Thursday, 9 November 2017
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, Legal Metrology (Measuring Instruments) Bill 2017 - Report and Final Stages, to be taken at 12.45 p.m.; No. 2, Water Services Bill 2017 - Second Stage, to be taken at 1 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and all other Senators' contributions not to exceed five minutes.
I wish to register my disgust that waiting lists for hospital treatments are up to almost 685,000 patients. Some lists have reduced due to Fianna Fáil's insistence that the National Treatment Purchase Fund be reactivated but this decrease is negligible. One also hears anecdotally that waiting lists for cancer testing, monitoring and treatment also have lengthened. This flies in the face of Ireland's previously world-class cancer strategy.
After my colleague, Deputy Kelleher tabled a parliamentary question, we have learned that 172 beds are out of action nationally, 13 of which are in St. James's Hospital. It beggars belief that with between 400 and 500 persons on trolleys each evening nationally, these beds are closed. I call on the Minister for Health to attend the House to have a full debate on hospital waiting lists and to update the House on cancer care in Ireland, including updated figures on treatment in this regard.
I also want to raise the issue of the naming of the new national children's hospital. I put on record my support for the views of the 57 Dublin city councillors that the new hospital be called after Dr. Kathleen Lynn. Dr. Lynn was the founder of St. Ultan's Hospital for infants and was a veteran of the 1916 Rising. I urge the Minister for Health to press the board to take on the views of the councillors. These views represent the wishes of the people. It is now time that we honoured a strong woman from our past such as Dr. Kathleen Lynn who dedicated much of her medical, social and civic service to this country. The Minister should make a statement on this matter.
I identify with Senator Ardagh's remarks about the national children's hospital. I believe it would be suitable that Dr. Kathleen Lynn should be remembered by dedicating the name of the hospital to her memory, as Senator Ardagh has suggested. Dr. Lynn was a pioneering medical champion of the poor and of children in Dublin at a time when they needed someone like her to make her talents and commitment available to them. She established St. Ultan's Hospital for infants and ran it at a time when it was one of the only children's hospitals in this city.
I wish to raise a matter that is somewhat removed from that topic. The Constitution requires that the Government should, meet and act as a collective authority. The Constitution also vests in the Government the conduct of the nation's external relations. It seems to me that those two things together require that every member of Government and every member of the Cabinet should understand that there is no possibility of taking initiatives, of a party or an individual kind, in Ireland's international relations.
I note that in the neighbouring jurisdiction, the foreign aid Minister, Priti Patel, has lost her job for taking a private personal initiative outside of the Government regime. In these circumstances and in this jurisdiction it must be asked whether it is remotely tolerable that a member of Government could decide, on a unilateral or a non-party group basis, to bring another Minister of State and another Independent Member of the Dáil to North Korea in the manner in which the Minister, Deputy Ross, the Minister of State, Deputy Halligan and others are planning to do.
I believe this to be a matter of importance and not merely because the whole idea sounds so ridiculous that if one heard it on "Callan's Kicks", one would wonder whether it was going a little bit over the top. It is serious that anybody should think he or she can remain at the Cabinet table and have his or her own foreign policy. It flies in the face of the Constitution and the two provisions I have mentioned about meeting and acting as a collective authority and about the Executive arm of the State having conduct of our international relations.
I ask the Leader to request the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney, to come to the House to make a statement about the conventions that apply in this regard, to explain how it is consistent with membership of the Cabinet to take an initiative of this kind and to indicate whether the Government proposes to tolerate this or whether it is relying on the common sense of the North Korean leadership to save it from the ultimate embarrassment of having the Minister, Deputy Ross, visit North Korea and perhaps remain there.
Tá eolas tábhachtach foilsithe inniu ag an eagraíocht Pobal maidir leis na ceantair ar fud na tíre atá faoi mhíbhuntáiste. Úsáidtear an t-eolas seo, a chuireann Trutz Haase agus Jonathan Pratschke le chéile, go minic nuair ata maoiniú á sholáthar do chláracha Stáit. Tá sé tábhachtach go dtabharfadh muid aird air. I am speaking about the Pobal HP deprivation index for small areas produced by Haase and Pratschke and published today, which Departments use as the benchmark for where funding is to be delivered. For example, it is used in regard to the allocation of funding for DEIS schools and in regard to funding under the social inclusion and community activation programme, SICAP. It is an important tool. What is most worrying is that areas previously identified by it as the most deprived remain the most deprived. I have had a cursory look at the maps. The areas most deprived appear to be in the peripheral regions of Donegal, Mayo, Galway and south Kerry, which has been traditionally the case since the commencement of the gathering of these data. This raises questions as to the effectiveness of the local community development programme, LCDP and SICAP. There have been massive cuts to the funding available for the programmes under Pobal that seek to address to these issues.
According to the press commentary on the report today, Dublin has disproportionately benefitted from the upturn in the economy and small rural towns were the most affected by the recession and the years following it. One could take from it that the small towns, which are defined as having a population of between 1,000 and 5,000 people, were worst hit by the recession and benefitted less from the recovery than did the most urban and rural areas. This quantifies the point regularly made here that the financial crisis we experienced seriously affected rural towns and rural areas. The authors of the index state in their findings that there are rings of affluence around built-up urban areas, particularly around the greater Dublin region and these were less affected by the economic crisis and austerity than the more disadvantaged areas of the city and the more isolated rural areas. This is something we often say anecdotally here has happened and these statistics back up that case. In that regard, it is important that the Minister for Rural and Community and Development, Deputy Ring, should come to the House to discuss that report and its statistics, as well as broader rural issues.
I also want to raise an issue that has been highlighted in the Dáil by Sinn Féin's spokesperson for social protection, Deputy Brady. The Government has now admitted that 42,278 pensioners nationally, as opposed to 35,000, as previously stated, have been affected by the rate band changes introduced by Fine Gael and the Labour Party from September 2012. Of these 42,278 people, 26,598 are female and 15,680 are male. The figures we have now obtained from the Department show that a much greater number of people are affected than was previously stated. I note that in counties Galway and Mayo, 2,116 and 1,340 people, respectively, are affected. It is worrying that at no stage in all the discussions on this issue has the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Deputy Regina Doherty, disclosed the actual number of people affected by the 2012 changes despite these figures being available in her Department. I am told that the Social Welfare Bill is to be discussed at Cabinet next week. We need to hear from the Minister, Deputy Doherty, if it is proposed to rectify this blatant discrimination in the Social Welfare Bill. We have heard lots of rumblings from different people in these Houses around this issue. It is important that Fianna Fáil would put pressure on Fine Gael and the Minister, Deputy Doherty, to address this issue because these 42,278 pensioners are waiting for a resolution. It is not acceptable that we would be misled in these Houses.
I echo the comments of Senator McDowell in respect of the issue he raised. While Members might have had a little giggle at the end of his contribution, it is important. The cornerstone of our democracy is Cabinet collective responsibility, which is something several Ministers in the current Cabinet have not accepted. The Attorney General might need to provide them with a handbook on how they are supposed to behave because they are not behaving in the best interests of this country. The manner in which they are behaving may help to get them re-elected but it is not in the best interests of the Republic. I am extremely disappointed about this. I believe the three Ministers concerned should consider resigning. It is not possible to have a foreign policy separate to that decided by Cabinet or to have employment legislation other than that already in place, which the Minister of State, Deputy Halligan, has breached. As a Minister of State, he should, if a party to an interview board, be aware of the rules and regulations around that process. I echo the call by Deputy Sherlock for the Minister of State, Deputy Halligan, to resign.
I wish to raise another issue that is affecting people on a daily basis. Not a day goes by that I do not meet a young person who has happily returned to employment and who now wants to plan for his or her future. Many of these young people are not on huge salaries and are concerned they will not qualify for the affordable housing or rental schemes continuously referenced by the Government. Over a year ago it was stated in this House that an affordable housing scheme and an affordable rental scheme would be put in place, which I have followed up on two occasions with the Minister and Minister of State in this House. On the first occasion, which was March last, I asked for a pilot scheme to be put in place in respect of the Poolbeg West development and I was told not to worry, as an affordable housing scheme would be announced shortly thereafter. However, no affordable scheme has yet been announced. In September the Minister indicated in The Irish Times that within weeks an affordable housing scheme would be in place such that people would know where they stand, what deposits would be needed and the income criteria in terms of eligibility for the scheme. Thousands of young people are waiting to find out if they qualify, what deposit they will need and to whom they should apply in that regard. There will be 3,500 units in the Poolbeg West development, of which 300 will be social housing units and the remaining will be affordable housing units. No criteria has yet been announced in relation to the affordable housing purchase or rental schemes.
Today, I ask the Leader to ask the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, to come to this House as soon as possible to explain to the House why no scheme has yet been announced. People need to be able to plan for their future but they do not know where they stand. These people work hard every day and they are being let down every day by the Minister, Deputy Murphy.
I wish to move an amendment to the Order of Business that No. 12 be taken before No. 1. No. 12 is the Regional Technical Colleges (Amendment) Bill 2017 - First Stage and I thank my co-signatories to that Bill, Senators Mulherin and O'Mahony.
I also want to commend GAA pundit and journalist, Mr. Joe Brolly, on raising the very serious issue regarding Mr. Peadar Heffron, who was the first Catholic to sign up to the PSNI. A PSNI team played against a team from An Garda Síochána in Dublin behind closed doors. Prior to or not long after that game, a team from the PSNI played a team from the Oireachtas, which included former Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, the former Minister of State, Jimmy Deenihan, former Deputy Conor Lenihan, myself and other Members of the Oireachtas, in a game at Kilmacud Crokes. There has a heavy Garda presence around that game. What happened to Peadar Heffron is outrageous. The GAA has sat on its hands and not apologised for what happened, even since this issue was raised by Joe Brolly. In fairness to him, it was courageous of him to highlight this issue. He has not done so on only one occasion. He highlighted the issue in articles on 29 October, 4 November and 5 November and still there is no response from the GAA.I am calling on the hierarchy at Croke Park, in central council, the president of the GAA, Aogán Ó Fearghaíl, and Mr. Padraic Duffy to apologise on behalf of the GAA for the way Peadar Heffron was treated.
Will the Leader invite the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Charles Flanagan, to come to the House to discuss the spread of rural crime? The problem is really very serious. Fear stalks the land because of what has happened quite recently. I refer to the brutal attack on Mr. Richie McKelvey from Brosna, outside Birr, a 54 year old batchelor who was beaten and thrown into a shed and is now afraid to go back again. His sister, Ms Annette Meacle, from Kilcormack, County Offaly, has said the position in rural Ireland is very serious. What action will the Minister and the acting Garda Commissioner, Mr. Donal Ó Cualáin, take to deal with the problem? I appreciate that Operation Thor has been launched again. It has been ongoing since 2015. However, those involved seem to be fearless criminals and immune from conviction. They are travelling the main highways and hitting rural areas seriously. What action will the Government take? I have great respect for the Minister for Justice and Equality who is from a rural area and has long experience in public life. He must provide leadership on this issue.
Drug use is also spreading into rural areas, which was never the case in my time. Drugs are now available in rural areas in counties such as Roscommon. There are people who are pushing drugs on young people who are in fear of the drug barons who, if they do not get their money back, send thugs to deal with the matter. The people in question will not give evidence to the Garda. We, in this House, have a responsibility. We should look at the example set by the late Tony Gregory who was very courageous in Dáil Éireann in naming and shaming the drug barons. If gardaí were to come to me to say they seriously suspect certain individuals are drug pushers but that there is not enough evidence to convict them, I would certainly be happy to use parliamentary privilege to name and shame them in this House. It would not be an abuse of parliamentary privilege but rather a use of it to bring these criminals to task. I have zero tolerance of anyone who sells drugs to a young person, or any person for that matter, and spreads this evil force around the countryside. We have to take particular action to deal with it. Why does the Garda not use surveillance cameras on major roads? Cameras should be placed on the Athlone bypass and in Rooskey and linked with a central intelligence agency. We do not make enough use of technology in taking on the criminals. It is about time we used the law and the technology available to fight them. This is a war. We need to wage war on the criminals who are waging war against the people living in rural Ireland. I am with them against the criminals and will back the Garda in whatever action it takes to bring them to justice. Will the Leader ask the Minister for Justice and Equality to come before this House to outline exactly what action he is going to take in that regard?
Last Saturday I addressed a rally in London on the situation in Palestine to mark the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration. It was a fantastic event which was attended by thousands of people. It is interesting to note that the rally was stopped three times by a combination of Zionists and English fascists working together. Zionist and "Muslims out of Europe" flags were waving in the breeze together. That tells us all we need to know about the Zionist philosophy. It was also wonderful to see so many Jewish speakers at the rally in support of the Palestinian people. They did not hesitate in calling Israel an apartheid state. I remind the Leader of the remarks of Desmond Tutu who also called Israel an apartheid state. He said silence in the face of injustice amounted to complicity with the oppressor. I do not understand why this country has not recognised the state of Palestine. Three years ago all parties in the Dáil voted unanimously to recognise it, yet the Taoiseach and his predecessor have refused to respect the result of that vote by stating the country recognises the state of Palestine. I find the silence from the Fine Gael benches absolutely appalling as everybody knows what is happening in Israel. Senator Burke of Fine Gael knows this and has spoken to me about the injustices in the apartheid sate of Israel. We know that Gaza has been declared by the United Nations to be a place in which people will no longer be able to live by 2020. I am calling on the Leader to do something about the matter. Why can Fine Gael not do the right thing and call on the Taoiseach to recognise the state of Palestine? Everyone else knows that is the right thing to do and it is appalling that it has not yet been done. I am calling for a debate with the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade in order that he can explain his silence and refusal to recognise the state of Palestine and the result of a democratic vote in the Dáil three years ago.
I raise the issue addressed by Threshold in its report published this morning. It states more than 2,000 complaints have been received from tenants who are being evicted because they have received notice that major renovations to their properties are to be carried out. There is no definition of "major renovations". I believe the Residential Tenancies Board is to issue directives in the near future on what it means and how a landlord can be covered under the terms of legislation. Threshold has received over 2,000 calls. I have been visited by a number of people in my office who are participating in different schemes, be it the housing assistance payment scheme or the rental accommodation scheme, and who have been told by their landlords that they have to move out. The landlords want to put up the price of their accommodation. I know that the Residential Tenancies Board is also concerned about the fact that more than half of the complaints have been received from people whose landlords have said they have to move out because they want to move in family members. In many of these cases that is just an excuse to get the tenants out and seek higher rents. Something has to be done about the matter. I would like the Leader to bring it to the attention of the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government.
Over 25 years of union membership and, in particular, in the five years I spent on the national executive of the Teachers' Union of Ireland and two years as its president I learned one thing. If a representative body is undermined by promises which have not been kept, it is placed at risk by its own members. Yesterday a colleague of ours, Senator Aidan Davitt, referred to local authority members and the moneys that had been promised to them. I received a number of calls last night to say we should spare people the talk as they were no longer interested. There is a principle at stake, something by which we, having been elected by the people concerned, should be standing. I have attended two conferences this year, at which I heard the members of local authorities being promised that certain payments would be made by Halloween. That did not happen. Two years ago I called for a debate in this House on this issue. Why are we afraid to discuss it in public? Why should we be afraid of representing those who elect us? Why should we be afraid to refer to the paltry money they are being offered? Many of them work much harder than any of us in meeting members of their local communities. We are offering what we would give a Minister of State as an allowance. Many of the people concerned are unemployed. I do not want to make it a political issue, but the time has come to have an open and honest discussion on it in this House with the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government.Let us talk about terms and conditions. Let us talk about maternity entitlements and entitlements to printers and computers. Let us be honest and straight with them. The Leader may think I am making this a political issue but I received calls last night from people who were extremely angry. I am sure that every Member received such calls and we need to bring the messages contained within them to the Minister on the floor of the House. We should not hide behind anything. Many people in this room, the Minister included, have worked hard behind the scenes but we are no longer convincing those who elect us so we have to discuss it.
The Cathaoirleach will know that the investment of public moneys in the tobacco industry is a great disappointment to me. In July this year my colleague, Deputy Sean Fleming, and I wrote to Mr. Justice Peter Kelly about the investments made by the Courts Service in tobacco companies. Mr. Justice Kelly is chairman of the investment committee of the Courts Service, but in his response he effectively stated that the service would not invest in the tobacco industry if the Government instructed it accordingly and if the Oireachtas made it illegal to do so. There is no law prohibiting the Courts Service from investing in the tobacco industry so it is okay for it to do so.
As a result of this response, and due to the inaction of the Government, I have drafted the Courts Service (Amendment) Bill 2017. It is a very short Bill whose aim is to amend the Courts Service Act 1998 to prohibit investments by the Courts Service in tobacco-related industries. The moneys being invested pertains to wards of court and moneys awarded to juveniles - those under the age of 18. It is abhorrent that these moneys, particularly those relating to medical cases, could be invested in the tobacco industry. It makes no sense to me at all. I believe the Bill is unnecessary and cumbersome but it is within the gift of the Government to bring this farcical situation to an end.
I move that leave be granted to introduce No. 10 on the Order Paper, the Health and Safety (Carbon Monoxide) Bill, a Bill which introduces a requirement for all landlords, which includes a public body or an approved housing body, to ensure an annual service and maintenance is carried out on all carbon monoxide-producing heating products in all tenanted properties. It requires proper records to be maintained and that work be carried out by an authorised person. The HSE has published data showing that, on average, six people die unnecessarily from carbon monoxide poisoning and many others present to GPs with symptoms.
I second Senator Burke's amendment and I agree with him. I read Joe Brolly's article on Peadar Heffron and I was extremely disappointed. I did not realise until the last few days that Peadar Heffron's path crossed mine. I played football for the Boyle GAA team on a friendly visit to Creggan Football Club nearly 30 years ago. Peadar Heffron's father, Frank, was probably playing that day and Peadar was probably there. It was a wonderful day and, despite being in the middle of the Troubles, we were very well treated. It is a memory I will always have.
I am sure Peadar Heffron was also on the PSNI team that played Kilmacud Crokes. It was a very robust game but friendships arose from it. There was a protest outside the gate but, thankfully, we have moved on a lot from these things in the past 15 or 16 years. We need to draw a line under this and Sean Kelly, MEP, has said there needs to be mediation. It is a very difficult problem because a young man from a nationalist club, who was very proud of his GAA background and his GAA roots, found himself shunned because he joined the PSNI. I do not want to go back to the past but we need to draw a line under this very embarrassing situation, which is very hurtful to Peadar Heffron and his family.
Next Saturday and Sunday there will be a commemoration of the armistice, when up to 50,000 Irish men, nationalist and unionist, lost their lives. I encourage all Members of this House to attend their local services to show their solidarity with the nationalist young men who were airbrushed out of our history many years ago.
I was listening to "Today with Sean O'Rourke" this morning, which led, not surprisingly, with the fiasco caused by the Minister of State at the Department of Education and Skills, Deputy John Halligan, asking a discriminatory question as to whether a woman was married, a question which has cost the State €7,000. Later in the programme the discussion turned to Jane Austen's novel, Emma. The phrase that came to my mind for the Minister of State was "badly done, indeed!" That somebody could fail to know that such a question was discriminatory, and has been since 1998, beggars belief. Of course, the Minister of State did know it and he even said during the interview that he understood he ought not ask the question, but he went on and asked it anyway.
There has been, as usual, a confused reaction from some politicians who are calling for his resignation. I am not referring to Senator McDowell, who raised the relevant question of whether the Minister had breached collective Cabinet responsibility with his proposed démarcheon North Korea. We should be talking about accountability in the context of this gaffe. This means "accounting for what one has done" and, in this situation, accounting for what he has done would mean paying back the State the money he has cost it.
I am more interested in that than in calls for his resignation, which is just political game-playing. The culture of seeking heads leaves no space for people to acknowledge error and to show that they have learned from their mistakes and have moved on. This would be a much healthier culture, though there will be times when people have to resign because they have done something so egregious as to leave no other option. Deputy Halligan has acted very foolishly and irresponsibly. I do not believe his question was offensive but it was discriminatory and he should account to the State for the mistake he has made and the expense he has caused to the public. That would satisfy me and many others.
I agree fully with Senator Craughwell's comments on local authority members and the Fianna Fáil group had a Commencement debate on the issue some time ago. The Minister said clearly that he would have an announcement by Hallowe'en and I am disappointed the date has passed without any announcement. I am sure the Leader will deal with it.
The national planning framework maps out the future plans for the infrastructural development of this country up to 2040. I am extremely disappointed with the contents of the document as it turns its back on the Border counties and on Northern Ireland. Its sole focus seems to be on the development of the four main cities, Dublin, Cork, Galway and Limerick. If one was to draw a line between Dublin and Galway, everything north of the line seems to have been forgotten about. I am extremely disappointed because we often hear the Government talking in this House about how it is going to address the decline of rural Ireland but this very important document, setting out the future vision for this country, totally ignores rural Ireland.Brexit, when it happens, will have serious implications for this country. I am at a loss to understand how we can plan for the future when we do not know the effects of Brexit on this country. I ask the Leader to ask the Minister to stall the plan, which is to map out the future of this country. Any investment will be based on the recommendations contained in the plan but it is a flawed document. At least one town in every county is entitled to have an ambition for growth. This document ignores that. Tomorrow is the last day for submissions on the national planning framework document. I ask the Leader to ask the Minister to stall the process for now so we can take more time to ensure rural areas are not forgotten about when the plan is being drawn up.
I wish to raise the issue of arts funding, particularly for the visual arts. A very renowned course is currently being given on Sherkin Island. Since 2007, over 70 graduates have passed through the programme, which is co-funded by the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and the local authority in Cork. It is a wonderful initiative that has really reinvigorated the arts, particularly the visual arts, in Cork. It has been very well received by everyone in west Cork, particularly those on Sherkin Island. Issues have arisen in the past few weeks over the funding of the programme. Funding of such programmes is very important to ensuring development on the islands and in the tourism industry, which comprises a huge proportion of west Cork's core industry.
We need to consider the funding of the arts, particularly courses such as the one in question, which are working together with communities, local authorities and Departments. The project in Cork, which has been running since 2007, needs a little support. A small amount of money is required to keep it going. I hope the Minister will engage with the local authority and the community on the island so we can resolve the problem. There are 37 students on the programme at present. They really comprise a great asset over the weekends when they are in the region. Working together, we can ensure communities such as that on Sherkin Island will survive. The arts programme is very important in this regard. I hope the Minister of State, Deputy Joe McHugh, will at some stage come to the House to outline his vision for progress in this area and on the larger issue of how the islands can progress.
This week, there are big initiatives to attempt to mobilise people and get them to register to vote. Some 60,000 people have become eligible to vote as a consequence. I commend the National Youth Council of Ireland on its initiatives to increase the number on the electoral register and participation. Imagine if the 60,000 were 500,000. Data from Census 2016 indicate there are 535,475 non-Irish residents living in this State. This represents a decrease of 1.6% since 2011.
Today I am proud to introduce Sinn Féin's third initiative concerning democracy, participation, empowerment and voting rights in the Seanad. It began with a proposal on voting rights in the presidential election, and it continued with my own initiative on lowering the voting age. Today's initiative, the Electoral (Amendment) (Voting Rights for Residents) Bill 2017 would afford voting rights in Dáil and European Parliament elections to non-Irish residents who have been in this State for five years. As a republican party, Sinn Féin will continue to prioritise initiatives that empower citizens and residents, even if that does not suit the PR unit of the Government. I propose an amendment to the Order of Business, that No. 11 be taken before No. 1. As many people as possible should be entitled to vote. One should not have to become a citizen of the State in order to do so. Some of those affected have lived here their whole lives, including some of my closest friends. An individual from Norway who has lived here without a family and who remains a Norwegian citizen would love the opportunity to vote in this State.
Before the end of this year, I would like a fair amount of time to be set aside to have a comprehensive debate with the relevant Minister or Minister of State on Rebuilding Ireland. It is one of the most important Government policies. We discussed all aspects of it at great length in the Seanad. The Minister sought support from us for legislative change in regard to many aspects of the plan. I do not want to go into any great detail; suffice it to say that, with regard to the measures relevant to fast-tracking planning through An Bord Pleanála and its IT system, there are extraordinary circumstances in which people all over this country cannot view appeals, lodge objections or concerns, express opinions or even support applications without having to come to Marlborough Street in Dublin. That is very Dublin-centric and very unsatisfactory.
Rebuilding Ireland is critical in terms of housing. We have a major housing crisis. Somebody asked me at the joint committee meeting this morning why our 31 local authorities, the housing authorities, are not building houses, why the hundreds of hectares in their ownership are not being used and why there is no direct provision of social and affordable housing. There is also a crisis in the rental sector. Therefore, there is a major crisis with regard to the rental sector, affordable and social housing, and the purchasing of ordinary houses. It would be appropriate for the Minister to come back now to update us on the progress on the key Government policy in question. I ask the Leader to devote considerable time to this and to set aside a few hours because there will be a lot of interest.
I wish to refer to the remarks of Senator Gavan. I agree with him that the issue of Palestine has remained static for a long period. From a diplomatic point of view and the point of view of someone who visited Gaza in 2009, I believe nothing has changed in the past eight years. If anything, circumstances have become more difficult. Each year, there seems to be a disimprovement rather than an improvement. For many in Ireland, Gaza is a strip of land equivalent to that from Cork to Youghal. People who know the area will know it is 35 miles long and ten miles wide. If one can imagine 1.5 million Irish people locked into that block of land, one can imagine how difficult it is to survive in Gaza, where that is the reality. I agree with Senator Gavan that the matter should be addressed.
Could I raise the issue of respite care? I received a report from the health committee yesterday. This was after six months of looking for information on planning for respite care. I am seriously concerned about it because a number of families in the Cork area face major challenges every day in trying to deal with family members with an intellectual disability. Respite care is not available to them. The report I received yesterday from the health committee indicated that, by 2021, we will need to open an extra 2,244 new residential support services for respite care alone. This would be a major challenge and it is one we will have to meet by 2021.
I have not seen any proposals from the HSE on how we intend to deal with that kind of demand. I raised previously in this House the fact that there are a huge number of parents looking after family members. Those parents are now ageing and are not able to provide support at the same level they were able to provide it over the past 15, 20 or, in some cases, 30 to 40 years. We face a major challenge.It is appropriate that we would have the Minister in to debate what is involved in the planning, where it is starting, who is in charge, what are the targets and when they are going to be achieved. We need to have this debate and to get this dealt with because it is not going to improve. I am not convinced that these targets are going to be reached unless we develop a comprehensive plan for the next three to four years.
Regarding Senator Craughwell's comments on councillors' pay and conditions we have had enough talk, as have the councillors themselves. It is action that councillors want now and that is all I will say on the matter on this occasion.
I endorse everything Senator McDowell said with regard to Cabinet collective responsibility in terms of not only foreign affairs policy but all other policy matters. All policies must be collectively decided and followed by the Government and that is particularly important with regard to foreign policy. While I welcome any attempt to bring stability to North Korea, I do not think that can be done by a member of the Government without the collective permission of that Government. I understand that the Minister of State, Deputy John Halligan has former comrades in North Korea and while he may feel that those contacts may be helpful in bringing about that stability, he cannot do that as a member of the Government.
This weekend Fine Gael brings its national conference to one of the most beautiful parts of the country, the Slieve Russell Hotel in Ballyconnell. While party members are down there for a day and a half, I would urge the Leader to ensure that when the Minister of State at the Department of Defence, Deputy Paul Kehoe, is passing through Cavan town on his way to the conference he is brought in and shown around the most modern army barracks in Europe. I will do it if the Minister of State is available. That barracks was closed by his predecessor. When the Minister of State finishes that tour - which I am very willing to conduct - and goes on towards the Slieve Russell Hotel, I will bring him a mile further on to the Border and show him exactly how open and vulnerable it is in the context of security. Having said that, I wish Fine Gael well with its conference and hope that members will take the time to visit some of the beautiful amenities in the Cavan, Fermanagh and Leitrim area.
I would second it but I am formally seconding the amendment to the Order of Business proposed by Senator Warfield.
Two events this week in the North have once again brought home for many of us the horror of collusion between the British crown forces and loyalists and the consequences for the families affected by it. Last Friday in Loughinisland Gaelic Athletic Club, GAC, the families of the six people massacred in Loughinisland-----
I will start again. Two events this week in the North have once again brought home for many of us the horror of collusion between the British crown forces and loyalists and the consequences for the families affected by it. Last Friday in Loughinisland GAC, the families of the six people massacred at Loughinisland watched a film called "No Stone Unturned", which tells the awful story of how that massacre happened and the role played in it by crown forces and loyalists. This week I spoke to the solicitor Niall Murphy, who represents the families and his plain words to me were that every citizen in Ireland "must see this film". This week in Belfast a landmark judgment was made by Mr. Justice Treacy who directed that the PSNI completes an investigation into dozens of killings carried out by the notorious Glennane gang from County Armagh. In his judgment he said he has made an order compelling the Chief Constable, George Hamilton, to complete this investigation. This Seanad must support Mr. Justice Treacy's order. The Glennane gang is believed to be responsible for killing 120 people. Those involved in the killings were members of the so-called security forces, namely the RUC and the UDR, as well as the UVF. It is an incredible state of affairs that a judge has to compel the police to do its job of investigating the murder of civilians. In many cases, these murders were carried out with the assistance of police officers and other members of the crown forces. Why does the PSNI not feel compelled to uncover the truth for the families affected? Why do families have to go to court seeking the truth?
The Loughinisland film and Mr. Justice Treacy's judgment not only highlight the extent of collusion but also the extent of the cover up that is going on in terms of the blocking of the truth about killings through collusion. This cover-up is directed by the British intelligence agencies and is supported in many instances by the British Government. In the coming days, we will all gather around television screens with family and friends to cheer Ireland on in critical World Cup qualifying matches, exactly as people did on that tragic night in the Heights Bar many years ago. The film "No Stone Unturned" is due for general release tomorrow and I would urge Seanadóirí to watch it and to support the families of those killed at Louginisland and those killed by the Glennane gang in their reasonable demands for the truth to be told about what happened to their loved ones.
I second Senator Swanick's proposal. I wish to speak about the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill 2015 which was debated in this House last night. It was good, after so many years, to see the Bill pass Committee Stage.
I fundamentally agree with the Cathaoirleach's ruling, which was very magnanimous.
I thank the 27 Members who contributed on today's Order of Business. Senators Ardagh and McDowell raised the issue of the national children's hospital and the naming thereof. I wish to inform the House that there was a nine month consultative process to which 300 submissions were made. The name that was selected was the Phoenix children's hospital. I do not have any issue with the name put forward by Senators Ardagh and McDowell today. I am agnostic on what the name should be but I was somewhat amused at the name selected for a national children's hospital as a result of the consultative process.
I was not aware of the fact that Phoenix was the name of a beer but perhaps the name needs to be reflected upon again, given the volume of submissions by medics and councillors - not that I would necessarily be led by some of the councillors on Dublin City Council - and the comments of Senators McDowell and Ardagh. I am happy to bring their concerns to the attention of the Minister. That said, a consultation process was undertaken which took nine months and to which 300 submissions were made.
Senator Ardagh made reference to the issue of waiting lists in our hospitals. Is it not great that waiting lists are coming down? Is that not wonderful?
It is correct. The important point is that the waiting times, which we all accept are too high, are being reduced. There were significant decreases in October in the size of the 15 to 18 month waiting lists and the 12 month waiting lists are down by almost 20%.We all welcome the fact that the Minister, Deputy Harris, in the recent budget, secured the biggest increase in the health budget in a generation. We also agree that the strong focus by the Minister is on reducing the waiting times. In addition, there has been an increase in funding through the National Treatment Purchase Fund, NTPF. I accept that Deputy Kelleher and Senator Swanick have been strong proponents of the NTPF, as has Senator Colm Burke. We will work to ensure that there will be further reductions in waiting times but it is not correct to say nothing is happening. It is not correct to say that there is not work being done. Substantial work is being done in the hospitals and the allocation of €55 million to the NTPF is an example of the Government's commitment to end the waiting times.
Equally, the Government is committed to a universal approach to the health system. We have not seen a Fianna Fáil health policy produced in a decade, not since the party got rid of - sorry, Ms Mary Harney was with the party in government and then it put her into health.
I stated that waiting times are too long, if Senator Murnane O'Connor listened to what I said, but the Senator playing politics with it will not solve the issue. Senator Murnane O'Connor's party's history in health is appalling. Fianna Fáil ran out of the Department of Health. It had not a Fianna Fáil Minister in Hawkins House. It put the former Deputy, Mary Harney, in there and left her there. That is the reality.
I am, a Chathaoirligh.
Senators McDowell, Humphreys, Mullen and Wilson made reference to a combination of proposed visits to North Korea and to the Minister of State, Deputy Halligan. I make the point regarding Senator McDowell's point on the constitutionality of collective Cabinet decision-making that to the best of my knowledge, that has not changed. I have not had the privilege of being in Cabinet but the Cabinet I am observing has not changed that yet. The Taoiseach and the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade have made it clear there is no Government mission. There is no collective decision taken to go to North Korea. The commentary by the Ministers in question has been refuted by Government, in that there will not be a Government mission. The Taoiseach and the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade have made it clear that they will not be going to North Korea on behalf of the Government.
There is one Government policy, there is one Government and they speak as a collective, and that has not changed.
In regard to the Minister of State, Deputy Halligan, it is regrettable that he used the words that he did and asked the question he did. He has admitted that he was wrong. Personally, I do not believe he should appeal the case. He made a mistake and he should definitely pay the award. It should not have happened but I know the Minister of State, Deputy Halligan, and he is a genuine committed person who in no way is discriminatory or wants to see any gender inequality in society.
Equally, it poses a question, in terms of questioning the Minister of State and accountability, that Senator Mullen referenced, about how Members behalf and act, whether in this House, in television stations or on radio programmes or in committees. As Members of the House, we should act with probity at all times in the way in which we speak to each other, the way in which we speak to witnesses and the way in which we interact with witnesses at committee, as well as with Ministers and officials in this House and the other House. None of us is beyond reproach. Accountability is required of all of us for all of our actions in all parts of our lives as public representatives and we cannot be one or the other. We have to be accountable to everybody.
Senator Ó Clochartaigh raised the Pobal deprivation index report that was published. The Government has created the Department of Rural and Community Development and the Minister, Deputy Ring, is the first Minister at Cabinet with responsibility to respond to the challenges facing rural Ireland and to ensure that the recovery that is happening affects the four corners of the country. The Government is investing in a variety of means and mechanisms to improve the lives of people in towns and villages in rural areas and the rural renewal scheme and the town and rural recreation programme will see benefit in the rural areas. I would be happy to have the Minister come to the House to discuss the matter that Senator Ó Clochartaigh raised.
Equally, it is important to put on record that the budget for the town and village scheme for this year has doubled to €21.6 million. The Department of Rural and Community Development received the second highest percentage increase, 12%, of any Department in the budget. The Pobal deprivation index enables us to effectively target resources and services at the most disadvantaged. It is vital that we act upon the deprivation index report in order that Departments and State agencies can be seen to work in rural areas beyond, as Senator Gallagher stated, the M50. That means that, for example, the RAPID programme, which the Ministers, Deputies Ring and Donohoe, launched last week, will be targeted to ensure that those who most need it in deprived communities will receive the support.
There has been a 41% recovery since 2011 in terms of affluence.
There are positives in the report too, that Senator Ó Clochartaigh should reference as well. The Senator should not always be the harbinger of bad news. There is good news in it too and it is important to hear that.
Senators Humphreys and Boyhan made reference to housing, Rebuilding Ireland and affordability. I would be happy to have the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, come to the House in regard to the matter.
Senators Paddy Burke and Feighan made reference to the articles written by Joe Brolly in regard to Peadar Heffron. It is disturbing to read those articles, and disappointing to hear that there has been complete silence by his own club. As a member of Cumann Lúthchleas Gael, I recognise the importance of Cumann Lúthchleas Gael in society. It certainly behoves, as Senator Feighan said, mediation and interaction. Some Members in this House are quick to come in and speak on issues. Their silence this morning in support of Senators Paddy Burke and Feighan is alarming.
This is a man who made a decision to join a police force in the interests of reconciliation and building community. It was heartening, as a GAA person, to see the PSNI advertise in the all-Ireland final programme this year for recruitment. It is heartening to see members of the nationalist community joining the PSNI. It is through this type of endeavour that we can bring and further augment the work of reconciliation. There is an obligation on all of us to ensure that the wrong done to Peadar Heffron is rectified. I would encourage all Members to read the articles because they make for stark reading. It is not about somebody who is left or right, or nationalist or Protestant. This is a person who wants to make a contribution to society and there is an obligation on all of us to work to ensure that he and his family receive retribution in terms of the apology, as Senator Paddy Burke said. It is important that we all work in a collective way to achieve that.
In response to Senator Leyden, rural crime is coming down. The figures speak for themselves.
It is up to every one of us to give their names to the gardaí to help them to arrest these people and put them behind bars. Equally, as the Senator knows quite well, as a long-standing Member and former Minister of State, it is the courts that decide on the punishment, not us in this House or Government. I am happy to have the Minister come before the House and for the matter to be discussed-----
-----but it ill-behoves the Senator to come in here scaremongering and whipping up hysteria. He should work with all of us to ensure our communities are safer and better places rather than engage in populist nonsense.
I am happy to have a debate on Palestine as soon as possible with the Minister, Deputy Coveney.
Senator Byrne raised the Threshold report. It is a very important report for tenants and their rights, and I am happy to have the Minister, Deputy Murphy, come before the House to discuss the matter.
Senators Craughwell, Gallagher and Wilson raised the issue of councillors' pay and conditions. I fully agree with them. I made a contribution in response to Senator Davitt in this regard yesterday. It is time we had action on councillors' pay and conditions and the other terms they need to see rectified. I would be very happy, as I have been doing with my colleagues on this side of the House, to work with the Minister of State, Deputy Phelan, and the Minister, Deputy Murphy, to ensure we see an increase in councillors' pay and conditions. They deserve it. I made that point yesterday. There is not a majority view on the other side of the House as to what we should do for councillors. Every one of us who was a local authority member and who is now a Member of this House recognises and understands the importance of local government and the role our elected members play. I spent Monday with Councillor Deirdre Forde at a public oral hearing. She had to make other sacrifices to be there for the whole day.
No one is undermining anyone. We are all acutely aware of the need for a resolution to the matter and we will all work to ensure our councillors, at urban and rural level, receive fair pay. Recommendations from our side of the House and the other side will be well heard by the Minister, and we will all work on that.
I am happy to accept Senator Swanick's amendment to the Order of the Business. I will short-circuit the amendments proposed. I am happy to accept all amendments to the Order of Business, to be clear. I agree with Senator Swanick about tobacco.
I join with Senator Feighan in encouraging all Members of the House to attend the Armistice Day commemorations. It is important we remember those who died in an act of generosity and reconciliation. We cannot just airbrush people out of the picture; we must remember all of them.
I have already responded to Senator Mullen's contributions. In response to Senator Gallagher, regarding the draft national planning framework, the Government is ambitious for the whole of the country. It is not just about Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Galway and Waterford; it is about the whole country and all the regions. The mistake was made in that great decentralisation plan and the other plans Fianna Fáil had-----
Please, Senator Leyden. Senator Buttimer is responding to the Order of Business. I allowed Senator Leyden speak for almost four minutes. I gave him a lot of latitude so I ask him not to keep interrupting. It is not-----
The mistake that was made was that nearly every town and village was named in other plans. We must ensure real investment that is deliverable and tangible.
I agree with Senator Lombard about the issue of the visual arts and commend those on Sherkin Island. We can have the debate on the matter again another day, but I am happy to accept Senator Warfield's amendment to the Order of Business.
Senator Colm Burke's point about investment in respite care is very well made. There is an issue of people with intellectual disabilities receiving respite care, and I am very happy to have that debate in the House.
Senator Wilson has a very strong family connection with Fine Gael and he would be very welcome to join us in the Breffni county-----
-----in our deliberations this weekend. I remind him that the Minister of State, Deputy Kehoe, who, I am sure, would be very happy to meet him, was the Minister of State who secured €25 million extra for the Defence Forces in 2018. There will be €98 million in extra capital-----
-----in 2018 to 2021, and a capital envelope of €416 million will provide for building works across a variety of barracks. I am of the view that the Minister of State would love to meet the Senator in Cavan and have a debate with him. I am happy to have Senator Craughwell come to Cavan as well. I thank Senator Wilson for his welcome to Cavan. I look forward to the visit and our deliberations in the Breffni county.
Senator Ó Domhnaill made reference to the film "No Stone Unturned" and the victims of the Loughinisland massacre. I would be very happy to watch the film. I think the PSNI will reflect upon Mr. Justice Treacy's ruling.
Finally, I thank the Members for their contributions to the alcohol Bill last night. I know it was a long night but I commend the House for the way in which we handled the Bill.