Tuesday, 14 November 2017
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, motion re the horse and greyhound racing fund regulations 2017, referral to committee, to be taken on conclusion of the Order of Business without debate; No. 2, statements on the diaspora, to be taken at 4.45 p.m. and to conclude no later than 6.15 p.m., with the contribution of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes and the Minister to be given no fewer than five minutes to reply; and No. 3, statements on the report of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government entitled, The Impact of Short Term Lettings on Ireland's Housing and Rental Market, to be taken at 6.15 p.m. and to conclude no later than 8.15 p.m., with the contribution of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes and the Minister to be given no fewer than five minutes to reply.
I wish to convey my sympathies and those of the Fianna Fáil group to the families of the 400 killed and the thousands injured on the border between Iraq and Iran, especially in the western provinces. It was one of the largest earthquakes to hit the region in the recent years measuring 7.3 on the Richter scale. It is a major humanitarian crisis for the area and it will leave many sleeping out in the cold for another night. Their homes have been absolutely destroyed and many of their relatives have been killed or severely injured. Our thoughts are with the Iranians and Iraqis at this time.
The main issue I wish to raise today relates to rising rents and house prices. A report from daft.ieshows rents have risen by 11% so far this year. We know that up to 55% of people's monthly income goes on rent, a vast amount of money. We see house prices increasing by up to 20% and it is difficult to see how people can save fast enough or as fast as houses are going up in value. Ultimately, the big issue is the supply of housing and how we ensure supply is increased. We speak about this issue almost every day in the Seanad, yet we have not really seen a solution. We have seen homeless figures increase dramatically, yet the Government does not seem to be taking this seriously. We need to see a proper affordable housing scheme, like the scheme Dublin City Council has provided in Poppintree. However, that has not been forthcoming.
I know the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government is coming to the House later today and there will be a wider discussion on the matter but I wish to put on record that it is absolutely unacceptable that we have continued like this. Every meeting that I have attended, whether at Dublin City Council or in the Seanad, has related to housing, yet nothing has been done.
I wish Martin O'Neill and the Irish team the best of luck tonight. I hope that we make it to the World Cup and that we have a good time celebrating.
I wish to extend my sympathies to the wife and family of Kevin Dawson, the renowned journalist who died the other day at the age of 57 years. I will explain how I came in contact with him first. He was a brave young journalist who, 25 years ago, first broke the story in the Sunday Tribunerelating to the drug trials on children in State institutions when no other newspaper would touch the article and no national broadcaster would touch the issue. At that stage, it was denounced and people thought it was all a fixation of his imagination and the imagination of others. We know there was a subsequent tribunal of inquiry and that everything he said was correct.
It is important that we mark the passing of this man. He had a 35-year career in print and broadcasting. He was a freelance journalist who worked initially for Magilland then the Sunday Press, The Irish Times, Irish Independent, Sunday Independent, Sunday Tribune, Sunday Business Postand RTÉ. I wish to convey my sympathies to his family, especially his wife, Brianóg, and his children, Colm and Anna.
We saw in him an outstanding, exceptionally brave and courageous journalist. He was an exceptional man who really epitomised everything that is exemplary in public life, broadcasting and commentary in terms of political and social affairs. I wish to remember him today. May he rest in peace.
I wish to thank all the people involved – I know this involved all Senators across the House – who campaigned for better pay and conditions for county councillors. This has been to and fro with various people. In particular, I wish to acknowledge the Minister and Minister of State in the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government. I wish to acknowledge the work of the Taoiseach, Deputy Leo Varadkar, who advocated greatly for the PRSI improvements and the small improvement of an additional allowance in expenses. I wish to acknowledge this on behalf of all sides of the House. A committee of the House worked well on this matter. We will see a statutory instrument signed and I understand a circular is to be issued today to the chief executives in all 31 local authorities. Although this is a welcome step, it is only the beginning.I hope all of us will continue to work together in this House for better pay and conditions for all the 900 or so councillors in this country who do exceptionally hard work and have a vast workload and major responsibilities. Their remuneration should reflect their workload and responsibilities.
Eligible students are being refused seats on school buses in rural areas. This applies particularly to students repeating their leaving certificate who do not know their exam results until after the deadline for the school transport application. I know people who have decided to repeat their leaving certificate, and well done to them, but who cannot get a seat on the bus. I do not know what the school transport system is in North Korea but the Minister of State, Deputy Halligan, should consider this because cases are going from the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport to the Department of Education and Skills and back again. In the meantime young people who are trying to access education in rural areas cannot get the transport they are told they are eligible for. It is not because a bigger bus is not available because it is, but because it is too costly to use for the children who are eligible.
I ask that Deputy Halligan come to the House for another debate on school transport to examine these anomalies which deprive students of transport and access to schools. It not only affects the student but the whole family. In some cases the students' siblings are on the bus but they are not allowed on the bus. Mothers or fathers then have to give up their jobs in order to drive their children to school. This is a very serious issue in rural areas and I would like it to be addressed immediately. I ask that, as a matter of urgency, the Minister of State come in here and answer some of these questions to save parents being sent from Billy to Jack without getting any answers.
Will the Leader convey our concern that people who often live from payment to payment, week to week, have been told they cannot access their pensions without a public service card, despite an answer from the Minister this week in which she assured us that An Post did not require the public service card of people accessing pensions and other payments? The Data Protection Commissioner is conducting an investigation into the legality of how the public service card has been rolled out. Can we have a moratorium on requirements being increased for presentation of a public service card when we do not know whether the system being introduced is fit for purpose and properly designed?
I share the concerns of many on seeing the issue of housing in Ireland being diminished by suggestions that our figures are less than some, more than others, are average. There has been concern at the expressions used not simply by the Government but by a former head of the Housing Authority, which is very serious, like the poor are always with us.
There is another level to that concern. In the past week some Ministers have spoken of how we need to be very careful about our refugee issues and other areas, such as health and housing. The urgency of the housing issue is given as the reason that we cannot perform other good, necessary and moral actions needed in our society and at the same time we are told housing is not a problem. I am concerned, first, at the diminishing of this issue and, second, at the idea that it be maintained in some way at some level where it can be used against others. We have heard a lot of talk in recent months about this group versus that group.Which do we want? We have to make these hard choices. It always seems to be vulnerable groups which are being set against others when these hard choices are being made. We do not tend to drag in, for example, the massive tax relief systems. If we are having a positive narrative, it is important that we be honest about problems and own them and that we ensure we never use a problem in one area of society to diminish progress in another. I say this having come from the World Forum for Democracy, at which I spoke last week. We can see the very dangerous consequences when groups which are marginalised within society are, in any sense, set against each other or encouraged to take the perspective that they are competing. I say this to the Leader knowing that he is very committed in dealing with all of these issues. Can we be very careful about our political narrative? We are at a dangerous time and what might seem like an easy way to dismiss a problem now will store up greater problems. We have seen the fascists on the streets of Poland this week. It is of major concern to everyone across Europe. We need to lead by providing a responsible political narrative. I appeal to the House and the Minister via the Leader in that regard.
On behalf of the Labour Party, I join Senator Catherine Ardagh in expressing sympathy to the survivors and families of those killed so tragically in the earthquake in Iran. I understand more than 400 people were killed and about 7,000 injured. It was an horrific earthquake. I also join Senator Victor Boyhan in expressing sympathy to the family of the late Kevin Dawson who was a pioneering journalist.
I ask for a debate on the issue of gender equality in the workplace, in the light of a number of recent developments. On Friday we marked Equal Pay Day when the National Women's Council, IMPACT and others noted that women in Ireland worked for free on a Friday, given that, on average, they earned 14% less than their male colleagues. Last Friday was designated as Equal Pay Day across Ireland. It would be worth having a debate on the issue. I commend the Minister of State, Deputy David Stanton, who dealt with the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (Gender Pay Gap Information) Bill introduced by the Labour Party. He said the Government would accept the Bill. The Taoiseach also mentioned it in his speech on Friday. I am delighted to see-----
I was glad to see some positive signs of something which was often, rightly, disparaged, namely, new politics. Gender equality in the workplace goes beyond equal pay. In recent weeks there has been momentum on issues to do with sexual harassment in the workplace. I commend Grace Dyas, a brave young woman, for coming forward to highlight issues to do with sexual harassment in Irish theatre, most notably the Gate Theatre, to which the issue is not confined. Since her actions, other women have come forward to talk about harassment in other spheres across the arts and other sectors. Some years ago a law study showed that this was an issue across the legal profession. The Minister of State, Deputy David Stanton, rather than the Minister of State, Deputy John Halligan, is probably the appropriate Minister of State to come to the House to discuss equality in the workplace, including gender equality, and how we can combat the problems, given the recent decision of the Workplace Relations Commission. Today we published a toolkit, a resource for those experiencing harassment in the workplace, to inform them of their legal rights. A number of us worked on it. We need to inform those who are experiencing sexual harassment and other forms of bullying in the workplace of such toolkits.
I welcome the decision of the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Charles Flanagan, to allow family reunification which involves, I understand, 430 persons, in the light of the defeat of the Government last week in the Seanad on the Civil Engagement Group's Bill. However, it does not go far enough. More needs to be done to ensure people can have close family members join them, in particular those who have fled the conflict in Syria.
I join others in wishing the Irish team well in the crucial match against Denmark.
I also express my condolences to the Iranian people following the earthquake. There were heart-wrenching pictures in a newspaper of a mother holding in her arms her baby daughter who had been killed in the earthquake.The census figures for 2016 which were released last week showed how small towns had been hardest hit by the recession in the past ten years, while Dublin had been the least affected. The data show, too, that the capital has benefited disproportionately from the upturn in the economy, while small rural towns have felt the worst effects of the recession in the years since it ended. I refer, in particular, to the retail sector in rural towns. My local newspaper, the Meath Chronicle, reports that there are 95 vacant units in Navan town which has a population of 30,000 people. The reasons for this pressure on retailers include paid parking, an out-of-town shopping centre and the new show in town, rates revaluations. In other counties the majority of small businesses have seen an increase in rates of 16%. These are the people to whom we should have given a medal for staying open during the recession. In many cases, they did not pay themselves a wage in an effort to keep their businesses going, but they are being submitted to these revaluations. If more small shops are lost in rural locations, we will have no communities. We know what has happened in the United Kingdom, where people have to travel several kilometres to purchase the basics such as milk and sugar. The civil servants in Dublin must be told that we need a plan of action for rural Ireland. Will the Minister for Rural and Community Development come to the House and put forward his ideas for action in that regard? When we see a town like Navan in which there are 95 retail units vacant, we can only wonder what the situation is in smaller towns in more rural areas. The Minister must tell us what plan of action he proposes to implement to assist the retail sector in rural areas.
A major anniversary of the signing of the Good Friday Agreement has just passed. A wonderful commemorative event took place last week when marvellous speeches were made by people like Mr. Seamus Mallon, Mr. David Trimble and my neighbour, Mr. Dick Spring. The late Albert Reynolds was, of course, notable by his absence. It was a great and joyous occasion but also an extremely sad one. Most of us thought when the Agreement was signed that we would see a shift in behaviour and politics in the North of Ireland that would bring the two communities closer together and see a dismantling of the walls of bitterness and division between nationalist and unionist, Catholic and Protestant, but the sad news is that we have actually gone into reverse. The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Mr. James Brokenshire, is today introducing in the House of Commons a budget for Northern Ireland. There will not be a single Irish nationalist voice taking part in that debate, which is a huge backward step. The proud tradition of nationalist parliamentary involvement in the House of Commons dates back to the time of Daniel O'Connell and includes the great Parnell, Redmond, Dillon and all of the other parliamentarians who engaged in a constant grind to achieve more independence, including Home Rule, for the Irish, but now it has come to a shuddering halt. Is it only a matter of time before we see a Cabinet of British Ministers appointed to administer matters in Northern Ireland? It seems inevitable, unless politicians on all sides in the North - I am pointing the finger at no one - see sense and work together to tear down the so-called peace walls, come out of their ghettos, engage with each other and behave as elective representatives are meant to do to get good deals for the people who voted them into power. The two major parties have huge mandates, but it seems those mandates are not being respected.All of us here in the Irish nationalist tradition have a lot to be worried about today as we have seen ourselves moving from an ever-constant grinding down of British rule and British authority on this island being dramatically reversed while all the good work of those great people I have mentioned looks it is turning to ashes. I am from Kerry, which is a long way from the North but I have as much feeling for the North of Ireland as anybody in this country. I appeal from my heart to the politicians in the North to get together and to work out a deal, like Martin McGuinness or Peter Robinson were able to do. It is not beyond them.
Two weeks ago I had the privilege of meeting the former Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, in Waterville when I was able to thank him for the work he did with the Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach, Deputy Kehoe, in securing the Jadotville medal. This weekend I learned to my disgust the treatment by the Department of Defence of the Jadotville heroes who are to be awarded their medal on 2 December. They are to be denied a proper military service or military parade.
A daughter of one of the Jadotville heroes wrote to me today. She writes of her father as follows:
[My father] a man who believed in justice and equality. He knew what it was like to feel segregated long before the Congo. He knew what injustice was and how it felt to be treated unfairly by some locals and outsiders! In fact, he knew this from a very young age, even though he was born on Irish soil he could have joined the British Army, but instead, decided to join the Irish Army. But what a mistake! As once again he was segregated, treated like dirt and left to die, not by the people of the Congo ... No! ... but by his own! When he returned home he was called a coward again by ... his own comrades, Government and the Defence Force. He also died in the care of the Defence Forces and left a young wife and five children, one of which never got to know him! When his friend [...] asked what happened to [and she names her father], [they were told] "keep your mouth shut or your career will be on the line!" I wonder why????? I don't need the word bravery, honour or hero written on a piece of paper or engraved on a plaque to tell me who or what this great man was! Because I already [know]. He was the man that held me when I was sick as a child, he was the man that sat and held me in his big strong arms and told me I'd be alright! He was the man who gave me little surprises on pay day. He, in the blink of an eye was the man that was there no more and no one cared then or now!
I beg the Leader to go to the Taoiseach today and ask him to reverse the awful decision by the Department of Defence. It is wrong in every way. Those heroes are entitled to have their comrades stand by them when they receive a medal that is 56 years overdue. I served with those men and never knew they were in Jadotville. I knew nothing about it because it was hidden. There is no disgrace in what they did. They are heroes. They deserve to be given their medal in front of their former colleagues and with a full military parade.
I echo what Senator Ray Butler spoke about, namely, rates, and the fact that business is only recovering now from those hard years of recession. Having survived that, to be faced now with what looks to be an increase in rates is very worrying for people, especially in towns such as Balbriggan and Rush which have struggled through the recession but are coming out of it.
The reason I rise here today is to commend Fingal County Council on good news. The council yesterday voted to allow the CEO of the council, Paul Reid, to enter into negotiations with the European Investment Bank to seek up to €70 million, which could be matched by Government funds. I will strongly support that and I will lobby the Government to make sure that happens.I congratulate the council because I believe it is the first mover on this issue. The European Investment Bank exists to offer affordable loans to allow infrastructure to be developed. In an area such as Fingal, the obvious part of Dublin that will allow for the expansion of the population and badly needed housing, it seems opportune to invest in advance in the infrastructure people need. For once in our history we will have the infrastructure in place before the housing is built and families arrive. This includes important infrastructure such as the greenway, which is a no-brainer in terms of the jobs created and tourism generated, an issue about which I have spoken in the House before. I refer also to connectivity, including roads, particularly near Dublin Airport where planning permission was recently refused for five tower blocks for offices only on the grounds that there was inferior and insufficient road connectivity. The lands have been zoned. We need to develop these things.
There is a possibility to be a leader in other areas. A former major waste disposal area for Dublin city, Balleally dump, had a huge amount of work done on it. It now has the potential to be a wonderful community park, with fabulous views from the top of the man-made mountain. There are many other areas in which there could be investment to improve the lives and well-being of the locals. Swimming pools, for example, could be constructed. Fingal, Swords and Balbriggan should seriously consider developing swimming pools for their populations.
I really believe it is important to acknowledge this opportunity and that we acknowledge Fingal County Council for its forward thinking. I wish it well in its negotiations with the European Investment Bank and, subsequently, the Government. I hope there will be a successful outcome some time in December and that we will be able to look forward to investing in projects and infrastructure, including parks, for our ever-increasing population and the youngest in the country. In other parts of Europe the European Investment Bank has also invested in hospitals.
Will the Leader update us on the Government's plans to protect young people from the grips of the gambling industry? My party has been extremely active on this topic, about which I am seriously concerned. The Department of Justice and Equality has a plan for a gambling control Bill, although it is fair to say and everyone agrees that it is long overdue at this stage, especially as it will include some provisions aimed at child protection. I have outstanding concerns about free games which are targeted at children online and encourage risk-taking and gambling within them. The outcomes of such games set the perfect landscape on which monetary gambling may take hold in early adulthood. At least in the United Kingdom there has been action following a report or research last year which indicated that 500,000 children from four years and upwards were gambling. The story is similar here. The Gambling Commission in the United Kingdom has acted swiftly and recently ordered over 550 gambling sites to be removed immediately to remove the cute, cuddly games targeted at and designed exclusively for children. There is the deliberate design of child-oriented games which are free to play. It is an effective sales pitch to sell children the concept of gambling. If the Leader was to clarify how the Government planned to address the issue, I would appreciate it.
Come on, you boys in green.
Last week I referred to the Threshold report and the issue of rising rents. Today we read that rents in Dublin, up to September 2017, had risen by over 11%. In my city of Limerick they have risen by 10.5%. It is frightening because the report shows that rents in Dublin city centre can be anything up to €1,800 per month. In many other cities they can be €1,100 or €1,200 per month. There is a need for a cap. Rent caps and rent pressure areas have been highlighted by the Minister, but he needs to come into the House to address the issue. The other matter I would like to raise, following on from Senator Reilly, is the signing with the European Investment Bank in Limerick on Thursday of €85 million that we are borrowing from it in the form of a low-interest loan. This will help towards the economic development of the city. It is the official signing of the contract for the so-called opera centre site in Limerick where we will have businesses and office spaces. The student population is also moving into the city centre in the form of faculties from both the University of Limerick and the Limerick Institute of Technology. I also welcome the European Investment to both Limerick and Ireland, especially on Thursday next when the contract will be signed in Limerick for what one might call this partnership between Limerick City and County Council and the European Investment Bank. I would encourage, as Senator Reilly has, many of the other local authorities to look at these low-interest loans and partnerships with the European Investment Bank.
Today, I raise the issue of section 39 workers. There are 10,000 of these workers working in our hospices, in the community hospitals and in the Rehab facilities. Some one-in-ten workers in the intellectual disability sector are section 39 workers. They do exactly the same work as HSE workers but they are paid less. They are paid less because in 2010 Fianna Fáil when in government cut their wages and since then they have been ignored. Whereas HSE workers have rightly been winning pay restoration, section 39 workers have not. The 8% pay cut that was imposed on them is still in place. As a result - I must declare an interest in that I represented a number of these workers in St. Anne's in Roscrea and the Daughters of Charity in Limerick - these workers are now voting with their feet; they are leaving. They are people who work in incredibly challenging situations with some of the most vulnerable people in society and do an amazing job. They go above and beyond the call of duty.
What is disgraceful is this Government line that they are not directly employed by it. They were not directly employed in 2010 when their pay was cut. That is not an excuse. There are 10,000 of these workers across the State. SIPTU representatives met the Minister of State at the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Deputy Finian McGrath, who told them he would lobby at Cabinet level. That tells us that the Cabinet is refusing what it must do, which is to restore pay and fairness for these workers because they do exactly the same work as their colleagues. I ask the Leader to arrange a debate as a matter of urgency with the Minister of State. I also ask the Leader his own view. I would like him to state clearly for the record that these workers should get their pay restoration without any further delay.
I acknowledge Senator Craughwell's passion for what he has spoken about here today. I fully support his passion for the Defences Forces. I feel the same. We all feel the same sense of pride in the Defence Forces.
With that in mind, it is important for us to note that the decision to award the medal to these Jadotville heroes was a consequence of the Government wanting to recognise that they should get full recognition and that what happened to them in 1961 should never have happened.
That is why this ceremony that has been organised for the Jadotville heroes, which I have no problem calling them because that is what they were, is being organised in the same way as any other military medal presentation ceremony. A working group was set up, with civil and military personnel on it, to organise this ceremony. I have no problem with any of the arrangements so far, except in the following regard. Athlone, I believe, is the right venue for it and Custume Barracks is the right place for it. There is not a building within Custume Barracks large enough to hold everybody. If we wanted a building big enough, we would have had to take it out of Custume Barracks. It is fitting that it stays within Custume Barracks, which is why there will be a marquee erected for the ceremony which will only hold 390 people. Some of the people who will be there on the day will have to be in the officers' mess watching it on a big screen, which is not ideal. I would very much like everybody to be able to be with their family on the day but that is not possible.I agree with Senator Craughwell that the Minister of State and the Taoiseach should be asked to have a look at the fact the veterans are not going to be there in numbers. It is very important for the families and the surviving members that their colleagues would be there to salute them on the day. It is a very poignant moment. Some of the families tell us their fathers came home from Jadotville and that some soldiers turned their backs on their colleagues in Custume Barracks in 1961, which was soul-destroying for them. It would be very fitting if the same veterans could stand up at the ceremony and salute their colleagues. I ask the Leader to ask the Minister of State or the Taoiseach to intervene on this occasion.
I will repeat it. I want to thank Senator Craughwell for his very emotional contribution on the Order of Business this afternoon in regard to the Jadotville survivors and, indeed, to Senator McFadden, who gave us a brief update on the situation regarding the presentation of these long-overdue medals. These men, who have been regarded by some in the hierarchy of the military as cowards for over 56 years, are heroes, not cowards. They have been treated as second-class soldiers for far too long. Quite a number of them have passed on to their eternal reward and the very least we can do in memory of those who have passed on, and for those who survive to this day, is that we make this presentation of medals. This has been fought for on all sides of this House, including by Senators Mac Lochlainn, McFadden, Craughwell, myself and others, who have raised the issue on many occasions. I want to pay tribute to the former Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, and the Minister of State with responsibility for defence, Deputy Paul Kehoe, who brought about the day that is about to happen.
I appeal to the Leader to not take away from this long-overdue day. We must ensure these people are given proper recognition at this medal presentation and that the Army band, the Minister of State and the Taoiseach are there to honour them. I ask that this be carried out. We must not take away from this very important day for these heroes.
I support Senator Gavan in regard to his comments on the section 39 workers. They have been ignored and that should not be allowed to continue.
Following on from Senator Ned O'Sullivan's remarks regarding the stalemate in Northern Ireland, I suggest we have to look at these things from a positive point of view. We are in a much better place in the last 20 years because of the Good Friday Agreement, the Anglo-Irish Agreement and the Downing Street Declaration. I was privileged and honoured to have been in Enniskillen last Sunday with the Taoiseach for the commemoration of Remembrance Day. We were in St. Macartin's Cathedral, where there was a very dignified and solemn service. I remember that one of the preachers referred to "the sons and daughters of Ireland" and it was wonderful to see Monsignor O'Reilly come across the street from the catholic church to commemorate these fallen people. We have come an awful long way.
I want to point out that up to 30,000 of those young men - and it was mostly young men - came from the Twenty-six Counties. To take my own county of Roscommon, which is a county of only 50,000, up to 500 young men died. We must accept that we airbrushed them out of history, although we have come a long way. While I understand there are aspects of these symbols that are difficult, I think that to have the poppy symbol set on the background of the shamrock provides a certain atmosphere whereby we can recognise the sacrifices of those young men and also recognise the sacrifices of the men of 1916.We have come a very long way and can go further still. I hope things will work out in the coming weeks. I understand there has been much negotiation and hope for the sake of the people of Northern Ireland and the people of the Republic of Ireland that the Assembly at Stormont will get up and running again soon.
When we were in London last week there were many politicians of Irish extraction there. I would love to see Sinn Féin MPs take their seats at Westminster, although that is, of course, a matter for them to decide and perhaps we should not comment on it, but there are many politicians drawn from the Irish diaspora in Britain who are filling the vacuum and representing nationalism in Ireland. One such example is Mr. Conor McGinn, originally from south Armagh but now a Labour Party MP for St. Helen's North. He is doing considerable work with the all-party parliamentary group on the Irish in Britain. I understand the Sinn Féin MPs are working at Westminster, although they do not, in fact, take their seats in the chamber. I met Senator Paul Gavan there about a year ago and believe a lot of work is being done.
Next week, on 18 November, it will be 30 years since Gary Mackay scored that wonderful goal for Scotland against Bulgaria that sent the Republic of Ireland on its way to the 1988 European Championships in Germany. On 12 June next the Irish soccer team will be 30 years undefeated by England. We should remember that fact this evening.
RTÉ has announced that it will carry out a review of the operations of its orchestras. It currently operates the National Symphony Orchestra and the RTÉ Concert Orchestra, each of which consists of approximately 40 musicians. There has been a total of 25 vacancies in the orchestras in the past seven years and there are fears the number may rise to 40, the number required for one stand-alone orchestra. Voluntary exit packages have been offered to musicians who have left the employment of the orchestras and those who have left or retired have not been replaced. Is RTÉ winding down one of the orchestras? That is my concern and that of the Musicians Union of Ireland, MUI. If RTÉ attempts to do so, it will be breaking the provision outlined in the Broadcasting Act 2009 which calls on it to establish and maintain orchestras, not "orchestra" in the singular. Both orchestras have to be maintained in their current format and at their current numbers at the very least. They have had artistic importance since the 1940s in line with the importance of the national cultural institutions. I ask the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Heather Humphreys, and the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Denis Naughten, to protect the orchestras, realise the Taoiseach's commitment to double the funding for the arts and prevent RTÉ from merging or winding down the orchestras or operating two orchestras from a single pool of musicians. The National Symphony Orchestra and the RTÉ Concert Orchestra are not interchangeable. They are national orchestras and should be facilitated in returning to education, outreach and national touring initiatives. Anything less than this cannot be considered if they are to be in any way "national". I think RTÉ is carrying out the review in the hope of reaching a certain result. It should instead act in the spirit of its own commercial slogans, "RTÉ: Supporting the Arts" and "Love your Orchestras".
I again apologise to Senator Fintan Warfield. I was not listening properly when the Cathaoirleach called him.
I refer to the report, A Future Together: Building a Better GP and Primary Care Service, which was launched yesterday at Trinity College Dublin. It is a very comprehensive report that highlights a number of crucial issues. I know that there will be statements on health care tomorrow, but this is a matter that needs to be prioritised. We are spending approximately 4.5% of the total health budget on GPs and primary care services when we should, in fact, be spending twice that figure. We have been dealing with the issue of a new GP contract for quite some time.It is a matter that should be prioritised. There are a number of other matters in the report that clearly identify where we need to prioritise actions. We have the Sláintecare report, but there must be a combination of everybody working to bring about change. I do not understand the prioritisation that has occurred over the past two to three years. The Health Service Executive took on an additional 2,000 administration and managerial staff while we seem to have made no progress in dealing with the GP matter. It is something to which we need to attach priority and we need answers from both the Department and the Minister. It should not be left to continue ad infinitum without any final decision on the matter. I hope that tomorrow when we deal with the statements there might be some clarification. I look forward to it. It is something I will revisit and there is clear evidence from this report published yesterday of the need to prioritise this matter to build a better health service for everyone.
I apologise to Senator O'Sullivan for missing his contribution but I share his concerns, from what I hear he said. At the same time, as Senator Feighan noted, we have come a long way in recent years with the various agreements and so on. I was at Westminster recently with Senator Feighan and others and there is no doubt that there is tremendous goodwill over there for Ireland and our cause, even with Brexit and despite the difficulties in the British Cabinet. Members of Parliament such as Mr. Stephen Hepburn and Mr. Conor McGinn, along with others, are working hard in our best interests. The reception over there was tremendous.
Once Sinn Féin is over its conference this coming weekend and the Democratic Unionist Party-----
We are all getting used to long steps around here. We will see what happens once these matters are out of the way. I have been told the back channels are quite busy. I would travel in hope. They know as elected people what they must do and they are aware of the agreements. They are as committed as the rest of us to them. They have their own agendas now. Give them a little more time and space and I would be hopeful about the process.
I thank the 18 Members for their contributions to the Order of Business. I join all Members in extending our sympathies to the Iranian and Iraqi people on the very tragic loss of life in the earthquake at the western province in Iran. I join Senator Ardagh in her comments about the international agencies required to engage and be involved in what will be a major humanitarian aid project. The loss of life in this tragedy is to be lamented. I hope we, as a House, can convey through the Cathaoirleach to the Iranian ambassador our deepest sympathies on that loss of life.
I join Members, led by Senator Boyhan, in extending our sympathies the family of Mr. Kevin Dawson on his tragic death. As has been rightly noted this afternoon, he was a very brave and courageous journalist who brought high integrity and standards to his work. To his wife and family we offer our deepest sympathies. We hope they will remember and take pride in his work and the admiration that so many people had for him on the occasion of his very sad passing.
Senators Ardagh, Higgins and Byrne commented on the ESRI report on the affordability of housing, which was published yesterday. We will have statements later on housing. Undoubtedly, supply is the biggest issue and there is an urgent need to increase supply not just on the social side but on the private side. The Government is committed through Rebuilding Ireland to investment of €6.6 billion in the construction of housing.We understand that the affordable housing issue needs to be addressed as well.
I wish to make the following points in response to Senator Higgins. The Government has not diminished the issue of housing and it does not divide society but the language being used by some has been very polarising. The job of Government is to be responsible for the construction of social housing and ensure that a roadmap to develop private housing is put in place. As the Taoiseach said at the weekend, the Government is on the side of people. Let us be honest, the Government through the policy document entitled Rebuilding Ireland, and I will not list all the different initiatives that have been put in place since we came to Government, but the Government is leading. The Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Murphy, has put in place a suite of measures to enhance rent pressure zones. If the measures do not work then let us revisit them. When I heard Deputy Barry Cowen speak on the radio this afternoon I closed my eyes and wondered had he and his party ever been in government. I recall that we had the worst recession ever, the construction sector was decimated and the banks closed. Now the banks are obliged to work with developers. We need developers, landlords, social housing and to adopt a combined approach that ensures we increase supply. I hope that we will see all of that happen.
I join with Senator Boyhan in thanking the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government and his Minister of State, Deputy Phelan, for their announcement about the rate of pay for councillors that they made at the weekend. I know, mindful that it is a beginning, that some councillors are disappointed while others are quite happy. We have started a process. It behoves all of us, as Members of the House, to collectively work on behalf of the councillors. They do a huge amount of work that goes unnoticed in some cases and very much inconveniences their families and their family life. Their job of work is done in an extraordinary and commendable way. I worry that we will reach the point where many councillors will walk away from local government. Therefore, I believe we should pay them a full-time salary and reward them accordingly. That might be a step too far for some but the Minister and Minister of State have made a step forward with the initiative, for which we commend them.
Senator Conway-Walsh raised the issue of school transport and the eligibility status for repeat students. I presume she means the leaving certificate examination so the number of people involved must be very small. I advise her to table the issue as a Commencement matter. I am happy to invite the Minister of State at the Department of Education and Skills, Deputy Halligan, to discuss the issue that he raised.
Senator Higgins made reference to the public services card. There has been a lot of commentary in the ether about the public services card. I wish to state that card helps customers to easily access a variety of public services and it was first introduced in 2011. It is not a national ID card. There has been no gargantuan cover-up by the Government or no attempt to do anything other than ensure that people can access services. Last August, the Department issued a four-page clarification on the matter and I urge the Senator to consult the paper. I am happy to invite the Minister to the House to discuss the matter. Again, it might be quicker for the Senator to table a Commencement matter on the issue. To be fair, her remarks are well intended.
Senator Bacik raised the issue of gender equality in the workplace. I was very much struck by her ability to remember that last weekend the Taoiseach, in his Ard-Fheis speech and as part of our document, gave a commitment to make this a "republic of opportunity" and that we are committed to establishing a commission on the status of women in Ireland. The Senator is right that the issue concerns much more than just pay. It is also about a variety and a suite of issues that need to be tackled and put on a very proactive basis.
I join with the Senator in commending Grace Dyas and others who have come forward as part of the discourse on the issue, not just of sexual harassment, but how women are treated, and how all people are treated in the workplace let me add. We should debate the issue. I know that the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Humphreys, has had meetings with the Arts Council. As the Senator has said, this matter does not just revolve around the arts community but society in general and how we address and view the issue. I am happy to arrange a debate on the issue in the coming weeks.
Senators Butler and Reilly made reference to small towns in terms of retail and rural Ireland and rates. I am happy to invite the relevant Minister to the House to discuss the matter. Senator Butler has long championed the matter. The matter must be addressed and considered in the context of the national development plan, Ireland 2040, in terms of how we can promote rural Ireland in the future.
Senators Ned O'Sullivan, Coghlan and Feighan, in a variety of guises, referenced the Good Friday Agreement, the North and the budget that was announced yesterday in the House of Commons.We have waited since the start of the year for the Assembly to be re-established. There is an obligation and duty on all political sides to overcome the obstacles and have the Executive and an Assembly re-established. Senator Ned O'Sullivan is well intended and very correct in his remarks. It is disappointing that we do not have nationalist input into a budget that is now being passed for the North. It is disappointing that there is no nationalist voice at the Brexit negotiations other than the Government. We need to see that rectified in the coming weeks. I appeal to the Senators from Sinn Féin who are representatives of their party to implore all sides, but especially their own party to go back. I know there is ongoing engagement, as Senator Coghlan said, but the people of the North gave a mandate to the largest two parties to be in government. It is about time we had an Executive and an Assembly returned.
Equally it is important that we commend people such as Dick Spring, the late Peter Barry and Garrett FitzGerald for the work they did in terms of the Good Friday Agreement. It was the stepping stone, the beginning, which was derided by many at the time, but was the template used to build peace and be a bridge. I commend Senators Feighan, Coghlan, Gavan and others who were involved in reaching across the political divide. It is about ensuring, as has been said by Senator Ned O'Sullivan, that we break down the divide. I hope there will be movement and it will happen quickly.
Senators Craughwell, McFadden and Wilson raised the issue of the Jadotville medal presentation ceremony. It is upsetting to hear Senator Craughwell's reading of the letter. I want to praise Senators Craughwell, McFadden and Wilson for the work they have done in bringing us to the point where they will be a full military ceremony. Veterans are the focus of the ceremony. The Minister and the Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces will be in attendance. For too long the service of the men involved in Jadotville was unrecognised. It was the Minister of State, Deputy Paul Kehoe, together with the former Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, who ensured those men would be recognised as heroes. I should commend Senator Mac Lochlainn as well for his remarks.
The Minister and the Government took a decision to honour these brave men with full military honours. I am told the ceremony is being organised hand in hand by the Department and the Defence Forces who are working to ensure that the tradition of all other military ceremonies with the focus on the surviving members and the family representatives of the deceased members will take place in Athlone. Senator McFadden is correct that Athlone is the appropriate venue. The civil and military working group has been established to prepare for the ceremony. I will communicate the views of Senators McFadden, Wilson and Craughwell today. From my understanding the Minister of State is very much of the view that this will be a full military ceremony, but I am open to correction. It would not be the intent of Government to dishonour anybody, quite the contrary. I will bring that issue back to the Minister of State.
My information is that this will be a full military ceremony in keeping with other military ceremonies. I am not sure where Senator Craughwell's information is coming from but I will be happy to bring it to the attention of the Minister of State at the Department of Defence.
I congratulate Senator Reilly because he was very proactive in pushing for the European Investment Bank. He has been able to announce the good news in terms of Fingal County Council. Equally both Senators Reilly and Butler have been to the fore in raising the issue of the local authority rates.
Senator Devine raised the very important issue of gambling and the Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality, Deputy David Stanton, has been very active in meeting the different stakeholders in progressing the Gambling Control Bill 2013. As the Senator rightly said, technology is changing the face of gambling daily.The face of gambling is being changed daily by technology. Just yesterday, I was walking on the streets of Cork and overheard a conversation between a couple. They were talking about what they could get back from a €10 stake on their phones. It left me boggled. It was a conversation between two people on the streets of Cork about gambling. It set my mind thinking about the effect this issue was having on their lives. If they were having a conversation about online gambling on their phones, what effect was it having on them? I join with Senator Devine on that issue. I will have a debate in the House and an update from the Minister of State, Deputy David Stanton, in that regard. We need to address the issue of gambling as a matter of urgency. We saw the House almost united on the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill 2015. We need a similar approach on gambling. It needs to be addressed urgently and I join with the Senator on that issue.
Senator Maria Byrne also raised the issue of rents, Limerick and the European Investment Bank. I commend her on her work on the issue. I know tomorrow will be a good day in Limerick. Senator Gavan raised the issue of section 39 organisations. It is an issue with which we are all very preoccupied. I think he will join with me in supporting the FEMPI legislation which will reverse pay cuts and which I am sure will have a beneficial effect on members of staff in section 39 organisations. My view is very simple. The workers deserve equal pay and deserve to be treated fairly. I will work with any Member of the House to ensure that happens. Government has increased funding to section 39 organisations. It is for all us to ensure that those organisations, institutions and charities ensure that their workers are properly paid accordingly. I am happy to work with anyone to see that happen.
Yes, by all means. Senator Wilson also raised section 39 organisations. I praise Senator Feighan for his ongoing work and commend him for his interview on "The View" last week. I praise all sides, in Westminster and in the Oireachtas, for the work they are carrying out. To address Senator Colm Burke's contribution, we will have a debate tomorrow on GPs, during which we can have a discussion and I hope we will get clarity around the whole issue. I have not read the report from Trinity College but we will debate the issue tomorrow.
Senator Warfield raised the issue of RTÉ's review of its orchestras. I certainly hope that RTÉ does not do anything as part of this review which would diminish or curtail the role of the orchestras because they are a very important part of RTÉ. It is something which many of us who pay our licence fee are happy to support because, first of all, they provide employment and, second, they bring culture and joy to our country. The orchestras bring a uniqueness and a sophistication. I certainly hope that RTÉ will continue to support the arts through its orchestras. Senator Paul Coghlan also made a contribution regarding the North.
Finally, I wish our soccer team every success tonight in the Aviva Stadium. I hope that the streets of Ireland will be rocking to the sounds of "Olé, olé" at the conclusion of the match. We had a good result last weekend. Tonight will be a very challenging occasion but with the spirit of Roy Keane and the captaincy of David Meyler, I am sure the Cork element will lead Ireland to success. On a serious note, I wish our team and the FAI every success. As Senator Feighan rightly said, we remember Gary Mackay's great score back in the 1980s. I hope that we will have similar joy tonight and can look forward to a summer of soccer next year.