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Seanad debates

Thursday, 12 October 2017

10:30 am

Photo of Paul GavanPaul Gavan (Sinn Fein)
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I also want to raise the issue of pensions. Thousands of women get smaller pensions because they left the workforce before 1994 to care for children. Others are taking a pension hit because they once had a summer job or worked part-time for a while. It is estimated that 23,000 females have been hit with lower payments due to changes to State pension eligibility rules in 2012 made by the then Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton, to make it more difficult to qualify for a full pension. Of all of the cuts that the Labour Party made when it was in Government, this is probably the most shameful. Retired women lose more than €1,500 a year on average according to Age Action. This also means that women affected will not get the full €5 increase in the State pension in the budget next March. The Minister for Finance, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, has admitted that it is wrong. He called it bonkers. I would say that is probably not the right word. It was mean, sly, regressive and nasty. Here is the point.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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The old page is working.

Photo of Paul GavanPaul Gavan (Sinn Fein)
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It can be reversed and Age Action has costed that at €60 million. Our costing in our own pre-budget submission was €70 million.

Budgets are about choices. Unfortunately, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil chose to go for tax cuts that benefit the well-off much more than ordinary workers and left these women high and dry. The case was made much more ably by a caller to the Sean O'Rourke radio programme yesterday than I can make it, but we can all agree that this cut was wrong. If the Minister for Finance can agree that it is wrong, then let us do something about it. I call for a debate on the issue and for those in Fine Gael to recognise that it was wrong and that it is eminently doable to reverse it in this budget. It would cost €60 million to €70 million.

I wish to raise a failure in the budget relating to child care. The 7% increase to the early childhood care and education scheme, ECCE, is welcome but, unfortunately, it is unlikely to result in better wages. The real problem in the sector is that people are voting with their feet. Qualified educators, managers and providers leave the sector each week. Sinn Féin has made the case, along with SIPTU and IMPACT, for a sectoral employment order for the child care sector. In our pre-budget submission, we costed it at €40.58 million, which would have given child care workers a €1 an hour rise. A lack of political will is at fault here. Everyone here knows that child care workers are underpaid. Everyone has said so but, yet again, the Government has failed to do anything about it. The solution, a sectoral employment order, is available. Even the Minister, Deputy Katherine Zappone, said it would be welcome, but it will not happen without the funding. I call for a debate on the issue and for the Leader, as a trade unionist, to support my call for a sectoral employment order for the child care sector.

Photo of Alice Mary HigginsAlice Mary Higgins (Independent)
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I did not have the opportunity to debate the budget with others when it came through for comment in these Houses on Tuesday but I wanted to highlight two particular issues related to it.

I am sure the Leader will not be surprised because I have indicated this clearly before. The gender inequality-proofing of the budget which has been promised and which I was gratified to see mentioned in the Budget Statement by the Minister for Finance, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, is not yet clearly evidenced in some of the decisions made on the budget. For example, as Senator Ardagh said, there was a decision not to reverse the cuts made in 2012 and not to address the glaring issue of gender inequality in our pension system, something acknowledged as unfair by the Government and by previous Governments for many years. The 2012 changes added insult to injury by having an unfair averaging system which mainly affected women and was compounded by cuts. The fact is that all those on reduced rate pensions, most of them women, will not get €5 extra on their pension. They will get less because it will be reduced and it will be pro rata. I would like these Houses to address that issue and for the Minister, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, to come to discuss, in detail, gender inequality-proofing more widely. Policy documents have been published about it but it would be good to know where the ownership and direction of those policy documents will go. I hope that we can have a specific debate on the gender inequality aspects of the budget.

My second request follows up from a request made by Senator Fintan Warfield a number of weeks ago for the Minister, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, to come to these Houses and discuss, in detail, the included tax reliefs, the tax relief schemes and their cost to the Exchequer, and how the cost-benefit of each scheme has been determined. I raise this issue again because this can sometimes be an invisible cost to the Exchequer, yet it can be substantial. I am very concerned at one new measure in the budget, which is to change the tax treatment of stocks and shares received as part of remuneration packages. I believe this is dangerous and can lead to a hollowing out of our tax base.I want to know how the cost of €10 million that was estimated in the budget was arrived at. How can we guarantee that the cost will not be much higher? If those who are on high wage packages move some of their remuneration packages to a stocks and share offerings, it could remove some of their income tax pressure. There is real concern in this regard. I am reminded of the capital gains tax waivers of the past. I think it is appropriate for this House to look in detail at the potential consequences and implications of tax reliefs. I have requested for the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, to come to the House for two separate debates. I would be grateful to the Leader if he could indicate whether he thinks it might be possible to hold such debates over the next couple of weeks.

Photo of Maria ByrneMaria Byrne (Fine Gael)
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I seek to raise awareness of the fact that today is World Sight Day. Our eyesight is very important to all of us. For the past five years, national sight day has been held on the second Thursday of October. When many people end up with impaired vision of fuzziness across their eyes, they ignore it. It is important to raise awareness of the need to have one's eyes looked at if one finds any difference in one's eyesight. In such circumstances, one should go to a local optician to have a test carried out. Diabetes screening is taking place downstairs at the moment as part of a very informative event. Diabetes has an awful impact on one's sight. It is very important to mention that today is World Sight Day.

Photo of Victor BoyhanVictor Boyhan (Independent)
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I would like to renew my call for the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine to come to the House to address a matter that is covered in all our national newspapers today. The budgetary measure to which I refer is the 6% commercial charge, or transactional tax levy, on agricultural land. It is an issue in the media and also for many small farmers, in particular. The intended consequences and ramifications of this measure as enormous. A farmer who owns approximately 600 acres in County Kildare said to me this morning that he had thought Fine Gael was the farming community's greatest supporter. Through his involvement in the Irish Farmers Association, he will be cranking up a massive campaign against the Government on this tax. I am not for a moment advocating on behalf of farmers who have more than 100 ha. I am talking about very small farmers who will be crippled by this tax. When we debated the budget the other day, I indicated that the transitional tax will have an impact on one-off shops in small towns and villages in rural areas. At a time when the Government is advocating a policy of living over such shops, we should be incentivising people to tidy and redevelop small vacant retail units in towns and villages all over the country. I believe that because of the 6% charge, this might not happen as quickly as we might like it to happen. It is important to deal with that. I would like to renew my call for the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine to address the impact on small farmers of new regulations with regard to fodder, hay and silage. The changes in question, which I discussed here yesterday, were introduced by the Department last week. I have mentioned two agriculture issues.

I thank the Leader for organising next week's statements on child care in the presence of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Zappone. I would like him, through his office, to signal to the Minister that we will be asking questions about the impact of the budget in terms of beefing up social workers. I hope we will get some information on this matter next week. The Minister has said in this House - I checked the record this morning - that she is greatly concerned about the lack of resources and the insufficient number of social workers, who are needed to deal with very vulnerable children. I am giving notice here today that I will question the Minister on this matter next week. I am looking forward to it. I would like the Minister to be equipped to answer my questions. The Leader might signal my intention to the Minister so that she will be able to share with us the budgetary implications of her objective to have more social workers in place in line with the statutory requirements of social services.

Photo of Frank FeighanFrank Feighan (Fine Gael)
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There is some depressing news coming out of Brussels this morning. Michel Barnier has said he does not intend to recommend to the EU leaders that the talks should move on to trade issues next week. This is a huge kick in the teeth for the island of Ireland. Mr. Barnier has also said the EU will not make concessions on the peace process, which is very welcome. Once again, we are sleepwalking our way into a very dangerous situation for this island. As I have said previously, the British electorate shot themselves in our foot. They never thought about the Border or the issues on the island of Ireland. This is the Achilles heel that will make Brexit simply unworkable. We are in a very dangerous situation again because the electorate will blame the EU and the fight will never be what the fight is about. We are in a very dangerous situation. I appreciate that there is a debate after lunch. This morning's news is very worrying and disturbing.

I would like to call for a debate on another issue. I am the father of a child who was born 11 months ago. When she was very young, she had reflux and she did not sleep, so we brought in a sleep trainer. I did not realise what a sleep trainer was, but as a result of her work our young child is now sleeping from 7.30 p.m. until 7.30 a.m. Her mother and I are delighted. This episode made me realise that many people who are affected by simple little issues are asking where to get facilities like this and are anxious to contact people who can help them. I understand that many people are providing these services on Skype. The difference that has been made by the sleep trainer who came into our house for two days has been incredible. Our baby is sleeping and everyone is very happy. Maybe we should invite the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs or the Minister for Health to come to the House to discuss this issue, perhaps with a view to establishing a helpline for parents to ring or something like that. I never thought I would be standing up in the Seanad saying that this was one the best things ever to happen to me. Many parents, especially mothers, do not realise that assistance is available. Perhaps we could call for a debate, during which the Minister could outline the position in this regard. I appreciate that there are many more important things in the health budget, but maybe this is something we could look at. I do not think there is enough awareness of a facility and resource that could be very helpful for the mothers and fathers of young children.

Photo of Denis O'DonovanDenis O'Donovan (Fianna Fail)
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And hopefully for babies as well.

Photo of Pádraig MacLochlainnPádraig MacLochlainn (Sinn Fein)
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I would like to raise for the third time an issue I have raised in each of the past two weeks. I ask Senators to think of the major parks in their own cities, towns and communities. Swan Park, which is an important amenity for tourists at the core of my home town of Buncrana, has been destroyed by floods and will be closed to the public for an indefinite period. It has been estimated that at least €1 million in funding is required because the bridge walk and the screen area have been destroyed. I welcome the Government's decision to reactivate humanitarian, farm relief, small business and community and sports schemes that were previously in place for communities down the country. Equally, it has funded repairs to roads and bridges in the Inishowen area of County Donegal, just as it did down the country. However, there is a huge gap in this area. I cannot get any Department to clarify where responsibility for this issue lies. It is a matter of clarifying which line Department is responsible for funding this vital amenity. I understand the Government can draw down European funding to deal with flooding and humanitarian issues of this nature. Having spoken to a number of MEPs, it appears that efforts are being made at European level to work in co-operation with our Government. This is not even about money from our own Exchequer, as I understand it. This is the third time I have raised this matter. Could the Leader organise for somebody at Government level to give me a response? If the Government cannot fund these repairs, it should be clearly explained why not. I estimate that a total funding contribution of between €20 and €30 million will have to be made to get our community and the people in it back up and running. Why would Swan Park be left out in that context? I would also like to mention the related issue of Glenevin Waterfall in Clonmany, which is an important community and tourism amenity.Glenevin waterfall is another important community and tourism amenity in Clonmany, about a 20-minute drive from Swan Park in Buncrana. It is owned by a community committee and would not require anywhere near the amount of money for Swan Park, yet it has also received no funding. These are two very important community tourism amenities which people have worked very hard to develop and cultivate but they have no funding support from central government. The Leader will notice that I have not once attacked the Government in this Chamber about its response to the floods. I have worked in partnership with Ministers, at local and national level, but there is a major gap in respect of Buncrana and Clonmany. I asked the Government to step in because there is no way Donegal County Council, or a local Leader group in Donegal, could cover it on their own. I would like to be able to meet a Minister on this matter to explain it face to face.

Photo of Colm BurkeColm Burke (Fine Gael)
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I am concerned that, in light of comments made in the House this morning, we seem to be going back to the blank cheque attitude regarding budgets. It is important to remind people of where we have come from. Between October 2008 and December 2010 some €12.5 billion was taken out of the budget because the money was not there and an extra €3.8 billion was imposed on taxpayers in this country. This budget is balanced, reasonable and fair but this is not what occurred between 2002 and 2008 when there was an increase of over 12% in spending. We have kept it to 3.4%, which is below the estimated economic growth, and that is the way we have to keep it because we do not have blank cheques.

I am concerned about third level students who, for economic reasons or because they need to repeat exams, take a year out or work during a year to finance themselves while studying. When they go back to college they find their income for the gap year is taken into account in assessing their grants. It is unfair to penalise them for taking a year out and working during that year and the issue needs to be taken up with the Minister for Education and Skills. We need to see how we can deal with it because it is unfair and wrong. It is an important issue for third level students at the moment.

I agree with Senator Craughwell that moneys be set aside for councillors who are providing a huge amount of time on a voluntary basis and who need to be adequately provided for by way of expenses and allowances. It is important this issue is resolved soon and not prolonged into 2018.

Photo of Brian Ó DomhnaillBrian Ó Domhnaill (Fianna Fail)
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A budget measure that will impact negatively on the farming community is the increase in stamp duty from 2% to 6%. It is grossly unfair that commercial property is treated in the same way as farm land under the tax code. There are exemptions available for developers and a stamp duty rebate if they build and move a development on within 30 months but there is no such rebate available to farmers. A farmer who buys a farm for €500,000 and who cannot avail of the family farm exemption or the under-35 exemption has an additional cost of €20,000 and this will disincentivise farmers who are trying to increase the viability of their farms, leading to a negative impact on the rural economy.

There has to be an amendment to the Finance Act to create a distinction between commercial property and farming land. I support Senator Boyhan's call for the Minister for Agriculture Food and the Marine to come to the House for a debate on the issue. He spoke in the other House on the issue last night and his comments were not what the farming community was looking for but this issue will be a major cause of concern to farmers all over the country.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Fine Gael)
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I will raise two matters. The first is pensions for homemakers.

Photo of Denis O'DonovanDenis O'Donovan (Fianna Fail)
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It has been agreed that only the leaders of groups can raise more than one item. The Senator needs to find a mechanism that is appropriate.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Fine Gael)
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I will find a mechanism.

Photo of Denis O'DonovanDenis O'Donovan (Fianna Fail)
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Do not broadcast it, however.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Fine Gael)
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I have raised the issue of homemakers many times in this House. There are some people who do not qualify for any form of pension and others who qualify for reduced pensions. I expect the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection to come to the House to discuss this issue. Many homemakers are farmers' wives and we have discussed family farms and stamp duty with the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine and the Minister for Finance. We need to find a stamp duty mechanism to ensure people remain in rural Ireland.

Photo of Trevor Ó ClochartaighTrevor Ó Clochartaigh (Sinn Fein)
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Cuirim fáilte roimh chinneadh bhreitheamh an liosta tráchtála maidir le Apple in nGaillimh agus go bhfuil sé chun an fhorbairt sin a ligean ar aghaidh. Is dea-scéal é sin don cheantar agus do chúrsaí fostaíochta. I welcome the ruling of the Commercial Court that the Apple data centre in Athenry can go ahead, which is good news for our local area.

Not such good news, however, is that the Trolley Watch figures for Galway University Hospital have quadrupled in ten years and the problems in the health service in the west are getting much worse, rather than improving. The figures from Trolley Watch and Ward Watch published by the INMO show that, from 2006 to 2017, the figures for GUH and Portiuncula Hospital quadrupled. From January 2006 to August 2006 there were 1,190 in GUH and 306 in Portiuncula but the comparable figures for 2017 show that there were four times more people on trolleys, that is, 4,331 in GUH and 1,300 in Portiuncula.

There are 101,261 on inpatient and outpatient waiting lists in the Saolta Hospital Group, 50,496 in GUH, 9,549 in Mayo General Hospital and 3,915 in Portiuncula. Of that cohort, 10,652 have been on the lists for over 18 months so it is quite clear that successive Governments have failed miserably to address our health service issues, particularly in the west.

We have brought forward some proposals that would address the crisis in emergency departments, such as increasing bed numbers by 500 and re-opening closed beds, increasing nurse and midwives numbers by 500 each year and recruiting 800 more consultants and medical secretaries. I am not sure the Leader has read those proposals but he should. Our alternative budget also included these measures.I am glad that our health spokesperson has issued a clarification for the Leader that he should read. It shows that we increased the amount available to health, based on the budget's figures, way and above what the Leader's Government was going to provide.

I would welcome a debate with the relevant Minister on the health crisis, particularly in the west of Ireland, on the trolley crisis and on the exorbitant waiting lists where people wait for very important surgeries.

Photo of James ReillyJames Reilly (Fine Gael)
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As spokesman for jobs in the Seanad, I welcome the fact that Sparkasse Bank is attending a meeting of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach. It has made an interesting proposal that I believe could be of great value to many SMEs.

Like Senator Kieran O'Donnell, I wish to raise the issue of pensions. It is a fact that 23,000 women are disadvantaged by the current situation, which the Minister for Finance has described as "bonkers". This legislation, as members will know, was only introduced in 2012. It penalises women who left work to rear children, to care for vulnerable people and to care for the elderly. I am struck by the fact that even at a time when we had no money in this country, and I was in the thick of it, we found money to compensate women who had been damaged by symphysiotomy. We sought to address the Magdalen laundries issue. When I was Minister for Health, we put in place a commission of inquiry into mother and baby homes. All of these issues affect women. Our historical treatment of women has been poor. We now have a situation where we continue to discriminate against women, in their pensions, who care for our children - the future of this nation.

It has been mentioned that it will take €290 million to correct this matter but it is not available. I think the Minister has done a very good job in terms of the budget. There will be issues around stamp duty on farms, and that is for sure. As many as 23,000 women have been disadvantaged and my calculation leads me to believe that it will cost the Exchequer €34.5 million per annum to fix the discrepancy from this point on, as opposed to €290 million retrospectively. I ask the Leader to call upon the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection and the Minister for Finance to come to this House and give us some indication of a plan or roadmap that will start addressing this clear injustice to women.

I shall finish by saying that an injustice one does not know about is one thing. The injustice that is current and we do know about, and would appear to continue to discriminate against women in terms of the extra €5 that we have produced for pensioners in their weekly income, is another matter. It seems to be in doubt that these women will get the full amount of the increase. This is a current injustice that we have created in our time and one that we must address if we are true republicans in a republic of equal opportunity and treatment.

Photo of Michelle MulherinMichelle Mulherin (Fine Gael)
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I join with the call made here today for the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection to be invited to this House to debate the whole issue of women deserving fair State pensions. As has been said, the Minister for Finance has acknowledged that the existing regime has thrown up bonkers results. The people who pay the price are a cohort that is comprised predominantly of women. It tells a tale about our history.

At the time these women, who may have worked earlier in their lives, took time out to look after their children. They did not have much choice in the matter. At the time there was no such thing as child care or subsidies for child care. We also know that the marriage ban in the Civil Service ensured many of them had to leave their jobs.

As a result, even as we speak, there are women entering retirement age who will lose out a portion of their pension every week because of changes that were made in 2012. Clearly, those changes have led to an inequality. Irish society strives to address inequalities all of the time. This inequality is being borne by women.

One can argue that these are the very women who have raised the generations who have made this country what it is today and I think they deserve more. They paid contributions. However, because there was a gap in their service and through the method of calculation, it means that nearly 23,000 women receive less of a pension than they would have been entitled to prior to 2012. Ironically, people with fewer contributions but a more compact span over which they worked will receive a greater pension. That shows a pension is not based on one's contributions.

I very much welcome the honesty shown by the Minister for Finance in acknowledging this situation. We need action and to talk about how we will address the inequality. Every week that passes these women lose money and more women are entering the system all of the time. This pension situation goes to the heart of many of the principles that we have talked about here, but mainly equality. Basically, these women have paid into a system, the rules were changed through no fault of theirs and they have lost out.

Photo of Martin ConwayMartin Conway (Fine Gael)
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Yes.

Photo of Michelle MulherinMichelle Mulherin (Fine Gael)
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I would like to think that we can look after them at this juncture. A debate on the matter should be a matter of priority. I have spoken to many women who have been affected and also to the Taoiseach in his previous role as Minister for Social Protection. I know that a review is due. We should open the debate here in order to find ways to address the matter.

Photo of Martin ConwayMartin Conway (Fine Gael)
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I agree wholeheartedly with colleagues on the pension scenario. Personally, I would have preferred no tax cuts in this year's budget-----

Photo of Paul GavanPaul Gavan (Sinn Fein)
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Well said.

Photo of Martin ConwayMartin Conway (Fine Gael)
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-----or, indeed, next year's budget because there are many legal issues that need to be dealt with and we should prioritise dealing with them. That is my view. I have always articulated my view to both the Taoiseach and the Minister for Finance. Overall the budget has been exceptionally positive. There certainly is a feeling of optimism and the Apple decision today adds to the optimism. This new confidence is important.

I wish to acknowledge that today is World Sight Day. I wish to acknowledge the more than 250,000 people in this country who suffer blindness or are visually impaired. I commend An Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, because yesterday, the day after the budget, he spent an hour launching a bursary for the National Council for the Blind of Ireland that encourages young people with sight loss to attend third level. The bursary is entirely funded by the NCBI and it does an exceptional amount of fundraising.

The bursary will benefit a number of young people next year. Yesterday, the scheme received a strong and significant endorsement from An Taoiseach at Government Buildings. At the event he met some students who will benefit from the bursary and had his photograph taken with them. He also showed the representatives of the NCBI where he displays the Proclamation in Braille, which the NCBI presented to him when I organised for its representatives to meet him when he was the Minster for Social Protection. It is one of a few items that are displayed in his office, which indicates his commitment to making the lives not just of blind or visually impaired people in this country better but people with disabilities in general. I thank him most sincerely for that.

I wish to acknowledge the challenges and difficulties that the Halawa family is facing. It is a disgrace that Ibrahim Halawa has still not been released from prison three weeks after being found innocent of all charges.

Photo of Paul GavanPaul Gavan (Sinn Fein)
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Well said.

Photo of Martin ConwayMartin Conway (Fine Gael)
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The continued detention of Ibrahim Halawa is not just an insult to the Halawa family; it is an insult by the Egyptian Government to every Irish citizen and this country. The Egyptian ambassador should be hauled into these Houses to explain what the hell is going on.

Photo of Denis O'DonovanDenis O'Donovan (Fianna Fail)
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The Senator has tested my indulgence. I call on the Leader to respond.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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I thank the 15 Members for their contributions during the Order of Business.

Senators Ardagh, Reilly, Kieran O'Donnell, Gavan, Higgins, Mulherin and Conway raised the issue of the pension inequality that affects women. I agree with them that it is discriminatory and unjust. All of us in our personal lives and our lives as politicians understand that the anomaly needs to be redressed.A wrong was done to a group of women who had to leave the workforce. To those of us who live in modern Ireland it seems incredible that they had to leave the workforce in the first place. It is important to recognise that women should have and should receive fair treatment. The Minister has been very candid in his approach. As Senator Colm Burke said, we are coming out the worst recession in the history of the country. The Minister is trying to make progress on the issue and he is anxious to address it but it was not possible to do so in this budget. It is important that the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Deputy Regina Doherty, would come to the House. I would be happy to facilitate Members in such a request. She is due to come before us in the coming weeks. The matter has been raised previously by many Senators and it is a very complicated area with a very long-standing need to have redress put in place. However, it does cost money. As Senator O'Donnell correctly said, some people will not qualify, others will get partial payments, and others still will get reduced payments. The important point is that I will bring the Minister to the House to address the issue as it needs to be debated in full in order to find a resolution because it is about equality for all citizens.

Senator Ardagh also made reference to housing and the hidden homeless. She made a good point. The Government gave an increase of 46% to the housing budget and Rebuilding Ireland is the roadmap for the future. An extra €500 million in supports is available to target 50,000 homes for those in need of social housing. It is important that the remarks of Senator Ardagh are heard by the Minister. I would be happy to bring them to the relevant Minister, the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy.

Senator Craughwell, who has been a champion of the Defence Forces in this House, raised the number of Army personnel with housing concerns and the need to see Defence Forces property freed up for use. The Minister of State with responsibility for defence, Deputy Paul Kehoe, is open to doing some of the things to which Senator Craughwell referred. The Senator is correct that the houses should be immediately refurbished and put back into the housing stock. That would do two things, namely, reduce the waiting lists and also allow the soldiers in whom we have great pride, and who take great pride in their work, to live either on the Army base or, as the Senator indicated, close to work in the case of The Curragh. That is something on which we might work with the Minister of State with responsibility for defence. I would be very happy to speak to the Senator about the matter after the Order of Business.

Photo of Gerard CraughwellGerard Craughwell (Independent)
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I thank the Leader.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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Senator Craughwell also referred to Brexit, which we discussed yesterday in the House. Senator Feighan spoke about the decision this morning by Mr. Barnier. From our perspective Brexit is about the island of Ireland. Nobody in this Chamber or in the Government wants to see a return to the hard border. The Taoiseach was right yesterday to paint a picture of what could happen.

I made the comment yesterday in this House that it ill-behoves Deputy Donnelly or Deputy Martin to play politics with Brexit. It is about wearing the green jersey and having one voice and standing up for all our people. I know the Senator was in Brussels yesterday and Monday. There is a need to see a committed, unified opinion on Brexit from our perspective. The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney, was in the House yesterday for statements on Northern Ireland and today we will have statements on the future of Europe with the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee. It is important that we keep beating the drum of there being no return to a hard border, and that we do not bend in any way in that regard. The Government has been strong in its position in that regard.

Senator Gavan raised the issue of child care and child care workers. The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Zappone, has secured a significant increase in the budget for the provision of resources in the child care area. All of us accept that wages in the child care sector are low and we want that to change. The issue is creating a barrier to recruitment in the child care sector and retention of staff is also a problem. We are very lucky with the extraordinary quality of staff we have in the child care sector. Having secured increased capitation levels in the budget the Minister is of the view that it will assist employers to improve conditions for their staff. In addition, we all recognise that the situation cannot be sorted out in one go but that it will take time. This is the second budget where there has been an increase in funding. Equally, the Minister has set up an independent review of the cost of delivering quality child care, which I hope will allow for more investment in child care and child care providers and that the investment will be passed on to child care workers. I share Senator Gavan's view that we need to do more in that regard. I will work with him on the issue because it is important. I already mentioned his comment on pensions.

Senator Higgins referred to gender and equality proofing in the budget and tax relief. I would be happy for the Minister to come to the House to discuss those matters. I note that this week the equality budgeting campaign, which was set up in 2012, has stood itself down, in part because it has achieved its goal of having the Government committed to equality budgeting, and the Oireachtas Committee on Budgetary Oversight has been set up. We all want to see equality proofing of budgets. It is important that we keep that to the forefront and that we promote such an aim. I would be happy to have such a debate in the House in the coming weeks.

Senators Boyhan, Ó Domhnaill and Kieran O'Donnell referred to stamp duty on agricultural land. Stamp duty relief is still available to farmers aged under 35. Young farmers will not be affected. It is something that should be addressed in the Finance Bill. Stamp duty has increased from 2% to 6% but it was at 9%. The Minister is aware of the issues that were raised following the budget announcement. Senator Ó Domhnaill said that perhaps the Minister was not prepared to move from what he said in his speech last night but many people in this House and in the Fine Gael Parliamentary Party have raised the matter with him. The mechanism is to ensure we look after the family farm and rural areas and that we continue to allow people to invest and attract people to stay and live in rural areas. The Finance Bill may provide a mechanism which will act as a resolution to that matter.

Senator Boyhan referred to child care and social workers. There has been an increase in funding to Tusla as well which will allow for further employment in that area. I am pleased to clarify that issue for him.

Senators Maria Byrne and Martin Conway raised the fact that it is World Sight Day. I compliment Senator Conway on his role as an excellent ambassador and advocate for people with sight impairments. He has been to the fore in leading the campaign. I am pleased the Taoiseach launched the report yesterday. It is important that we recognise the world is changing and there are so many ways in which we can work with and improve the lives of people with visual impairment. Senator Conway's leadership in the area is a testament to the need for all of us to work in a collaborative manner. The point he and Senator Byrne made is important. Equally, I encourage Members to attend the screening today for diabetes organised by Senator Noone. Some of us might be afraid to be tested but it is about prevention rather than reaction. Senator Ó Domhnaill is testament to powerful living in terms of fitness, health and well-being. It is important that we would attend the screening so I encourage Members to participate today as it is about prevention.

I congratulate Senator Feighan on the sleep trainer. I was looking at Senator Gavan who was smiling. I wondered whether he had many sleep-deprived nights himself.

Photo of Paul GavanPaul Gavan (Sinn Fein)
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Far too many.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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It was interesting to hear from Senator Feighan how a small assistance can help improve people's lives. It is about sharing and working collectively. I would be happy for the Minister to come to the House.

I advise Senator Mac Lochlainn that we will have statements in the House on flooding next week. The Minister of State, Deputy Kevin Boxer Moran, will be in the House. I have been in Clonmany myself. It is a beautiful part of the country. We need to see Swan Park and other such areas addressed. The Senator is correct that it is a public park, an amenity, and it should not be closed indefinitely. A plan of action should be put in place. I would be happy for the Minister of State, Deputy Moran, to discuss that in the House with the Senator next week.

Senator Colm Burke raised the issue of third level and people going back to education in order to better themselves.The anomaly raised by Senator Burke is one that needs to be addressed and I would be happy to have the Minister come to the House to discuss this matter. I join Senator Ó Clochartaigh in welcoming the decision on the Apple facility in Athenry and I am glad of his support for Apple.

Photo of Trevor Ó ClochartaighTrevor Ó Clochartaigh (Sinn Fein)
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Only for certain aspects of it, of course.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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I am glad of the Senator's support.

Photo of Trevor Ó ClochartaighTrevor Ó Clochartaigh (Sinn Fein)
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I would also like Apple to pay its taxes in this country.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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I am sure that Apple will be a very good employer in the region and it is good to see Athenry being used.

The Senator also raised the issue of Trolley Watch. We all accept that this needs to be addressed which is why the Minister for Health has secured an extra €75 million in this week's budget to reduce waiting lists, €37 million for home care packages and transitional care beds, and €20 million for extra capacity and support for our hospitals. We have also seen an increase in the primary care budget. We need to ensure that people are treated in their communities and that they have access to services and that is why there is extra funding in the budget. Senator Ó Clochartaigh might consult with his own party leader, Deputy Adams, who spoke yesterday in the Dáil about an increase of €1 billion in spending, which is way above what Sinn Féin looked for in its own costed budget proposal. The Senator might ask Deputy Adams to go back and do a little mathematical realignment.

Photo of Trevor Ó ClochartaighTrevor Ó Clochartaigh (Sinn Fein)
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Deputy Adams is well able to answer for himself.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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None of the Sinn Féin Senators has mentioned the fact that their party budget proposed a €2 billion extra tax hike. That is a fair chunk of change to add to people's lives. They certainly kept that quiet.

Photo of Paul GavanPaul Gavan (Sinn Fein)
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Some 97% pay the same.

(Interruptions).

Photo of Trevor Ó ClochartaighTrevor Ó Clochartaigh (Sinn Fein)
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Only on the top earners.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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Senator Conway mentioned the current situation with Ibrahim Halawa. We discussed this yesterday. The problem, as the Senators know, is not with this Government, which has been in daily communication with the Egyptian authorities. It beggars belief as to why Mr. Halawa cannot be released given the time that has passed since the announcement of the verdict. As I mentioned yesterday, the Egyptian authorities decided to take all 400 prisoners as a bloc rather than individually. This is disappointing.

I welcome Senator Reilly's contribution of the issue of Sparkasse, which is represented here today.

Order of Business agreed to.