Wednesday, 6 December 2017
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, Finance Bill 2017 - Committee Stage, to be taken at 1.45 p.m. and to conclude no later than 4.15 p.m., if not previously concluded, by the putting of one question from the Chair which shall, in relation to amendments, include only those set down or accepted by the Government; No. 2, statement by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine on the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act 2015, to be taken at 4.15 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and all other Senators not to exceed five minutes; and No. 3, statement by the Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government on the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act 2015, to be taken at 5.30 p.m., with the contribution of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and all other Senators not to exceed five minutes.
Following the Order of Business, at 12.45 p.m. today, there will be tributes to the former Senator, Mr. Des Hanafin.
While Brexit negotiations are under way, there are many other issues that the Government needs to tackle. Last night's "Prime Time Investigates" programme illustrated the lack of support for carers. Many of us are well aware of this, but it took a "Prime Time" programme to bring it to light for the general public and the political community at large.
There are 200,000 people dedicated to caring for their loved ones. Alarmingly, this figure is on the increase and 35% of those caring for loved ones are over the age of 85 years. This House held a debate on the ageing population and the lack of services, especially health care. This area is very worrying. These carers provide over 6.5 million care hours per week to the State, free of charge. They save the State millions of euro. A total of 9% of these carers provide full-time unpaid care with no breaks at all. Respite services are poorly funded or non-existent, especially for people who need 24-hour care.
The RTÉ programme showed some cases and we all know of examples. There were some heartbreaking stories and some lovely ones which showed people's humanity to their loved ones. That is not reflected in the State's care for its citizens. The programme introduced us to Jack Brennan, a gentleman aged 85 who is caring for his wife, Bernie. He would not put her in a care home because he loved her too much. We also saw Jacinta Walsh from Drogheda, who is caring for her 18 year old son who has autism. His name is Sam O'Carroll. Sam also has other conditions. His behaviour is unpredictable and he can be extremely violent towards her. She has suffered serious assaults. There is no respite care available for that lady or her family. That is quite distressing and it is shameful that the State is not able to help her. I would like the Minister for Health to come to the House to outline exactly what he plans to do in respect of home care hours and respite services. Although this issue is not in the headlines like Brexit, it is part of people's daily lives and needs to be addressed.
The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Zappone, published the third interim report of the commission of investigation into the mother and baby homes yesterday. I will not go into the report, which is available for us all to read, but I have some concern at the suggestion that this work will not be completed until 2019. That is too long to wait for many women, given their circumstances, their desire to have the truth told, to share their experiences and to have what happened to them and their children acknowledged publicly by the State. The State was aware of this in many cases. Therefore, it is important that justice is delivered quickly for these people. Many of these women are in their later years and have spent their entire lives seeking justice, the truth and the opportunity to tell their stories, but most of all to be believed.
It is important to think of so many broken lives, broken families, broken dreams and aspirations for their loved ones. The State reneged on its responsibility to them and walked away. Families failed. There is no point laying the blame on any one side of our society because we know it involved families and institutions of the State. We need to show compassion and some understanding of these women who were betrayed, and give them justice.
I welcome the fact that the Minister is setting up a new collaborative forum with a strong voice for former residents but there have been many fora, discussions and promises and these people keep being let down. Time is terribly important for them. I acknowledge that the Minister has agreed that a United Nations special rapporteur be invited to Ireland to assist in responding to the issues relating to the mother and baby homes. That is positive too, but we cannot delay any further.
When preparing for Christmas, we can draw on the analogy of the Christmas story, we are asked to believe, and many of us choose to believe, of the vulnerable mother and her baby.That vulnerability is perhaps more raw at this time of year as we celebrate Christmas and the message of Christmas. My wish for these people is that they get justice swiftly and that they and their families and their babes, as they were then, get a hearing and get redress. We are told in the national newspapers today that the Government may consider redress but that is not good enough. People deserve redress and we must hold out hope for this. Parallel to these ongoing investigations and teasing out of the issues, I ask that the Government start to focus now on making provision for redress for these people.
I would like to explain what I am doing now to deal with the numbers. The Civil Engagement group has a grouping of six and Sinn Féin also have six, so everyday I will alternate. The Civil Engagement group, CEG, will be up next now while yesterday Sinn Féin went first. Both groups will get the same - it is like tossing a coin. I am trying to be fair here. The CEG will get priority today and Sinn Féin will get it tomorrow, unless the numbers change. I just got an inquisitive look from Senator Conway-Walsh and she is of course entitled to inquire about this. That is what is happening then, and Senator Conway-Walsh is not being excluded.
I concur with Senator Ardagh with regard to the situation facing carers that was so well documented and highlighted in last night's "Prime Time" programme. The CSO has produced startling figures on carers under the age of 15 and over the age of 85. This is a demographic time bomb, particularly when it comes to those caring for people with disabilities. These carers simply have been neglected by the official social care system and I support Senator Ardagh's call for some kind of response from the Department of Health. A home care system would go a long way towards sharing the care for these people, who are happy to care for their loved ones but do not want to, or indeed cannot, do so all by themselves.
The main reason I wish to speak today, however, is that I was delighted to launch yesterday the Transgender Equality Network Ireland's STAD: Stop Transphobia and Discrimination report, which was authored by Ms Jennifer Schweppe and Dr. Amanda Haynes of the hate and hostility research group in the University of Limerick. There is no doubt but that Ireland has witnessed a momentous shift in public sentiment towards some of the most marginalised groups in society. The Marriage Act 2015, followed swiftly by the introduction of the Gender Recognition Act in the same year, each provide evidence of a sea change in political and societal attitudes. I pay tribute here to Senator Warfield, who drew the focus of this House to the Gender Recognition Act 2015 earlier this year. I also recognise the work of the Leader, Senator Buttimer, in this area. The report launched by Transgender Equality Network Ireland yesterday is a stark reminder, however, that the work is not finished. Reading this report, I was struck by the very significant hurdles that remain to be overcome by many in the transgender community before they can enjoy widespread acceptance and inclusion. More disturbing still is the way in which some unforgiving people choose to express their own fears and insecurities, often in the form of discrimination, vandalism, and harassment. Some of the stories in this report would make one cry. There is no need for this kind of behaviour. Transgender people just want to be themselves. Over a two-year period a total of 62 transphobic hate crimes were reported to STAD from across Ireland, including very serious offences like rape; sexual assault; causing harm; and death threats. Transphobic language was used by the perpetrator in 40 of the crimes reported. This is no insignificant issue: there were 909 transphobic murders across the world in this period.
On foot of last week's debate on the Domestic Violence Bill, Members are aware that non-violence can very often turn to violence. This is something we must understand but not accept. The report details many incidents that might not amount to hate crimes per sebut nevertheless constitute serious discrimination. One does not need to be punched or struck to feel sneered at and excluded and there is obviously a knock-on effect on people's mental health. We are talking about a small group of people and there is no need for them to be treated in this way. The Minister should come in to talk about what plans there are for the national LGBT inclusion strategy. I also would like to hear what he has in mind to address hate crime legislation. I ask the Deputy Leader to consider this request.
I ask the Deputy Leader to bring in the Minister to tell us why the national children's hospital cannot be named after Dr. Kathleen Lynn. We hear again today of further nonsense around the name Phoenix and the possibility of being sued over this by an American hospital. I cannot understand why the hospital cannot be named after such a wonderful woman as Kathleen Lynn. If I thought for one second that there was some reason for this then I would understand. My own colleague, Deputy Ó Snodaigh, wrote the Minister for Health months ago outlining the reasons why the children's hospital should be named after her so I now ask that the Minister come to the House and explain to us why this cannot be done.
I also want to talk about the plight of carers and I commend RTÉ on its broadcast on carers in crisis and the difficulties faced by those providing care in this State. When I hear Fianna Fáil talk about carers' hours and home help hours, I have to wonder why that party cut 32,000 hours from home help hours in County Mayo in one year alone when it was in government. I cannot understand it. The cumulative effect of taking home help away from the HSE; privatising it; and giving maybe three quarters of an hour, half an hour or even 15 minutes, is having a real impact on all of these carers. One in 20 people in this country is caring for a family member. That measure has to now be reversed. We have to go back and admit that what was done in this respect was wrong and needs to be reversed. There was no increase in home help hours allocated under the last budget. People are still being medically assessed as needing home care packages and yet not getting them. This is happening right across the country but it is particularly prevalent in rural areas. I now see that in County Mayo, applications for housing aid for older people are being refused because the carer is living with - indeed has to live with - the elderly person in question. This is an absolutely crazy situation because the requirements are now saying that that older person has to live alone. I ask the Minister to come to the House to clarify why it is that these things are happening.
When it comes to local authority heating grants, older people are being told that heating is not covered until the local authority grant and that they have to go to the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, SEAI. They then go to SEAI only to be told that they are not covered for a heating grant because this or that particular box is not ticked. Elderly people, about whom we make platitudes time and time again, are being left in housing conditions unsuitable for them to live in, excluded from grants and denied the respite care and home help hours they need. If we really are genuine about trying to protect our elderly people and give them what they deserve, then this matter absolutely has to be addressed, not just after it has been highlighted by "Prime Time" but on an ongoing basis.
I greatly welcome this morning the announced expansion of Ballycroy National Park to include the wild Nephin area. This is a longstanding collaborative project between Coillte and the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and will now provide for more than 15,000 ha of national parkland, making this one of the largest national parks in the country and a prime destination in which to experience nature in a pristine and wild landscape. Ballycroy is now even larger than our premier national park in Killarney. It will provide a crucial link from the Great Western Greenway heading north into Bangor Erris and Ballycastle, and will be a very important tourist hub. I also understand that new access routes will be developed and a public amenity plan put in place. This is a huge asset gain for the country and we can help to provide for and populate part of it with the native species of Kerry red deer. This too, I think, would be important. There are plans to curb the sika deer-----
I take this opportunity to invite the Senator to Glenveagh National Park where I am sure he will have a very enjoyable experience. At the outset I would like to pass comment on and pay tribute to RTÉ on the programme it broadcast last night. The programme showed very clearly that the carers of Ireland do not want to be listening to us trying to score political points against one another. They are looking for what they deserve, namely, recognition for the huge work they do. The quicker we get to that point, the better.
Today I raise the issue of returning emigrants. I am glad to report that 400 Irish citizens are returning home daily. That is something which we very much welcome. Unfortunately, many emigrants face difficulties and obstacles when they return. That is very regrettable. I recently heard from a gentleman who returned home to Donegal after 30 years in the US. He had an Irish driving licence before he left and while he was in the US he had a full licence with no penalty points and had no convictions while he was there. He told me the story of the difficulties he had. First, he cannot exchange his US licence for an Irish one. He went on to talk about the difficulties he has. After driving for 40 years he has to sit a theory test and do an Irish driving test. Another difficulty is that he lives on his own and in order to drive legally on the road, he needs to be accompanied by a qualified driver. He also has the additional difficulty of an increased insurance premium.
This is one of many examples of obstacles we put in the way of returning emigrants. That is very regrettable. Having 400 Irish citizens a week returning home is a nice problem to have, but there is job of work to be done to ensure that the transition they go through when they come home is as simple as possible. I ask the Acting Leader to bring this to Cabinet so that whatever obstacles are in the way can be put to one side in order to encourage more of our people to return home.
I want to make reference to the interim report of the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes which Senator Boyhan mentioned. There has been a lot of mixed reaction and disappointment to the pushing out of this report. I have submitted a Commencement matter for tomorrow through which I hope we can explore this issue further.
I add my voice and that of this House to global condemnation of reports that the US President, Donald Trump, will today declare that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. This is an extremely dangerous and worrying move. Israel's claim that Jerusalem is the complete and united capital of Israel is in violation of international law. The status of Jerusalem is one of the most sensitive issues in the region as east Jerusalem is the future capital of the state of Palestine, although it is still illegally occupied by Israel. A unilateral move by the US will have grave consequences for the Israeli-Palestinian peace process which is already on life support. I remind Members that in October 2014, this House formally recognised Palestine as a state. We cannot allow the US President, Mr. Trump, to undermine that.
Like everybody else, I was horrified by RTÉ's "Prime Time" last night. Jack Brennan looks after his lovely wife, Bernie. Jack is in his 80s and Bernie has spent 17 years in her current condition. He looks after her 24-7. One would have to be made of stone not to feel upset, or even to shed a tear, for him last night or to feel the same for the other carers featured on the programme. Carers care for family members at home for 6.5 million hours a week, saving this Government millions of euro. The number of people who are 85 years or older and are caring for their loved ones has increased by 35% in the last year.
One of the comments made last night was that the HSE should bring back its humanity. I think that was a very good point. Another lady said that we need to look at this because it could happen to any one of us at any time. I speak from experience as it happened to my family recently. We were in the fortunate position that there were several of us who could care for our loved one 24-7 but it is very difficult and very heartbreaking. One woman's carer's allowance was reduced to €8 a week because her husband had gotten a new job which paid more. This is just not good enough.
We need to have the Minister in the House at some point, whenever he is available, to have a debate about this, no more than we need a debate on the mental health budget. That budget is more than €1 billion a year and we do not know where it is being spent. I would like to know where the HSE is spending its money. Respite is vital for these people. Jacinta, who was on the programme last night, spoke of a house near her that is empty and available, staffed and ready, to which Sam could go so that Jacinta could have a break. The HSE will not pay for it. We need to have a debate. It should not be a debate in which we all stand up and express our horror and in which the Minister reads us a speech. It should be a proper debate in which we burrow down through the whole topic and find out where the money is going. I really believe that the least we can do for people caring for their loved ones at home is to give them respite so that they can continue to do the wonderful job which they do. They are not looking for something for nothing. They are entitled to some respite.
I completely concur with Senator McFadden. A debate on carers should take place and we need to burrow down into the reasons carers are not getting sufficient support.
Last week in this Chamber we heard statements from the Ministers, Deputies Denis Naughten and Shane Ross, on the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act 2015. Later today we will hear from the Ministers responsible for the Departments of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, and Housing, Planning and Local Government. Although I am grateful for the opportunity to have dedicated time to debate such issues in the House, I am concerned at the way in which the Government has engaged with the process to date. It has not been in compliance with the existing rules as laid out in section 14(4) of the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act. The statements we heard last week do not comply with the requirements of the Act. They did not set out the analyses in a structured fashion which would enable the Seanad to respond to them and evaluate the work of the Government and the Ministers, as is clearly the intention of the Act.
With this in mind, I communicated my concerns to the offices of the Ministers, Deputies Denis Naughten, Michael Creed, Shane Ross and Eoghan Murphy, last Thursday. I copied the Cathaoirleach and Senator Jerry Buttimer in the correspondence, which sought more satisfactory compliance during this afternoon's session. I have not yet received any response and I would like to raise this issue on the Order of Business to ensure that this afternoon's statements are not more of the same as last week.
Last year the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment summarised all of the contributions from the various Government Departments in a single 75-page annual transition statement document, a comprehensive single source for statistics relating to Ireland's climate action performance in the previous year. I ask that the Cathaoirleach request that the Ministers adhere to their obligations and inform the House of details of their Departments' performance last year in compliance with the Act. Will the Acting Leader inform me whether a comprehensive study of the climate performance will be delivered to the Seanad and the Dáil as it was last year? In these circumstances I would like the Acting Leader to indicate when the Government will do so as we are coming to the end of the year.
I support the comments made by Senator Devine in respect of the serious situation regarding the possible announcement today that the President of the United States of America, Donald Trump, has decided to relocate that country's embassy in Israel to Jerusalem and to declare that city the capital of Israel, which is in total contravention of all agreements and previous UN declarations.I have visited Jerusalem, a city that is shared by Jews, Catholics, Coptic Christians and Muslims - everyone. It is an international city. There is no logic to the decision by President Trump to relocate the embassy from Tel Aviv, which is accepted as the capital of Israel, to Jerusalem. It seems that the Americans will be looking for a site in east or west Jerusalem. The situation is inflammatory. I do not think the US realises what will happen in this regard. The proposed move will inflame the whole Middle East. All the adjoining countries are opposed to it. The Palestinians are treated so badly in Gaza and the West Bank. Israeli settlements are being built. It is so inflammatory at the moment. I support the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade's statement today expressing his concern. He has contacted the US Embassy in Dublin. The more people who contact the embassy, the better to try to persuade the US President not to proceed with the decision to relocate the his country's embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. I do not know if he realises the consequences of his actions but I have no doubt that they will be serious and that the decision will cause further conflict. All parties in Ireland support the two-state solution, with the Israelis and Palestinians respecting each other and eventually coming to some settlement. However, what is proposed will drive the process relating to reaching a settlement off the rails completely and lead to conflict in the region.
I welcome JETPOWER to Shannon Airport. It is joining a cluster of international aviation services companies centred at the airport and is a great boost for Shannon and the mid-west region.
The Minister for Education and Skills announced the minor works scheme for primary schools yesterday. I welcome the announcement because I have recently been contacted by many schools that might not have had money to buy oil, replace light bulbs or bring in an electrician to deal with overhanging wires. These minor works grants are very important for schools, particularly at this time of the year when finances are at a low ebb. I encourage the Minister to announce that provision of these grants every year because the situation is somewhat iffy as to whether they are announced. This is something that needs to be looked at every year.
I congratulate the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade on his strong statement to the US Embassy in Dublin regarding the proposed move of the US Embassy in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. President Trump made what amounts to a classic feckless and irresponsible statement and the Tánaiste is to be congratulated on the swiftness of his response to the suggested recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. I understand that the Tánaiste is extremely busy at the moment but perhaps he might to come the House at the earliest opportunity in the new year to discuss Ireland's position regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and how we can be of support to him in his ongoing efforts.
As Christmas approaches, Dublin city centre gets very busy and traffic becomes a major issue. I wish to raise the issue of rickshaws. We are reaching a stage where we must consider banning these vehicles. They are causing untold potential danger to pedestrians, motorists, shoppers and revellers in Dublin city centre. They are completely unregulated. A report in the Irish Independentthis time last year suggested that there was a level of drug dealing and drug transportation involving rickshaws. I respectfully ask the Leader to facilitate a debate with the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport as to how we can either regulate rickshaws or ban them outright because it is reaching a stage where we are only waiting for a serious accident to take place in Dublin city centre. I am quite sure that the situation is similar in other cities throughout the country. I ask that the Minister come to the House to deal with this issue, once and for all.
I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment to come to the House to explain the plans and strategies he and his Department have regarding social media and Internet-related problems. I noted that there was a good debate on this issue at a meeting of the Joint Committee on Children and Youth Affairs this morning. There are a few reasons why I am seeking a debate. I will provide some facts.
Figures for this year show that 89% of households are connected to the Internet. There are 3.4 million smartphones in Ireland. A total of 93% of those aged between 16 and 29 years of age use social networks while 60% of those aged between nine and 15 years of age use smart phones. There are significant problems with cyberbullying. We must make decisions and attack that. The large multinationals operating in our country are more than welcome but we need to create some disciplinary process because this is a huge issue. There is a major problem when people want to report cyberbullying. There is no proper monitoring. Cyberbullying gives rise to psychological intimidation, stress and anxiety and those who engage in it use fake names. The Harvard Business School conducted a study and found that there is a huge level of increased anxiety among young people purely because they are on social media. There is an onus on us to look after our people in every way we can, particularly in the context of new technologies. Those technologies come with pluses and significant minuses. We have a strong legal system that I support and that is based on the principle of someone being innocent until proven guilty. Right now on social media, someone is guilty, end of story.
In my youth, a journalist was somebody who wrote for a newspaper or appeared on RTÉ or other national media. Now everybody in the country is a journalist. That is very dangerous. I ask everybody in this House to come together and say that we need to change this for the betterment of our country and the integrity of connectivity going forward. Let us be leaders, as we have been in the past, in developing and implementing a proper strategy. This morning, I bought two advertisements for €20. I now have an advertisement relating to Senator Boyhan so that when someone carries out a Google search in respect of him - it is not yet true but it will be true in the next couple of hours - my name will come up. I have also decided to buy an advertisement under the name "Leo Varadkar" so that my name will come up. The reason why I am saying this so strongly and why I spent €20 on it is because in the past six months I was contacted by 14 companies that informed me they had to buy their names back from Google. That is one of the ways Google makes its money. I contacted Google and asked what I could do about this. I was informed that all someone can do is outbid the other person get their name or that of their company back. I am pleading with everybody here to help resolve this problem.
Ní raibh mé ag dúil leis sin ach táim buíoch as. It has been a frantic few days, as we can appreciate, regarding the negotiations on Great Britain's withdrawal from the EU. At the beginning of the deal and arrangement between the DUP and the Tories, many of us predicted that it would end in tears. In particular, some of the people who took great delight in telling Sinn Féin how they had to rush back into government with the DUP in Northern Ireland are starting to see the flavour and calibre of the politics one deals with when one has to deal with the DUP.The late Martin McGuinness showed exemplary political patience and leadership in lasting the ten years he did that, but sin scéal eile.
The purpose of my contribution is to ask for updates or statements from the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade on the current Brexit negotiations. I appreciate that negotiations are at a sensitive stage and neither I nor my party or any Member in this House would seek to compromise the Minister or the Government, but it is timely that we have statements from the Minister on the latest developments. He did that when the negotiations were taking place in the North and we all respected and adhered to the guidance he advised in terms of the sensitivities of those negotiations. It has been a considerable time since we had a proper update from the Government on Brexit in the House and the past 48 hours in particular warrant that.
As is my duty, I call on the Government to remain steadfast, as it has, regarding the defence of the Good Friday Agreement. It is mandated by the Dáil to negotiate for a special status for the North. As we all know and appreciate, and I say this not in a combative way, the North is not as British as Finchley. The Good Friday Agreement ensures that. Regardless of the internal dynamics playing out among the Tories and between the DUP and the various parts of Britain, what must be put front and centre is the defence of the Good Friday Agreement and the retention of Ireland in its entirety within the customs union, the Single Market.
Two weeks ago, I raised the issue of the bitter impact the unresolved issues of legacy are having on politics in the North. If the North is taken out of the European Union against our will, we will be left to the devices of the so-called British justice system. We will no longer have access to the European Court of Justice. In addition to all the political, economic and social ramifications we know about, that presents a dangerous potential for those of us in the North.
I agree with my colleague, Senator Byrne, on the issue of minor works for national schools. There should be an annual payment for that to national schools because they are short of funding to carry out small works such as replacing light bulbs, broken windows and so forth.
I raise an issue that was brought to my attention recently but first I welcome the doubling of the acreage at the national park in Ballycroy, County Mayo, which will be a wonderful tourism asset to both County Mayo and Ireland. The park is bigger than Killarney National Park and almost as big as Wicklow Mountains National Park. Great credit is due to the Office of Public Works and to the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht for the outstanding work they have carried out.
I have asked the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht to investigate areas where it felt displacement of species has taken place because of developments throughout the country. It was brought to my attention that one objection to the erection of a wind farm in County Mayo concerned the displacement of the red grouse. Some of the farmers in that area have told me that the red grouse are resting under the propellers of the wind farm. I would like the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht to investigate that, along with the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment. We have had many objections over the years to wind farms, road works and major developments throughout the country because of the displacement of various species, be they birds, snails or whatever. The Department should carry out an investigation now, draw up a report into the displacement of such species and determine whether they have returned after the developments have been completed or what is the position in that regard.
I suggest that before renewing all banking licences in the country, the Minister for Finance should liaise with the Central Bank and co-ordinate a plan of the facilities the banks are obliged to provide under their licences, which I would suggest they probably are not providing. I was horrified recently to hear a litany of abject neglect by the banking sector of its customers. As many people know, they do not want to deal directly with cash but I was shocked to hear that many hotels, supermarkets and public houses are now paying their staff in cash. I could not believe that. That is something one heard about 20 years ago. If one has a cash lodgement to make of more than €20,000, the banks will force one to use Securicor or some other security company to collect the money and pay the expense of that.
The banks are becoming faceless and the greater offenders are the ones we bailed out the heaviest during the recession. The banks owe their existence to the State. On renewal of the banks' licences, I advocate pressurising them into giving commitments to the services they are obliged to provide. I ask that we invite the Minister to the House to discuss the problem with the banking sector and the services banks are currently providing.
On the issue of carers, thousands of people are in need of care and thousands of people are giving care that sometimes is the subject of a carer's allowance but many more are giving unpaid care. Very often, they are the hidden heroes in our country. We have heard the figure of 195,000 people giving care but at a recent health committee meeting, I asked our health officials, recognising that money is not the only consideration but when services are costed it concentrates people's minds, whether the State can show the extent to which it is taking the interest it should take. I asked whether a financial value had been put on the unpaid care being given by so many people in the home, if one was to look at what it would cost to care for people in nursing homes who currently are being cared for at home, either completely by unpaid carers or by people getting the carer's allowance. It was very interesting that they did not have a figure for me. They said there was no good reason they should not have a figure and that perhaps it was something they should examine.
On the figure of 6.6 million hours of unpaid care being given weekly, in some cases by very elderly people and in others by minors, if we were to cost that at a basic €10 an hour, that would add up to €3.4 billion a year. That should concentrate minds. We need to step up the priority we give to the caring that is being done by thousands of people in our society. We are not appreciating sufficiently the work they were doing and if they were not doing it, there would be enormous extra demands and pressures on the State. I hope that will concentrate minds at the highest level in these days.
The move by the Government to rush through the Dáil a motion that integrates the Irish Defence Forces into the EU military apparatus under permanent structured co-operation, PESCO, is at complete odds with Ireland's neutrality. PESCO is about increasing military spending in the EU, increasing co-operation and collaborations between national armies and making them dependent on one other. The promises during the Lisbon II debate about not moving towards military integration in the European Union will now be abandoned. The Government should not make promises it cannot keep and should keep every commitment it makes. The Irish people were sold a pup during the Lisbon II debate and the PESCO motion proves that such a move would be completely at odds with Ireland's neutrality.This motion will be before the House on Thursday. We need further discussion on Ireland joining PESCO and any decision in that regard should be deferred until there has been full scrutiny of this issue by the Oireachtas. Even a cursory investigation of the criteria and implications of PESCO would indicate it is not in Ireland's interest, militarily or financially. What is our response to a fractured world? Is it truly inclusive, a model republic, one that upholds and values neutrality? I would make the point to Senator Grace O'Sullivan that disarmament is a key element of climate action. Does the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Naughten, or any of the Independent members of Government have anything to say about PESCO? I am urging those independent of Government to oppose this motion and to uphold Ireland's neutrality.
I want to address the minor works grants scheme announced yesterday by the Minister. I have a Commencement matter due for discussion tomorrow, during which I had proposed to ask the Minister to explain the delay in this scheme but as I said it was announced yesterday. I am, however, unhappy with the timescale for grant provision. Some 44 schools will receive this grant next week, two weeks before Christmas. I believe this grant should be put on a statutory footing and provided annually. The flat rate grant is €5,550 increasing to €11,500, depending on the size of a school. This scheme is crucial and I welcome the announcement in this regard yesterday. However, I have been contacted by several schools that are urgently awaiting the grant in order that vital repair works can be undertaken. As I said, this is a crucial grant scheme for primary schools. During discussion on my Commencement matter tomorrow I will raise with the Minister the need for provision of this grant annually.
The Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution is nearing the conclusion of its work and this day week it will submit its report and recommendations to Government for consideration. The committee has been very active and, in my opinion, every member of it has engaged fully with due diligence to the task in hand.
It will be up to the Government in the first instance to decide what to do with the report. The task of the committee was to examine the report of the Citizens' Assembly and, arising from that process, to make recommendations. There have been many allegations about the independence of the committee. There have also been strong suggestions of bias from the commencement of the process and particularly strong levels of criticism of the chairperson, our colleague, Senator Catherine Noone. I take this opportunity to reject outright suggestions of bias on the part of any member of the committee, particularly the chairperson. In my view, she has been outstanding in her application to the job in hand.
I ask that each Member of both Houses would study the committee's report over the Christmas and then make their input to Government with a view to a referendum being put before the people. It is important to remember that, at the end of the day, the people are sovereign. Whatever recommendations are made by a group, be that the Citizens' Assembly or the Oireachtas joint committee or by the Government, ultimately, the people will decide. I look forward to a dispassionate and objective debate on the main issues without confrontation or unnecessary unpleasantness. We all have our own principles, beliefs and consciences. I respect every member of the committee and I would expect nothing less than their respect for my opinions and the opinions of others.
I thank all the Senators who made contributions on the Order of Business. I, too, acknowledge the presence in the Public Gallery of former Senator Michael Comiskey. I would also like to join the Cathaoirleach in offering sympathies to the families of those tragically killed in the terrible road traffic accident outside New Ross on Monday evening last. Lily Alexander and her husband, Doug, and their two sons, Doug Jnr. and Stephen, a family from the Chicago area of the US, had travelled to Ireland to attend a family funeral. This serves as a timely reminder to us all of the dangers of the roads as we approach the Christmas season. I note that the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, was in the Seanad earlier to deal with a Commencement matter from Senator Gallagher on road safety. Again, I would like to be associated with the expressions of sympathy to the family and extended family of those killed who I understand reside in the US.
In regard to the Order of Business, many Senators, led by Senator Ardagh, and including Senators Kelleher, Conway-Walsh, McFadden, Grace O'Sullivan and Mullen raised the important issue of carers. I acknowledge the "Prime Time" programme last night which showed us the challenges faced by carers on a 24-7 basis. I come from a family that has cared for elderly relatives in the home for the past number of years. I know the challenges of caring for loved ones in terms of commitment and sacrifice. The Government and I acknowledge that more needs to be done for carers at home. In policy terms, there is a move away from institutions but with this comes further demands on community and home care packages. The Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, is working to improve those packages in a comprehensive way.
In terms of the actions already taken by Government in respect of carers: €728 million has been provided for carer's allowance and carer's benefit this year; the Department will pay over €180 million to carers under the carer's support grant scheme, which amounts to €1,700 for each recipient; and €147 million has been provided in 2017 for the domiciliary care allowance. Considerable improvements have been made for carers in recent years. However, I acknowledge that further improvements are needed. I will ask the Leader and the Minister of State, Deputy McGrath, to facilitate a debate in this House on the issue in due course.