Wednesday, 4 October 2017
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, motion re arrangements for the sitting of the Seanad on Tuesday, 10 October, to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business, without debate; No. 2, statements on direct provision, to be taken at 12.45 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes each, time can be shared and the Minister to be given four minutes to reply to the debate; No. 3, statements on well-being in schools, to be taken at 2 p.m. and to conclude no later than 3.30 p.m, with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes each, all other Senators not to exceed five minutes each and the Minister to be given five minutes to reply; No. 4, motion re Europol regulations, back from committee, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 3, without debate; and No. 16, motion 46, Private Members' business, to be taken at 4 p.m. with the time allocated to this debate not to exceed two hours.
Before I begin, I welcome the members of Clare County Council who are in the Visitors Gallery. They are here on business on behalf of their constituents. We are delighted to see them in our temporary home. As we know from the Dáil Chamber, the National Gallery was told that it would only be taken temporarily, but the Dáil has been there for nearly 100 years. When the councillors visit us again, they might be back here.
On behalf of my Fianna Fáil Seanad colleagues, we look forward to meeting the visitors later in another piece of the building that was temporarily acquired from the National Gallery, which is the Dáil bar, and has become a permanent home for some.
We will consider this matter later at the leaders' meeting but, instead of having statements, could we debate the reports published by Oireachtas committees? A number of valuable reports have been produced, yet they have not been debated in the Dáil because of a lottery system and have simply been put on a shelf. It is important that their recommendations be analysed and Members be able to contribute on them.
Will the Deputy Leader consider arranging for a debate on the farm safety report? Two Ministers - Deputies Fitzgerald and Creed - would need to attend to debate the issue. It is one of the biggest killers in Irish society. Tragically, we saw that during the recent ploughing championships when a former winner died on his farm.
Also in terms of reports from Oireachtas committees, will the Deputy Leader arrange for a debate on the national disability inclusion plan, which was announced with much fanfare by the Government? Once again, though, we see figures disimproving rather than improving. Of people with disabilities, 34.7% are at risk of poverty and 22% are in poverty compared with 14% in 2014. Despite great fanfare, there are 70,000 fewer hours available for those who need home help. Three families are taking the State and the Government to court because they have not been able to access early intervention. The Government defines "early intervention" as within three months, which is the statutory requirement. Three of the 4,120 families that are seeking early interventions are going to court. This is not good enough. Instead of the Government looking to give tax cuts to the wealthy, it should try to address the issue of equality for those who need it. We cannot give people tax cuts when we demand day in, day out of the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, and others that they provide more services for those who need them.
As I have mentioned him, I thank the Minister of State for his support on the Recognition of Irish Sign Language for the Deaf Community Bill 2016. We have come a long way since the chaotic Committee Stage meeting in the Chamber and I hope that we will get a conclusion.Representatives of the Irish Deaf Society in Cork met Deputy Micheál Martin, and representatives of the deaf community in Dublin met Deputy Jim O'Callaghan to advance this issue through a Private Members' Bill, which I am glad has received cross-party support. We hope to have that dealt with next week. However, with regard to the ongoing issue of how we deal with the time where we have no legislation coming through, despite the fact that my colleague has tabled the Registration of Wills Bill 2016, which is practical legislation-----
-----no time has been allocated for it. Others Members have tabled Bills that would make a difference to people's lives. All we are taking here, like the other House, is statements. Statements do not change the world. Legislation changes people's lives and we need to pass some. It was remiss of me to usurp the Leas-Chathaoirleach in welcoming our colleagues from Clare County Council.
Not at all.
I remind the Senator that this is our temporary abode. He went further than that. We are grateful to officials of the National Museum and the OPW for allowing us access to this facility for however long it lasts.
Déarfaidh mé é seo i nGaeilge agus i mBéarla. Ba mhaith liom dá bhféadfaimis cuireadh a thabhairt don Aire Stáit ar a bhfuil freagracht as an nGaeltacht, as an nGaeilge agus as na hoileáin teacht isteach anseo le comhrá agus díospóireacht ceart a bheith againn ó thaobh na Gaeilge agus na pleananna atá aige don tír seo. Will the Leader invite the Minister of State with responsibility for the Gaeltacht and the islands to have a full and, hopefully, fruitful debate about the Government's strategy on the Irish language and culture? We had a discussion on this during the previous session but a full, robust discussion would be helpful at this stage.
I propose an amendment to the Order of Business that No. 12 on the Order Paper, the National Asset Management Agency (Amendment) Bill 2017 - First Stage, be taken before No. 1.
Yesterday, my party launched an alternative budget - and I look forward to the alternative budgets that will be produced by those who call themselves the opposition in this House - although looking at the news on RTE last night, one would not have thought that any alternative budget was launched. This alternative budget represents where we are as a party, what our priorities are and where we stand on the choices facing us such as tax cuts for those who are well off or investment in vital services. I commend my colleague, Deputy Pearse Doherty, and his team on the months of work they have put into preparing this fully costed alternative budget.
There is a stark choice to be made and the people need to know where the various parties stand and whose side they are on. We, in Sinn Féin, are clear that we stand with those who are continuing to struggle with poor services and severely stretched household incomes. This alternative budget is fully costed and works with the fiscal space of €650 million. It shows how only the top 3% of earners will pay increased personal taxation but that will give us €1.4 billion to invest in services. We present savings amounting to €102 million. This could provide us with a total increased fiscal space of €2.2 billion, which could be used for vital services.
Sinn Féin has chosen the side of the ordinary people who have yet to experience the economic recovery and who need a break. They were infuriated by the Government's slogan for the last election, "Keep the Recovery Going", because they could not see any recovery. They still cannot see a recovery. These are people in rural Ireland who have suffered because of a lack of infrastructure and who can barely afford to meet their bills, if at all. There are hundreds of people waiting on hospital trolleys. It is time for our economy to work for these ordinary people instead of just the few who always seem to win no matter what.
This budget means that with Sinn Féin in government, an additional 10,000 social houses and 4,500 genuinely affordable homes would be built to help tackle the housing crisis. The cost of child care would be halved as well as providing for increased pay for those working in the child care sector. We would tackle the crisis in our health service by providing an additional 500 beds, 2 million home help hours and 2,500 home care packages. This is in recognition of the role home care can play in keeping people out of acute hospitals, and long-term care in hospitals. This much needed investment would begin to reverse the savage cuts imposed by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael while in government. In this alternative budget, Sinn Féin puts an average of €244 back into the pockets of the squeezed middle by abolishing the property tax.
I am extremely disappointed we are the only party that has put forward a fully costed budget, which shows there is an alternative to what is being done at the moment economically. I am grateful for the opportunity to raise this and I look forward to the debate with the Minister.
Students have returned to college and householders are finding it extremely difficult to send their children there. We have shown how the contribution fee could be cut by €500. I look forward to the full debate but it was important to outline our alternative today.
I welcome the news that the VHI has announced it will reduce the cost of 26 of its 78 plans. This is a positive development. I encourage people to shop around for their health insurance. This raises the question of whether there will be a price war among the different health insurance companies. The cost of insurance has often been referred to in the Chamber and, hopefully, this will be the start of price decreases. It is important that people have private health insurance but because the prices were so expensive, many were discouraged from purchasing. Hopefully, this is the start of things to come.
I very much welcome the news that the Taoiseach has appointed the former Senator, Mr. Jim D'Arcy, as a special adviser on Northern Ireland, the Border and Brexit. It is a welcome appointment as far as the people in the communities I represent are concerned because for more than four decades the Border region, including counties Cavan, Monaghan, Leitrim, Donegal and Louth, and the Six Counties, which are currently governed by the UK, have suffered. This appointment is welcome at a time we are facing uncertainty in respect of Brexit. Jim D'Arcy was born and reared and has lived all his life on the Border in County Louth and he is well aware of the difficulties that communities on both sides of the Border experience on a daily basis. I also welcome the fact that there have been calls from both sides of the House for a debate on the future of Europe and our part in that. IarSheanadóir D'Arcy could feed well into that debate.One particular area that I would like Mr. D'Arcy to cover in his portfolio or brief is a call on the European community to give a special structural fund grant to upgrade infrastructure, which has suffered on both sides of the Border for decades. A special fund would allow us to upgrade our infrastructure in order to cope with the potential damage that Brexit will do to our agricultural community. I very much welcome the fact that the Taoiseach has appointed former Senator, Mr. Jim D'Arcy.
Finally, I echo the call for regulation to be introduced to ban sulky racing on public roads by the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment. Councillor Andrew McGuinness has championed a ban for some time and he has been in communication with all of his Fianna Fáil colleagues in this House. I welcome any progress that can be made in that regard.
I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach. He is very kind.
I want to ask the Deputy Leader a question. Why are we taking item No. 1 without debate? The issue raises questions. The Seanad normally meets on Tuesday at 3.30 p.m. anyway. I am not sure why there is a motivation or reason-----
I wish to raise the issue of delays that people experience when they appeal a refusal of a primary medical certificate. I understand that the waiting times are at least, if not up to, seven months. That means after somebody is refused a primary medical certificate, he or she must wait at least seven months. To me, that seems an inordinate length of time. We can assume that some of these appeals might be successful. In the meantime, the situation means a disabled driver cannot access tax relief to purchase a suitably modified vehicle or tax relief for vehicle registration tax and VAT. Also, there is a fuel grant scheme. The aim of all of these initiatives is to help people with mobility problems. I know that the threshold to qualify is quite high but I definitely think that more resources are needed. I ask that the issue is raised with the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Finian McGrath, who has responsibility for people with disabilities, to make the system fairer. The current situation is unacceptable. Let us bear in mind that sometimes people submit their initial application without realising the extent of proof or supporting documents required. Unfortunately, it is only when an appeal is lodged that they receive assistance and the full case is laid before the person hearing the appeal. The issue needs to be addressed in the interests of disabled drivers receiving their entitlements and being helped to get on the road.
I wish to raise the issue of education in the broadest sense and to call for a debate on funding. As Members will know, the Union of Students in Ireland, USI, will march today for education funding and I look forward to joining the march. Students already face very unreasonable fees and there is the threat of student loans. It is important that we recognise that student loans have not worked anywhere.
At the other end of the education sphere, I want to highlight the lack of funding for child care. Ireland is bottom of the league in Europe when it comes to funding for child care. We are so bad that the country beside us on the league table is Britain, but it applies four times as much funding as a percentage of GNP as we do. Therefore, Ireland really is bottom of the league.
I am glad to say that Sinn Féin has addressed the issue of not just the cost of child care, but the wages paid to child care workers. We have allocated €41 million to make sure that the appallingly low wages paid to child care workers is increased in the budget. I call on the other parties here to make similar commitments. In fairness to the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Zappone, she does at least seem to have acknowledged the problem. I am hopeful that there will be some progress not just in terms of the cost of child care, but the appallingly low wages. The average pay of a child care worker is €10.79 per hour. When one thinks about that, one quickly realises that one would be better paid working in a supermarket. The situation seems crazy in terms of our priorities. I hope the Government will address the issue. I compliment both IMPACT and SIPTU which are currently running tremendously effective campaigns in the child care sector. I hope the Government will pay heed and listen to their calls.
I am well aware of that.
I ask the Deputy Leader of the House to consider arranging a debate on airports, with a particular focus on Ireland West Airport Knock. The airport provides a tremendous service to the west and north west. Last year, it had 733,951 passengers, which is an increase of about 7%. The airport has been a phenomenal success. It is a credit to Monsignor James Horan and the one and only Charles J. Haughey who opened the airport and supported it in every way possible. We are very proud of our links to the airport and wish it to be developed more.
I invite the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Shane Ross, to visit Ireland West Airport Knock so that he can see the great progress that has been made. An application has been made for overlay and the rehabilitation of the main runway at Ireland West Airport Knock. The project will cost between €12 million and €13 million. At the moment, the airport can only receive 75% grant from the Government. The European Union will allow an application to increase the grant to 90%, which would be more economic from the point of view of viability and the work of the airport.
Furthermore, in light of Brexit and the fact that the United Kingdom will leave the European Union in March 2019 with the possibility of a transition period of a further two years. Brexit may pose difficulties but there is an opportunity to form of an export hub from the west and north west of Ireland straight to mainland Germany, for instance, to an airport like Baden-Baden, thus allowing very high value light goods to be exported to the region.
Brexit is also an opportunity to invite British companies or companies in the United Kingdom to come to Ireland, particularly Roscommon-east Galway, to establish satellite plants that would serve mainland European Union countries via the Republic of Ireland. IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland should actively canvass for people to come here to the Republic to avail of 500 million customers in mainland Europe. Ireland could provide a subsidised service with very low rents or rates on buildings. I make that appeal today and I am actively pursuing the matter.
When the interests of corporations are taken to such an extent as the Apple tax scandal, those interests come before workers' rights, the environment, investment in public services and the interest of weaker states. Today, in the past hour, it has been reported that the European Commission has moved to refer Ireland to the European Court of Justice for failing to recover from Apple up to €13 billion of illegal state aid. Fine Gael's response to the European Commission's ruling last year that Apple repay that €13 billion plus interest in unpaid taxes was cloaked in a narrative of national self-interest. The party's priorities, which lie with corporations and big business rather than citizens in the Republic, were laid bare. Apple representatives have testified to a US Senate subcommittee that since the early 1990s the Irish government has calculated Apple's taxable income in such a way as to produce an effective tax rate which, since 2003, has been 2% corporation tax or less. A central pillar of Ireland's industrial strategy that attracts foreign direct investment through our corporate tax regime is now a liability as we build a reputation throughout the world as a state that facilitates massive tax avoidance by multinational corporations.Are we going to continue to side with multinationals and big business or are we going to take the side of citizens, communities and public services? Are we going to take the side of patients on trolleys and those who are homeless? Our reputation has been damaged and if the Government wants to repair that damage it should own up to the fact that successive Governments have facilitated massive tax avoidance. I am calling for a debate on foot of the news today from Europe. I am asking for the Minister for Finance to address Seanad Éireann and to answer for the fact that Ireland has failed to recover that €13 billion.
All Senators will have heard me talk of investments of public moneys in the tobacco industry. It is something I have raised time and time again. For over a year I have been working with Deputy Seán Fleming, who has done great work with me to expose this hypocrisy. Colleagues here have unanimously passed motions on this topic and I thank them for doing so. Last year, through Deputy Jack Chambers, we received information about the Courts Service holding investments in the tobacco industry. I will read an extract from a letter which I received from Mr. Justice Peter Kelly, President of the High Court, in response to a joint letter sent to him by both myself and Deputy Fleming. In it, we appealed to him to assist in bringing an end to investment in tobacco companies by the Courts Service. His response stated:
Court funds are invested in accordance with the Trustee (Authorised Investment) legislation and a number of other legislative provisions. Should the Government determine a policy and or amend legislation as to how certain funds are to be invested, including the exclusion of certain stocks, the Courts Service and the Investments Committee, will, in conjunction with the Judiciary, take account of that.
This effectively says that the Courts Service would not invest in the tobacco industry if the Oireachtas made it illegal to do so. In other words, there is no law prohibiting it from investing in the tobacco industry and therefore it is okay. Well, it is not okay, it is a joke. Before last Christmas, it took the threat of legislation from myself to force the NTMA to divest all of its stock in the tobacco industry. Is this what it is going to take for the Courts Service to divest also? Will I need to threaten it with legislation?
Over three months ago, I wrote to the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, about the issue. I received an acknowledgment but no response. It is morally and ethically untenable for the Minister for Justice and Equality and his Department to turn a blind eye to these investments, when it is known from the World Health Organization, that one out of two users of tobacco will die from the product. I reiterate that just because something is not illegal does not mean it is acceptable. I ask the Deputy Leader to bring my concerns to the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, and to encourage him to give me a comprehensive response instead of this half-hearted fob off.
While the Civil Engagement group has not produced an alternative budget such as others in this House have done, we have today issued a statement highlighting five principles which we believe should underpin the budget and should be considered very carefully by the Government. Budget 2018 should deliver joined-up thinking for sustainable development. Addressing Ireland's many urgent challenges in areas like housing, health care, education and climate change requires joined-up thinking and a collective rather than an individualised approach. We are reminding the Ministers that they are responsible for outcomes as well as opportunities and that they cannot talk about individuals taking their chances in a market that might provide. We need blueprints that are based on the sustainable development goals which Ireland helped negotiate at the UN and which are a model for inclusive and long-term development.
The second principle is that budget 2018 should prioritise investment in public services and social infrastructure. Public services benefit everyone and most people see access to decent health and education services as more important for their wellbeing than a few extra euro in their pocket. When we talk about public services, we should include social infrastructure such as child care and home care, which allow people to live with dignity and decency.
The third principle is that budget 2018 should address social, economic and gender equality and deliver, as I have often called for in this House, the gender and equality proofing which ensures that policies work for everyone, not only in the short term but in the long term. It is also about preventive spending so that we avoid problems in the future.
The fourth principle is that budget 2018 needs to be clear and transparent about taxation. Ireland is a low-tax economy with the exception of VAT, which everyone pays. The median income in Ireland is €28,500 and many of the tax measures proposed will benefit nobody below that income. I support the call for the Minister for Finance to talk about Ireland's tax policy with us in the Chamber.
I will be contributing to them. The fifth principle is that budget 2018 should meet international standards and commitments, not just our fiscal targets but our commitments to the convention on disability and to climate change. We need to resource those areas as well as delivering rhetoric. I look forward to the budget debate and to teasing these issues out and testing budget 2018 against these principles.
Back in February of this year a Fianna Fáil motion, which was supported in the Dáil and the Seanad, called on the Government to ensure that no further work on the North-South interconnector takes place until a full analysis of the true cost of undergrounding and a full community consultation are complete. This independent expert group study on undergrounding commenced in August and is due to finish in January 2018. That, we felt, was progress in respect of the issue. However, we have discovered that EirGrid has advertised a tender for the construction of the 400 pylons, which is due to close on 20 October. It is making a mockery of the decision of these Houses and of the people of counties Monaghan, Cavan and Meath. It is effectively sticking the two fingers up to all concerned. It is very disappointing. More baffling is the fact that 100 of the 400 pylons on order are meant to be for Northern Ireland, where the planning decision is not even complete yet.
We need to get the Minister to address the House on this issue. I do not know where it leaves the future of democracy. I would like someone to explain to me the benefit of passing a motion in these Houses, and where that particular motion now stands. This has copperfastened the resolve of the people of those three counties to ensure that not one pylon lands on their soil.
I wish to raise the regulation of home care providers. I published a Bill on the matter which was debated in this House. It was my understanding that the Department was further considering it. It follows on from a report produced by the Law Reform Commission.
At the moment, anyone can set up a home care provider company. I know there is a code of practice for home care providers but there is no regulation or legislative structure in place. Would the Deputy Leader find out from the Department when this matter can be further debated in the House and when the Bill can progress to the next Stage? It is important that is not parked ad infinitumand only considered when a major issue arises.
The number of people in home care is going to grow substantially in the next few years. It is important that there is proper regulation and proper structures and legislation to deal with it. I ask the Deputy Leader to bring the matter to the attention of the Minister.
I am looking for clarification on the Minister for Health’s proposals on IVF treatment. One in six couples encounters problems with fertility. It could be larger than that. From what I have read, my understanding is that the Minister’s proposal will only make it available to medical card holders. Working class people and taxpayers have had enough of being treated like third-class citizens. Behind the wealthy and privileged classes, and now behind medical card holders, I propose we should certainly encompass the working classes in this scheme.
As the average cost for this procedure is €5,000, will the Minister include the working classes? There is currently a 20% tax break for IVF. It should certainly be increased to 100% to help those just above the breadline who are working and hope to start a family. It would give them that break they need to start a family.
I second Senator Rose Conway-Walsh’s amendment to the Order of Business.
My home area of Inishowen was badly affected by floods in August, particularly two important community amenities, Swan Park, Buncrana, and Glenevin Waterfall, Clonmany. In Swan Park, the old bridge in the middle of the park was destroyed, as well as all of the green and walking areas. Donegal County Council estimates the repair bill will be between €1 million and €2 million. This is an amenity used by elderly people and families. Can one imagine losing an amenity like this in any other part of the country, Dublin or any large town?
Unfortunately, the Government has committed no funding to support the restoration of Swan Park. I have raised this issue with the Minister for Rural and Community Development, Deputy Ring, and here in the Seanad last week. Will the Deputy Leader raise this matter again with the Minister for Rural and Community Development or with another relevant Minister? We need clarification on financial assistance for this amenity. Due to the huge bill the council is facing, it will not be able to restore this vital amenity on its own.
Glenevin Waterfall, Clonmany, is a must-visit place on the Inishowen Peninsula. The walk up to the waterfall is stunning but it has been destroyed by floods. The facilities there are maintained by a community committee and the community has rallied together to fix it. It has made considerable progress but it urgently needs financial assistance from the Government. A grant of €10,000, €20,000 or €30,000 would be of significant help to this community.
I acknowledge considerable assistance has been given. Schemes were in place, based on floods which took place in other parts of the country. On the back of the fight made by those communities, those schemes have been re-activated in Donegal. We are grateful to those communities. In this case, we urgently need clarification from the Government. Will the Deputy Leader raise this with the relevant Ministers and ensure they will correspond with me to let me know what is happening?
We are all waiting anxiously for the budget. My concern is asthma. I have been speaking to several people, as have other Senators, about this condition. It is frightening to think 470,000 people in Ireland have asthma and up to 60% of those have an uncontrolled asthma, meaning they are at risk of an attack any time. Approximately, one person dies every week from asthma. Every 26 minutes, someone visits an emergency department because of asthma. Incredibly, up to 90% of asthma deaths are preventable. One in every ten adults and one in every five children have asthma. Adults miss an average of 12 days of work while children miss an average of ten days at school every year due to the condition.
Up to 5,355 people suffer with asthma in Carlow, as well as 9,212 in Kilkenny, nearly 15,000 people in total. People suffering from asthma are looking for a reduced cost of asthma medication, an improvement in primary care for people with asthma, schools and sports club to be equipped to support children with asthma and specialised secondary care provided for children. It is also about improving outdoor and indoor air quality.
These are serious issues. Asthma can never be cured, but it can be controlled. One person dies every week in Ireland from asthma but there is no need for it. This matter must be addressed by the Minister and there should be funding in the budget for the proposals I raised.
I thank all Senators who raised issues today.
Senator Mark Daly made a good suggestion, which has been made before, about the Seanad scrutinising committee reports and their recommendations. It is a no-brainer to me. I am sure something can be organised in that respect. As Senator Mark Daly said, it would be more structured and more pointed, as well as making more sense than just taking statements.
He also raised the issue of farm safety. I have heard others calling for a debate on this matter over the past several weeks. I am sure we can facilitate it between now and November. He raised the issue of disability, poverty, equality and sign language for deaf people. I met them myself and support this. Hopefully something positive will happen on this issue. He raised the same point about legislation yesterday but I take his points on board.
Senator Ó Céidigh raised the issue of the strategy for the Irish language. There will be a debate on the Irish language next Wednesday afternoon in the House. It is always a welcome debate to have.
I am agreeable to taking Senator Conway-Walsh’s No. 12 on the Order Paper in advance of No. 1. She went into detail about the Sinn Féin budget document published yesterday. We will have a discussion on the budget next week. All will be revealed then. I know as little or as much as she does about the budget. The journalists know more than the rest of us about what will be in it. I noted her comments about keeping the recovery going. Many of us in Fine Gael did not like it either. It did not work in many parts of the country.
Senator Byrne highlighted the reduced costs of many VHI policies and referred to the possibility of a price war between health insurance companies, which will be welcome as it can only benefit consumers. Many initiatives have been put in place to deal with general insurance issues and are now perhaps starting to bear fruit.
Senator Wilson acknowledged the appointment of a former colleague, Jim D'Arcy, as special adviser on Northern Ireland, the Border and Brexit. He will be an important adviser to the Taoiseach and there is no better man. Many of us will have heard him speak eloquently in the House on the issue before.
On Senator Norris’s question about the delay in the schedule next Tuesday, it is because of the budget. He probably realised it after he raised it.
Senator Mulherin raised the issue of delays with primary medical certificates, which particularly affects disabled drivers. Senator Mark Daly also mentioned the issue of disability and it was raised yesterday. It might be an idea to have the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, in the House to raise these points with him. It is an important issue and we should be doing everything we can to facilitate disabled drivers who already find it difficult to drive due to their disabilities in many cases.
Senator Gavan raised the issue of education. I met the USI before the end of last term, as did many Senators. It is important we liaise with them.It will be interesting to see what happens in the budget in that regard. Having not had a loan myself, I think, as we have seen in many other parts of the world, it is quite difficult for people to carry the burden of that for years, so the Senator raises a legitimate point. This Government has taken many positive steps regarding child care, but I acknowledge that a lot more can still be done and I hope to see some positive adjustments to that area in the budget.
Senator Leyden raised the issue of Knock airport. Knock itself is about seven miles from Claremorris, where I am from. The airport is a huge advantage to the west. The Senator is right to raise the issue and it is only right that the Minister would go down and visit. Deputy Michael Ring was there on numerous occasions when he held the junior portfolio in that Department. The Senator mentioned the rehabilitation of the main runway, which is of vital importance, but it occurs to me that it might be a good idea to table this as a Commencement debate in the House because he would get a very full report that way. With the greenway and everything that is happening in the west of Ireland and the way it has been expanded, it brought in, as the Senator said, almost 734,000 people last year. It is a huge addition to the west of Ireland, so it is quite right that the Senator raised the matter in the Seanad.
Senator Warfield raised today's announcement regarding Apple. Ireland has never accepted the Commission's analysis in the Apple state aid decision. However, we are fully committed to ensuring the recovery of the alleged Apple state aid. Obviously, the Government is very disappointed that this action is now being taken by the EU.
I would never disagree with Senator Swanick on the issue of tobacco. I would outlaw it entirely if I could and I think we should move towards that. However, I suppose making it illegal would create other problems. Not to fob the Senator off in any way, but it strikes me that if he is not happy with the responses he is getting, he should table a Commencement debate on the matter in order that he have the opportunity to tic-tac a little with the Minister on the matter. It is certainly something I agree with. Regarding those investments, we should not in any way as a State support the tobacco industry and we should fight it tooth and nail on plain packaging and all other such issues.
Senator Higgins made an interesting contribution in the area of sustainable development and outlined many very sensible proposals, including gender and equality-proofing. As I said - and I do not mean to fob her off either - what is in the budget will all be revealed next week, and I hope some of the items she has highlighted, especially in the areas of child care and home care, will be addressed in the budget.
Senator Gallagher raised the North-South interconnector and the motion that was before the House. He is very correct to do so, as far as I am concerned. I do not know as much as he knows about it but I will ask the Minister what the position is. This is my third time saying this, but it could be a sensible issue on which to ask for a Commencement debate. Perhaps he has thought of that already. Yesterday it was requested that the Minister, Deputy Denis Naughten, come before the House to discuss a variety of issues, so I anticipate we will get him into the House soon and I hope the Senator will get the opportunity to raise the matter then. However, it might be quicker in the short term to table a Commencement debate on it.
Senator Colm Burke raised his very good legislation. He has done a lot of work in the area of home care providers. I have an elderly aunt who is not well at present. It is a minefield of an area, and one would hate to think that anyone whom one loves and cares for would be in the hands of someone who really should not be taking care of him or her. The area quite rightly should be regulated. I would be supportive of getting the Senator's legislation to the next Stage in the near future and I will discuss the matter with the Leader on his return.
I have written down "Minister Harris" instead of the name of the following contributor to the Order of Business. It concerned medical card holders. Who raised that issue?
I have it now. I apologise. It was an accident. I do not mean to sound like a raging feminist saying this, but it is very good to see Senator Davitt, a man, raise this issue because it is one on which I have been very vocal over the past few years. I was very happy to see any advancement in that area because it is obviously a very expensive thing. I am interested to know the position myself, because the details have not been published in full yet, and I only know that because I heard it on the radio this morning. It is anticipated we will get the full details of the scheme by the end of the year, to the best of my knowledge, but it is something on which we should have input at this stage before it comes out and we are then critical of it. I agree that those who are going out to work would need more than a 20%-----
I feel very passionate about this area and I support the Senator in it but I do not think the details are available yet.
Senator Mac Lochlainn raised a very important issue in his area regarding Swan Park and Glenevin Waterfall, and what happened up there is tragic. There is a need for clarification. I am not privy to what the Minister, Deputy Ring, said to the Senator but I will have a word with him today when I see him and perhaps ask him to get his Department to send the Senator an email or give him a call about the matter because clarification is what the Senator is asking for, and that is not unreasonable.
Senator Murnane O'Connor raised the very important issue of asthma. One of my colleagues, one of the Fine Gael Deputies, has asthma and has held public meetings on this issue at which hundreds of people have turned up. It is an issue that affects not all families but a large proportion of families, and air quality and all of those issues are very important to asthma, as is diet, which can fundamentally help the condition once one takes care of it. Again, I am not privy to what will happen in the budget, but the Senator raises a very important issue.
Senator Rose Conway-Walsh has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That No. 12 be taken before No. 1." The Deputy Leader has indicated that she is prepared to accept the amendment. Is the amendment agreed? Agreed.