Seanad debates

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

10:30 am

Photo of Paudie CoffeyPaudie Coffey (Fine Gael)
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I, too, welcome our esteemed guests to Ireland.

Senator Boyhan raised the issue of the mother and baby homes commission of investigation and its extension by one year to enable it to investigate 14 former homes. I agree with the Senator that there is a lot of concern with regard to the victims and those who have suffered. The extension is being provided to enable indepth engagement with victims and their families to ensure that their personal experiences and stories are heard and properly taken into account. I agree with Senator Boyhan that compassion and justice must be to the fore of any investigation. I know that the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Zappone, is committed to a fair and just outcome to this investigation. As I said, the reason for the extension is to allow more indepth engagement. I understand that more people than anticipated have come forward. It is important for each victim and his or her family that their story is heard and properly investigated.

Senator Kelleher raised the issue of carers and she spoke about the Transgender Equality Network Ireland report launched yesterday and the importance of recognition for marginalised groups in our society.I agree with Senator Kelleher who paid tribute to all those involved in producing this report and the advocates for the LGBT community, including Senators Buttimer and Warfield. There is no doubt that challenges remain and that continued support is necessary. Senator Kelleher raised the question of hate crime legislation being required and a strategy for LGBT people. I will ask the Minister to come before the House on this important issue.

Senator Conway-Walsh raised the issue of the national children's hospital. She asked why it could not be named after a particular person, I think it was Dr. Kathleen Lynn. The Senator should put it down as a Commencement matter and bring the Minister to the House to respond directly to it. I do not know the details of the matter. The Senator also expressed her concerns about carers. It is a matter to which the House will return in more detail for statements.

Senator Coghlan welcomed the expansion of Ballycroy National Park in County Mayo, which has almost doubled in size. I recognise it is an issue close to the Senator's heart given his appreciation of local history and heritage, especially his experience with Killarney national park. I agree that our heritage, history, tradition and culture is very significant in how we protect it and make it accessible for all to enjoy. Senator Paddy Burke also welcomed these very positive developments for Ballycroy National Park.

Senator Gallagher raised the matter of returning emigrants, a matter that is increasingly coming to the fore, especially as we approach Christmas when we will welcome many of our emigrants home for the festive season. I hope that many will stay here. We hear about the difficulties and obstacles which returning emigrants face. The Senator gave the example of the obstacles that a returning emigrant faces when renewing a driving licence in this country. We need a closer review of the issues and challenges faced by returning emigrants and I undertake to pass on to the Cabinet the need to review the issues and challenges that they face across the board. It is something to which the House could return in a further, wider debate on emigrants, the diaspora and that area.

Senator Devine raised the matter of mother and baby homes. She also condemned President Trump's proposal to make Jerusalem the capital of Israel. I note the Senator's serious views. I also note that the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney, moved immediately to object to President Trump's position and relayed this to the US embassy. Senator Leyden shared this concern, as indeed did Senator Ó Ríordáin.

Senator McFadden also raised the issue of carers and her very personal experience with a former Member of this House, Senator Nicky McFadden, who we sadly lost. Our thoughts turn to people such as Nicky at times like this but we also remember the compassion and care which Senator McFadden and her family gave to Nicky during that very tough time in their lives. The carers issue is one to which we will return.

Senator Grace O'Sullivan has raised concerns about the Government's handling of the Climate Action and Development Act of 2015. Considerable time was allowed in the House this week and last to debate this issue with the various Ministers. The Senator will have an opportunity to seek assurance from Ministers that there will be satisfactory compliance with Irish obligations in climate action and development. There is no doubt that Ireland is facing serious challenges in climate action. We are behind the curve and all sections of society, from policymakers, sectors and industries down to local authorities and citizens, need to change our mindset and how we think about climate action here if Ireland is to achieve the targets and objectives which we have set ourselves.

Senator Byrne welcomed a new company to Shannon and the mid-west. When new economic activity comes to the regions, it is something that is always welcome, and that is what this airport materials company will do for the mid-west. Senator Byrne and others raised another important point about the schools minor works grants. Senators Paddy Burke and Murnane O'Connor also spoke strongly on the need for these grants to be extended on a multi-annual basis. This is something with which I strongly agree as someone who spent eight years as the chairperson of a national school board of management. There is a level of uncertainty about these grants, and when the Minister next comes before the House to speak on education, we will ask that he speak on the area of sustaining facilities and infrastructure to ensure that we have appropriate primary, secondary and third level educational facilities for students.

Senator Ó Ríordáin also expressed concern about President Trump's proposal regarding Jerusalem. We will invite the Minister to the House to discuss the matter in greater detail. The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade is currently engaged in sensitive and critical negotiations on Brexit. The Senator also raised the interesting issue of rickshaws in Dublin. Those of us who reside here for a few days a week see the increase in rickshaw activity. The Senator proposes that they be banned and says they are unregulated, which is a fair point. It is something that the Joint Committee on Transport, Tourism at Sport could consider before bringing it back to the Seanad for wider debate. Alternatively, perhaps it is something that Dublin City Council might examine - Senator Ó Ríordáin will know more about this than me - through its strategic policy committee on transport, and come to Government with recommendations on whether the area can be regulated. I know that it concerns the Senator and many people who live in Dublin.

Senator Ó Céidigh is a forward-looking Senator and he referred to the new challenges in the modern world of social media and the Internet. I agree with him. Never before have people in Ireland been more accessible through social media and the Internet. People, including children, are accessible morning, noon and night. We need to look in a holistic and comprehensive way at how we manage social media and Internet interaction. The Internet is very positive in terms of communication, learning, and the platforms it provides us, but there are also challenges, including access to pornography, online intimidation and cyberbullying. These are serious problems. When we were growing up, if there was an issue with bullying in school, a child went home to the safety of the house and family, but now if a child is being bullied at school, that bullying can follow him or her over the Internet into his or her home and bedroom. I understand the Senator's genuine concerns. It is something that this House should look at and debate in more detail to see if a legal provision could be arrived at to protect those who are vulnerable to cyberbullying, and the broader area of social media. I also note the Senator's points about advertisements and marketing. It is a new area of which many of us might not be aware. It is something that we should return to and I will ask the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment to come to the House, perhaps early in the new year, for a deeper debate on the matter.

Senator Ó Donnghaile raised concerns about Brexit. He sought statements in the House and asked for the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade. I am sure the Senator will agree that the Minister is very involved in the critical and sensitive negotiations with our EU 27 partners and also the UK. I am sure that the Minister will be happy to come to the House at the earliest opportunity. I acknowledge all the support from parties and Independents for the Government position on Brexit at this critical time. It is important, and the Government has been clear from the outset about its position, that there should be no hard border between the Republic and Northern Ireland. It is adhering to that view strongly. We feel it is supported by the vast majority of all citizens, not only in the Republic but also on the island of Ireland. We are determined to find a resolution and a way forward. I wish the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste, and the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, the very best in these negotiations in coming days. They will be very sensitive days indeed.

Senator Paddy Burke asked that the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht be invited to the House to investigate the displacement of species due to infrastructural development. This is something we can do. The matter comes up frequently in planning applications and appeals.The protection of species is important but so is the development of this country in a sustainable and coherent way. An Oireachtas joint committee could discuss the issue in more detail. I will ask the Minister if she can make time to come to this House to discuss the issue in more detail.

Senator Davitt called for the Minister for Finance to come here to review how banks are issued with licences. He raised a number of concerns about the way banks have moved away from cash and claimed that many banks has become staffless and faceless. I understand his concerns. Indeed, a number of constituents in my area of Waterford recently raised serious concerns about cashless banking taking place in some towns and villages. I would ask the banks two questions. Is the banking system fit for purpose? Is it what our citizens need? We could examine the matter in more detail by either having an Oireachtas joint committee discussion or inviting the Minister to this House to debate the matter further.

Senator Warfield expressed his concerns about the motion tabled in the Dáil regarding the Permanent Structured Cooperation, PESCO, and whether the Irish Defence Forces might be integrated into a wider EU military regime. I wish to put the following on the record. PESCO has no implications for Ireland's military neutrality. The PESCO notification recognises the specific defence policies and constitutional positions of member states. It is important to note that the participation in any project under PESCO will be decided by each member state case by case. Therefore, PESCO would not impact on our traditional policy of military neutrality. I have no problem inviting the Minister for Defence to the House to debate the matter in more detail and to address the concerns that the Senator is quite entitled to raise.

Senator Ned O'Sullivan mentioned the work of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution. All of the Members of both House who have sat on the committee and who I believe have the best of intentions reflect various perspectives on such a sensitive issue. We await the report with interest. There will be adequate opportunity for all Senators to express their views about the report. I support what has been expressed by the Senator about the Chairperson, our colleague, Senator Catherine Noone. Allegations of bias have been made against her. I contend that anybody who knows her will know that she is a diligent Senator who is doing her work in the best possible manner. I believe that she is doing her work in a fair and unbiased way.

Photo of Ned O'SullivanNed O'Sullivan (Fianna Fail)
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Hear, hear.

Photo of Paudie CoffeyPaudie Coffey (Fine Gael)
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I look forward to reading her report.

Photo of Denis O'DonovanDenis O'Donovan (Fianna Fail)
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Before I ask whether the Order of Business is agreed, I would like to acknowledge, particularly as a proud west Corkman, the presence in the Visitors Gallery of the All-Ireland debating champions from the Sacred Heart Secondary School in Clonakilty. The team is comprised of Ms Laura Walsh, Ms Maebh McCarthy, Ms Natasha Sutton and Ms Caoimhe Ní Súilleabháin. They are accompanied by their mentor, Ms Eileen Harte, and their principal, Ms Ann-Marie Brosnan. They are all extremely welcome here. I congratulate them and say well done. I have seven sisters. Three of them were educated and boarded in the school at Clonakilty many years ago and, therefore, my family made many trips to the school. I hope everyone enjoys their day in Leinster House. I see the group is being closely monitored by Senators Tim Lombard and Gerard Craughwell. I hope they look after the group well. I hope they have a safe return home and a happy and peaceful Christmas with their families.

Order of Business agreed to.