Tuesday, 17 October 2017
Order of Business
I convey my sympathy and that of the Fianna Fáil group to the families of Ms Clare O'Neill, County Waterford, Mr. Michael Pyke, County Tipperary, and Mr. Fintan Goss, County Louth, who tragically lost their lives yesterday in Hurricane Ophelia.
I congratulate those who worked tirelessly yesterday on the front line from the ESB, Dublin and other fire brigade services around the country, the Army and the Garda Síochána. Their work ensured that we could go to work today on safe roads as they took it on themselves to go out and clear the fallen trees from the roads. We should be very grateful.
Met Éireann did a great job in highlighting the clear and present danger and that it was incumbent on all of us to stay indoors to ensure that no further accidents occurred. I believe the work that Met Éireann and RTÉ did yesterday mitigated more loss and prevented further tragedy.
Let me convey my disappointment with those who went against orders and were out kite surfing or swimming yesterday. I think it should be illegal to put the lives of front-line service men and women in that danger. We should mark it by having a debate on that issue in this House.
In addition to the financial cost to the country, it is estimated that Hurricane Ophelia caused approximately €800 million of damage. I understand the insurance companies will pay out for damage. We should call on the Government to actively engage with the insurance companies so that the money is paid out in a most efficient and timely manner.
I congratulate those who supported the people who sleep rough, in particular Brother Kevin and the Capuchin Day Centre. With the onset of global warming, these types of storms will become more frequent. We need to ensure that were such weather events to recur, we would be prepared, and have services in place for those without a roof over their head, especially in light of the growing number of homeless people. I call for a debate on the action the Government will take to deal with emergencies that might happen.
I extend my sympathy to the families who lost their loved ones yesterday. It is tragic that such things happen.
I sat and watched the television yesterday and I saw what I would call a clown in Blackrock, Galway, walking along the diving tower to go in for a swim. It might interest the House to know that the tower is there as a direct result of my father saving a woman's life during a riptide in Blackrock in 1947. It was dangerous then when there was no tower, but it is twice as dangerous now.
We should look at legislation that would provide for people to be charged with reckless endangerment and, if necessary, put in jail. Somebody suggested last night that there should be a fine for this type of behaviour. How much of a fine would pay for the loss of a rescuer's life in a situation like that?
I congratulate the Government on an excellent job of preparedness, and for the excellent co-ordination of services throughout the storm. The Taoiseach and his Minister have been a credit to this country. However, there is always a downside. This morning I listened to the Minister of State with responsibility for Defence, Deputy Paul Kehoe, and was absolutely horrified that he would mislead the country in the way he did. He spoke about engineering units being available in every barracks in the country to assist the local authorities. There are no engineering units in counties Donegal, Galway, Limerick or Kilkenny. A third of an engineering unit is available in Dublin, two thirds of an engineering unit is available in Athlone. There is one full engineering unit, as we learned during the Donegal floods, available in Cork. We know that because they brought the bailey bridge to Donegal. The Minister of State spoke about members of the Defence Forces being available with chainsaws to cut down felled trees. There are two qualified chain saw operators covering the entire northern section of the country in a line from Dublin to Galway. I wonder how useful they will be in the entire counties of Galway, Mayo, Sligo, Donegal, Leitrim, Cavan, Monaghan and Louth. This is shameful misleading of the public.I believe that the Minister misled the public this morning. He should come to this House this afternoon and explain where precisely are the resources he is talking about. He spoke about plant being available. There are two pieces of plant available in this country from the Defence Forces right now for an emergency situation like this. It is outrageous, when the Government has gone so far to build the confidence of the people of this country on our preparedness to deal with a crisis, that one Minister would tell what can only be described as blatant lies. I am asking for the Order of Business to be amended to bring the Minister before the House.
Leader, please allow the Chair to handle this. It is totally inappropriate language that Senator Craughwell would call any Minister or anybody else who is not here to defend himself or herself a "liar". I ask Senator Craughwell to formally withdraw the remark.
On behalf of the Sinn Féin team, I extend condolences and sympathies to the families, friends, and communities of Fintan Goss in Louth, Clare O'Neill in Waterford and Michael Pyke in Tipperary, and on other tragic losses in the wake of the destructive Storm Ophelia. I also convey our thanks to the front-line workers, the fire and ambulance crews, the accident and emergency staff, the ESB crews, and the local authority emergency teams. They make us proud.
I would like this House to congratulate the President-to-be from tomorrow of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland, RCPI, Professor Mary Horgan. She will be the first woman to hold the post of President of the college in its 363 year history. She will be appointed tomorrow, and not before time.
I want to bring up the issues of the gender pay gap and pensions. Last December, the very first motion put forward by Sinn Féin's social protection team was on the 2002 pension changes which amended the pension system such that it saw women being more likely to lose out. They are far more likely to have smaller State pensions than their male counterparts and are less likely to have occupational or private pensions. I see there is a motion on the subject tabled by the Fianna Fáil Party which is to be discussed tomorrow night in the Dáil, and I welcome that, although it is a bit late. Fianna Fáil refused to supported our motion in December and got out of it by supporting an amendment instead. That amendment did not make a clear call and was useless. I hope Fianna Fáil will deal with urgency with the motion tomorrow night.
I raise the issue of the detention of the Catalan independence leaders. I would like the Leader to call on the EU to engage in urgent international mediation and dialogue. The EU espouses and likes to trumpet loudly the values of free speech, free association and democracy, but it seems to be silent at the moment.
Today is world day against hunger. We also heard about the recent terrible bombings in Mogadishu in Somalia. Up to 300 people were killed and clearly multiples of that number will have been injured, with whole families destroyed. At home we had Hurricane Ophelia, and while it is true to say that things are relative in this world, there are three families, one in Waterford, one in Tipperary, and one in Louth, that are ripped apart and will be so forever as a result of their tragic losses yesterday.
I want to focus on a particular issue related to yesterday, namely, Irish Sign Language interpretation. I want to show appreciation for the swift action that was taken when issues were raised by my office directly with RTÉ and with the Minister of State, Deputy Moran. In particular I thank the Leader of this House, Senator Buttimer, for his support yesterday afternoon in making sure that there was Irish Sign Language interpretation for the media briefings.I seek a number of assurances, including that the Office of Emergency Planning would have sign language interpretation for all such media briefings; that local authorities would have a register of people, including people with disabilities and various illnesses, who are vulnerable in terms of their households not having an electricity supply; that there would be a review, when we are over this, of measures for people with disabilities and others who are vulnerable in respect of emergencies; and that Members remember that we have signed up to the sustainable development goals, which clearly refer to people with disabilities and others when it comes to emergency situations.
As others have done, I want to thank neighbours, community groups and volunteers and commend the national Government and local government response, notwithstanding the criticisms I have. All our public services performed well over the weekend and yesterday, alongside local community groups and local efforts. It is great to know that Ireland can pull all its public services and community groups together. I would love to see the day when this is our everyday response to the needs of people, as distinct from this being something we pull out of the hat when there is an emergency. Can the Oireachtas lead the way? We should respond like this to people and their needs on an ongoing basis.
Like so many others, I extend my sympathies to the families who lost their nearest and dearest yesterday. It truly is a tragedy for those families. Like many others, I want to thank the services that turned out so well, including the Garda Síochánna, the ESB, Irish Water and the local authority workers. I was looking at social media on Monday morning, and there were people criticising the local authority workers in Dublin for clearing up leaves. I witnessed local authority workers in my area clearing leaves. They were blocking gullies, which could have led to flooding. It is so easy to criticise, but I want to commend the work done. While many of us were safe at home, ambulance and fire brigade personnel and local authority workers were out doing their jobs. We have to say thank you loudly and clearly to them, and stop nitpicking.
I have to say that the Government got it right. Ministers worked exceptionally well together and they worked hard to make sure there was a good response to the storm. I will not nitpick. By and large, the response by the Government was excellent. Certainly, we always have lessons to learn, and we can improve.
Unfortunately, however, this is going to happen more often. Climate change is a reality, despite Deputy Danny Healy-Rae denying it and saying God controls the weather. Sea temperatures are increasing. This storm formed over an area of sea, the temperature of which has risen by 2° Celsius. It is a one-in-50 year event. All we can be certain about is that this is going to happen more often. The House has a responsibility to show leadership. We need to show very clear leadership in relation to climate change, and to plan for it. Unfortunately, since we put climate change legislation through the Seanad and the Dáil two years ago, very little has happened. I am still waiting to see a proper plan from the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, because transport emissions are increasing, not diminishing.
I call on the Leader to pass on my compliments to the Taoiseach and the Ministers for working exceptionally hard over the weekend and, by and large, getting it right, although we can always improve, as I said. However, I certainly would like a full debate in this House on the measures the people and the Government can take in relation to our carbon footprint and the effect that can have on climate change. Ireland is a small country, but one thing we can show in relation to climate change is leadership. We need to show that leadership, otherwise we will see this happening much more frequently. The environment we pass on to our children and our great-grandchildren is certainly going to be far worse than what was passed on to us.
There is a unanimous view, which I have picked up anecdotally everywhere, that the Taoiseach and Government Ministers deserve congratulations for the way in which they managed this situation and that their clear messaging and leadership was exemplary. I am impressed that has been acknowledged across the floor today.
The agencies, An Garda Síochána, the Army and all the various emergency services excelled themselves and did an exceptional job. I am delighted to join in congratulating them and our local authorities. Our council in Cavan was very proactive in removing fallen trees and so on. We did not get the worst of the storm but the council was exceptionally effective. All of that is good. I also congratulate Met Éireann. Everybody did their part and we can be proud, as a people, of the way it was handled. Of course I want to convey my sympathy, as did others, to the three bereaved families. For them it is a horrendous and shocking tragedy. I agree with Senator Craughwell in respect of the people who were out on the pier in Salthill. I could not agree more. Action needs to be taken. I agree with Senator Ardagh and also commend to the Leader that this question be looked at by way of a special debate.
I want to raise one very specific, distinct and new aspect in respect of the storm. I personally find seeing nice trees along our roadsides aesthetically pleasing, beautiful, lovely and idyllic on some occasions. They are part of the tapestry of rural Ireland and they are nice. However, when we consider the three bereaved families today, I put to the Leader that the relevant Minister should come to the House to discuss the need to remove and ban trees within 40 m of either side of a roadway. In other words they should be set back from the road a distance equal to the height of the tallest tree. The logic of this measure is that we are going to have more of these storms, as has repeatedly been said in this debate and has been suggested by the science. We cannot have a situation in which a tree can fall on a car. It has the potential to kill somebody. Despite aesthetics and the fact that we would love to have our trees there, they have to go. That is a lesson from yesterday. Had this been done, those families would not be in the position they are in today. Into the future this must be done. I commend a special debate to the Leader on removing trees from the side of the road to a distance equal to the length of the tallest possible tree. We have no option on this. Sadly, the reality is that we need to do it.
I applaud all those people who visited their elderly neighbours yesterday and who asked them whether they needed any groceries from the shop before the storm hit, who helped them secure their homes and who ensured they had torches or candles at hand should the power fail. These are small actions which made an enormous difference. It is unfortunate that it takes something such as a major weather warning for us to realise our neighbours may need some assistance or even reassurance in some cases.
Recently physicians and researchers examined the impact of loneliness and social isolation on health, well-being and mortality. The data are overwhelming and suggest "a lonely person is significantly more likely to suffer an early death than a non-lonely one". As a nation we are ageing and the percentage of people over 70 is growing faster than the rest of the population. Added to this is the rise in single-person households. We are beginning to see the impact of loneliness and isolation and therefore, new policy approaches are needed. Much is said about rural isolation and lack of services, which of course is true, but when I worked as a general practitioner in Finglas, the exact same issues of loneliness and isolation existed in the heart of a busy community.
I recommend that Senators consider the Campaign to End Loneliness in the UK. It is a powerful and evocative campaign that really makes one think about the human consequence of loneliness and isolation. This highlights the need to look out for our neighbours not just during a storm, but every day.
The political scientist Robert Putnam wrote an excellent book called Bowling Alonein which he warned that our stock of social capital, that is, the very fabric of our connections with one other, has plummeted recently, damaging all our lives and communities. We need an urgent debate on the issue of loneliness and how it has an impact upon the more senior members of our society both in rural and city settings.
I extend my sincere sympathies to the families of the three people who were killed yesterday. Their deaths show the dangers of these types of storms, of which, as previous speakers noted, we will have many more as a result of climate change. I congratulate the Taoiseach and Ministers on their preparedness for yesterday and on the way in which they handled the situation. They were at the top of their game. While some people criticised as unnecessary the decision to have schools remain closed today, I believe it was the right decision to make because we did not know how bad the damage was. The loss of life would have been much greater if warnings had not issued.
As a Galwegian, I have jumped off the diving boards at Salthill many times. I can think of a worse word than "clowns" for those who were swimming in Salthill yesterday. Their outrageous actions placed first responders in extreme danger. I agree with previous speakers that, in such circumstances, it should be a criminal offence to ignore warnings and that those who do so should be fined. It was heartening yesterday to see the storm bring out the best in people and a community spirit. Listening to the radio yesterday afternoon, I heard the owners of guest houses and hotels offer free beds to people who found themselves stranded. The storm served as a warning to us. I congratulate all of those involved, including the public servants in various Departments.
I sympathise with those who lost loved ones in yesterday's storm. I join other Senators in commending the members of the emergency services and first responders who did sterling work yesterday and who will continue to do such work for some days. I also commend the Government on its preparedness and the preparations that took place, without which the loss of life would have been greater.
I do not agree with my near namesake, Senator Joe O'Reilly, on the issue of trees. Not only are trees aesthetic living forms, they are also the lungs of the world. While I fully understand the rationale for his proposal and his good intentions, his suggestion is not practical.
I echo the comments of previous speakers regarding those who ignored the advice that was given and placed themselves and others who were required to intervene in great danger. We did a morning surgery yesterday and closed for the afternoon because the storm was due. Returning home, I saw a young man cycling a bicycle which I could not believe in light of the warning that had been issued. It is not only that people took foolish chances at sea but given the strong advice not to cycle, I found it extraordinary to see someone cycling yesterday. I expect that the young man in question was under 18 years of age and I wonder what his parents were thinking and doing about this. He could easily have been hit by a gust of wind and knocked into the path of a car. As I stated, the people who engage in this behaviour put not only themselves but also put the first responders who have to deal with the fallout from their actions in danger.
I raise the cases of people whose premises and businesses suffered severe damage, particularly those who cannot get insurance. My understanding from those involved in horticulture - a major industry in my area that supplies more than 50% of vegetables to the country - is that it is nigh on impossible to insure a glass house or polytunnel. Many horticulturists and nursery owners suffered severe damage to their property yesterday. I hope the Government will take full advantage of the European Union fund established to deal with such natural disasters in order that we can put money aside to help people to deal with the losses they sustained as a consequence of yesterday's storm. The most important thing today is to commend all the men and women who work in the services and the first responders who have performed such sterling work over the past 24 to 48 hours and who continue to do so. As Senator Lawless pointed out, many people showed tremendous generosity and care for their neighbours and for others during this time of difficulty for some of our most vulnerable citizens.
I second the motion by Senator Craughwell to the effect that the Minister should come before the House. I wish to express my sympathy and condolences to the families and friends of the three people, Clare O'Neill, Fintan Goss and Michael Pyke, who lost their lives yesterday. I thank the emergency services who attended any of the incidents yesterday for all the great work they did. I acknowledge and thank all the neighbours, friends and people who checked in on the vulnerable and the elderly, not least those doing home help and care work right across the country. They showed the true Irish spirit in the work they carried out in very difficult circumstances. I particularly thank the regional radio stations, in my own case Midwest Radio, which kept people up to date on everything that was happening throughout the day and about the services that were available through the local authorities and so on. It really goes to show the importance of local radio and how the sector should be supported.
I really cannot find words to condemn those who, by their own arrogance, misdemeanours and actions, put the lives of emergency service personnel at risk. It was particularly poignant for us in Erris when the R116 crew had to be called out. I cannot imagine what the families of those who were bereaved in the R116 tragedy must have thought yesterday as these services had to be called out in Blackrock, County Louth. The attempts today by those persons to try to defend their actions are even worse, as if they somehow have real and knowledgeable expertise of the sea. I did not see any fishermen putting out to sea yesterday. If anybody has knowledge of the sea and what it is about, then it is the fishermen in our coastal communities. Something must be done to ensure that people do not declare themselves to be above the law or not within it when a national emergency such as this is called. I call for legislation to be put in place in order that huge fines might be imposed on people who put the lives of others at risk.
I too wish to pay my condolences to the families who lost loved ones yesterday's storm.
I wish to express shock and outrage that the brave journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, who led the Panama papers investigation into corruption in Malta, was tragically killed by a car bomb near her home on Monday. I extend my deepest sympathy to her family and friends. This is not just a tragic loss of life, it is a clear attack on democracy that was carried out in broad daylight in an EU member state. Ms Galizia did what investigative journalists are supposed to do. She showed bravery in asking difficult questions of those in power. She never relented in pointing the finger at corruption at the highest political levels, such as activities involving offshore accounts and money laundering. She was murdered for asking these questions. In her final blog post less than one hour before she was killed she warned, "There are crooks everywhere you look now. The situation is desperate." This morning, her son Matthew stated, "My mother was assassinated because she stood between the rule of law and those who sought to violate it." This is an absolute disgrace and should resonate with everyone in Ireland and in this House. I cannot help but think of Veronica Guerin, another brave woman journalist, who was murdered for speaking truth to power and for standing up to corruption and criminality. Has the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade formally expressed his outrage and offered Ireland's assistance wherever it may be needed?
I, too, would like to pay my condolences to all the families who lost loved ones in yesterday's storm.I congratulate the Taoiseach, the emergency services and all the Departments on getting the message out early.
It was a disgrace to see those going for a swim in Galway or kite surfing and I agree with Members that penalties should be imposed on such people. Those in the emergency services do not have a choice as to when they are called out, but those who were swimming and kite surfing did have a choice. What would have happened if there was an emergency down the country? The resources of our helicopter services and emergency services are limited. Shame on those people.
Three people lost their lives due to tree falls. In my county, all roads were blocked in Trim due to tree falls and Athboy, Oldcastle and certain areas of Navan had no power. This morning, I received a telephone call from a gentleman who worked throughout the country with Kelly's roadmarking company. He told me that the number of rotten trees and trees planted on roadsides is inappropriate. We are all aware of the vital role of trees and their benefit to our economy and environment, particularly visually, as part of our infrastructure. This is especially so in our cities. However, the benefits are only achieved with strategic planting and aftercare. I do not see a whole lot of aftercare when trees are planted in estates and at the sides of roads. They are just left there to grow into monstrosities. This can have a negative impact and lead to a variety of health and safety concerns. Inappropriate species of trees on roads and streets need to be urgently addressed by the Minister with responsibility for the environment and local government.
I wish to raise the disappointing manner in which the more than 8,000 special needs assistants, SNAs, in our primary schools are being treated by the Department of Education and Skills. Their frustration is borne out by the 97% vote in favour of industrial action over the delay in the publication of SNA allocations for the 2018 academic school year, which is very disappointing. The problem is that special needs assistants in our primary schools do not know if they will have a job for the year. If they do not get a post when the allocations are published, they are not in a position to apply for one in another school due to the delay in the publication. IMPACT, which represents more than 8,000 SNAs countrywide, is of the opinion, with which I agree, that the Department could be in breach of employment law due to the manner in which SNAs are being treated. It is also unfair on schools and boards of management which are trying to plan for the year ahead. I would like to see the Minister address the House on the issue so that it can be sorted out for the benefit of not just the special needs assistants and the schools, but the children who most need their help.
I join others in commending everyone involved in the response to yesterday's storm. The point made by my colleague on the national broadcaster is an important one. It is also important to note, however, that our local radio stations played a vital role. In Cavan-Monaghan, people were informed of roads being closed, whether local or minor, which was great information to have. This demonstrates the benefit of local radio.
I would like to be associated with the expressions of sympathy to the families of those who lost their lives during Storm Ophelia.
I welcome the initial responses to the public consultation conducted by the agricultural markets task force established by EU Commissioner Hogan. This task force seeks to introduce fairness into the European food supply chain, particularly in respect of the agricultural sector.It is particularly welcome that a majority of stakeholders, non-governmental organisations, NGOs, member states, farmers' groups, and the list goes on, are saying that the weak position of farmers in the food supply chain needs to be addressed and changed at EU level. We know, and I have raised this several times, that the weak position of the farmer causes problems in regard to his income and the sustainability of farming. Farmers are at the mercy of big meat factories and multiple retailers. That is well known. When this public consultation is concluded. the European Commission needs to formulate a response. I have no doubt that is what Commissioner Hogan will do. I would like us to extend an invitation to him. This is a critical issue for farmers. They complain repeatedly that they produce meat, vegetables etc. which are sold as loss leaders in multiple retailers. They are victims of the pricing in factories and they face myriad problems because of their position. There are ways and means, including the potential use of value-sharing agreements, to ensure that bonuses and losses resulting from evolutions in market prices are shared. It would be opportune to bring in the Commissioner as the EU response is being formulated in order that we can make an input into that.
Great credit is due to the Government and all involved in the authorities and various agencies in preparing for Storm Ophelia. Their approach was to get us to expect the worst but hope for the best. It was a very good approach to take. I join those who have expressed their sorrow that three people lost their lives and in expressing sympathy with their families. Ar dheis Dé go raibh siad. I wonder how Ireland still manages to be rearing its share of lúdramáns who put themselves in danger and potentially make the job of the emergency services and heroes who are out to look after us all on a day like yesterday, harder. It is hard to fathom.
The increase in stamp duty on commercial property transactions from 2% to 6% as per last week's budget is of concern to farmers. The decision to extend the reduced stamp duty rate of 1% for transfers between family members and to maintain the young trained farmer stamp duty are positive. I agree with the president of the Irish Farmers Association, IFA, Joe Healy, who said that these measures are important to support the timely and structured transfer of family farms. It is known that the Minister for Finance is likely to reverse the steep increase in stamp duty for non-residential land for a small group of farmers inheriting land from family members. It is essential, however, that this action will serve those who do not currently qualify for the consanguinity exemption, that is, those who are to inherit active farming land from a family member who is over 67 years of age. The Irish Farmers' Journalreported that one farmer's son from Tipperary, whose father was aged over 67, saw his stamp duty bill for taking over the farm rise from €25,000 to €75,000 and, to quote that farmer, Bill Burke, "It makes it an unpayable amount."
People are often blinded by the value of farming assets but they forget how difficult it is to turn that farming asset into anything like a decent income. That is why it is not a case of farmers engaging in special pleading. Farming is a difficult business. It is difficult to make a livelihood, especially for small farmers.I hope the Government will make the necessary amendments to facilitate the transfer of land, particularly at this time when there is a desire to encourage young people to get into farming. It would be a very bad thing if the necessary changes were not made.
I dtosach, ba mhaith liom tacú leis an méid atá ráite ó thaobh comhbhrón a dhéanamh le muintireacha an dream a bhásaigh sa stoirm inné. Ba mhaith liom comhbhrón a dhéanamh freisin le cairde, muintir agus comhghleacaithe Fheargal Ó Cuilinn a bhásaigh roinnt laethanta ó shin agus atá á chur inniu. Bhí Feargal ag obair leis an eagraíocht Glór na nGael le roinnt blianta anuas. Ba fhear óg é a bhásaigh i mbealach aisteach go leor. Thit sé i dtinneas an lá a raibh Cluiche Ceannais na hÉireann á imirt. Bhí Baile Átha Cliath ag imirt. Ba fan mór leis na Dubs é. Níor tháinig sé as an tinneas sin. Ba fhear óg é agus bhí clann óg aige. Is mór an chailliúint é. Ba fhear é a bhí díograiseach agus gealgháireach i gcónaí ó thaobh na Gaeilge. Bhí sé ag gach ócáid a raibh tábhacht ar bith leis a bhain le saol na Gaeilge agus thug sé an-tacaíocht do dhaoine thar na blianta. Déanaim comhbhrón le gach duine a bhain leis.
The situation in Catalonia is getting very worrying, with the head of the Catalan National Assembly, Jordi Sanchez, and the head of Omnium Cultural, Jordi Cuixart, being kept in custody. It is also worrying that the chief of the Catalan police, Josep Lluis Trapero, is facing charges. The two Jordis are the main pro-independence leaders of what are civic society organisations in Catalonia. In an Irish context it would look like the ard-rúnaí of Conradh na Gaeilge or the president of the GAA being sent to prison because they organised peaceful protests. It is a huge issue and is worrying.
Can Senators imagine if this Government had decided to imprison the people who organised the Right2Water protests? It is on the same scale and it is a very serious infringement of human rights. It is about time our Government got off the fence on the issue, it is about time the EU got off the fence on the issue and it is about time the international community got off the fence on the issue. We need to stop the bullyboy tactics from Madrid and put in place an international talks and mediation process outside the politicised courts of the Spanish system. We need an urgent debate and I call on the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, or the Taoiseach, to come to the House to debate the issue.
I would also like to be associated with the expression of sympathies to the families of the three people who died in the past few days. They suffered a tragic loss. It is important to commend all the work done in the past 72 hours, at national level down to local community level, where people put their shoulder to the wheel to ensure those people who had to travel could travel safely. The situation was very carefully managed.
I join with Senator Mullen in raising concerns about stamp duty. There are two sides to this and one of them relates to the need to ensure good planning is carried out in respect of farm transfers. There was not a huge disincentive in respect of transferring at an earlier stage and that has to be changed but there are difficulties and a number of issues need to be resolved. The issues around the transfer of assets and elderly care need to be looked at more carefully and we need to get a lot more information out there.
Recently, I came across a situation where a person who is being admitted to a nursing home has not transferred land and there has been no long-term planning. As a result of a medical condition, the person in question cannot now make any decisions. On Friday, I was with an elderly retirement group whose attitude was that they wanted to continue to live in their own homes for as long as possible.We need to get out a great deal more information on long-term planning and elderly care because we are not doing enough. We also need to address the question of enduring powers of attorney and other issues on which we are also not getting out enough information. It is something we need to do. We need to plan in order that the maximum number of people can stay in their homes for as long as possible.
I notice that the Press Council has been complaining about defamation and the cost to the press of libel actions. I disagree with it completely. I put down legislation previously, which has dropped off the Order Paper, as did the Government. I would welcome the introduction of such legislation at this point. A previous Defamation Bill was put forward in the House at the instigation of the press barons but I managed to derail it by way of a series of well-argued amendments. One of the reasons I feel strongly about this was because of the last presidential election after which I took ten libel actions. Among the things that were said about me were that I was an alcoholic, blind, a pension and social welfare cheat, had sex with my students in Trinity and advocated parents having sex with their own children. These were unspeakable, downright lies. I accept that a person in public life should be subject to greater scrutiny, which contention is perfectly correct. However, the same level of truthfulness should obtain whether the subject is a private person or a person in public life. If one tells lies about someone, one is taking a risk and should be prepared to pay the cost.
I put a notice about this on my website and drew the attention of the press to it but there was, unsurprisingly, no response. When I challenged one of them, I was told there was an issue of libel. How laughable can one get? I did not mention names although I could have, having won every single one of those ten libel actions. My name is now justified, or would properly be so had the newspapers printed proper and prominent apologies. However, it has all gone up into the cloud so my reputation can never be completely cleansed. I reiterate that I won ten libel actions and, having been bankrupted by the presidential election, now have two very healthy bank accounts.
Not great. Many Senators have spoken about the effects of Storm Ophelia, and I, too, extend my sympathies to the three bereaved families. This is a very difficult time for them. Likewise, I commend all who were involved in yesterday's efforts.
I join Senators Mullen and Colm Burke in raising the issue of stamp duty. While there were many positive aspects to last week's budget for the agriculture sector, including the €25 million for areas of natural constraint, low-interest loans and increased investment in the targeted agricultural modernisation schemes, TAMS, I am extremely disappointed by the effect on farmers of the increase in stamp duty from 2% to 6%. Margins are extremely tight at the moment and I have received numerous calls over the past week from active, genuine farmers who want to be progressive and to build farm enterprises. They are now experiencing a huge hike from 2% to 6% where they want to purchase a bit of land or consolidate holdings.
I have two points to make. First, while the young farmer relief is very positive for farmers under the age of 35, I know very few farmers that age who can afford to purchase land. Second, the consanguinity relief is very restrictive.I have spoken with the Minister for Finance and emphasised strongly that we know there are so many farmers over the age of 67 who have not transferred land to their family members. It is essential, therefore, that this matter be considered. However, we need to go further. We must properly understand that it was the agricultural sector which turned this country around and we need to properly support genuine, active farmers. I ask the Minister to look at the consanguinity relief and the wider issue of the major hike, from 2% to 6%, in stamp duty in the budget.
I join previous speakers in expressing my condolences to the families and friends who lost loved ones during Storm Ophelia yesterday. I wish to be associated with many of the comments that have been made. A friend of mine works as a manager in a store in this city. The company in question employs over 1,000 people across this State. He waited until 11.30 a.m. to hear from the company's headquarters and still there was nothing - no word or direction. He eventually made the decision to close the shop but many private businesses - my family members have commented on this as well - placed the responsibility in the hands of employees. We hear a great deal about those who put our emergency services in danger, and I accept that entirely, but surely these private businesses - many of which are multinational companies - with vulnerable staff who have few workers' rights might have put lives in danger as well. I wonder whether the Government should have been more proactive in advising those businesses to close. Obviously, a lead was taken by the public service, which was very welcome. Should what was done in the case of the public service not have been recommended or advised to the private sector as well? Could more have been done?
It was a profound tragedy that there was such loss of life yesterday as a result of the storm. I offer my sympathies to the families involved. I happened to be on a train yesterday for approximately ten hours. We were treated with absolute civility by Iarnród Éireann. Without the guys with the chainsaws, we would not have moved anywhere because they were ten hours on the tracks between here and Wexford through Rathdrum, Arklow and Gorey clearing the debris in order that we could get back to Dublin. Ours was the last train to arrive into the city.
I wrote to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges, CPP, during the week in respect of a matter that relates to the Independents - the real ones, of which there are only two. Other people who are described as Independents are not really independent, they join groups. There is a kind of apartheid whereby if someone joins a group, he or she will get the facility to actually speak in the House and a few other things. A Senator might not agree with the other members of the group in respect of thought processes or he or she might not agree with it politically but he or she will join in any event. Even though they are Independents and get the leader's allowance, they are not independent at all. I was making a suggestion that, outside of the leaders, the people who come into the House in order of time, preference and form should be given speaking rights. I have written that down. The Cathaoirleach was away when I wrote to the CPP on foot of the fact that I feel a form of apartheid operates here. For whatever reason, people who really are Independents are not given the same amount of time to speak. This is because the bigger groups are just that - bigger- and have more speakers.
I used to be a member of the Irish Federation of University Teachers but when I went to lecture in Dublin City University, DCU, SIPTU informed me that if I took the job, I had to join it. I was so innocent at the time that I did not take it on in the courts so I had to join the union to become a lecturer in DCU. It is as if a person, even though he or she is an Independent, has to join a group within the Seanad in order to obtain proper speaking rights. This is not an attack on the Cathaoirleach. It is the form. The Cathaoirleach is extremely flexible and good but it is the form and it is wrong. I have written to the CPP about the matter.
I thank the Cathaoirleach for affording me time. With regard to Storm Ophelia, I would like to acknowledge the phenomenal work done by public servants on the ground in Limerick through Limerick City and County Council, the HSE, An Garda Síochána and every other public body involved. It was a day we could be proud of our public servants and the work they do. I take grave exception to the behaviour of the people who abused and wasted valuable time for emergency services. We will have to examine this. There has to be a punishment if people waste valuable time when emergency services could be saving lives. Unfortunately, three people lost their lives yesterday, which will have a significant impact on their families. That demonstrates the power of nature. What we must take out of yesterday is that this will become a recurring feature. We were supposed to have floods every 100 years but we are now having them every five or six years. We need to put a structure in place to ensure that if something like this happens again, the people who are abusing the time of the emergency services are held to account. They should probably be brought to court in some form. I took grave exception to this behaviour yesterday and we need to look at it.
Before I call the Leader, I would also like to offer my sympathies to the families of those who lost their lives in the storm. I compliment the meteorological staff who, for once, got it right. They are much maligned for getting it wrong. They predicted the storm five days out and it was easy for the people in power. They got it spot on and they more or less told us when the storm would hit the south-west coast, which is unusual for Met Éireann. They have often got a lot of stick for not getting it right over the years but, in this instance, they tracked the storm clinically and correctly for five days and they deserve credit for ensuring those in authority, the public services that were engaged and volunteers who did tremendous work were alert and active when the storm struck.
I thank the 22 Members for their contributions. Every Member made reference to the tragic deaths of three of our fellow citizens yesterday. On my own behalf and on behalf of Fine Gael group and the House, I pay tribute to the memory of the late Ms Clare O'Neill, Mr. Michael Pyke and Mr. Fintan Goss who were tragically killed yesterday. It illustrates the fragility of life and the way in which we must all take care. These three innocent people were killed going about their business, one bringing her mother to safety, one going home to his family and the other doing what we would all do, which is to try to make life better by clearing an impasse on the road. I express my deepest sympathies and condolences to the families of the three people who were killed. Our hearts go out to the families of the bereaved. It is only through standing together as communities that we can help them cope with their loss. No words of ours will ease their pain but it will show them that the people are standing in solidarity with them.
The collective work of those charged with managing, co-ordinating and planning for Storm Ophelia deserve to be commended. It shows the importance of getting the message out and communicating. As the Cathaoirleach said, Met Éireann got it absolutely spot on and the Government, despite some people's criticism of school closures, was correct. Code red means code red. Yesterday, a school roof was blown off in Cork city. The principal, Mr. Jim Long, acting in a spirit of civic-mindedness was in the school before, during and after the storm. I fully support the Government's decision to close schools today because an assessment can only be made the day after such an event, not on the night of it or during it.I commend all the men and women in our public services who played a role, and in particular the national emergency co-ordination group under the chairmanship of Mr. Seán Hogan. We have mentioned the Garda, the Defence Forces, the fire service, the ambulance service, the Civil Defence and Met Éireann. We must also mention the men and women of ESB Networks, who were out in the eye of the storm along with gardaí. I lost power in my house early yesterday morning, but it was back this morning because of the ESB Networks workers. I also pay tribute to the local authority workers and the maligned Irish Water personnel who put themselves at risk yesterday and today in ensuring the water supply.
Senators made reference to the importance of public service radio and television. We saw it at first hand with RTÉ. I commend RTÉ and the local radio stations on their work in providing such service. In our case in Cork city, they extended the talk radio programme for two hours to give people information, to allow people to phone in and communicate.
It is important that we all stand united in condemning the silly irresponsible actions of those who were walking the promenade, swimming and kite surfing. They may think they are thrill seekers and attention seeking. However, they are putting their lives and those of the first responders at risk. We need to look at how we can prosecute or put in place some type of mitigation where these people will not in the future be able to put themselves and others at risk. I know it might not be popular but there is no place for that type of irresponsible behaviour. Senator Mullen used the word "lúdramán"; I would use a far stronger word to describe those people, but this is a national Parliament and I will not. However, they should be condemned outright.
It is about ensuring that Government got the response right. I accept that lessons have to be learnt. The issue of climate change is a reality; it is not going away. I agree with what Senator Humphreys said about the Government's response and that of agencies and Departments in the area of climate change. We need to focus minds on the effects of global warming. This is not a once-in-50-years event; this will be an ongoing event. I agree with Senator Humphreys that we need to see action.
Senator Craughwell raised the issue of the Defence Forces. I know he is a champion of the Defence Forces. I heard the Minister of State, Deputy Kehoe, say that the Defence Forces are ready to assist in a multiplicity of ways. I know the Senator does not want to politicise the House by having a vote this afternoon. In the middle of the storm Defence Forces personnel were out assisting local authorities and local communities. For example, 25 Army and Air Corps personnel were out assisting ESB Networks and HSE staff. Members of the Third Infantry Battalion from Kilkenny travelled across the country. Twelve personnel and five vehicles were out assisting. Rather than dividing the House and politicising the debate, which I know Senator Craughwell does not want to do-----
In order to assist Senator Craughwell, the import of whose remarks I understand, I will try to get the Minister of State to come to the House in the next week. Given that we are in the immediate post-Ophelia period and that a review will be carried out, I would be very happy to have him come to the House to speak about the matters the Senator raised. I know the Cathaoirleach has said that no division has been called but I just wish to assist the Senator in that.
Senator Humphreys's remarks about a debate on climate change and the measures to address our carbon footprint are well made. I would be happy to try to have that debate in the coming weeks. It is a continuation of a debate that we have been having and which the Senator initiated.
We are fortunate that no more lives have been lost and that we did not incur greater damage than we did. As many Senators have said, it epitomises the good about being Irish. There was a spirit of friendship and community around yesterday. People were checking on neighbours and calling to old people. People who were involved in meals on wheels were travelling at difficult times to ensure that people's meals were delivered.As stated, those who did not heed the advice yesterday should be condemned. We are very fortunate in the wonderful public servants that we have. When we get it right, we get it right.
Senator Warfield referenced businesses, many of which closed early yesterday. The advice from the Government was for people to remain indoors and not to travel, and, thankfully, this advice was heeded. In regard to the businesses that were open, some of them were manned by family members. I cannot answer for the city of Dublin but I know that the city of Cork was pretty much closed, with the exception of one or two small shops. If there are particular issues of which the Senator is aware, I would be happy to bring them to the attention of the Government.
On the issue of financial cost, the Taoiseach has said that local authorities will be assisted. Every effort must be made to ensure that insurance companies work with home owners, businesspeople, schools and sporting organisations who have suffered loss of or damage to their property.
I commend all who assisted in ensuring homeless people were housed during the storm. It was a well co-ordinated, multi-agency, voluntary and community-orientated effort.
Senator Dolan referred to the provision yesterday of Irish sign language interpretation. Following on from the raising of the issue with me yesterday by a member of staff from the Senator's office, I raised the matter with the Minister, Deputy Murphy, who acted immediately. I welcome the members of the deaf community who are in the Visitors Gallery for the next item on today's agenda. It is important that the deaf community is assisted in every possible way by the organs of the State, in particular RTÉ. Senator Dolan also referenced those who are disabled and house-bound and the need for a register of same. Following a review of the events of Storm Ophelia, we will be able to put in place a much more co-ordinated response.
Senators O'Reilly and Butler raised the issue of trees. Senator O'Reilly highlighted the issue of the close proximity of trees to our roadways and motorways. Notwithstanding that this is an important issue, Senator Reilly also made the important point that trees are the lungs of the world, which points to the urgency of having the heritage Bill enacted. We need hedgerows to be cut back and moved back from roadways and we need proper maintenance of our roads. I accept that we need trees, but it is equally important that we get this right given the potential for damage, as witnessed yesterday.
I accept that trees are the lungs of the world, but I also agree with Senator Reilly on the need for policy in this area.
Senator Swanick referred to the issue of loneliness, isolation and single person households and the UK Campaign to End Loneliness. I would be happy to provide time for a debate on that issue.
Senator James Reilly also spoke about the EU fund used to assist people. I would be happy to provide for a debate on that issue with the Minister.
Senator Mulherin referred to the European Commissioner for Agriculture's public consultation on the agriculture market and fairness in the EU food supply chain. I welcome that the majority of NGOs and member states are engaging in that process. Senator Mulherin has on many occasions raised in this House the need for fairness in regard to meat factories and retailers. I would be happy to provide time for that debate.
I join Senator Black in condemning the death of Ms Galizia, the eminent journalist who brought the Panama papers to the fore. An attack on a journalist is to be deplored and the killing of a journalist is to be strongly condemned. It can have no place in any democracy. I join in Senator Black's condemnation of the killing of Ms Galizia. We all cherish freedom of speech and the right of people to write, which in any democracy should be sacrosanct. Any killing is to be deplored. Senator Gallagher raised the vote of the SNAs for industrial action. The important point here is that the Government increased the number of SNAs in the budget. The place to engage on this is the Department of Education and Skills. The allocation model is based on the school need and the needs of individual pupils. However, I will invite the Minister to the House to discuss the issue.
Senators Ó Clochartaigh and Devine raised the issue of Catalonia. That situation is ongoing and we would all welcome anything that could be brought to bear to resolve the matter. However, it must be rectified internally in Spain first. The Senators can shake their heads but we have different viewpoints on how it can be resolved. That is what should happen first. If anybody is detained illegally for whatever reason they should certainly be supported in their attempts to regain their freedom.
I join Senator Ó Clochartaigh in offering condolences to the family of the late Feargal Ó Cuilinn a fuair bás le déanaí. Bronnaim mo chomhbhrón ar a chlann agus a chairde. Níor bhuail mé leis an Uasal Ó Cuilinn riamh, but it is clear from listening to Senator Ó Clochartaigh that he was a man who was very strong in his convictions about the Irish language and his work in that regard. I offer sympathy to his family and friends on his tragic death.
Senators Mullen, Colm Burke and Hopkins raised the changes in stamp duty in the budget and capital gains for land sales. I am sure that matter will be clarified and debated further when the Finance Bill comes before the House. It is important to highlight the many positive aspects of the budget relating to agriculture. Notwithstanding that, the Senators referred to consanguinity relief and the transfer of lands, which they wish to see addressed.
Senator Norris spoke about the Press Council and legislation. I do not have up-to-date information on the matter but I commend him-----
I will be happy to arrange that debate. I commend the Senator on winning his ten libel actions.
On the matter raised by Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell, the Cathaoirleach adjudicates on the issue at the Committee on Procedure and Privileges, CPP. To be fair to you, a Chathaoirligh, you have been fair to both Senator Norris and Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell in allowing them to interact and engage. As Leader of the House, I have offered to support them in any way I can to take part in debates. I have offered time to both Members on the issues. We should allow Members who are not part of a group to participate in debates in the House. I will be happy to facilitate that in so far as I can. I have never stopped Senator Norris putting a Bill before the House. However, technical groups are created and it is a matter for the CPP. Given that two Members are discommoded for not being part of a group, I can offer both of them membership application forms for Fine Gael and they would be more than welcome to join us. We would love to have both of them.
I beg the Senator's pardon. The gender pay gap was raised last week and I replied on it then. Hopefully, the Minister will come to the House to discuss that.
I hope I have responded to all the Members. Finally, I wish to thank all of our emergency personnel for their tremendous work yesterday and I join all Members in sending sympathy to the families of Clare O'Neill, Michael Pyke and Fintan Goss. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a n-anamacha dílse.
On a point of order, I wish to point out to the Leader that Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell's point was not that leaders be taken first and so forth, but the way in which people who are not leaders but members of groups who come in late and whose contributions are taken before those of the Independents.