Wednesday, 15 November 2017
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, Water Services Bill 2017 - Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken at 12.45 p.m.; No. 2, motion regarding an earlier signature motion regarding the Water Services Bill 2017, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 1, without debate; No. 3, statements on health, to be taken at 3.30 p.m. and to conclude no later than 5.30 p.m., with the contribution of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes, those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes and the Minister to be given no less than five minutes to reply; No. 4, Civil Liability (Amendment) Bill 2017 - Report Stage (amendments from Dáil Éireann) and Final Stage, to be taken at 5.30 p.m.; and No. 57, motion 16, Private Members' business, to be taken at 6 p.m. with the time allocated to this debate not to exceed two hours.
The previous Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, used to talk about a scorecard for Ministers but he got rid of it because the scorecard did not show the results he wanted, which tells us a lot about how the Ministers were performing.
If Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael were like Kramer and Kramer, it all ended in divorce 100 years ago. As regards the scorecard on housing, over 120,000 households are on the waiting lists but only 1,000 units have been provided. There are 3,124 children and 5,250 adults in emergency accommodation awaiting housing, on top of those households on the waiting lists, which shows the size of the issue. There has been a success rate of 0.65% which, even using Senator Coghlan's mathematics, is not a pass.
A pass rate would be 40% but the Government is nowhere near 40%. In the Leader's county, 38 houses were provided and there were 59 in Cork city for a waiting list of 6,005 households. As Senator Coghlan will be well aware, only 11 houses were provided in Kerry.
I wish the Danish soccer team the best of luck. I thank the Irish team for entertaining us over the years. It would have been a high point for the players on the Irish soccer team to go to the World Cup and we hope that there will be brighter days ahead.
Unfortunately, there are not brighter days ahead when it comes to Brexit. In fact, there are 499 days to go.
At 11 a.m. on 29 March 2019, the UK will leave the European Union. President Obama used to talk about hope one can believe in and certainly one could believe in that kind of hope. The British Government's policy seems to be simply hope. However, it is not hope one can believe in because they do not have a plan.
Tomorrow, the British foreign affairs committee will come here and its chairman will visit the Border for the first time. The British have no plan when it comes to Brexit. They seem to be going against the customs union and the Single Market that would allow the Border to remain open. They do not want a special status for Northern Ireland and yet somehow they hope that magically it will all work out. In 499 days that policy of hope, without anything to back it up, will certainly not work.
Honda manufactures cars in England. As many as 320 trucks arrive at its factory every day. Honda only has 15 minutes worth of stock at any one time so a delay of one hour in production will cost €880,000. How does the British Government think that having no Border policy-----
-----for the North, or any border policy, is a policy? Hope is simply not a policy.
We welcome the Irish Government's policy of 100 points that Leo Varadkar has put out. The Government needs to send a message to the British Government that it has not done enough to clarify the issues on the North and that discussions cannot be moved forward until such time as the North is sorted first.
In recent days newspapers have covered further publicity about the question of having a single mayor for the greater Dublin area and four county councils or local authorities. I noticed, also in the newspapers, a reference to the annual budget for Dublin City Council which is now close to €1 billion a year with 6,000 staff. Then I considered in that context the appalling squalor which existed in Crumlin as exposed by the "Prime Time Investigates" programme where people are being housed in subhuman conditions with bunk beds in tiny bedrooms for want of inspection by the local authority. All of that makes me very cynical about the standard of local government in the Dublin area.
One particular issue from which local government has withdrawn was that of refuse collection. I have recently received a communication from one councillor in Dublin called Councillor Keith Redmond. He has told me that he has followed up the issue of what he considers to be prima facieevidence of a cartel among the waste collection companies whereby they are dividing the city, geographically, and not really competing with each other. If the whole idea of privatising waste collection and introducing pay-by-weight and deregulating charges was to increase efficiency, it would be a complete travesty if it turned out that there is not any effective competition and that the companies involved are engaging in geographical division and no-go areas.
The alarming thing that Councillor Redmond told me was that he had been engaged in a phone conversation, on behalf of one of his constituents, with a particular company. The person he dealt with at the end of the phone, and I will not mention the company or the person, indicated that there was such a territorial divide. So surprised was Councillor Redmond to hear the news that he decided to record the balance of the conversation and has, apparently, clear evidence of such a divide up. If that is the case then the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Murphy, or his Minister of State, Deputy English-----
-----should come to the House to explain to us what procedures are in place to prevent the total absence of competition in waste collection and the emergence of cartels and market division among the waste collection companies. If the Government is going to rely on competition to keep prices down and if competition is allowed to wither away by secret deals among the waste collection companies, then the only people who will pay for all of this are the householders.
Finally, with Dublin City Council's budget approaching €1 billion, more and more of its services privatised, 6,000 employees and no inspectors to stop the exploitation of people in housing standards then surely it is about time that somebody asked the following questions. Are we getting value for money from local authorities? Is Dublin City Council that spends close to €1 billion of taxpayers' money every year and not doing its job fit for purpose anymore?
I, too, wish to raise the issue of housing. With reference to my own city of Limerick, this Friday we will see a new budget struck by the Fianna Fáil-Fine Gael coalition. Yes, I am afraid that we have a local coalition comprised of both of the parties as well as a national coalition.
Sinn Féin's council team reviewed the figures last Monday. We learned that there will be nothing of substance to address the horrendous housing crisis in Limerick city. There are 315 people homeless in Limerick, of which 154 are children, and there are thousands of people on the waiting list. Let us consider the most telling figures. Of the 2,443 additional tenancies that local councils provided in the past three years, more than 1,900 of them have gone to the private sector. In other words, almost all of the so-called work of providing housing is throwing money at private landlords. That is the solution provided by Fine Gael and, I am afraid to say, Fianna Fáil. That coalition has failed the people of Limerick day after day, which is a disgrace. When will we realise that councils used to, in the worst of times, build housing? When will the Government supply the money to make sure there is sufficient housing build in the pipeline? I ask because we now know it is not.
I wish put on the record something that we all know. This crisis it not getting better; it is getting worse. The figures in Limerick are proof. Month after month the homeless figures continue to increase. The number of people given notice by landlords, who are greedy unscrupulous landlords in many cases, continues to increase. As Senator Byrne acknowledged yesterday, rents in Limerick have increased by 11% over the past year. That is the failure of a Fine Gael-Fianna Fáil coalition both locally and nationally. I call on the Leader to arrange a debate on the issue. It is not good enough for Fine Gael to keep believing in the mantra of a privatised solution for the housing problem. It is a failure of politics and the party has had seven years to sort this out.
The second issue I want to raise relates to the football match last night. As we all know, we suffered a huge disappointment last night.Our brothers and sisters in the North had an equally sad disappointment on Sunday night. Despite our recent success in both qualifying for the European Championships and the heroic effort from players over the past 20 years, typically our teams have not managed to qualify. I hope that there might be some wise heads in both organisations - the IFA and, in the South, the FAI - who might look at the prospect of having a conversation about a united Ireland football team. Lord knows we could use it. We could have used Jonny Evans last night in defence. It is time to have a debate on the issue. We need to look forward in football. We know that we can have a united Ireland rugby team and have seen its tremendous success. I am asking for a debate with the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport because it would be good if the Government were to initiate such a project. Let us see if we can have wise heads on both sides so that we can try to build a better future for football, North and South.
This morning I read an article in The Irish Timesby the director of the Dublin Region Homeless Executive on volunteers. I was very disappointed with the language used in it. Basically, it states that it is not helpful for volunteers to be giving out food and clothes to the homeless. I do not believe such comments are helpful to volunteers who give up their time in the evening, after their own day's work, and leave their families to give out food and clothes. The article made me think of all the volunteers who, over the years, came into the hospitals in which I worked. They got to know the long-term homeless, who were mainly men, and paid attention to the type of clothes they liked to wear and the football teams they supported, etc. One man who I still visit insisted he only liked to wear a certain brand. Volunteers, when going through buckets of clothes, took the time to ensure that those men had something they liked wearing and not just anything out of a bag. They paid attention to their personalities and who they are. Such gestures might not break the long-term cycle of homelessness but I do not think that is what volunteer groups are trying to do. They are trying to show a level of human empathy and compassion to people who are on the streets and in long-term homelessness.
Years ago, in the lead-up to Christmas, I remember collecting black bags full of presents for people in two hostels where I worked. I remember two women skiving loads of them down the side of sofa. I asked them about three bottles of perfume that were in a packet but they did not want them. They said that they could not afford presents for their loved ones and that they had been used to the cold and living in those standards but that the stockings, gloves, scarves, perfumes and gift sets that they were receiving served them psychologically because they were able to give them to their loved ones at Christmas to show them that they were thinking of them.
Volunteers are hugely important. It may be that they are never in a position to break the cycle of homelessness, but that is up to us, as legislators, Dublin City Council and various other organisations. To dismiss the work of volunteers is unacceptable. Instead we should be thanking them.
The instinctive nastiness of the Taoiseach's politics has been laid bare over the past 48 hours and the Government sank to new depths when issuing rhetoric around the homelessness crisis. I think every Member of the House would agree that homelessness is the biggest issue this country must face. When dealing with a serious issue, one would assume no Minister or Government would engage in victim blaming. However, over the weekend and this week, we have had the suggestion that our homelessness levels are normal, last night it was suggested that talking about homelessness is bad for our international reputation, and now we have the deplorable suggestion that homelessness is down to the bad behaviour of those who are homeless. This is the inevitable consequence of the nasty rhetoric of defending those who get up early in the morning and saying that, for those who are vulnerable, it is in a way their own fault at the end of the day. It is outrageous. Rather than having a Government which holds its hands up and states it is doing its best but that it is a difficult and complex problem on which it will work harder and better to find solutions, we are told that our homelessness rates are normal if one considers the international comparators and that we might have a better international reputation if we stopped talking about it. Inevitably, other people working in the sector are saying that it is their own fault at the end of the day.
The rhetoric from the communications unit is outrageous. What is worse about the unit is that €5 million is nothing compared to the price of demonising the most vulnerable people in this country of ours. I genuinely do not want this to turn into party political football.
However, this is the inevitable consequence. I am blue in the face from listening to demands in this Chamber for the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government to come in here. It is a waste of all our time.
This morning two members of the Catholic church were on the radio. Brother Crowley and Fr. Peter McVerry are appalled at the rhetoric of this Government. It is disgusting that we are now blaming the homeless for homelessness. It is unbelievable. I am asking the Cathaoirleach and the Leader quite respectfully-----
Most of us have been reasonably calm up to this point. However, we are now being told that giving tents and food to the homeless on the side of the street is wrong, that it is their bad behaviour that is causing the problem and that we should stop talking about it because it is bad for our international reputation. It is beyond time we had the Taoiseach in here to answer for his nasty rhetoric and get back to the substance of the issue and stop blaming those who are the victims of it.
The point I wanted to make, although I am continuously roared at, is that there is an issue in this city and country with cyclists not using cycle lanes or abiding by the rules of the road. I would like to see a debate on this. Overall, cycling is very positive. It is good to see people out cycling because it is good for their health, mental well-being and the environment. However, when cyclists are blatantly abusing the roads and not co-operating with the traffic systems and structures in place, we have a problem. I use taxis quite a bit in Dublin. Taxi drivers will say that their biggest challenge in terms of road safety is trying to navigate around cyclists. In my parish in County Clare, we have an excellent cycle lane. It was the Labour Party's Deputy Alan Kelly who provided the funding for it when he was in government. It cost €500,000 at the time. Unfortunately, however, more often than not one will see people cycling on the road and not using the cycle lane. I would like a debate on cycling to be arranged with the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport. In addition, the transport committee might examine new protocols and arrangements for dealing with cyclists.
Along with other Members of the House, I attended a presentation in the AV Room this morning which was organised by Deputy Stephen Donnelly. It was given by David Hall of iCare Housing. I compliment Mr. Hall on his presentation. I know the Cathaoirleach also attended. For those who are not aware, iCare is an organisation which was set up to help those who find themselves in mortgage arrears on their family homes and whose properties are in negative equity. I would encourage those who would qualify to look into it as a solution, because being in danger of losing the family home is a very stressful situation for any family to find itself in. There is help out there and I compliment David Hall and his organisation for taking the lead and, in many ways, showing up the lack of progress the Government has made in this area. I encourage those who think they may benefit from this scheme to make contact with iCare. It would be very worthwhile and I would encourage such people to come forward and make contact.
On a more sullen note, we were all disappointed this morning after last night's football match. I note Deputy Gavan's comments and wholeheartedly agree with them. I too would encourage the Football Association of Ireland and the Irish Football Association in Northern Ireland to put their heads together. The GAA has shown great leadership in building bridges in this country in opening up Croke Park and we regularly see the whole country, North and South, without boundaries shouting on the all-Ireland rugby team in the Aviva Stadium. I ask both organisations to take a lead and play their parts, as I am sure they are well capable of doing, to ensure that one day we can look forward to supporting an all-Ireland soccer team in the Aviva Stadium.
I come into this House frequently and I watch Oireachtas TV from the Lower House. I constantly hear debates on homelessness. I constantly hear accusations being thrown across the floor from all sides. Is it not time that we came together on homelessness? Is it not time that we stood together as one Oireachtas on homelessness, instead of constantly trying to score points off one another? A country that has been starved of resources for eight years cannot be rebuilt. It cannot be done. What we can do is hold those who caused the problem and those who exacerbated the credit situation to account for their actions.
This morning I got confirmation in the post that the good days are back. These are happy days in the banking world. I was offered a home improvement loan to be paid into my account instantly. This was printed on a document and when I opened it, my name was printed at the top as part of the graphic design. These people are offering me a home improvement loan but when a young couple come to me who have €30,000 handed to them by a parent to help them buy an apartment and who have shown an ability to pay €85,000 in rent over the last five years, the bank says that they have no savings record and that they cannot be given a mortgage. Come on. Let us be honest with one another in here. People who can afford to repay a mortgage are being denied loans by banks.
In fairness to the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, I have seen him marched out day after day, but where is he to get the houses from? There is a housing estate not a stone's throw from my house which is almost complete. Not one house in it has been sold. There are barriers up to stop people going in. Why have no houses been sold? The developer is waiting until he finishes the estate and will make a serious killing then. Let us start pointing the guns at those who are causing the problem. Let us start looking at the banks. Let us start looking at the actions of the Central Bank. Social housing needs to be provided by local authorities, but let us stop having a go at one another all the time. I know what it is like to lose one's house. I lost mine. God damn it, it is not the way to talk about it. I would not have thanked anybody for talking about it. I wanted action. I pulled myself out of it. Let us help people to pull themselves out of it.
The match last night was disappointing, but I wish the IRFU all the best today because at 1 p.m. we will finally know whether Ireland was successful in its bid to hold the Rugby World Cup. I certainly wish the IRFU well. I know the Minister, Deputy Shane Ross, and the Minister of State, Deputy Brendan Griffin, have travelled with the IRFU delegation. We will know the news at 1 p.m.
This is world diabetes week. The Minister, Deputy Harris, launched a report this morning on free retina screening. The offering of this screening is unique to Ireland. It will certainly help to reduce the amount of blindness and related eye problems. I encourage all, especially those with eye problems, to avail of this very worthy treatment and test which is being offered.
All across the world people have been watching the film, "The Siege of Jadotville". I have been asked again and again whether it is a true story. People are actually stunned when they watch the movie. In any other country, these people would be heroes. Buildings, schools, hospitals and so on would be named after them all around the country. For more than 50 years, however, these men had to keep their heads down. There are veterans of the Defence Forces who did not know, while serving with these men, that they were at Jadotville. Our men mounted an incredible defence of international values out there all those years ago while representing our country and the United Nations.
I thank the Senators in this House who backed the motion to have those heroes, and the family members of those who are deceased, presented with medals. I am overjoyed that is going to happen. The medals could not have been presented on Jadotville day, when these men would have been with their fellow veterans and which would have been a wonderful day. That was delayed for reasons I do not understand. That was bad enough but I have learned in recent days that the presentation will be in Custume Barracks. These men will be allowed to have one family member with them while other members watch on from a television screen. There will be one Army photographer there. This is absolutely insane. These men should be on O'Connell Street or at Áras an Uachtaráin. This should be broadcast across the world.
We know from recently released freedom of information requests that there are people in the Department of Defence who fought against these heroes receiving medals at every stage of the process. I am grateful that political leadership came through and that they are getting the medals, but those people in the Department of Defence are still ensuring, in their mealy-mouthed way, that these heroes will not get the day they deserve. Why will RTÉ, the BBC and every television camera in the country not be there? Why are we not celebrating this event? Why are we allowing this small group of Department civil servants to take away the day these men should have? I appeal to the Leader, at this late stage, to speak to the Taoiseach and ensure that we do not make a mess of this thing, having waited 56 years to give the acknowledgement these heroes, who upheld the name of our country and our reputation, deserve. They should get the day they deserve and these mealy-mouthed civil servants must be stood up to once and for all. These men must get the justice they deserve.
For the record, I am absolutely delighted that the Scottish Supreme Court ruled in favour of minimum unit pricing today. I hope that Ireland will follow suit. What I really want to talk about today is that, on my way into Leinster House this morning, I heard that the Society of St. Vincent de Paul has launched its annual Christmas appeal and expects to help 50,000 people this year.The charity's president, Mr. Kieran Stafford, has said more families are struggling to put food on the table and heat their homes. Almost 140,000 children in Ireland are now living in consistent poverty. These children are forced to skip two essential meals each week. It absolutely breaks my heart that in a country as wealthy as ours so many people still need to rely on charity just to put food on the table and heat their homes in winter. People are relying on donations just to be able to give their children a present at Christmas time. Growing up in a tenement house in the inner city of Dublin I remember the hard times and did not think we would see them again. It is heart breaking, but there is a context for all of this. In recent days there have been several soundbites on poverty and homelessness from various official sources. They include: the poor will always be with us; volunteers offering food are not helpful; the crisis here is not so bad by international standards; the bad behaviour of homeless people is making things worse and journalists covering this crisis are talking down the country. I am really worried that there is an attempt, conscious or not, to normalise homelessness. I fear that we are being desensitised to the scale of the tragedy and the perverse inequality that leaves so many with so little. We should be clear - there is no acceptable level of homelessness. There is no way to explain away 3,000 homeless children. Speaking to Seán O'Rourke, Fr. Peter McVerry noted that last year the State built approximately 600 social housing units, whereas in one year in the 1980s the figure was 6,000. I urge the Government to reflect on this and debate the issue with this House.
I, too, was disappointed with the result last night, but we have had some great times and next year it will be 30 years undefeated by England. We should note that fact. The call for an all-Ireland soccer team is interesting. In 1880 when the Irish Football Association, IFA, was set up, it covered all of Ireland. In 1921 the Football Association of Ireland, FAI, was set up following the establishment of the Free State. A lot of work was done between 1973 and 1978 when players such as George Best, Johnny Giles and Derek Dougan called for an all-Ireland soccer team. The GAA ban did not help, but things have changed to the point where we would love to see an all-Ireland soccer team. However, it is not a one-way street but a two-way street. If we want to get our Northern Ireland colleagues on board, we must do something about it. I congratulate supporters from Northern Ireland on what happened in France last year. Supporters from the North and the South worked together and greeted one another on the streets in France. We have, therefore, come a long way, but ff we want to have an all-Ireland soccer team, we must embrace other aspects of the issue. We should consider having an all-Ireland team at the Commonwealth Games. Unless we start to act as if it was a two-way street, we will never have an all-Ireland soccer team, but it is wonderful that we are talking about such issues today. There is Donegal Celtic and I remember Linfield coming here to play. Things have changed so much that it is possible for us to dream about having an all-Ireland soccer team, but, as I said, it is a two-way street and if we believe we should have such a team, we should not be afraid to embrace participation in the Commonwealth Games and other such issues because amalgamation will require give and take. I welcome the initiative which is very positive and shows the space in which we find ourselves today.
I endorse everything Senator Pádraig Mac Lochlainn said about what happened in Jadotville. We discussed the issue yesterday on the Order of Business and I reiterate my support for his comments.
I wish to comment on the remarks made by Senator Michael McDowell who has brought to the attention of the House some very serious allegations about how waste management is conducted within Dublin City Council. I echo his calls for a debate on how the council is run, but I would like to extend it to a wider debate on local government and the funding of same. I would very much welcome having such a debate in the very near future. The two councils with which I am most familiar are in Cavan and Monaghan and they do an excellent job with limited resources. It is worth focusing on local authorities, the work they are doing in very difficult circumstances and the lack of funding.
I wish to follow on from Senator Paul Gavan's comments on his native county of Limerick. He castigated both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael for having the audacity to bring forward a budget. I remind him that if a local authority does not bring forward a budget, the Minister can appoint an administrator to do so.
We have an example in Sinn Féin policy of how it deals with budgets when the party stood back, with the Democratic Unionist Party, with which it has been in government in the North of Ireland for more than ten years. It has stood back and will allow the British Government in the next couple of days to bring forward a budget because it failed to bring one forward as its members were elected to do. They were elected in the Six Counties to bring forward a budget on behalf of the people who elected them.
I will not listen to Senator Paul Gavan or any of his colleagues in Sinn Féin in condemning my colleagues on Limerick City Council or those in the Fine Gael Party who take their responsibilities seriously. They will bring forward a budget for better or worse because that is what they are there to do. They are doing so mindful of the fact that if they do not, the Minister will appoint an administrator to bring forward a budget-----
----- that will not be voted on by the people who were elected to bring it forward. That is a gentle reminder for Sinn Féin. Perhaps the party might look forward to bringing forward a budget with their colleagues in the Democratic Unionist Party as they have been democratically elected to do in the Six Counties.
Many of the contributions this morning have been about the soccer team's performance last night. It was a disappointing outing. I agree that women's participation in sport is something the Government and the Oireachtas need to examine. We must promote the participation of women in sport and sports bodies. I say that in the light of the positive news which has come out of Cork in recent hours, that the Cork County Board has elected its first female chairperson. Ms Tracey Kennedy will become the first female chairperson of the Cork County Board. That is a very positive statement on women's participation in sport, whether in playing or administration. However, on a national level we need to have a framework in place to ensure the level of participation of females in sport is increased. In that context, RTE must examine its policy on those who provide commentaries and are involved on panels. The coverage of female sport must be intensified. The appointment of Ms Tracey Kennedy is a very positive step, in particular for the GAA, especially in Cork, in having a female in a leading role. She is a wonderful character and I am sure she will do a very dynamic job in the years ahead. It is up to us in the Oireachtas to provide a framework and a strategy to ensure the participation of women is driven forward and that the appointment of Ms Tracey Kennedy is replicated around the country.
Ba mhaith liom tacú le moladh Sheanadóir Robbie Gallagher to have an all-Irish soccer team. It would be fantastic for the game, both in the North and the South.We have it in rugby, GAA and other fields. I also support the passionate contribution by Senator Mac Lochlainn relating to recognition of people who have given their lives for the country and who have given their lives passionately for others to live in a democratic society.
I wish to discuss the housing crisis, but a different area of the housing crisis. I am solution-focused. That is the world I come from. I am not interested in criticism. Unfortunately, we get far too much of that here. I am a supporter of the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Murphy, having met him several times. I support his passion and commitment as I supported his predecessor as Minister, Deputy Simon Coveney, in respect of this problem. It is a significant problem. There is no simple solution but there are levels of solutions. I will suggest a potential solution to one large aspect of the problem.
In rural Ireland we have major problems with planning permission and it is getting worse. Part of the problem is a question of getting finance from the banks, but the greater part is getting planning permission. People cannot get planning permission on family farms or land. The rules and regulations coming in are becoming more stringent every day.
We need a debate in the House. Will the Leader bring this back to the Minister, Deputy Murphy, to see what can be done in respect of the housing crisis we have in rural Ireland? In many places there are old houses that people cannot do up because of planning issues. That is one layer within which we can create effective quick solutions for people so that they can have a house and live in rural Ireland. Many are working there already and they have land. This would create greater flexibility so they could live and build there and contribute to their communities.
I call on the Leader to connect with the Minister, Deputy Murphy, on this issue. It would be a good idea if the Minister addressed the House on the overall situation on planning permission. The Apple situation in Athenry is not our biggest issue with planning by a country mile. We are dealing with it and I understand that the Taoiseach has spoken about this already. There is a bigger issue. The people are paying their taxes. They want to pay their taxes and live in their communities but cannot live there because we are not allowing them to do so.
Perhaps Senator Wilson's grandstanding and rhetoric could be turned into decision-making by Fianna Fáil, the republican party, with regard to the Assembly in the North. What aspects of it would he throw out, given a strong mandate for marriage equality, an Irish language Act and the cash-for-ash scandal? He would be quite comfortable standing over corruption and allowing that to go on. I would like that on the record, if Senator Wilson will put it on the record.
I congratulate those involved in the Australian vote for same-sex marriage, especially the 61% who voted in favour of it. I am proud that some of the Irish method was replicated in the campaign and that it was led by many Irish living over there. I hope Australia will legislate for it before Christmas.
I wish to highlight the alarming rise in attacks on mental health staff, as reported today. The number has gone from three in 2010 to over 150 thus far this year. This is violence on our front-line staff. I know there are challenging environments, especially in mental health settings. The decrease in staffing levels, ageing staff, younger staff walking away and volatility has contributed significantly to leaving many of our nurses disabled for life. The volatility has been caused more recently by the intensive laboratory-grown potency of synthetic drugs. Many cannot go back to work. I have represented several in the Labour Court while trying to make people accountable for what happens.
We need to address the main issues of recruitment and retention of staff, reopening closed beds, adequate step-down facilities and stopping the hundreds of thousands of elderly who have to wait more than 24 hours on trollies or plastic chairs. This is causing at least 350 deaths per year in medical deterioration. I call on the Minister to come to the House so that we can ask about the protection of front-line workers, especially in mental health services.
Once again we are facing into a winter where the only things accident and emergency doctors have are flu jabs and prayers to help them with the inevitable onslaught.
We have fewer hospital beds now than we had in 1980 and nearly 200 beds are out of action. These are statements we have all heard before and we can say them until we are blue in the face. An article some weeks back entitled, This is the winter our health system will finally collapse, should have somehow resonated with the powers that be in the HSE and the Department of Health. My comments are directed towards those officials in the HSE and the Department of Health and not necessarily towards the Minister. I have no vendetta against the Minister - that is not my style - and I think he is a good Minister. His heart is in the right place and I have great respect for him.
In the article, medical journalist Dr. Muiris Houston warns:
A slow collapse of the health system this winter will likely look like this: the influenza epidemic begins; attendances at emergency departments increase as the flu hits vulnerable groups; patients with flu complications who require admission will fill up trolleys; some people who develop respiratory and cardiac failure will be moved to intensive care; the already inadequate number of ICU beds will fill up quickly, forcing intensive care specialists to ventilate people in operating theatres and even in emergency departments. There will be no spare intensive care capacity in Northern Ireland or Britain to tap into.
As a result, even urgent cancer surgeries will be cancelled, as many patients who undergo major surgery cannot be safely operated on without an intensive care bed to transfer them to post-operatively. All elective surgery is likely to be cancelled for a period of eight to 10 weeks, adding to the already enormous backlog of people waiting to be treated in the public health system. Emergency departments will choke up and some will be forced to close. Already overstretched GPs will not have the capacity, and for seriously ill people, the facilities, to offer treatment.
These are not the words of some dystopian novelist. His comments are accurate, realistic and utterly terrifying. There are enough faceless Department and HSE officials on large salaries to get on with the work in hand. I want to see some proactive solutions rather than reactive commentary from them, which we have seen previously. I look forward to hearing what solutions they come up with in the coming weeks.
Today sees the commencement of the global forum on human resources for health. This is a four-day conference that will begin in the RDS. No doubt the World Health Organization, which is one of the co-sponsors, will be pointing out to us that the problem of a shortfall in health care workers is worldwide.
There are some other issues. The WHO will also tell us, by reference to reports in advance of the conference, not only that we have a problem with a shortfall of health care workers, including nurses, doctors and so on, but that this can be compounded when Brexit comes. Basically, we are looking at a situation where there will be a concerted effort on the part of the NHS in England to recruit our nurses and doctors and, in effect, poach them. That would put us in a critical position with regard to providing the proper health service we need.
We know the HSE has published the Health Services People Strategy 2015-2018 in response to the depletion in numbers of front-line health care workers, especially nurses. We know the executive is having difficulty in achieving targets in recruitment. This is because people have retired and young graduates are going abroad. An Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation study showed that many young nursing graduates intend to work abroad and that the net increase in nursing staff numbers from September to December this year was only a net figure of 13. Clearly, there is a major problem here.
One particular issue of concern is that in response to this departure or planned departure by nursing graduates from the country, the HSE has basically agreed that from now on permanent contracts should be offered to nursing graduates for 2016 and 2017 such that they would have reason to stay and build their lives here.I am very concerned about the operation and implementation of this objective by the Saolta hospital group. It is not offering permanent contracts despite the need for nursing staff. Contracts for a maximum of two years is the most which people are being offered. We all know that anyone who is looking for a mortgage or is trying to establish him or herself needs greater certainty than two years. I am aware of people in other hospital areas being given permanent contracts rather than for finite periods. The Saolta group must be taken to task over this and I ask that this matter be taken up with the Minister to ask about recruitment and how nurses who graduated between 2016 and 2017 are being treated, in accordance with Government and HSE policy.
Five speakers remain. Technically, I should draw the guillotine now because the time allowed is 55 minutes. Today everyone who had two minutes wanted three, those given three wanted four and those who had four wanted five.
I am not pointing a finger at anyone but as of now I should ask the Leader to respond because the 55 minutes allotted have been used. There are five speakers left who I will call providing they are brief and to the point and do not blather on with speeches. If they call for a debate, it can be held when the relevant Minister comes to the House, not during the Order of Business. I will run through the five speakers who remain. If they wish to drag the Order of Business on, I will just cut them off and ask the Leader to respond.
Standing Orders clearly state that 55 minutes is allowed for the Order of Business. That time has elapsed and the Leader is yet to respond. There is another item scheduled for 12.45 p.m. People are not cognisant of time and scheduling. If that continues, every day I will draw the line at 55 minutes, regardless of who is left to speak. I am making an exception today because I do not wish to cut people short.
We spoke recently about the Pobal index on deprivation which was published last week. It shows the areas that are in consistent disadvantage in matters such as employment, education attainment, housing tenure, and lone parent ratio. It is clear that it has not improved over the years. I want to connect it with the statement made by the Society of St. Vincent de Paul today, to which Senator Black referred, regarding the 50,000 families who will seek its help during the winter months. I would hazard an educated guess that most of the families will be in those areas of disadvantage. It is scandalous that we see so many people who find themselves in such a precarious situation and the fact that the Society of St. Vincent de Paul receives around 125,000 calls annually from people who are in this type of poverty trap. We cannot accept it, it is not good enough and we need to have a debate around poverty.
Many of those families will be experiencing the housing crisis that we spoke about. I find it ironic that Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin is giving us Oscar-winning performances once a week for the benefit of his YouTube following when his ministerial colleague in government, Deputy Alan Kelly, was very much one of the architects of this crisis.
We are often accused of not having solutions. A solution that I suggest for the issue being raised by the Society of St. Vincent de Paul is that the Taoiseach come to the House and discuss the matter, but also that he scrap his strategic communications unit and give the €5 million he is spending on that to the Society of St. Vincent de Paul to prove that this Government is serious about tackling poverty.
I want to reflect on the result of last night's football match. The Irish team did not have a single player from one of the top six teams in the English Premiership. The players at the Ireland team's disposal are good players who give their hearts, but we should look at the type of player we have compared with ten or 15 years ago. Not long ago, both Ireland and Northern Ireland qualified for the European Cup. We must see if we can bring synergies by establishing one all-Ireland team. We had no player of the class of Eriksen in our squad. He scored two goals. We did not have a player capable of scoring.
On homelessness, all attention and focus must be on the homeless person him or herself. I am concerned that we are getting into a degree of territorialism between various groups which deal with the homeless. Everyone who is involved in the area is well intentioned. The volunteer who goes out to look after homeless people is well intentioned. What we need is for everyone to work together. The issue is not funding, it is dealing with the issues of particular individuals. We should deal with the needs of the individual homeless person and work together, rather than one person saying one thing and someone else saying the other. The whole focus must be on the person who is homeless.
I was stunned to hear Senator Máire Devine refer to the cash for ash issue in her response to my party Whip. I thought that issue, on which Sinn Féin recklessly brought down the Northern Ireland Assembly, had gone up in smoke as Sinn Féin threw up a raft of other problems.
Sinn Féin will not bully me. It can bully its own. They will not bully me. We had no Irish nationalist voice to debate the budget for Northern Ireland. What an insult to the memory of Daniel O'Connell, Parnell, Redmond, Dillon and the rest of them. It is an insult. Sinn Féin is putting its party before its country morning, noon and night.
Look at this. This is the bullying of Sinn Féin. It is driving its own members from the party.
I welcome the announcement of €98 million to extend the Luas green line. It is very important because it is over capacity. It is a huge investment and I have no problem with it. However, recently I alighted at the railway station in Clonmel and there is not even a toilet there. The patrons are dependent on the goodwill of shopkeepers and publicans nearby. I want to note that in the context of Senator Ray Butler's very good contribution to the House regarding what is happening in Navan and rural Ireland versus Dublin.
I will not be bullied in this House by Sinn Féin.
The Leader will respond. Three speakers remain but I am not taking any more contributions. The Leader will respond. We have 12 minutes left. I cautioned the Members but nobody respects the Chair. I am sorry for those who did not get in.
I thank the 21 Members for their contributions and the Cathaoirleach. It is important that we as Members of this House reaffirm our respect and trust in the Cathaoirleach as an impartial chairman. His generosity is overstretched by Members at times, but I assure him of my support. He is a very fair man and is doing a good job.
Senators Daly, Gavan, Ó Ríordáin, Ruane, Craughwell, Wilson, Ó Céidigh and O'Donnell referred to the issues of housing and homelessness. It is a pity that Members cannot stay for the reply to the Order of Business. Some have to go to another place but they have a duty to stay. It is important that those who go on the platform or the stage that is the Chamber to perform to YouTube or the Gaiety also listen.We must take the politics out of homelessness and the homelessness sector. No one of us has all of the information or knowledge.
Let me make matters quite clear to Members who have commented on the Fine Gael Party, in particular, and the Taoiseach. Nobody on our side of the House is in denial about the housing crisis and the human impact it is having on the lives of people and families. None of us is living in a bubble or cocoon. I would challenge Members to come into any of our clinics in any of our communities. We are working with people day and night to try to get them housed, out of hotels and treated as proper human beings. Members should not come in here and pretend they know everything when they do not.
We need to deal with the citizens of our republic who deserve to be treated with respect. As Members of the House, we are obliged to work on their concerns. Senator O'Donnell is correct. Those working in the housing sector, local government and the Department need to put aside their territorial issues and work together collectively to solve this crisis. It is not just about funding. An increase of €6 billion was provided by the Government in the most recent budget. An evolving fund is available under Rebuilding Ireland. A multi-annual fund was created by the previous Minister, Deputy Coveney, which is now being delivered by the current Minister, Deputy Murphy.
Senator Ó Céidigh is correct. Let us be solution-focused about the issue. We heard no solutions today from many contributors on the Order of Business. We in Fine Gael are well aware of the seriousness of the issue. Senator Daly referred to Cork. As we speak, €155 million of Government money is providing 634 units social housing units in Cork. That is a fact.
I took 21 contributions. I take notes every single day. I have an obligation to respond. I appreciate from where the Cathaoirleach is coming. Let us deal with the facts. Some €6 billion is being provided, a 20% increase in the budget. It is the largest ever housing allocation. They are the facts. This is not fake news or Senator Daly's spin.
With respect, when Senator Daly was speaking there were at least four interventions, including from the Leader. I had to give him an extra minute. I am not condoning his intervention. If one agitates the Opposition, one can expect agitation back. Bí cúramach.
In her contribution, Senator Black mentioned normalising homelessness. Nobody on the Government side is trying to normalise anything about homelessness. Rather, we are trying to solve the problem. The use of language in the House or on the airwaves is very important. That is what the Minister was trying to convey.
I agree with Senators Wilson and O'Sullivan on the position of Senator Gavan, who apologised for not being here. Sinn Féin is very good at abdicating responsibility. It must pass a budget in Limerick, as Senator Wilson said. If it does not, a commissioner will be appointed. I am certainly not happy to have a commissioner appointed to replace elected councillors who represent the people at local authority level.
Members of the Sinn Féin Party who come in here every day and criticise everything should not engage in opposition for the sake of it. They should not be cheerleaders and expect others to be responsible and go into government. I understand there is a motion on the clár of the Sinn Féin Ard-Fheis about government. Sinn Féin should be responsible and pass it. Its members should man up, come in to and take on the duties of government and be responsible to the people who elect its members, rather than walking off the pitch as it did in the Assembly in the North.
Senator O'Sullivan was correct, despite the protestations of Senator Mac Lochlainn. There was no voice in the budget negotiations for nationalists in the House of Common this week. What would Seamus Mallon and John Hume have said? They started the peace process and were its architects. Sinn Féin came on board but the current political landscape means it must fulfil its duties.
Sinn Féin Members can make faces at me, but that is the reality. Those of us who have been in government, including Senator McDowell, took decisions on behalf of the people. Today, our country is in a better place because of the previous Government. Let us be real about this. Politics is about government and being responsible. It is not about being a cheerleader, waving banners and flags and organising protests. We can all do that.
We understand that. That is why the budget is being increased. In his remarks in Cavan, the Taoiseach said our homeless figures were low by international standards. In addition, he said it was not good enough and we must turn the tide. I was standing next to him when he said it. Let us be real about this.
In conclusion, the Government is well aware of the issue. We are determined to resolve the problem for everybody. No one approach will work; it is a complex matter and can only be solved by solutions.
I did not hear the remarks made by Eileen Gleeson on the radio today to which Senator Ruane referred.
Her remarks were badly articulated. I can only interpret what she was trying to say. In some cases, people who are homeless require myriad services and their best interaction is with the agencies who can help them. I regret the fact that she made the remarks she did. We are quick to condemn and judge a person who is trying to do her best.
Senators Daly, Feighan, Gavan, Byrne and Ó Céidigh referred to the defeat of the soccer team yesterday. We are all upset by the defeat. A united Ireland soccer team is a matter we would all like progressed, if that is the will of the FAI and IFA. The result was disappointing from a soccer point of view. The joy and endeavour of the team deserves to be commended. The support the fans gave the team is also to be commended.
Senator Daly referred to the fact that it is 499 days to Brexit. I again ask him to come off the horse and take off the blinkers he sometimes wears. The Taoiseach, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Minister of State with responsibility for European affairs have been very clear about the approach of the Government. We are building new alliances and a platform for support for the all-Ireland position and the uniqueness of our country. We will have a duty to wear the green jersey. I know Senator Daly does so, but it is important that we continue to do so. He is correct about the British Government still not having a plan. That is a worrying problem.
Senator McDowell raised the issue of waste collection and the remarks attributed by him to Councillor Keith Redmond. I have great respect and time for the councillor, who is a very good public representative. It is a worry if an effective cartel is being created in parts of Dublin. That should be halted immediately and the situation rectified. There should be competition, and I am in favour of that.
Senator Wilson also referred to value for money. It is a matter for the local government auditor. It is a debate we can have in time.I have already addressed the issue raised by Senator Ruane. It would behove Senator Ó Ríordáin, meanwhile, to engage with finding solutions rather than-----
The Senator is probably going for YouTube records at this stage but we are here to find solutions. Senator Conway raised the issue of cyclists in Dublin and I would be happy to have the Minister come to the House to address that. Senators Ó Donnghaile and Ó Céidigh mentioned the former's recent briefing. I was not at that briefing and was not in fact aware of it but I would be happy to talk to the Senators on the matter. Senator Craughwell raised the issue of home improvement loans. It is certainly disappointing that our banks are once again trying to give money to people without due process. I had hoped that such a thing would not happen. We bailed out the banks and it is important that such matters be handled in a proper manner. I commend the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, and the Minister of State with special responsibility for mental health and older people, Deputy Jim Daly, for the launch today of the diabetic retina screening programme. It is a wonderful initiative and Dr. Diarmuid Quinlan in Cork was very much involved with it. In line with World Diabetes Week, it is important that we support such a programme.
Senator Mac Lochlainn has, regrettably, left the Chamber but in response to his contribution I wish to point out that we discussed Jadotville yesterday and I do not want to repeat what I said then other than to stress that the ceremony will involve full military honours. If Senator Mac Lochlainn is concerned about this then I would like to point out that the representatives from the Department of Defence I spoke to after yesterday's meeting were certainly not aware of the issues raised by Senator Craughwell. It is important to recognise, however, that the men of Jadotville are heroes and will be receiving medals and full military honours. From what I have been told by the Department, there is no ambiguity there.
I join with the other Senators in congratulating the people of Australia on their magnificent vote yesterday on marriage equality and I commend Tiarnan Brady, formerly political director of the Yes Equality campaign in this country, for leading the campaign in Australia, others like Craig Dwyer who travelled there to help with that campaign, and the many Irish people living in Australia who played a pivotal role in it. Today is a wonderful day for the people of Australia and a further sign of progress around the world. I salute and commend all involved and thank them on their work.
Senators Black and Ó Clochartaigh both referred to the report by the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. The Minister for Rural and Community Development, Deputy Ring, spoke at committee this morning and raised those very issues, namely, budgetary matters and the need for further improvement in rural Ireland, and I would be happy to have him come to the House to discuss them. In response to Senator Wilson, I would also be happy to have a debate on the funding of local government. Senator Lombard raised the issue of women's participation in sport. I join him in congratulating Tracey Kennedy on her appointment as the first female cathaoirleach of Coiste Contae Chorcaigh, the Cork County GAA board, and wish her well in her new role. Eithne O'Mahony, a woman from the Cathaoirleach's home town of Bantry, was the first female delegate some time back and it is great that Ms Kennedy has now been appointed chairperson of that board.
I join Senator Devine in asking that we all work to tackle the rate of attacks on mental health professionals. This is a worrying trend exacerbated, as the Senator said, by an ageing staff and by recruitment problems. We need to work on this. Senators Swanwick and Mulherin raised health care issues. The Minister will be in the House later this afternoon and the Senators can raise these matters then. Finally, I join Senator Ned O'Sullivan in welcoming the Luas extension and agree with him that the current situation in Clonmel train station needs to be taken into account by the Minister.
I also thank the Cathaoirleach for his indulgence. I would hate for him to think that the Members of the House do not respect him because we do, and I would be happy to speak to Members about their behaviour and the language used here. Listening to some Members one might swear that the Government does nothing-----
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly, who has some of his people from west Cork with him, to the House. The west Cork people are the salt of the earth, as the Minister of State knows himself, so they are very welcome to the Seanad Chamber.