Wednesday, 29 November 2017
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, Landlord and Tenant (Ground Rents) (Amendment) Bill 2017 - Second Stage to be taken at 12.45 p.m. with the time allocated to this debate not to exceed two hours; No. 2, Statement by the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and the Environment on the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act 2015 to be taken at 2.45 p.m. and to adjourn no later than 4.15 p.m. with the time allocated to group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and that allocated to other Senators not to exceed five minutes; No. 3, Statement by the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport on the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act 2015 to be taken at 4.15 p.m. and to adjourn no later than 5.45 p.m. with the time allocated to group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and that allocated to other Senators not to exceed five minutes; No. 4, motion re Horse and Greyhound Racing Fund Regulations 2017, received back from committee, to be taken at 5.45 p.m. and to conclude no later than 6.30 p.m. with the time allocated to group spokespersons not to exceed six minutes and the Minister to be given no less than four minutes to respond; No. 5, statements on Ireland’s bid for the European Banking Authority to be taken at 6.30 p.m. and to conclude no later than 7.20 p.m. with the time allocated to group spokespersons not to exceed six minutes and the Minister to be given no less than four minutes to respond; and No. 6, Diplomatic Relations (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2017 – Second Stage to be taken on the conclusion of No. 5 with the time allocated to group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes, that allocated to other Senators not to exceed five minutes and the Minister to be given no less than five minutes to respond.
I was alarmed to learn today that the Assistant Garda commissioner, Mr. Pat Leahy, has issued a direction to the Dublin metropolitan area that all overtime cease on the basis that the budget has been exhausted. We learn this through the Garda Representative Association, GRA, whose members were told last night to go home from their stations. This essentially gives the green light to criminals to go about their business to the detriment of good citizens. This is especially worrying as we face into the Christmas period when presents will be left in homes and cars and pick-pocketing in general is on the increase. Having attended many policing forum meetings in Dublin South-Central, I have seen that among the primary concerns for residents is the lack of policing on the streets; community policing; gardaí on the beat; and gardaí on bikes to deter such crimes as burglaries and assaults. I ask the Minister to seriously consider reinstating this budget as the cessation of overtime is very much a regressive policing step.
I would like to sympathise with the family and friends of the man who died sleeping rough in Ranelagh yesterday, an area that happens to be very close to the constituency office of the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy. The latest figures for rough sleeping found that, as of 7 November, 184 people were sleeping rough in Dublin city, amounting to a huge 30% increase since April. The fact that the homelessness crisis is spiralling out of control is a damning indictment of our Government and of the track records of the Ministers responsible. I commend the Islamic Cultural Centre in Clonskeagh for opening its doors to those sleeping rough during both Storm Ophelia and the recent cold spell.
As we all know, the elephant in the room here is the lack of housing supply, particularly with regard to social and affordable homes. We have seen no less than six failed housing policies to date, among them the failed development contribution rebate scheme; the failed vacant site levy; the failed vacant homes action plan; the failed local infrastructure housing activation fund, LIHAF; the failed repair and leasing scheme; and last but not least the failed Part V social housing scheme. More than 120,000 people nationwide are on the housing list. We need to start thinking bigger and have more ambitious plans because the current rate of building will not so much as scratch the surface of this huge list and issue. I again call on the Minister to come into the House to address these matters.
I want to raise a most important issue that falls under the brief of the Minister for Justice and Equality. Tomorrow, the Supreme Court will sit again on the very important case of NVH v.the Minister for Justice and Equality.This decision, as I highlighted in this Chamber on 4 October this year, included judgment of profound significance and compassion. It was delivered by Mr. Justice Donal O'Donnell. He stated:
In my view, the point has been reached when it cannot be said that the legitimate differences between an asylum seeker and a citizen can continue to justify the exclusion of an asylum seeker from the possibility of employment. The damage to the individual's self worth, and sense of themselves, is exactly the damage which the constitutional right seeks to guard against. The affidavit evidence of depression, frustration and lack of self-belief bears that out.
The Supreme Court provided a period of six months for the Oireachtas to remedy what it determined to be an unconstitutional state of affairs and that time is up tomorrow. The court may strike down the absolute prohibition on work for asylum seekers as being repugnant to the Constitution. When the Minister was before this House, Members were informed that the interdepartmental task force led by his Department would report back in advance of the submissions the State intended to make before the court. I ask the Leader if he will update the House as to what the Minister intends to tell the Supreme Court tomorrow. Will asylum seekers have a right to work in this country or will they not? If so, when and how? Will legislation be put through these Houses? The Minister confirmed to this House that adults living in direct provision "will also see their capacity for economic independence enhanced in line with the finding of the Supreme Court". How is this to be put into effect? When the Minister came before the House, he committed to "delivering an international protection system in Ireland that provides for decisions on applications in the shortest possible timeframes". If there was a legal or practical limitation upon the amount of time during which an application for asylum status could be processed, particularly now that it appears the undocumented will be given the right to work, this would be a much fairer state of affairs to regularise our asylum process. In the facts of the Supreme Court case, the undocumented person was in the system for more than eight years, with no entitlement to work.
On another issue, as I have stated previously in this House, how can those of us who advocate for the undocumented Irish abroad, which is a strategic and diplomatic imperative of this Government and previous ones before it, in good conscience ignore what is an even worse state of affairs for the undocumented in Ireland?
I am aware that this issue was debated before the Dáil following a strong recommendation from the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality's Report on Immigration, Asylum and the Refugee Crisis. This is an issue close to my heart, having worked for over 15 years with the undocumented Irish in the United States. I ask for the Minister for Justice and Equality to come into the House to make a statement on what progress has been made to regularise undocumented immigrants in Ireland. Ireland needs to have the moral backbone to stand up for the undocumented at home to speak with real authority in our lobbying efforts abroad.
I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach as I will be leaving for the United States in the morning, and I will take this opportunity to wish a very happy Christmas to the Leader, the Cathaoirleach, my fellow Seanadóirí-----
It is a bit early for Christmas for me. I ask the Seanad to amend the Order of Business to ask the Taoiseach to come in to give an account, to quote his own words, of this dysfunctional Government's handling of one the biggest critical and moral crises to face a Government in many years.
I listened to the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, speaking in the Dáil last night. If one had closed one's eyes, one would think one was listening to the discredited former Tánaiste, Deputy Fitzgerald, who was forced by the court of public opinion to resign yesterday.
How did the Minister for Justice and Equality respond when told by Mr. Noel Waters, a senior civil servant in his Department, about the existence of an email with Sergeant McCabe's name in it? He told the Dáil last night that he did not ask Mr. Noel Waters about the email regarding Sergeant McCabe, nor did he ask who sent the email.
For seven days, the Minister ignored the existence of the email. He did not even tell the Taoiseach about its existence. Is that credible? Neither I nor the public think so. I was alarmed to hear the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, tell the Dáil last night that two trawls for documents by the Department of Justice and Equality failed to turn up-----
The trawls failed to turn up the relevant emails that led to the resignation of Deputy Fitzgerald. The saga continues. We then discovered from the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, that, amazingly, none of the emails of senior officials around Deputy Fitzgerald, including her, had been checked. Why were the emails of these key people not checked? These are pertinent questions which I believe the Taoiseach can and should be here to answer. This Chamber is not second class. It should be treated as equal to the Dáil.
I was fairly shocked when listening to "Morning Ireland" this morning when I heard about the ban on overtime for members of the Garda in this city. Gardaí were sent home last night from stations after being told that there was no money to pay for them to work. There is an urgent need for a Supplementary Estimate. The Garda Representative Association, GRA, described it as an open door for criminals in Dublin. This cannot be allowed. I know of people across this city who wish for rain because it will keep young thugs off the streets, yet we are now talking about not having adequate numbers of gardaí on the streets in the capital city over the Christmas period. This is totally unacceptable. It is like every gurrier's Christmas present coming together. It is just not acceptable that the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, would allow the capital city to go unpoliced over the Christmas period. I propose an amendment to Standing Orders, that the Minister for Justice and Equality should attend this House today.
I beg the Leas-Chathaoirleach's pardon. I propose an amendment to the Order of Business, that the Minister for Justice and Equality should attend the House today to tell us how this city will be policed over the next four weeks. One hears from the GRA that the Garda does not have adequate numbers to police the city unless overtime is provided yet the Minister has been silent so far on the matter, at least until I came into the House. The Minister needs to attend to make sure the citizens of the capital city will know there will be an adequate policing service across the city.
I congratulate an off-duty fireman in Limerick, Des Fitzgerald, who rescued two ladies from the River Shannon on 18 September. He is to be honoured by Waterways Ireland today.
Mr. Willie Walsh of the International Airlines Group, IAG, has committed to the development of Shannon Airport and the group is looking for new routes for Shannon Airport. IAG is currently expanding and it has just announced flights out of Dublin. His next commitment is to Shannon and the region because outside Dublin, Limerick, Shannon and the mid-west region is the fastest growing economic area in the country. It is important that Mr. Willie Walsh of IAG be kept to the commitment that he gave to over 300 businessmen at a lunch held by Shannon Chamber last Friday, because it is very important for the growth of the region.
I ask the Minister to attend the House to discuss the issues that have been raised by my colleagues, in particular Senator Ardagh, who is familiar with the situation in Dublin and throughout the country. To say that I am alarmed would be an understatement. Assistant Commissioner Pat Leahy stated that there would be no overtime in the country between now and Christmas except for work on certain Kinahan gang affairs. Mr. Leahy seems like an honourable and honest man and I would like to see him move up to Commissioner. He would be an ideal choice because he tells the truth about what is happening. It was important that we be alerted to the situation.
Mr. Kieran O'Neill of the Garda Representative Association, GRA, spoke on today's "Morning Ireland" and expressed the seriousness of the situation. To declare an interest, the GRA is my nominating body. Indeed, it is the nominating body of four Senators. We must listen to its concerns because it put us here from a nomination point of view.
What Mr. O'Neill said was fair and honourable. He is concerned about what is happening. Gardaí were sent home from stations last night because there was no overtime. It is a serious threat to the security and safety of the State and our citizens.
Mr. Leahy is the most straightforward and honourable man. When he talked about Stepaside Garda station, he said that it was not his priority.
He told the Committee of Public Accounts that, if he got extra manpower today, he would send it to Ballyfermot and the Dublin inner city before Stepaside. Stepaside was a political decision. Why was the Tarmonbarry station on the bridge between Dublin, Roscommon and Castlebar not opened even though there was a Taoiseach there at the time?
As the former Taoiseach told me, he promised to open Stepaside, but he did not promise there would be gardaí. There seem to be no gardaí going to Stepaside. It was the most blatant political manoeuvre, and now we know the full detail of the-----
I second the amendment to have the Minister for Justice and Equality brought here. I also wish to discuss the policing issue. It will affect many major urban centres, particularly Dublin. Gardaí went home yesterday distraught, annoyed and frustrated at the fact that their work regarding the security of the State and its citizens would be compromised.
Garda sources have told me that assistant commissioners around the country were told that their budgets for all policing would be cut. The Minister needs to attend the House today. I will support any move to bring him in, as these cuts have been greeted with shock by rank-and-file gardaí. This is an important issue. We need to know who sanctioned these cuts.
Last week, a colleague of mine who owns a jewellery shop in Dún Laoghaire was beaten over the head by an armed man who had already had his passport confiscated by the Garda and is now on the run. That shop owner was beaten to a pulp while he was trying to get on with running his business. There are serious concerns with confidence. The public demands gardaí on our streets.
Today, the 2017 Supplementary Estimates for the public services arrived on my desk. The Garda is listed on the first page with €44.2 million. It reads: "Estimate of the amount required in the year ending 31 December 2017, for the salaries and expenses of the Garda Síochána". The Minister should attend the House today to explain what that means.
There has been much talk about political accountability on the face of a couple of emails and so on, but what about the real problems? No one seems to be addressing them. First, two of the major organisations of the State - the Department of Justice and Equality and the Garda Síochána - conspired together knowingly to make false accusations against a citizen of the State and to frame him. Had that citizen not had a tape recording of that meeting, he could have been destroyed and the false accusations would have been held against him.
Second, the Department failed to accede to an order for discovery. If the Taoiseach had not demanded a trawl of the Department, we would not have had this discovery. I know a little about discovery. During my many triumphant legal actions, we sought discovery against RTÉ and RTÉ was forced to disclose information, including tape recordings, that destroyed its case. It had to do it. I understand it to be a criminal offence not to comply with an order for discovery. Third, a senior garda met Deputy McGuinness, who is a most honourable man, in a car park in an attempt to influence the business of a committee.
Here are three issues in respect of which there should be accountability, and much more so than the political accountability, searching for heads and political jockeying there has been regarding political figures. Let us address the real situation, where citizens of the State potentially have their rights, futures and livelihoods destroyed by a criminal conspiracy among organs of the State. That should worry anyone who is interested in democracy.
I dtosach, tacaím leis an méid atá ráite ag Seanadóir Billy Lawless maidir leis an rialú a rinne an Chúirt Uachtarach maidir le cearta oibre. I support Senator Lawless's comments on the right to work and the Supreme Court decision. It is an important debate and clarification on the issue is necessary.
The Taoiseach has been busy travelling during his first months in office. He has been to San Francisco, Seattle, Silicon Valley, Toronto, London, New York, Paris, Tallinn and Chicago.
When will the Taoiseach come to the Seanad? From my recollection, he has not been here yet. That is a disgrace.
I was concerned by some of the Leader's barracking of my colleague, Senator Devine, regarding this Chamber. I do not see this Chamber as playing second fiddle to the Dáil.
Thanks, a Leas-Chathaoirligh. The point that we are trying to make is that this is an equal House in the Parliament. It should be treated so and with the respect that we deserve. We all have a mandate. We are all here with the job of holding the Government to account regardless of whether it likes that. Many times, Ministers of State have been sent here to cover issues on which they have not been fully briefed.Senior Ministers have been sent here to speak on portfolios which are not their own and this is not good enough. When we have scandals such as we have seen in the past week, which nearly brought the Government down, the least the Taoiseach can do is come into this House and account for his actions. I give credit to Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, who came in last week, answered questions and took statements. She was not afraid to come in but I do not know whether the Taoiseach is. I note that Drew Nelson has made it as far as this House, and Nicola Sturgeon was able to make it here. We have a €5 million communications unit so perhaps it could send an email to the Taoiseach to tell him how to get here.
I call on him to come to this House to account to us as elected politicians who represent people.
I support the amendment to the Order of Business and I hope our colleagues in Fianna Fáil will support it and stand up for this House, so that we are respected and the Government will take note of us.
As my party's health spokesperson, I am very aware of the harrowing cases of patients not getting access to life-changing medication, whether because of the HSE refusing to reimburse them or because of serious delays in the reimbursement process. The reimbursement process is broken and Ireland is now one of the worst countries in Europe for speed of access to new medications. Orphan drugs, in particular, are a serious casualty of the process as they are currently assessed through the same mechanism as all pharmaceutical products. Due to their small numbers, the companies involved enter into negotiations with a weaker hand which, when dealing with the HSE, often means they are left behind.
It does not help that a committee to evaluate drugs for rare diseases has yet to be set up, three years after a Government report recommended its establishment. Senator Reilly launched the national rare diseases plan and I commend him on that but it was back in 2014, 1,247 days ago. It now has a chairperson but no members and it is not expected to be in place before the first quarter of 2018. One drug in particular, vimizim, is the first effective treatment for mucopolysaccharidosis and it has thus far given patients a quality of life they would not otherwise have experienced but it will no longer be available after 5 December. Today I had the honour to meet with Grace McIntyre and her parents Padraig and Barbara, who are in the Visitors Gallery. This little nine year old girl, who has no life without vimizim, is one of two children in Ireland who are participating in a compassionate programme provided by Biomarin, the pharmaceutical company, but her parents are extremely fearful for her future and are living in limbo, not knowing what will happen to their daughter after 5 December. Can the Leader imagine how they are facing into Christmas this year? We need an urgent debate on this matter.
I wish well to former Senator Denis Landy, following his letter of resignation to the Cathaoirleach yesterday. I wish him well in his retirement and I hope everything works out well for him. He was a very good Member of Seanad Éireann and contributed nearly every week. He was particularly strong on councillors' pay and conditions and he raised many issues on the floor of this House.
I congratulate Senator Norris on being the longest serving Senator in the history of the State. It is quite an achievement.
I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on credit unions. The Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform and Taoiseach launched a report on the credit unions today, after a considerable amount of work compiling it. It is a very good report and I ask the Leader to bring the Minister for Finance in to discuss the issue. There are some pressing issues relating to credit unions.
I wish to raise two issues. The first is the necessity to have a debate here with the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Charles Flanagan. This time last week we on this side of the House were accused of all sorts of things relating to the former Minister, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald. We were accused of skullduggery and there were all sorts of pantomime moves when we asked for accountability. In fairness to the Minister, she came into the House and we had a debate. We are respectfully asking for a debate with the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, on the actions he has taken as Minister and on Garda overtime. In Dublin city, where I live, we had a very successful Garda operation recently when gardaí intercepted what appears to have been a shooting about to take place and they seized some firearms. The second most senior garda in the city is suggesting that the reopening of Stepaside Garda station is well down his list of priorities and now we hear that Garda overtime has been cancelled for the foreseeable future, which means the situation as regards law and order and policing is quite stark, so a debate with the Minister is warranted.
I also want to raise the issue of homelessness, though I know it has been raised before. In recent days, many people watching the political goings-on would not have been too impressed by how the Oireachtas was brought to the edge of disaster, with a Christmas election threatened. Two homeless people have died in Dublin in the past week and I believe the total is seven over the past 12 weeks. The people would want their politicians to engage on this issue with the same level of seriousness as we engaged in the issue relating to the former Minister and Tánaiste, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, and the emails in the Department of Justice. People are literally dying on our streets and I respectfully ask that we come together to have a discussion with the Minister for Housing on the issue of homelessness. We would not need to be party-political on the issue but we need to treat it with the seriousness it deserves. The people of Ireland would expect all Members of the Oireachtas to take it as seriously as, if not more seriously than, the issue which convulsed the Houses in recent days.
There has been a lot this week about taking political heads, as Senator Norris said. Anybody who participates in an attempt to destroy the reputation of a decent, honest man deserves everything that is coming to them but Fintan O'Toole writes in The Irish Timestoday about the subversion of this State by faceless, grey beards who hide behind the political system, namely, the officials of this country. What do they do when they get caught out? They retire and take off with their pensions. We need to investigate the question of ethics. We have had a senior garda walk out of a job with a pension into a fat job somewhere else in a policing authority, without any accountability for what took place under her stewardship. We have had similar stories in respect of other civil servants.Yesterday, we saw the most senior official in the Department of Justice and Equality assure his staff that they will be found to have done no wrong, as he took off with his pension.
For two years, I have been trying to get the Department of Defence, another dysfunctional Department, to release information. I have five simple questions on what happens to the recommendations of the Ombudsman for the Defence Forces following his retirement and as we await for the position to be filled. A lieutenant colonel's career was destroyed because of a mathematical error and we have failed to find out what happened in that case. A young captain is waiting for promotion while, again, a recommendation from the ombudsman is rejected.
It is time that we opened the veil on the Sir Humphreys that operate in this State. They are bringing down politicians all over the place. The Leader may smile but they have taken out one of his Ministers, and if we count the last Government they have taken out two. They sit back and smile knowing that the Government members are there for a short while but they are there forever. They have no right to decide what will and will not be released. How dare they behave the way that they have? I call on the Leader to ask the Taoiseach to take control of the Department and make it answerable to this House and to the State.
Today is international day of solidarity with the Palestinian people. Yesterday, SADAKA held an excellent conference which unfortunately I was only able to attend briefly. It had contributions from across the political spectrum and all were welcome. I remind the Leader that I requested a debate on the Palestinian issue, which is more important than ever. The Palestinian people are calling for us to do what has already been agreed, namely to recognise the State of Palestine. I implore the Leader to arrange such a debate as soon as possible.
To return to the question of bringing the Taoiseach into the House, the previous speaker gave another eloquent reason why we should do so. Fundamental questions need to be answered. This House is asking for answers and for the Taoiseach to come before it and provide those answers. There is a huge puzzle here particularly given that the Taoiseach had the email in question as early as Friday evening or Saturday, yet it took him a further three days to acknowledge what had to happen, namely that the Tánaiste had to resign. It is pertinent to note that, according to Deputy Jim O'Callaghan, Deputy Mícheál Martin had the email on Saturday. I must ask what was Deputy Martin doing with the Taoiseach for three days after he first knew that the Tánaiste would have to resign. Was he trying to stich up a deal that would keep the Tánaiste in place until such time as the email was revealed and public opinion recognised that she should step down? Fianna Fáil has significant questions to answer. Is this why it does not support our call for the Taoiseach to come to the Chamber?
The Leader had his chance to answer the question. The fact is that he has not given one good reason why the Taoiseach should not come in here. The reason is that there is a huge lack of confidence in the Taoiseach among Fine Gael Party members. He had his first major test and he failed it miserably so the Leader does not want to bring him in to answer our questions. That is the fact of the matter.
We are glad to be back here today. Sinn Féin will always look at things negatively. Nobody won the last general election. Deputy Mícheál Martin and the Taoiseach met and found a solution to the latest crisis. What had to happen, had to happen, there had to be accountability, but at least we are making sure that the people are looked after. Sinn Féin is once again saying things that are not true. We are glad to be here today because-----
The tracker mortgage scandal is a blight on this country. Like the Famine, it has caused people to be turned out of their homes and families separated. We should be under no illusions about the effect it has had on thousands of lives, and it will be felt for many years in the future.
We are not doing enough. The Central Bank calls for individual executives and board members of the Irish banks to be held accountable for overcharging of at least 20,000 mortgage customers. These calls are not enough. Threats of fines from the Government do not go far enough. For over 20 years these banks have been able to hoodwink us and it is not acceptable. What the banks are doing is wrong. We all agree on that, across the parties. Bankers deal in money and they hurt people most in their pockets. The bankers should be instructed to wipe away debt on their customers' homes as they did on the millions owed by billionaires. We have no way to bring back lost homes, put marriages back together or bring back deceased loved ones but we can change how the banks behave in the future by hitting them where it hurts and by giving stability to families in the future. I call the Minister for Finance to come before the House to address this. I have concerns. We need to play hardball with these bankers and give families stability.
It is fine. The Leader will defer to his partner in Government to respond for him.
There is some tick-tack back and forward but it not too much for the Members of this House to ask the Taoiseach to come before it, and the request should not be treated with such hostility, given the political crisis.
I want to add to the remarks by my colleague, Senator Gavan, regarding today being the UN international day of solidarity with the Palestinian people. It is not to diminish the harsh reality faced by people in this city, and across the State and across Ireland in its entirety, as the homelessness crisis continues and we face into the winter months. Yet it pales into insignificance compared to what the people of Palestine, and especially Gaza, will face this winter. They will be without electricity, access to health care or the basics that many of us take for granted here. At all times, but especially as we approach Christmas, we should do our best to express solidarity with the Palestinian people.
Solidarity can take many different forms. It can go from raising it on the floor of Parliament to hosting a public meeting, attending a protest, observing a boycott or informing oneself about what is happening to the people of Palestine and what they are forced to endure. There is a particular onus on the people of Ireland given our own experience of conflict to share one form of solidarity, which is how we learned to transform our society out of conflict and build reconciliation. The best expression of solidarity with the Palestinian people is to work and commit ourself to ensuring a just and peaceful settlement for the people there.
I want to highlight the debate taking place this evening on the horse and greyhound racing fund. The Leader agreed to my request that the debate be extended beyond the original 45 minutes. We are looking at the allocation of some €64 million next year to the horse and greyhound racing fund.There are major issues within the greyhound sector. The Irish Greyhound Board will receive in the region of €307,000 in subvention per week next year. I ask that sufficient time be granted this evening so all interested Senators can partake in the debate. More important, I ask that the Minister stay to answer questions. I am not sure whether this can be facilitated.
I agree with Senator Gerard Craughwell on the approach of trying to get a political scalp. It is not the right way to serve our country in the best interest of citizens. Trying to take someone else out will not improve the accountability of the Government or the governance of our country, nor will it help those who require State services most. We must fundamentally rethink how we do government and how civil servants respond to requests from Ministers, this House and the Dáil, particularly at a very senior level. We must remember that the senior civil servants in this jurisdiction are not accountable at the ballot box. Therefore, serious questions arise over responsiveness, accountability, and the way organisations are managed, controlled and run.
There is a big question whose answer eludes us all - the question of whether the Department of Justice and Equality has been captured by the senior management within An Garda Síochána. We can all give our opinion or view. There is now a requirement, as we approach 100 years of independence, to review our Civil Service and determine whether it is fit for purpose? Is senior management held to account or not? This thinking could extend to the local government sector. In my view, senior management across the local authorities is not held to account by councillors because the latter do not have the power to do so. Therefore, there is a real need to examine this.
It is easy to go after a politician, ask another Minister to step down, or go after the current Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Charlie Flanagan. That is not the right approach here. If we are to do the State some service — what happened over the weekend certainly did — we should be looking further than the political system. We must consider the core realm of responsibility across all Departments, which is at senior civil servant level.
Senators Ardagh, Humphreys, Leyden, Boyhan, Ó Clochartaigh and Ó Ríordáin raised the issue of Garda overtime. I would be very happy to have the Minister come to the House this evening. There is no need to be worried about that. Senator Humphreys should note that I always endeavour to work with all Members of the House to facilitate requests for debate.
It ill-behoves Senator Leyden to act in such a manner. This was a matter that was put to the House by Senator Humphreys, who approached me before this debate to express that he was going to do this. This is not about political opportunism on his part, in fairness. Senator Leyden might do me and the House the courtesy of waiting for the reply, if he does not mind.
The Senator does it every day. It ill-behoves him. The Minister will come to the House and I will be happy to work with the group leaders at our group meeting at 12.45 p.m. to arrange for a time. It is a very urgent matter. The comment this morning by the Assistant Commissioner was disturbing. I am not sure the way he made it was appropriate. It has implications for citizens, business owners and members of An Garda Síochána, as Senators Ardagh and Humphreys rightly said.
To answer Senator Leyden, if he listens to me, the Minister is to go before the committee tomorrow with a supplementary budget of €44.2 million under the Garda Vote. Senator Boyhan has the Order Paper for the committee tomorrow, which he did not reference. The €44.2 million is in addition to the 800 extra gardaí who have been recruited and the 500 civilians who will be recruited as the civilianisation of An Garda Síochána continues. Since we reopened Templemore after Senator Leyden's party closed it in when in government-----
It is a fact. The Senator does not like the facts. Some 1,400 gardaí were recruited since Templemore was re-opened. To put matters in context, the overtime budget for the Garda for 2017 is €130 million. The budget for 2018 provides €100 million for overtime. The management and utilisation of the resources of the force are a matter for the Garda but, in saying that, it was disturbing and disappointing to hear the remarks that were made this morning. In that context and considering the gravity of the situation, I am accepting the amendment by Senator Humphreys to invite the Minister to the House this evening. I will be happy to do so. I accede to such requests by Members of the House on many occasions.
Senators Ó Ríordáin and Ardagh raised the very tragic loss of life of two citizens of our State on the streets of Dublin this week. These two deaths occurred in very difficult and different circumstances. We should not judge the reasons the people passed away. It is important to put in context that all of us in this House, irrespective of our political ideologies or views, are committed to having and want to have the issues of homelessness and rough sleeping dealt with and addressed. That is why Rebuilding Ireland has taken an agency-based, multi-annual funding approach. It is why the Department, with the Dublin regional authorities, announced, through the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, an additional 200 emergency beds. Of these, 50 will be permanent. Equally, it is important to recognise that the Government is taking action through the cold weather initiative, not only in Dublin but also on the streets of Cork, Galway and elsewhere. It is important to recognise that work is being done. The deaths are tragic and we should not use them as a political football. On behalf of the House, we extend our sympathies to all the families who have lost loved ones this week. We are working on and committed to having the issue addressed.
Senator Billy Lawless raised the very important matter of the Supreme Court decision. It is important to note that the Government has established the interagency task force to examine the implications of the judgment and to put in place an appropriate response and solution by the Government. As the House knows, earlier this month the Government opted to accept the recommendation to opt into the recast EU reception conditions directive. In saying that, it is important that we have a debate in the House, as Senators Lawless and Ó Clochartaigh rightly said.
Both Senators Lawless and Ó Clochartaigh have raised the issue of the undocumented Irish in America in this House. It is important that there be a consistent approach. I fully subscribe to that. I will be happy to have a debate on it as soon as possible in the House.
I want to group the Sinn Féin contributions on the Taoiseach's appearance in the House. If people choose to listen to me, I shall reiterate a point I made on a number of occasions.I do not operate on the basis of misinformation. I requested that the Taoiseach come to the House, and he has agreed. It is a matter of finding a suitable date and I have no issue in doing that. I have never hidden behind a veil of anybody not coming to the House, and the proof of that can be seen today with the Minister, Deputy Humphreys.
I will not accept the amendment to the Order of Business from the Sinn Féin Party, not because there is an element of fear or hiding but because it is about finding a suitable date for the Taoiseach to come to the House. When I have arranged that, the Taoiseach will be here before us, as the former Taoiseach was before he retired from office. I will work to have that done before the Christmas recess, if possible, or early in the new year. We have been in contact with the Office of the Taoiseach about a range of issues, not just the events of this week.
As regards the single transferable Sinn Féin speech, the Sinn Féin Senators can come back with another amendment or reply tomorrow. I understand the need to make political charges and engage in opportunism. That is what Senators try to do sometimes, and I accept that.
As a former Deputy and current Senator, I am very much aware of the importance of and need for Seanad Éireann. As Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell said last week, we should not ape the Dáil. Constitutionally, we have a different set of requirements and duties, and it is important to recognise that. People should familiarise themselves with the Constitution. I have no issue bringing Members and Ministers into the House to discuss a range of issues.
If Members come in to make political charges, that is fine. We have lost a Tánaiste and Minister yesterday on the basis of pure political opportunism by Sinn Féin, which brought down and Executive in the North and will not go into government in the South. The directive for the budget in the North allocated money to increase pay for front-line health staff, but the money cannot be spent because there is no Minister to sign a directive. Sinn Féin comes to the House purporting to represent workers' rights when that is happening to workers in the North. That is the reality.
I join Senator Byrne in congratulating Des Fitzgerald on his act of bravery. It is fantastic that many engage in acts of heroism. I compliment him. I welcome the announcement by Willie Walsh regarding the development of new routes out of Shannon Airport. I think I answered Senator Norris’s question.
We can all engage in political gamesmanship, which we do. A process been established called a tribunal of inquiry. Everybody I know in politics, at least on this side of the House, wants the tribunal on the case of Garda McCabe to reach its full conclusion and his good name to be upheld. The job of the tribunal is to find the full truth and establish the facts. If there is to be accountability, political or otherwise, let us have that after the tribunal makes its inquiry.
-----and complied with.
I welcome the family Senator Swanick mentioned, in particular Grace. Orphan drugs are important. As a former chair of a joint committee it is an issue of which I am very aware. I would be happy for the Minister to come to the House regarding the important issue he raised.
Before Senator Norris leaves us, it is our intention to pay tribute to him tomorrow on the Order of Business given the longevity of his service. I will make further comments tomorrow. I have always found Senator Norris a very kind and genuine Member of the House. One can disagree with him politically, but I have always found him to be a very genuine and caring person.
On Senator Burke's comments on the credit union movement, I would be happy to have a debate on that.
Senator Craughwell referred to an issue of accountability. I laughed at the opening the veil on the Sir Humphreys line. Many fine people work in the Houses of the Oireachtas and other Departments and do a fine job. We should not castigate everybody. I hope that we do not do that. There are very fine people from Departments working with us in the Seanad.
Senators Gavan and Ó Donnghaile raised the issue of the international day of solidarity for the Palestinian people. We all want to join with those comments. I have put the request for a debate to the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney. He is anxious to have the debate in the House.
I agree with Senator Murnane O'Connor on repossessions. It is a blight and the banks should reflect on their actions. People have to be in court this week, for whatever reason. The Senator referred to Galway. I am not sure why people are before the courts. There are a wide variety of cases. It is incumbent upon the banks to work with everybody to ensure that no family is removed from their home. It is important that we all work to ensure that there is a resolution which allows families to remain in their homes. We had a debate on tracker mortgages last week. I would be happy to have another debate in the coming weeks.
I spoke to Senator Ó Domhnaill yesterday about the horse and greyhound fund. It was in committee and there was a significant amount of scrutiny. I have made a request that he be allowed to participate in the debate. Despite what some Members might think, I do not want to discommode people or not allow them to speak. The Senator will have an opportunity to speak on that debate.
I am happy to accept Senator Humphreys's amendment. I will work out the timing of the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, coming to the House to discuss the Garda overtime and budget. I am working with the Office of the Taoiseach to make sure we have a date for him to come to the House. Therefore, I will not accept the amendment to the Order of Business from Sinn Féin.
Senator Devine has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That a debate with the Taoiseach on the way in which matters arising recently in respect of the Department of Justice and Equality have been managed would be taken today." Is the amendment being pressed?
Ivana Bacik, Frances Black, Gerard Craughwell, Maire Devine, Paul Gavan, Kevin Humphreys, Colette Kelleher, Pádraig MacLochlainn, Pádraig Ó Céidigh, Trevor Ó Clochartaigh, Brian Ó Domhnaill, Niall Ó Donnghaile, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, Lynn Ruane.
Catherine Ardagh, Colm Burke, Paddy Burke, Ray Butler, Jerry Buttimer, Maria Byrne, Paudie Coffey, Paul Daly, Aidan Davitt, Frank Feighan, Robbie Gallagher, Maura Hopkins, Billy Lawless, Terry Leyden, Tim Lombard, Gabrielle McFadden, Michelle Mulherin, Rónán Mullen, Jennifer Murnane O'Connor, Catherine Noone, David Norris, Kieran O'Donnell, Marie Louise O'Donnell, John O'Mahony, Joe O'Reilly, Ned O'Sullivan, Neale Richmond, Keith Swanick.