do so. I ask for the Minister to come to the House at the earliest possible time to discuss the importance of native breeds, in an EU and national context.
I join my colleagues in thanking the Cathaoirleach, the Leader of the House and the staff of the Seanad for all their professionalism and courtesy over the period we have been here. While our next period of parliamentary jousting will take place in a different environment, I am sure that professionalism will lend itself to the new surroundings as well.
I raise again, as I have done in this Chamber, in written form and in oral contributions, the issue of Beaumont Hospital and the accident and emergency department which serves a huge number of people on the north side of Dublin. The problems in the Beaumont Hospital accident and emergency department persist. When I was a Member of the Dáil, the then Minister, Deputy Brendan Howlin, and I met the senior management of Beaumont Hospital. The management presented us with a €45 million plan which would rectify the physical problems the accident and emergency department in Beaumont Hospital has. I do not think one could walk anywhere around the north side of Dublin without meeting a family who have some kind of horror story from experiences in the accident and emergency department in Beaumont Hospital. It is no reflection on the staff who work there and who work incredibly hard and incredibly well. The physical environment of that accident and emergency department needs to be rectified. I have raised it in a Commencement matter. I thank the Cathaoirleach for enabling that. I have also written letters, run campaigns and done petitions, but I do not hear anything from Government about where this capital investment is coming from or when it is going to happen.
Perhaps, when we come back in September, we can have an update on that situation. The fiscal situation in the country has improved. We have an opportunity now to rectify these problems. I accept that here are other issues, including staffing, in the accident and emergency department, and the demographic in that area lends itself to having a very busy accident and emergency department. At the same time, the physical infrastructure needs to be enhanced, improved and invested in. Senior management has a plan. It wants to see that plan implemented. Everyone in this House who knows that area would agree that it needs that investment. Will the Leader facilitate a debate on that process in order that we could see those facilities being improved shortly?
I encourage the financial sector to look at Limerick as an option for locating. The Minister of State, Deputy Michael D'Arcy, was in Limerick on Monday and we met many stakeholders in different business organisations. He highlighted that Dublin is at full capacity. He saw for himself that Limerick has a number of available spaces which could encourage financial institutions to come to Limerick.
There was a report in The Irish Timesabout third level institutions and how NUI Galway has the lowest number of female professors and heads of departments, the University of Limerick has the highest, at 31%, but overall the figures for female participation are very low. We have gender quotas for national politics. Something must be brought in to encourage female participation and to encourage females to be at the top in third level institutes.
I join the tributes to the Cathaoirleach, the Leader of the House, the Whips, other Members, Mr. Martin Groves and Ms Bridget Doody, who do excellent work. If there were to be an end of year report for the Seanad, it would show that it has been a very successful period. I compliment Senator Neale Richmond, the Chairman of the Seanad Special Committee on the Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union, and the members of that who participated in 50 hours of hearings about Brexit. It was a most useful exercise, which I commend, and I would like to see an ongoing discussion about Brexit and, on the report itself, perhaps bringing people back to update us on developments. I am delighted to see on the Order Paper that the Leader has brought about a situation where he got this clarified and can carry out the work in accordance with statute and Standing Orders.I also commend the Leader and the Committee on Procedure and Privileges on arranging the debate here on 29 September, which is a very useful exercise. Today is the last day the Seanad will meet in this Chamber this year. As the extent of the damage to the building is not yet known, it will probably be two years before the Seanad returns to this Chamber. Hopefully, this Seanad will be in existence for the next two years but that is a matter for the Government and the Leader of the Opposition, Deputy Martin.
In today's Irish Independentthere is a photograph of members of the Seanad Civil Engagement group, Senators John Dolan, Grace O'Sullivan, Alice-Mary Higgins, Lynn Ruane, Colette Kelleher and Frances Black and Senators Niall Ó Donnghaile, Paul Gavan and Billy Lawless who it is stated proposed a Bill to enable refugees in Ireland to be reunited with their loved ones. Without Fianna Fáil support, that Bill would not have passed yesterday. I have never heard of the Civil Engagement group. I note Senator Craughwell, who turns up everywhere, was not in the photograph. I am not sure if he was invited to join in but if he had to be in it, he would have been. I do not like to mention people when they are not in the Chamber but I remind Senator Alice-Mary Higgins of the importance when on "Morning Ireland" of recognising the support of Sinn Féin, the Labour Party and Fianna Fáil when it comes to the passage of legislation in this House. Fianna Fáil's support for the International Protection (Family Reunification) (Amendment) Bill 2017 or any other Bill should not be taken for granted.
It has been a long time in gestation. Previous Bills were held up by previous Governments and, in particular, Deputy Joan Burton. Fine Gael has opposed it, supported it, opposed it again and then supported it again.
Like most of my colleagues, I thank the Seanad Office for its professionalism throughout this session. I thank the Cathaoirleach for his excellent chairing of proceedings and the Leader who has adapted to the new politics of negotiation with all sides in order to get things done and who takes defeat in good humour always.
In regard to Senator Leyden's remark about my appearance everywhere, I am at least unlike Fianna Fáil, which as the other half of the coalition, remains hidden in the background and is never seen. I thank the Senator for recognising me.
I would like to raise two issues in relation to education, which I know is an area in which the Leader has an interest. First, I am seeking a debate on career guidance. I am concerned about the role of career guidance being handed out to teachers who are not qualified in this area. The Government has set aside career guidance hours and this task should be undertaken by professionals. Second, there is no leaving certificate applied programme, early school leavers programme or Youthreach programme in County Leitrim. We are all aware of the importance of early school leavers being encouraged to return to education. The leaving certificate applied programme is the most under-valued programme in this country and not to have it operational in County Leitrim is a disgrace. I ask that these matters be put on the agenda for discussion on our return in September.
I wish all of my colleagues a peaceful and restful summer.I will engage with my constituents throughout the summer and let them know that all Members are available to be consulted.
The Cabinet yesterday discussed a ten-year capital investment plan from 2018 to 2027 and the projected 19% population increase to 5.6 million by 2040. I ask the Leader that a discussion be held at the earliest possible date following the summer recess regarding the ten-year capital investment programme. That discussion would be worthwhile and important in terms of considering what direction will be taken over the next five to ten years in particular.
The Cathaoirleach and other Members will no doubt join me in congratulating the former Senator and current European Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, Phil Hogan, who received the grand decoration of honour in gold with sash for services to the Republic of Austria. It is a great honour for him, the House and the country. It is the highest honour that Austria can granted to a person from another country. I congratulate him.
I thank the Cathaoirleach, the Leader and staff for their contribution to a very positive term in the Seanad.
A very alarming case regarding a young couple in Belfast has received media coverage in the past two days. The Leader and other Members may be aware of it. The couple are seeking a family member residence card to allow the husband of the couple to remain in Belfast and build a life for himself and his wife. Jake and Emma DeSouza are being appallingly treated by the visas and immigration section of the UK Home Office. They allege they are experiencing controlled movement and confinement because the UK Home Office is refusing to recognise the legitimacy of Emma DeSouza's Irish nationality. She was born in Magherafelt in south Derry, holds an Irish passport and considers herself Irish. She is Irish. She bases her legal claim to Irish citizenship on her passport and the clause in the Good Friday Agreement that legally and constitutionally recognises her Irish nationality. The clause declares that the British and Irish Governments will:
recognise the birthright of all the people of Northern Ireland to identify themselves and be accepted as Irish or British, or both, as they may so choose, and accordingly confirm that their right to hold both British and Irish citizenship is accepted by both Governments and would not be affected by any future change in the status of Northern Ireland.
That clause clearly recognises Ms DeSouza's right to identify as an Irish national.
The Northern Ireland Act 1998 and the Good Friday Agreement form the legal framework within which people in Northern Ireland live and engage with law and society. That is important because the 1998 Act gives legal protection to Ms DeSouza's human rights and affords her protection under section 76, which deals with discrimination by public authorities, of which the visas and immigration section of the UK Home Office is one. The section states that it is unlawful for a public authority carrying out functions in relation to Northern Ireland to discriminate or to aid or incite another person to discriminate against a person or class of person on the grounds of religious belief or opinion. The visas and immigration section of the UK Home Office is refusing to accept Ms DeSouza's Irish nationality and is, therefore, discriminating against her and her husband. I have a significant amount of further detail on this complex case that I wanted to raise before the summer recess because the House should revisit it. I am due to meet Ms DeSouza next week. I encourage Members from all parties and none not just to show their support for Ms DeSouza's affirmation as an Irish citizen, but also to offer her practical assistance in ensuring that her rights and legal protections are upheld.
I join other Members in commending the Cathaoirleach and all staff of the Seanad on their stewardship during the past term and I look forward to working with them in the temporary premises in the autumn.
I echo some of the points made by Senator Byrne in respect of the Higher Education Authority report published today which shows the lamentably slow progress being made on gender equality in higher education institutions. I come from Galway. Only six of a total of 64 professors in NUI Galway are women. That is not acceptable in terms of gender equality but it is also very notable that the report and commentary makes clear that this is costing us in terms of excellence.That is a very clear and important message. Equality is not simply about the individual; equality is a foundation for excellence. We need to make robust efforts in the academic area, and in all areas of public life, to ensure we are delivering equality. We must keep a close eye on and scrutinise - as is committed to in the programme for Government - the issue of equality.
I am also responding to my esteemed colleague, Senator Leyden. I want to make it clear that we invited all parties to attend the photo opportunity on the plinth at Leinster House. Members from Fianna Fáil were absolutely invited.
The Senator's colleagues will be able to verify that Fianna Fáil Senators were invited. We invited Senators from all parties who wished to do so to attend and in all of our press releases on yesterday's very important Bill, we have acknowledged the cross-party support, without which it would not have been possible. I do not take support for granted. A powerful aspect of this particular Seanad is that no-one can take things for granted. The Government cannot take things for granted and none of us in any of the groups take things for granted. It is by working together and supporting each other's legislation, through constructive proposals, by listening to each item that is brought forward on its merits and giving it genuine consideration that this Seanad works. This is why our group has been happy to support positive constructive proposals across the House and we welcome, deeply, the support from others. Where there is common concern, we make progress. The Bill that passed Second Stage yesterday is about expanding family reunification. It is a principle of family and justice. I recognise that Senators from Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin and Labour, Independent Senators and ourselves all came together on the Bill, which, I believe, involves a very important principle for the families who are the most important people in this situation. I deeply respect Senator Leyden and I note the work we have done together on Europol.
I join colleagues in expressing gratitude to the Cathaoirleach, the staff, the Leader and everyone here who made this a successful term. I wish my colleagues a good holiday. I echo the congratulations of Senator Paddy Burke to Commissioner Phil Hogan on his unique achievement in receiving the medal of honour in Austria. It is a mark the esteem in which he is held across the EU. We are very proud of that.
I am anxious that the Leader make time available at the beginning of the next term for a debate on the health strategy on drug and alcohol issues, Reducing Harm, Supporting Recovery, which was launched this week by An Taoiseach, Deputy Varadkar. The strategy involves a pilot supervised injecting facility in Dublin city centre, an increase in the number of nursing personnel in residential services, an awareness campaign and a whole lot more sensitivity in the treatment of addicts. It advocates a more rehabilitative approach rather than a punitive one. That is all good. I acknowledge our colleague, who is not in the House at the moment, Senator Ó Ríordáin, who did some pioneering work on this in government. We should be proud that he is a Member of the Seanad now. There is one aspect that I ask the Leader to include in the debate on drug and alcohol issues, namely, the policing dimension. As we augment police numbers throughout the State, we need to have specific drugs units active in every policing division to allow for detection. I ask the Leader to facilitate this issue being included in the debate to be held during the next session.I met a parent who is a very good friend of mine whose child has become an addict. They had harrowing stories to tell about gangs threatening the family, the child being threatened and having to come up with money on a number of occasions. It was horrific so it is a very serious issue. I appeal to the Leader to make it a priority in the new term.
I express my thanks to the staff, the Cathaoirleach and the Leader for their support and co-operation this year.
I want to raise the issue of VAT in the hotel sector, an issue that has been raised by a number of colleagues over the past week. They are calling for the VAT subsidy to be retained. There are two problems with this. The first is that the Irish Hotels Federation continues to resist any moves towards establishing a joint labour committee, which would establish a floor of decency in terms of rates of pay. The second problem is that when representatives of the Irish Hotels Federation appeared before the Oireachtas Committee on Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, they said the joint labour committees were not needed because of the minimum wage. Members should think about that. They are declaring as the leaders of the industry that their industry is a minimum wage industry. All of us stay in hotels. How many Senators have noticed that the person who checks them in in the evening is the person who checks them out in the morning and the horrendous hours they must work on precarious contracts and flat rates of pay with no overtime? The head of the Irish Hotels Federation tells us that it is a minimum wage industry that will not engage with organs of the State regarding a joint labour committee. Apart from asking for a debate on this in the autumn, I would say to our colleagues that if they are going to call for the retention of the VAT subsidy, at the very least, they should call for their colleagues in the Irish Hotels Federation to engage with the joint labour committee process and show some decency and respect for the hard-working staff who actually keep our tourism industry going year in and year out.
I thank the Cathaoirleach, Martin Groves, Bridget Doody and all the staff for their assistance here in what will be our old Chamber. Hopefully, we will all get back in, including Senator Leyden. Hopefully, he will not need the wills Bill any time soon.
Please God, it will be passed at some stage.
In respect of the horrific attack over the weekend, we must look at the issue of electronic tagging because there is provision for people who are out on bail to be electronically tagged. Believe it or not, that legislation is over ten years old, yet it has never been enacted. The provision for it to happen has never been enacted. We must also look at the issue of repeat offenders and the issue of "three strikes and you're tagged". Almost 80% of burglaries are committed by 5% of criminals. We must look at repeat offenders being tagged when the rest of their sentence is normally commuted and they are no longer in prison. They should continue to be tagged as part of their sentencing so that we can see a drop in crime. When electronic tagging was introduced in Florida for crimes like theft, sexual assaults and other assaults, the re-offending rate dropped by 95%. If we can look at figures like that, we must look at the practical solution to a problem. Electronic tagging costs €6 per day while it costs €163 per day to keep someone in prison so I ask the Leader to look into that issue.
Our national anthem has the most colourful history. It was introduced informally in 1924 by the Free State Government and in 1926, it was formally adopted by the Executive but it did not tell anybody. Legal disputes ensued between the author of the national anthem, Peadar Kearney, and the State on two occasions with Peadar Kearney securing £2,500 for the copyright. Copyright law was extended by the State and the EU. The copyright lapsed in 2012. I brought in legislation dealing with this issue. We have all agreed to engage in the public consultation process and it is the way forward on this issue. In respect of the colourful history of our national anthem, the musical notes we all hear on All-Ireland Sunday and in the Aviva Stadium with our rugby and soccer teams were composed by none other than Colonel Brazé of the Army Band in 1926. Again, it was never formally adopted in any legislative format.The public consultation process is the best way forward. It could be done this year thus ensuring that it is properly protected.
I thank the Cathaoirleach and his staff, the Clerk of the Seanad and the Clerk Assistant of the Seanad, for all the help they have given us over the past year. We look forward to our new home in the autumn. I also join in congratulating Commissioner Hogan on his award from Austria.
Like other speakers, I wish to refer to the new census figures. It would be useful if the Minister for Education and Skills was invited to the House after the recess to discuss his capital budget. He has a very strong capital plan and he plans to build 300 new schools over the next number of years at a rate of 50 schools per year. It is a big commitment and I support him.
The former Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Coveney, made 75% of funding available for a new road upgrade for Mooretown, Swords. The initiative would open up the area for 3,000 badly needed houses and it is planned to build a school complex comprising a community secondary school and two primary schools. Swords badly needs this because there is pressure to build temporary school accommodation at St. Finian's Community College in Swords. The opportunity to purchase the site should not be missed and Fingal County Council is nearly in a position to do so. If the Minister were to direct his Department to instruct Fingal County Council to purchase the site, the development could be expedited and we could have a high grade temporary facility put in place in a new home for September 2018 while the new school is being completed. The plan is very good because it also involves the upgrading of footpaths and a cycleway. We could tick a lot of boxes as children could cycle and walk to school safety. We would also get badly needed houses for an ever growing population. Nowhere else is growing as fast as Fingal. The development would provide the best of opportunities for children.
Today, the National Competitive Council issued its report. Two lines of the press release stood out, first, that the "strong macroeconomic performance is masking threats to national competitiveness", and, second, the "foundations of future growth must be secured". Surely, above all things, the foundation for future growth is our youth. Therefore, we must make sure that they are well educated, that they have proper housing and that they can live in a safe environment. I call on the Leader to invite the Minister to come to the House in the autumn to address these issues.
I join other colleagues in wishing all of our other colleagues the very best for the next couple of weeks on their vacation, including the Clerk of the Seanad, the Clerk Assistant of the Seanad, the ushers and all Members in this Chamber and in the Lower House. I also join the Cathaoirleach in welcoming Deputy Jackie Cahill and his guests to the Visitors Gallery.
Today is an historic day, as the Cathaoirleach said at the outset. My leader, Senator Ardagh, said in her remarks that we will never be here again. I hope to be here again.
Since I started here in 2002, there have been many changes. At the time I sat where the Government parties are sitting and some of them sat where I am today. There were Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael Senators. There were Progressive Democrats Senators. There were a few genuine Independent Senators at that time as well.
Since the 2002 Seanad, and I have been lucky enough to be elected on four occasions, the changes have been for the better. We disagree on some issues, but not all issues, and we are all of the same mind.Hundreds of people have passed through this Chamber, some of whom have gone to the Lower House where they think it is better, but we know better.
Since the foundation of the State, many Senators have gone to their eternal reward. I remember those who were with us in this Chamber from 2002 and have gone to a better place: Kate Walsh, Kieran Phelan, Tony Kett, Peter Callanan and Nicky McFadden. Ar dheis Dé go ar dheis dé go raibh a n-anamacha dílse.
I join others in thanking the staff for all they do for us. I also wish colleagues well heading into the break.
When we read things in the newspapers, we often wonder whether what we are reading is actually true. It sometimes turns out that the newspapers have not given the full story. Occasionally, there can be enough evidence in what is stated in a newspaper to give us serious cause for concern. As I do not want us to be too comfortable as we head into our summer break, I wish to refer to a newspaper report on the case of Paloma Silva-Carvalho, a Brazilian woman who worked as an au pair in Ireland before returning to Brazil within the prescribed time. I understand that earlier this week she visited her boyfriend or fiance in Basel, Switzerland before beginning her journey to Ireland to visit the family in County Galway for whom she had worked. Despite the fact that, according to the Garda, a Brazilian national may visit this country without a visa for up to 90 days, she was detained by the Garda. A habeas corpusapplication made on her behalf seems to have failed. She was sent to the Dóchas women's prison at Mountjoy Prison and due to be deported. By the time the Garda relented and gave her permission to stay for up to ten days, she was so traumatised by her experience that she decided to leave the country. It appears that the family she was due to visit were waiting to pick her up, but she was unable to get on the bus to Galway. A return ticket had been bought. Her mother was also planning to visit and they were due to return in September. I would like to know what is going on.
I am operating on the assumption that The Irish Timeswhich reported on the case is not playing silly buggers and that there is not some untold part of the story that would cast a reasonable light on the entire episode. If what The Irish Timeshas told us is true, we need to ask whether Garda immigration officers are acting in an unnecessarily hostile fashion when people who have a perfect right to do so try to come into the State. If they are, what does it say about what we are becoming as a country? I ask this in the light of the Government's disappointing response to the Private Members' Bill last evening on the issue of family reunification. I did not like the bad tempered nature of some of the exchanges on which I listened in. I do not think all of the comments made were necessary. Some of the comments directed at the Minister were overly personalised and needlessly tribal in their approach.
The criticism of the Government and the Minister's reluctance to embrace the spirit of the Bill was justified and I have that in my mind as I raise this serious issue, but I know that I cannot easily get an answer today. I am worried about what Ireland has become and, especially, our attitude towards strangers and people who are potentially vulnerable. The woman in this case is perfectly reasonable and was looking to visit Ireland with no particular need other than to enjoy her time here. I would like this issue to be addressed.
I spoke earlier this week about an anti-bullying initiative, I'm a Friend. We all know that Ireland's harassment laws have not been updated since the advent of text messages and social media. When the Law Reform Commission highlighted this issue in a report last year, it identified some of the gaps in the legislation. It is obvious to everybody here that there is a need for reform. Last December the Government approved the drafting of the general scheme of a Bill to provide for new laws and amendment of the current laws along the lines set out in the Law Reform Commission's report.Like our counterparts in the UK, we should have a debate in the House. We should invite the Minister in to hear what we have to say and we should find out from the Minister what is the state of play with the proposed legislation. Will the Leader speak to the Minister on our behalf about that?
I thank the Cathaoirleach, the Leader and the group Whips for their support throughout the term. The Seanad staff, of course, are wonderful to us all. I thank the ushers, whose service to both Houses goes way beyond the call of duty. I thank everybody.
I thank the Seanad staff and ushers who have assisted, facilitated and supported us all who have been on a learning curve over the past year. I would like to draw attention again at the end of this term to the public consultation committee, which facilitated parents and other affected by mental health issues, and service providers, particularly those dealing with children. I eagerly await the report, which is due in September. I continue to raise these issues but the position is stark. We are failing our children again. Beds have closed in the Linn Dara unit and beds have not reopened in the Central Mental Hospital while staff are working in a stressful and chaotic environment as they cope with unmanageable and unreachable waiting lists. In reference to Senator Mullen's bizarre stories, there is a story this morning that elderly patients are being accommodated in a chapel of rest in County Donegal. That is not a joke. Retention and recruitment of staff is an absolutely necessity which must be tackled. Will the Leader facilitate at the first opportunity following the recess the excellent chairman of the consultation committee in bringing recommendations on policy and legislative changes to the House? Let us get them enacted as quickly as possible. Up the Dubs.
I join other Senators in congratulating the Cathaoirleach, Leader and the officials on what was a successful term in the House. I would like to raise the issue of farm deaths. We need to have a major debate on farm safety. Last year, 21 unfortunate people died on farms. Nine of them was aged over 65 and the highest number of deaths was recorded in my own county, Cork, where eight farmers lost their lives. It is a significant issue and I am sure every Member has dealt with a family affected by these awful tragedies, which are workplace accidents. The farming community has a poor record on safety. It is an important issue at this time of the year as the grain harvesting period commences and there is significant movement of machinery. It is an important debate. Farm safety must be highlighted over the next few weeks and I hope the Leader will speak to the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine to ensure that happens.
In the context of Senator Devine and others saying "Up the Dubs", I acknowledge and congratulate everyone involved in the first game played in the newly reopened Páirc Uí Chaoimh last night. It was a fantastic occasion from what I have heard with more than 10,000 people turning up for an intermediate hurling championship match between Valley Rovers and Blarney. It is great that the stadium in Cork is up and running and I am looking forward to the weekend's double header.
Senator Wilson just asked me to add the name of John Carty to the list of deceased Members.
I would like to raise two issues, one of which relates to the fair deal scheme and the negative effect it is having on the farming community. The IFA, among others, has voiced concerns about the lack of a cap on the debt that can be incurred to the State while a loved one is in a nursing home. I understand the Government has given a commitment that the scheme will be reviewed.I ask the Leader to mention to the Minister the concerns to which I refer and I request that the issue be addressed as a matter of urgency, particularly as it affects the future viability of many smaller farms that are struggling now. It should be addressed sooner rather than later.
The second matter I wish to raise relates to private health insurance. A recent report from the Health Insurance Authority on the regulations governing schemes dealt with a number of issues, though mainly with the fact that older people and those over 60 are paying an average of 25% more for their premiums than younger individuals. This is grossly unfair. The other major concern that many people have with health insurance generally is that there are so many schemes. All of them are so complicated, one might think it deliberate, and this should be addressed for the benefit of all consumers. I join other Senators in wishing the staff of the House all the best for the summer break. I am sure they will enjoy it. I wish colleagues across all political parties and none a peaceful and relaxing summer. When we are in political life, it is a very short break, as we all know. We should enjoy the break nonetheless.
Like Senator Mullen, I was deeply troubled by that article in The Irish Times. If what is quoted in the newspaper is true, it is a thundering disgrace and the Garda has much to answer for. I request that the Leader to send us a note from the Department of Justice and Equality outlining the various policies that are associated with people coming into this country so at least we know what the position is if we are ever in a scenario where family members or other people make representations to us.
I thank the Cathaoirleach and the Leader, along with his staff, Orla and Alison. I also thank the Seanad staff - Martin, Bridget, Carol and Niamh - for all the work they do. I also thank the ushers. I wish everybody a very nice holiday. I suggest that if people are going on holidays this year, they might consider coming to County Clare.
I join Senators in thanking the staff, including the ushers, and the Cathaoirleach.
Yesterday, the Joint Committee on Arts, Heritage, Regional and Gaeltacht Affairs launched a response to Culture 2025 and proposed that culture be placed at the heart of Government, continuing the good initiative around Creative Ireland. Artists should be placed at the heart of policy. I ask the Leader for statements on this report when we return. I suspect we might be in the national cultural institution and that might be an appropriate start. According to a media report, a Department spokesperson stated the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Heather Humphreys, would consider the report "in due course" but that many recommendations were already being implemented. The Minister must act on this with respect due to the committee and perhaps statements would be appreciated. A very small number of the 42 recommendations are currently being implemented. A national cultural policy was promised and not a post-centenary programme to replace it. Will this Government continue to treat culture as its personal publicity tool, as in the case of Mr. John Concannon moving from Creative Ireland to Leo's new communications unit? Where does it leave Creative Ireland? I wish everybody a nice summer.
I commend the Cathaoirleach and staff on how well the Seanad is run. I also commend the Leader, Senator Buttimer.
I have raised the issue before but I reiterate my call for a detailed debate and statements on anti-social behaviour. We all agree that a significant proportion of Garda time in our areas involves dealing with anti-social behaviour in estates and other locations. It is not exclusive to any area but, invariably, it is caused by a relatively small number of people.There may be a need to look at the way the anti-social behaviour laws are working, to look at the area of parental responsibility for younger children and whether there are areas in society where we are failing younger children. I have a general view that society and the organs of the State are there to ensure that people can go about their daily lives in a safe environment, rearing their children or whatever else.
In the area of anti-social behaviour and in defence of An Garda Síochána - I can only speak of Limerick - the work the gardaí do in the ground in dealing with anti-social behaviour is second to none. I commend their availability. I make the distinction between corporate An Garda Síochána and gardaí on the ground. I ask that time be put aside in the Seanad when we come back for a specific debate on anti-social behaviour to get the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, in before the House to discuss it at length.
I wish all my colleagues and all the staff a welcome break.
I join with other colleagues in thanking the Cathaoirleach for his help and assistance and all the staff here in the House. We also should thank the backroom staff in our own offices for their dedication, commitment and support over the past 12 months.
I raise with the Leader an issue that arose in a recent survey carried out on the provision of palliative care in two hospitals, the Mater and St. James's, and in which UCD and TCD were involved. One issue it identified was that of those who are terminally ill being obliged to go through accident and emergency in order to get admission to hospital and that a new system should be put in place, especially for terminally ill patients. They are now looking for a national survey to be done on this issue. When anyone is going through palliative care, it is an extremely difficult time for families. It is draining in the sense that they are seeking supports at what is a difficult time for them and I do not believe that going through accident and emergency is the appropriate way. In the next term, we should have the Minister in to discuss this issue about how we can improve the health service in that particular difficult area. It is something that we need to do. It is an issue we cannot ignore and we also should do a national survey.
Finally, I join with my colleague in raising the concerns raised in the Health Insurance Authority report about the additional cost for older persons. We were to have an equal playing field for everyone regardless of age. It is a debate we also should have in the new year to ensure increased costs are not placed on the elderly for health insurance.
Top of the agenda for the next term should be an invitation to the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, to come into the House. Many important and critical topical issues pertaining to his Department need to be debated including, in particular, delays in proceeding towards the second runway at Dublin Airport. I was listening to Mr. Michael O'Leary yesterday on "Today with Sean O'Rourke". Here is a man who wants to grow his business describing utter frustration at what would seem, one year along, to be no progress on noise issues that must be sorted out for the second runway to proceed. Mr. O'Leary was setting out his plans to grow the number of flights into the airport and the need for it. In addition, while we have ambitions to have Dublin Airport as a hub, especially on account of Brexit, how are we going to do that if we are not getting out of the traps at all?
While I am at it, just to add to that, we also have a fine airport in the west of Ireland, Ireland West Airport Knock. It is also in need of State investment in runway overlay, an extended apron and hangarage. This is pertinent in the context of the challenges we face with Brexit, our peripherality, connectivity, emigration, growing tourism and the economic growth of the area.I would like to have the Minister, Deputy Ross, in to discuss-----
I can assure everyone that the issues involved will be dealt with adequately in early course. I also join with others, including Senator Paddy Burke and Senator O'Reilly, in congratulating Commissioner Phil Hogan on his receipt of the highest honour which the state of Austria can confer on a non-citizen. He has been very successful in his role as Commissioner and he is very important to this country in regard to many of the issues surrounding Brexit. I thank the Chairman, Martin Groves, Bridget Doody, all the staff and all of our own staff. Happy holidays.
Before I call on the Leader to respond, on my own behalf and that of the staff to my right, Martin Groves and Bridget Doody, who have shown great patience and indulgence on most occasions, I thank all the Members for their kind remarks. I also offer my congratulations to Commissioner Phil Hogan. That any Irishman who wears the green jersey, irrespective of party, would get such an honour has to be acknowledged. I hope that we will be back here again in 18 months or whenever it is. If not, I hope that we will be in better pastures. I wish those who want to go down to come up well as well.
I thank the 26 Members of the House who have contributed to the Order of Business and join in the congratulations to Commissioner Hogan on the awarding to him of the highest honour of the Austrian Government. I commend him. It is a significant personal honour for him and his family. I join with Senator Wilson, on this auspicious day, as we take leave of this Chamber for a while, in paying tribute to all Members who served across the House in various roles. I pay tribute, in particular, to those who have gone to their eternal reward. All of us are joined by one thing, which is our belief in public service. That is what we are trying to do in this House. On this auspicious day, I pay tribute to all who serve and have served in this House.
I am happy to take Senator Ardagh's amendment to the Order of Business. She made reference to the issue of social housing. There is a need to implement the Rebuilding Ireland programme. This is not necessarily about funding, but supply of housing. Senator Ardagh did not go on a full history lesson of the building programme that Fianna Fáil introduced in the 1950s and 1960s, some of which we are still paying the price for. However, now we must concentrate on delivery.
This is about ensuring that we have a house building programme and that we do not repeat the mistakes of the past. I am referring to the quality and type of build and how we get the mix right in large estates. It is also about ensuring that there is a mix of housing with supports. The Government is committed in Rebuilding Ireland to ensuring that the supply of housing is increased. As I say here regularly, there must be multi-annual funding for Rebuilding Ireland. We must now repair the dysfunctional housing market and the system to ensure that local authorities bring completed housing stock to fruition quickly. This involves the issues of planning, vacant land, disused buildings and vacant sites. Progress is being made, although I accept it is a bit slow.
To be clear and for the benefit of Members of the House, the item that I referred to at the beginning and to which Senator Leyden alluded is the motion regarding the exchange of views with Mr. Guy Verhofstadt in two more joint committees. That is what I was referring to at the beginning of the Order of Business.
Senators Ardagh and Daly referred to the attack on the young Spanish student. Like Senator Ardagh, my thoughts are with the victim and her family. I hope that we will not see a repeat of this random act of thuggery and violence. However, it is important that we understand the importance of community policing but also that people have a role to play in protecting each other, particularly during the summer time when many foreign students come to our cities and into our homes. Senator Boyhan raised the need to have a debate on local government. I would be happy to have the Minister of State, Deputy Phelan, come to the House with the Ministers, Deputies English and Eoghan Murphy, to discuss local authorities. We need meaningful debate on local authorities, their members' roles and the growth of some of the local electoral areas, in terms of municipal districts and so on. My view is that last time, the local government boundary commission did a disservice to local communities by including huge areas in municipal districts. I am happy to have that discussion. He also referred to direct provision. I am happy to hold that debate in the autumn. As I said yesterday, the Government is committed to implement the McMahon report.
Senator Conway-Walsh raised the important issue of agriculture, the Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, and rare breeds. I would be happy for the Minister, Deputy Creed, to come to the House to discuss that in the autumn.
Senator Ó Ríordáin raised the issue of the accident and emergency unit of Beaumont Hospital. I would be happy for the Minister to come the House.
Today, the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, and Ministers of State, Deputies D'Arcy and O'Donovan, are launching the mid-year expenditure report along with the spending review of 2016-2017. As Senator Colm Burke has stated here many times in the context of our hospitals, that, with the exception of the new children's hospital, we have not built a new hospital in a generation. Senator Burke has long-championed this and I fully agree with him.
Senator Byrne eloquently referred to financial services in Limerick and the importance of locating jobs outside Dublin. She referred to the attractiveness of Limerick. She, along with Senator Devine, if I am correct, referred to the lack of women being promoted in third level institutions. She is correct about that. We need to incentivise -----
Apologies, it was Senator Higgins. We need to put incentives in place to ensure that women are promoted and their personal lives will not be affected by taking on positions of responsibility. Senator Byrne was right to raise this. The report published this morning is one of which we must take cognisance. We have gender quotas in the electoral system. I am not sure how it would be applied in the sphere of employment but it is something to which we must give thought. I would be happy for the Minister to come to the House.
Senator Leyden's wide-ranging contribution referred to Brexit. I was happy to put that motion to the House and to bring his suggestion to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges. He is correct that we must use all systems, offices, vehicles and forums to promote our unique position in the context of Brexit. We, as parliamentarians, have a large part to play. The Senator's role sees him travel in the European Union along with Senator Reilly. He is very good at that and the Upper House should use every opportunity in this regard. He is correct that Senator Richmond did a tremendous job, along with the other members of the Brexit committee. That report should be shared across the European continent in order that people can understand our position.
I will not get into a political debate with Senators Leyden or Higgins today about working with people. Sometimes it feels like a cul-de-sac on this side. New politics or collectivism is not about opposing the Government every time and celebrating that; it is about working to ensure that we build a coalition to serve the people.
Sometimes I would love to show a graph showing how many times people had voted with the Government or opposed it for the sake of opposition. It would be good but we will not go there today.
On the Bill yesterday, to be fair to the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, he said that the Bill was commenced in 2015. The International Protection Act was reviewed by the Council of State and was not referred to the Supreme Court by the President. He made the point that it needed to be bedded in. There was commentary on the Bill yesterday that was misleading and should be clarified later, but as Senator Mullen rightly said yesterday, we need to ensure that we are an island of welcome and we receive people and understand the importance of allowing people to come into the country to take refuge.We will ensure that continues.
As someone who taught on the applied leaving certificate course, I join Senator Craughwell in expressing concern about this very valuable part of the education system. I note that Senator Wilson worked previously with Youthreach and students who might not necessarily have been involved in mainstream education. Alternative education through Youthreach and the applied leaving certificate examination must continue to be championed and pursued. There are people who would otherwise be lost in the education system who stay there and are now offered the opportunity to go on to gainful employment. I subscribe fully to Senator Craughwell's view on the issue as it affects County Leitrim. I am disappointed to hear about the issue relating to the applied leaving certificate and now Youthreach. This is predominantly a matter for the ETB but it is something on which we need to have a debate. Equally, I am surprised to hear unqualified people are being offered career guidance positions.
Senator Paddy Burke referred to the capital investment plan on which I would be very happy to have a debate in the new term. It is important that would should have that debate in advance of the budget. It is about ensuring infrastructure development takes place on an equal basis across the regions.
Senator Ó Donnghaile referred to the case of Emma DeSouza. It is disturbing that an Irish passport holder cannot gain admission. Not least, it is a breach of the Good Friday Agreement. It is a matter we need to take up. I would be happy to talk to the Senator about it again. I am not familiar with all the details of the case, but there is a need to resolve the situation. It is disappointing to hear.
Senator Higgins referred to the Higher Education Authority report on academia and we can have a debate on that in the new term.
We have discussed the national drugs and alcohol strategy twice this week but Senator O'Reilly makes a very good point about the policing dimension and the need for Garda Síochána drugs units. While we have them in many areas, Senator O'Reilly referred to the personal story. It is the personal and human story of the drug addict and his or her family that resonates with people. It is not about statistics but about human persons and the effects on family and communities. I would be happy to have that debate. The Minister of State with responsibility in this area, Deputy Catherine Byrne, is willing to come to the House to take part in such a debate in the next session.
We have had debates on the VAT rate on numerous occasions. I share Senator Gavan's view and my position on the matter has always been clear. While I recognise the importance of the tourism sector and the employment and revenue it generates, that does not mean people can abdicate their responsibilities to workers in particular. I would be happy to have a debate on the matter in the new term.
Senator Mark Daly referred to electronic tagging and repeat offenders. I am mindful of the great call from the former Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, John O'Donoghue, for zero tolerance and I wonder where that went in the Fianna Fáil manifesto. It did not last too long.
Senator Mark Daly's point on repeat offenders and those on bail is a valid one and we must give it huge consideration. According to the statistics and reports, it is those repeat offenders who are committing a huge number of offences. I am glad Senators Mark Daly and Coghlan have reached an agreement of sorts on the national anthem, which is a matter for the Seanad Public Consultation Committee. I am happy to allow the Members to resolve that there but it is important we get back to work on it.
Senator James Reilly referred to the capital infrastructure plan and the need for a road upgrade at Mooretown in Swords. That is a point to which we will return. The Senator also referred to the report of the National Competitiveness Council. The former Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, always took the view that he wanted to make Ireland the best small country in the world in which to do business and it is important to continue with that work.
Senators Mullen and Conway referred to the story of the lady in Galway. I am not familiar with that matter but the role of the Garda National Immigration Bureau is to implement the State's immigration policy and I hope it does not make it up on the hoof. We would be happy to get clarity on that.
Senator McFadden referred to the report of the Law Reform Commission on harmful communications and digital safety.I commend her for her contribution yesterday and performance this morning on radio. I will be happy to arrange a debate on the issue in the new term.
Senator Máire Devine made reference to the issue of mental health. The Government has increased the funding for mental health services from €826 million to €853 million in 2017. Some 11,000 staff have been recruited, reflecting the priority the Government attaches to mental health services. A committee of both Houses of the Oireachtas has been established to deal with them, while the Seanad Public Consultation Committee has produced a report on the issue. Therefore, it is wrong to suggest money is not being put into the services or that priority is not being given to them. I accept, however, that we have a road to travel. They have been the Cinderella of the health service for a long time, but the Government is prioritising them and we will I hope see a return. Yesterday Senator Colm Burke referred to the decrease in the number of people dying by suicide. The decrease is to be welcomed.
Senator Tim Lombard raised the issue of farm safety. At this time of year there is a lot of activity on farms involving agricultural contractors. In the last Seanad Senator Martin Conway was rapporteurin the production of an excellent report on farm safety. I appeal to everybody to take care in the use of farm machinery in what is a very dangerous time of the year.
On a partisan and parochial note, I welcome the reopening of Páirc Uí Chaoimh and the investment in the facility made by the previous Government. Many Senators will be there on Saturday and Sunday. It is a fantastic venue and I commend all involved.
Senator Robbie Gallagher raised the issue of a fair deal scheme in farming. The Government is carrying out a review and this and other proposals are being considered. We will come back to them in the autumn.
Senator Colm Burke made reference to the report of the Health Insurance Authority on older people who are paying more. We have a system of community rating under which the same price should apply to everybody, with the same benefits, irrespective of age. It is about equality. We will have a debate on the issue in the next session.
Senator Fintan Warfield referred to the report of a joint committee which was published yesterday and which I welcome as it put culture at the heart of government. The Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Heather Humphreys, has done a fine job and there has been a debate on arts and culture. In the context of Creative Ireland and the centenary celebrations, there is a need for a national conversation on the importance of culture which I will be happy to hold in the new term. It is important that we arrange debates on the reports of joint committees. The debate on Brexit was a good example of what we should be doing.
Senator Kieran O'Donnell raised the issue of antisocial behaviour. He is quite right - a small minority take up an inordinate amount of Garda time. I will be happy for the Minister for Justice and Equality to come to the House to discuss the issue.
Senator Colm Burke referred to palliative care patients being asked to pass through emergency departments. It is preposterous in this day and age that patients undergoing treatment have to pass through emergency departments at such an emotional and traumic time. The last thing they should have to do is present at an emergency department and be made sit in a waiting room before being admitted. It is inhumane. I support the idea of a changie. I will be happy to have a debate on the issue in the new term.
Senator Michelle Mulherin asked for the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Shane Ross, to come to the House. The Minister comes to the House more frequently than most Ministers and was here this morning. Transport is important and the issue raised by the Senator was discussed on the Order of Business yesterday. The also referred to Knock airport, on which we will have a debate at another stage.
I am glad that Senator Paul Coghlan and Senator Mark Daly reached agreement.
I thank all Members for their personal courtesy and endeavours. I thank the staff of the Seanad Office, including Carol, Niamh, Bridget and Martin, for their professionalism, dedication and courtesy. I thank the Cathaoirleach and his staff, including Aisling, for their patience, courtesy and good humour. I thank the ushers, the stenographers who transcribe what we say and the staff who push the buttons to cut us off or turn on the microphones. I also thank the men and women responsible for the processing of votes and I thank everybody who assists in the Seanad. When people talk about democracy and parliamentary democracy, they forget about people such as those in the Bills Office, the canteen, the stationery office and in Members' offices who work very anti-social hours. I thank everybody. As Senator Wilson rightly said, it is an extraordinary privilege for Members to be here. Unlike Senator Leyden, I ask all Senators to take a well-earned rest over the summer and to attend at the Ceramics Room on Tuesday 26 September refreshed and ready to fight the battle on behalf of constituents-----
Members should enjoy the break. Come what may, we will return in the autumn. Whether the Seanad reconvenes in this room or not, it is a privilege to serve as a Member of the Oireachtas. I hope the staff and families of Members also enjoy the break.