Thursday, 7 December 2017
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, motion re the arrangements for the sitting of the House on Tuesday, 12 December 2017, to be taken on conclusion of the Order of Business, without debate; and No. 1a, Social Welfare Bill 2017 – Second Stage, to be taken at 12.45 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and all other Senators not to exceed five minutes.
I am shocked at the news that a garda and another man were injured during a shooting incident in Ballymun this morning. Thankfully their injuries are not life-threatening, however the incident shows the importance of resourcing gardaí, especially when they undertake serious missions in respect of drug crime. We need to know that our gardaí are highly trained and have the very best expertise available to them so that these types of incidents do not happen again.
We had a serious debate last week on An Garda Síochána, the visibility of gardaí on the beat and community gardaí. Obviously we have not seen a massive increase in the number of community gardaí. I call on the Minister for Justice and Equality to set up a scheme to ensure that we see more community gardaí on the beat not only to protect individuals but so that citizens feel that little more secure in their homes.
I would also like to raise the issue of home repossession lists. I was listening to Brian O'Connell on the radio this morning. He was reporting from a courthouse. One of the notable facts he reported was that there will be repossession sittings up until four days before Christmas. He also reported the commentary of a registrar on the mortgage-to-rent scheme, with which there seemed to be a lot of dissatisfaction. The registrar, Mary Delahanty, was refusing to grant adjournments to people who were seeking to apply for the mortgage-to-rent scheme on the basis that she felt it was not working. She said that she had only seen six successful applications to the scheme and that very few people were able to avail of it.
Criticism of politicians was also in the ether. It was suggested that we were using the mortgage-to-rent scheme as a sort of crutch and that we thought it would solve the issue of home repossessions. It is important that we call the Minister to the House to have a serious debate on the actual success of this scheme to date, how it is working and how it is being implemented.
I compliment the Taoiseach and thank him for being a man of his word. Yesterday we saw a joint exercise between the Defence Forces and An Garda Síochána. That is to be welcomed. It is something I have been calling for for a long time. The exercise went very well and we owe compliments to the Chief of Staff and the members of the Defence Forces who showed themselves to be ready, willing and able despite the ongoing industrial relations issues within the Defence Forces. I also compliment An Garda Síochána. I hope lessons were learned and that we can see more of these exercises in the future.
I would like the Acting Leader to bring an issue back to the Taoiseach. The issue of permanent structured co-operation on security and defence, PESCO, was debated in the Dáil this week. To a certain degree the lunatics take over the asylum when anything to do with security, PESCO, European security or such matters is mentioned.There is no question of a European army being formed anywhere. No country is seeking a European army. What we are looking for is the sharing of resources and intelligence across Europe, which can only be a good thing. It is important that Ireland is a part of that. Last night, I read on social media, following a debate which took place in the Dáil, that Ireland is signing up to a European army and is throwing away its neutrality. Ireland is a militarily non-aligned state and will stay that way. The citizens of this State will decide if we are to change that - nobody else. I would ask that the Government actually starts to put out solid information so that people can actually debate the issues in a more rational and reasonable way.
We had calls in this House to stop the development of a European army. There is no European army. Nobody wants such an army. However, do we honestly want to find ourselves in a situation where we cannot share intelligence about various subversive organisations that are operating in this country and in the wider European context? I do not believe we want to be outside that. I ask, first and foremost, that the Government provide solid information and, second, that we invite the Minister or even the Taoiseach to come to the House to debate this issue. I understand that the Government has enough on its plate at the moment. I hope, please God, that we can get somebody in here in the new year in order that we might have a rational debate on what we are talking about with PESCO rather than it being a case of people jumping into the deep end straight away.
I welcome the change of the Leader's seat to Limerick, the true capital of Ireland. Limerick abu.
I was going to speak on another topic but I must take up some of Senator Craughwell's points and, indeed, call for a debate on the issue. Let us be clear. I think Senator Craughwell said that nobody is talking about a European army. I remind him of the quote from the German Minister of Defence who said "I believe that joint armed forces would be a logical consequence of an increasingly close military co-operation in Europe." After PESCO was set up in November, she said that this was another step in the direction of the army of Europeans. Let us be very clear, and the dogs in the street know this, there are huge moves ahead towards a European army. As a neutral country, we should have something to say about this topic. One of the points about PESCO is that it commits our country to increased military spending. We have a bizarre situation at the moment whereby people in our Defence Forces, for which Senator Craughwell has been a great advocate, are being paid a pittance - and some are living in poverty - while we are splashing out millions on hardware. This is a huge contradiction. I want to take up the very good point about subversive forces. We have subversive forces operating in this country. They use Shannon Airport in particular. US military forces come in on their way to the conflict in Yemen. We know there is a famine in Yemen. We know from the flight records of Shannon that US military forces are actively helping the Saudi coalition. We can see to where the flights go. They land in the capitals of the Saudi-led coalition that is causing widespread chaos, death, destruction and famine in Saudi Arabia so the idea that somehow this is not happening is frankly nonsense. I am really surprised that Senator Craughwell would say such a thing. He needs to come down and a visit us at one of our protests in Shannon. We would be happy to share with him the information that is there on a regular basis. I want a debate on this topic urgently. I am proud of our neutrality. There was a time when Fianna Fáil had good things to say about our neutrality. The silence from that quarter is regrettable. Hopefully, something positive will be said today. We need a debate on this issue. Again, I remind Senator Byrne, who is deputising for the Leader, that I have asked for a debate on the disgraceful use of Shannon Airport on several occasions. It is a blight on our country. It is absolutely disgusting that US troops have filed through in their millions for wars of terror. Let us be frank about it; anyone who looks at what is happening in Syria, Libya and Yemen can see what is happening in the world. It is an absolute disgrace so let us have a debate for which I call as a matter of urgency.
I ask Senator Craughwell to tell us who are the lunatics to whom he referred in the context of PESCO. I am highly insulted and disgusted. The fact that we can converse and discuss issues such as PESCO through social media is a good thing. To call people lunatics is very unfair and damaging so I wish Senator Craughwell would take back his remark. I agree with my colleague from Sinn Féin because I also believe that there is more to PESCO than we are hearing about. I am disgusted that our Government will potentially sign a document today that, again, has the potential to erode our sovereignty and neutrality. It is wrong and should be turned about. I implore the Taoiseach to come to this House as soon as possible to debate the issue of PESCO. We need transparency, which has been lacking; we need debate, which has been clearly lacking; and we need to know what the mechanism for our country to turn about a decision with regard to the signing of PESCO is. It definitely is not the right thing for the people of Ireland. We must have the debate and enable the people to come to the representatives of the Oireachtas and let their voice be heard.
I am disappointed with Fianna Fáil. We are not hearing the voice of Fianna Fáil regarding the potential risks PESCO poses to this country. I agree with Senator Craughwell that member of our armed forces need proper salaries and terms and conditions. There is no doubt about that but with regard to signing PESCO, we do not know what is the hidden potential cost for our country. We have always been the voice of reason and peace in international negotiations. PESCO is the wrong way for our country to go so I ask that the Taoiseach to come to the House as soon as possible to discuss it.
This Tuesday, we had a very interesting and informative session of the Seanad Public Consultation Committee on the status, treatment and use of our national anthem. We heard from a wide range of interested and knowledgeable people. As Senators are aware, the copyright on the anthem expired in 2012. We heard from Conal Kearney, grandson of the author of the anthem, Peadar Kearney, who told us something we already believe, namely, that the national anthem should be given the respect and dignity it deserves. Interestingly, he also corrected a widespread belief that the anthem was written in 1907 and pointed out that it was written in late 1910 or early 1911. The song was translated into Irish by the civil servant and linguist Liam Ó Rinn. His grand-nephew, Councillor Nial Ring, appeared before the committee and told us that the anthem was first published in 1923. A very interesting article on the subject by Liam Collins appeared in yesterday's Irish Independent. As we know, "Amhrán na bhFiann" links us to our history and, therefore, our identity. The Seanad Public Consultation Committee with the aid of our rapporteur, my fellow Kerry man, Senator Mark Daly, will now prepare a report with recommendations, if any, for the Government and the Seanad. I ask that in due course, the Acting Leader arranges that we can debate it in the Seanad.
Today, we woke to hear about another shooting of a member of An Garda Síochána as they went about their duty. I suppose it highlights once again the dangers the men and women of An Garda Síochána face so that the rest of us can go about our daily lives in a safe fashion. Today, I acknowledge the honour and bravery of our gardaí as the Scott Medal ceremony is due to take place in Templemore tomorrow. The Scott Medal is the highest award An Garda Síochána can bestow on a member of the force.It is awarded where a member has risked his or her life in the execution of his or her duty. Seven of our bravest and most honourable gardaí will be recognised for their courage and bravery in performing their duties. Sadly, two of these gardaí gave the ultimate sacrifice of their lives and the lives of the five others were changed forever. It is 41 years since the Garryhinch ambush incident in County Laois. I am sure it will be a very emotional day for the Peters family, the Cannon family, the Thornton family and the Bohan family as they receive the Scott medal. It will be an especially poignant and sad occasion for the Clerkin family from Monaghan town, who will received the posthumous award on behalf of Michael Clerkin, who tragically died on that horrific day aged just 24 years. I also acknowledge the family of Garda Tony Golden, who will also receive the Scott medal. Garda Golden, as members recall, was shot dead two years ago as he defended a young woman after she had been attacked by her partner. The seventh recipient of the Scott medal is Detective Garda Dominick Hutchin, who confronted two armed raiders in Dublin in 1987 and suffered severe injuries in that act. In acknowledging the bravery and courageous actions of these gardaí to protect our country and our way of life, the words of Elmer Davis, an American journalist during the Second World War, hold true. He said a "nation will remain the home of the free only so long as it is a home of the brave".
I have spoken about the particulars of permanent structured co-operation, PESCO, on two occasions in the House, but in keeping with the commitment to Irish military neutrality, UN primacy, demilitarisation and nuclear disarmament, Sinn Féin believes the Government has to show leadership and work with others to actively oppose the evolution of an EU common defence. I believe the European Union has no legitimacy in military and defence matters and it should be left to member states, and that international peacekeeping and conflict resolution should happen under the auspices of the United Nations. Successive EU treaties since the Single European Act in 1987, including the Nice treaty, have eroded independent foreign policy to the point where military neutrality, although seriously undermined, is virtually all we have left. The EU has become increasingly militarised since the first reference to EU military co-operation and common defence appeared in the Maastricht treaty. It is clear the EU treaties taken together aim to reconstruct the EU as a military superpower. I ask Senator Craughwell to take note.
The need for intervention to halt the momentum of EU militarisation has never been more urgent, yet the Government, on behalf of this supposedly neutral State, has done very little, if anything, to oppose these developments. It has done even less to protect Irish neutrality and improve Ireland's negotiating position for a future in an EU that is even more heavily dominated by NATO states. At the very least, the Government should demand a legally binding neutral protocol for Ireland. It should also show leadership and co-ordinate with other EU neutral states in an effort to persuade other member states in our European Union to drop or reduce the EU military dimension. Ireland should promote the redirection of EU defence and peacekeeping resources towards the United Nations. This is the perspective Sinn Féin brings to the heart of the European Union and I second the proposal by Senator Gavan. Senator Higgins will make a similar proposal.
In my capacity as party spokesperson on foreign affairs and trade, I ask the Deputy Leader to note my view that President Trump's placing of the United States Embassy in Jerusalem is a grave error and creates great risk of another conflagration in the Middle East. It has to be regretted. I am happy the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney, has dealt with this publicly and expressed his concern about it. Jerusalem is looked to by both the Palestinian and Israeli communities as their capital. We support, as do the UN resolutions, a two-state solution to this conflict. We support ongoing peaceful negotiations. We are concerned about the social and economic conditions of the Palestinian people. As spokesperson, I unequivocally and openly express my annoyance, my opposition to it and my desire that it might be the subject of discussion in the House in a more formalised way, if that could be facilitated.
I take a more nuanced approach to the PESCO question than did Senator Craughwell. While not questioning his personal bona fides, we must be vigilant with PESCO to ensure Irish neutrality is preserved and that we do not enter military alliances. Although I am in favour of security co-operation and maintaining peace, I am not in favour of blindly walking into military alliances. This needs vigilance. I ask the Deputy Leader to secure a visit by the Taoiseach or the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade to the House in order this can become subject of more debate. We certainly should have a more nuanced position. I support Senator Gavan in this regard. I do not think we can take it as simply as that.
With regard to Senator Gallagher's remarks on Garda Michael Clerkin, I am personally delighted to congratulate the Clerkin family. I have supported this for some time and have indicated this support in a number of ways in the past. It is long overdue that Garda Clerkin be recognised for his bravery. I am delighted he is to get the Scott medal. It is a tragedy he will not be there himself to receive it. He was a man of valour and quality and we are proud he was a native County Monaghan. The incident in which Garda Clerkin lost his life happened in the constituency of the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, and I presume he was central to this exercise.
I know we are approaching the festive season but we are now onto the second round and I remind speakers they have two minutes during which they can raise one issue. Sometimes my indulgence is tested vigorously by Senators who seem to ignore the Chair when it suits them.
I will propose an amendment to the Order of Business because I believe the Taoiseach needs to come to the House. We need to have the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, because this will have a fundamental impact on our foreign affairs policy and our record on disarmament. I recognise they may be at the Brexit negotiations, in which case we can look to the Minister of State with responsibility for defence. This is much bigger than a defence issue. It is a change in direction for Ireland. There is a difference between humanitarian rescue of migrants and engaging in the funding of countries that shoot at migrants. There is a difference between missions which are UN peacekeeping missions and missions that have some part of them sanctioned or agreed to by the UN and are bordering on NATO missions. The permanent structured co-operation on security and defence-----
I will move my amendment at the end, but I want to be clear about what Minister is available, so I am giving some scope to the Deputy Leader in that regard.
It is deeply patronising to the Irish public that it has been told that somehow it inadvertently signed up to this when it signed up to the Lisbon treaty. We had that from the Taoiseach last night. Let us be very clear; in so far as issues of common defence were discussed with regard to the Lisbon treaty, it was in the form of assurances that we would not be jumping into common defence arrangements and that we would ensure and protect our unique role. I have to hand transcribed lengthy debates by Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil in which they assured us vigorously of that fact.The context for my proposal is that participation in PESCO is an option that is being chosen by the Government. It is not necessary. It is a disgrace to Frank Aiken, who started the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and championed neutrality for Ireland, that Fianna Fáil is supporting this move. Unfortunately, some of their spokespersons in the Dáil are cheerleading the militarisation approach. Ireland, which has been a champion of disarmament, has committed to annual increases in military spending. This money will not necessarily go to front-line soldiers and workers. PESCO will set out where it will go. This relates to common arms treaties. When I was at the cluster munitions negotiations in Ireland, I met people who had lost limbs to the kinds of munitions that are manufactured and used by-----
I agree with Senators Gavan, Grace O'Sullivan, O'Reilly and Higgins that a Minister should be called to this House today to debate our proposed PESCO commitments, particularly in the context of Irish neutrality. I do not know if we are setting the bar too high by asking for the Taoiseach to come here. It will be great if he does. We should avail of the presence of the Minister to discuss the disgraceful wages and conditions that are being endured by Army staff, soldiers and others who are involved. Some of them are getting wages that are less than what anyone would deem to be a living wage. The lack of training and proper equipment is also an issue. I would welcome a discussion on all of these matters with the Minister.
Irish Water is now issuing refund cheques to those who paid for their water. I suggest it would be timely for another one of the recommendations made by the Joint Committee on Future Funding of Domestic Water Services to be implemented. I refer to the recommendation that there should be parity of esteem between people living in the countryside who have been paying for their water and people living in urban centres who have been getting free water off the public mains.
The first point I want to make in this regard relates to people who are waiting for new group water schemes to be constructed. My home county of Mayo is especially affected by such delays. Seven areas have been waiting since 2010, when CLÁR funding was abandoned by a previous Government, for a new group water scheme to be built. The people in those areas cannot drink the water in their taps or use the water to wash their clothes. They are incurring considerable additional expense because the naturally occurring water in the terrain around them is not fit for consumption. They have waited and waited. They have paid for consultants. The scheme in question even went as far as a tender process before it went by the wayside when the CLÁR funding was abolished. Such schemes need to be looked after and funded in the context of the 2016-18 multi-annual rural water programme. People in parts of County Mayo like Kilmurry, Downpatrick, Carrowcastle and Fermoyle need to be given some hope that in the last year of the multi-annual funding programme, they will finally get some good news after many years of waiting. I might add that the people in question have absolutely no problem paying for their water.
The second point I want to make in this regard relates to people who are paying for their water through group water schemes, which are subsidised at the moment. It has been established that the subsidy paid by the Government is not enough to create parity of esteem with people in towns and cities. Group water schemes need increased funding. There must be an announcement in that regard. People in rural Ireland need fairness when it comes to water. It is time for the Government to do more than pay lip service to this issue.
Ba mhaith liom tacú leis na Seanadóirí atá ag léiriú imní maidir leis an socrú atá á dhéanamh i dtaobh PESCO. Ba mhaith liom cuidiú leis an leasú ar Riar na hOibre atá curtha chun cinn ina leith sin. I am seconding the amendment to the Order of Business and adding to the concerns about PESCO.
Yesterday evening, we had the honour of hosting a number of MPs from Catalonia in the House. They came to Ireland to discuss the election campaign that is happening there at the moment, to raise concerns about that process and to ask us to do a number of things. A number of people from Ireland travelled to Catalonia in October to act as international observers during the referendum there. There are concerns that there will be no international observation of the elections that are taking place on 21 December next. It is important for every election process to be robust, fair, open and transparent. The Irish Government can play a role in this regard by asking the Spanish Government to allow it to send people to observe the process in line with international best practice. MPs in Catalonia are concerned that people wearing yellow ribbons in favour of politicians and civic representatives who have been imprisoned will not be allowed to go into polling stations and that posters which say "Democracy" and "Yes" will not be allowed to be hung in public places. They raised many other issues relating to the dissemination of information, how people are being portrayed in the media and the language that can and cannot be used. They are very concerned about such issues. Our Government should be asking the EU to send international observers to the elections in Catalonia.
We are not taking any sides when we say there is a need to make sure the process is run in a proper manner and is fair and open. If we are happy that this is the case, it is incumbent on us to call on the Spanish Government to make sure it respects the vote and the democratic right of the people, regardless of the result of the election. Maybe at that stage we will be able to help by calling for international mediation around the crisis in Catalonia. I ask the Deputy Leader to put that to the Minister. Maybe we can have a debate in the new year on the result of the Catalan elections.
I promise not to test the Cathaoirleach's patience. I want to raise the impending arrival of Storm Caroline in the next few hours or days. It will bring 110 km/h winds, snow and sleet to many parts of Ireland. It is amazing that people in some parts of west Cork still have not got their telephones back in order since the storm that hit Ireland six or seven weeks ago. People on Sherkin Island will be waiting for another three weeks, at least, for a cable that was damaged in that storm to be relaid. We have to look at how we are going to respond to and prepare for these storms, which are now occurring more frequently than they did in the past. It is important for us to have a real debate on how we will deal with these issues. The storm that hit the south and west coasts of Ireland six or seven weeks ago was somewhat forgotten by the Dublin media. As a result of this significant storm, many parts of counties Cork and Kerry suffered power outages for six or seven days. We need to have a real debate on how we are preparing for such events, with a particular focus on the processes that are in place and how we are going to deal with these issues. It is appalling that some parts of west Cork are still without telephone landlines. A real debate is required to ensure these processes can be looked at. We have to do better in this day and age.
Senator Lombard made a good point about the serious discussions and debates that are needed. The reality is that there will be far more of these storms in the future. The effects of such storms will extend beyond the telephone and electricity lines to the crops that are growing throughout this country. Senator Lombard is going to have to be realistic about these issues. We are part of the cause and part of the problem. Our transport and agriculture emissions are rising. I accept that strong improvements have been made in the agriculture sector. It has increased its output and its emissions. If we want a holistic discussion on the big picture, we need to have an honest debate with ourselves.We must show leadership on climate change. We have to reduce our emissions. We should not accept the idea that we are not going to reach our 2020 targets. We must have a realistic and positive discussion about the fuels we burn, how we generate our electricity and so forth. I look forward to the adoption of a more holistic approach, but people will have to leave their baggage at the door and start considering the bigger picture. We must consider the effects of climate change not only on west Cork and Dublin, but on the world. We can be leaders in that debate but we should aspire to be leaders by example rather than just leaders in making noise on the issue.
I thank the Cathaoirleach for allowing me to table a Commencement matter relating to the fire service earlier. However, I ask the Acting Leader to raise the issue of Commencement matters with Minsters generally. I am concerned at the quality of the responses to important Commencement matters, including the one raised by Senator Byrne herself today. I do not think the officials are doing the Ministers any justice at all with the replies they are providing. I would very much appreciate it if the Leader of the House would raise that with Ministers. I am not simply referring to my own Commencement matter. Several Senators have raised this issue with me. I have looked at some of the responses they received and they are simply not good enough. We do not have the facility to table parliamentary questions and can only raise issues with Ministers through the Commencement matters debate. Ministers should be properly prepared and should provide the information that has been requested.
I support Senator Joe O'Reilly's comments on the proposal by the US to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. As someone who has visited Gaza, I would be seriously concerned about this proposal. I was there in 2009 and nothing has changed since then. In late 2008 and early 2009, some 340 children were killed when the Israelis used white phosphorous and cluster munitions but no international sanctions were imposed on Israel. I am seriously concerned at this new move by the US. I believe that Europe can play a very important role here. I do not believe the US can resolve the issue in Gaza and Israel and the EU must bring its influence to bear.
In terms of Irish troops and EU involvement, our troops have always been involved in peacekeeping and have been major influencers in that regard. I saw that myself when there was a UN mandate for troops to go into Chad and to the Sudanese border area. The UN could not come up with the troops. There was an agreement with the then Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, that Ireland would provide the troops under an EU operation. It was interesting to attend a committee meeting, which was held in private, in the European Parliament at which a member of the British army advised that the Irish contingent had achieved more in six months than the French had achieved in 30 years. That is evidence of the contribution that we, as peacekeepers, can make in areas of conflict around the world. In the aforementioned area, there were over 570,000 people in refugee camps drawn from four different countries, including Chad itself. The role the Irish troops played there was substantial and it influenced how other peacekeepers operated. It is important to keep that in mind.
I welcome the approval by An Bord Pleanála of plans for a major upgrade of the N5. The N5 is the road between Dublin and Westport. The road upgrade will bypass the villages of Frenchpark, Bellanagare, Tulsk and Strokestown. This is a major endorsement of the Government's policy of improving access to the west. That said, more needs to be done, particularly on the N4 between Dublin and Sligo and particularly between Sligo and Longford. Approximately €100 million has been allocated for a road project near Castlebaldwin, which is very welcome. Over the years we have seen preferential treatment being given to the road network linking Dublin and Belfast, Dublin and Cork, and Limerick and Galway. The area between Galway and Belfast needs much more investment and focus from the Government in terms of ensuring that we have the best possible networks. That said, today is a very good day after years and years of trying to get funding.
I thank the 20 Senators who contributed on the Order of Business today. Senator Ardagh raised the issue of the shooting of a member of An Garda Síochána this morning and I am sure we all share Senator Ardagh's sentiments in that regard. I know that there was a call for a debate recently on community gardaí. Community gardaí play a very significant role in my own area. It seems that there is a shortage of community gardaí in some areas, while in other areas they are plentiful. That is an issue that I will bring to the attention of the Minister for Justice and Equality. The Senator also raised the issue of home repossessions. Again, I am happy to raise that matter with the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government and to ask him to come to the House for a debate on it.
Senators Grace O'Sullivan, Gavan, Craughwell, Warfield, O'Reilly, Higgins, Davitt and Ó Clochartaigh all raised the issue of PESCO, on which I have a note. PESCO is a mechanism provided for under the Treaty of the European Union to enable countries to come together voluntarily, on a project by project basis, to jointly develop military crisis management capabilities for use in the support of CSDP operations. On Monday, 13 November, at the EU Foreign Affairs Council, attended by foreign and defence Ministers, 23 member states signed the PESCO notification which sets out the agreed framework on which PESCO will operate. The formal launch of PESCO is expected to happen at the December Foreign Affairs Council. Ireland was not in a position to sign the notification document as we have a clear national decision-making process that must be followed. When Ireland approved the Lisbon treaty in 2009, the requirements to join PESCO were set out in legislation. As the PESCO notification provides for contributing to the enhancement of capabilities for UN mandated missions, the Government decided that Ireland should participate in the initiative. The next phase in the decision-making process will be a Dáil decision, which will take place on Friday, 8 December.
The matter will be debated in the Dáil but it has been agreed that a Minister will come to this House to discuss it. Unfortunately, however, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney, is currently answering Leaders' Questions in the Dáil and following that he will be tied up with the Brexit negotiations. The Minister of State at the Department of Defence, Deputy Kehoe, is not in the House today. The Taoiseach is also tied up today. It has been agreed, therefore, that a Minister will come to the House next week to discuss the matter. A number of Senators asked that the Taoiseach would come to the House. I wish to confirm that he will come to Seanad Éireann in early January. He is coming in to discuss this and many other issues. That has been confirmed and a date has been provisionally set and is awaiting approval by the party leaders. Unfortunately, neither the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade nor the Minister of State at the Department of Defence is available today. They will be available next week to debate the matter. I hope that is satisfactory.
Senator Paul Coghlan referred to the meeting of the SeanadPublic Consultation Committee on Tuesday last on the national anthem and called for further debate in the House on the matter. I am sure that will be facilitated in the near future, following the publication of the recommendations of the aforementioned committee. Senators Gallagher and O'Reilly raised the issue of the Scott medal and made particular reference to those who have waited 41 years for the awarding of such medals.I pay tribute to the seven gardái who will be honoured tomorrow for their bravery and heroism, two of whom, sadly, are no longer with us.
Senator Warfield also raised the issue of PESCO and Ireland's neutrality.
Senator O'Reilly raised the issue of President Trump's proposal to relocate the American embassy to Jerusalem. The Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney, has expressed his concerns on that matter but I will bring the Senator's remarks to his attention. Senator Colm Burke raised the same issue and I will also bring his comments to the attention of the Minister.
Senator Higgins asked that the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade come to the House today for a debate on the PESCO. I have already set out the position in that regard.
I do not know, but I do know that the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and Trade are tied up today. I understand the debate in the Dáil will take place at 4 p.m.
The Acting Leader has outlined her difficulties. It is a matter for Senator Higgins to retreat and demand a debate next week or to push her amendment to a vote. I ask the Acting Leader to conclude now on her response to the Order of Business.
Senator Mulherin raised the issue of Irish Water refunds and pointed out that some people in rural Ireland are paying for water through group water schemes. She also spoke about the multi-annual rural water programme. I will raise these issues with the Minister because it is important there is discussion on the fact that people in rural areas are paying for water while others are receiving water payment refunds.
Senator Ó Clochartaigh supported the call for a debate on PESCO. He also spoke about Ireland's role in terms of observation of the Catalonian elections due to take place shortly and the need for the Spanish Government to respect the democratic process. I will bring this matter to the attention of the Minister.
Senator Lombard raised the issue of Storm Caroline. I pay tribute to the Government and all those involved in the work undertaken in regard to the recent storms we experienced. I note Senator Lombard's point that phone lines in some areas have still not been restored. I will bring to the attention of the Leader the need for the Minister to come to the House to address that issue and to outline what preparations are being made for future storms.
Senator Humphreys agreed with the points made by Senator Lombard and also spoke about the need for a holistic approach to climate change. I will bring his comments to the attention of the Minister for Communicates, Climate Action and the Environment, Deputy Naughten.
Senator Burke supported the comments made by Senator O'Reilly. He also spoke about the involvement of Irish troops in EU peacekeeping missions and made the point that we have achieved more in six months than other countries have in 30 years. It is important to acknowledge the work of Irish troops serving abroad and their separation from their families particularly at this time of the year.
Senator Feighan raised the issue of the N5 upgrade, An Bord Pleanála and the preferential treatment given to road projects linking Dublin and Belfast, Dublin and Cork, and Limerick and Galway.
I would like to clarify that the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney, will take the debate on PESCO in the Dáil.
The Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney, will open the debate in the Dáil after Taoiseach's Questions, following which he has to attend Brexit negotiations and other Ministers will take over the debate. He is not available.
By way of clarification, my amendment seeks that the Taoiseach or a representative of the Government would come to the House for the debate. I believe it is important that those in this House who have concerns have the opportunity to put those concerns on record before this decision is rushed through tomorrow. I trust that the Acting Leader will nonetheless follow through in ensuring that the appropriate Minister does come to the House next week for this debate. I am still looking for a Government representative to come to the House today for a debate because timing is of the essence.
Senator Alice-Mary Higgins has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business, "That a debate with the Taoiseach or an appropriate Government Minister on the permanent structured co-operation, PESCO, be taken today". Is the amendment being pressed?
Ivana Bacik, Frances Black, Victor Boyhan, Maire Devine, Paul Gavan, Alice Mary Higgins, Kevin Humphreys, Pádraig MacLochlainn, Trevor Ó Clochartaigh, Brian Ó Domhnaill, Grace O'Sullivan, Lynn Ruane, Fintan Warfield.
Catherine Ardagh, Colm Burke, Paddy Burke, Maria Byrne, Lorraine Clifford Lee, Paudie Coffey, Paul Coghlan, Mark Daly, Paul Daly, Aidan Davitt, Frank Feighan, Robbie Gallagher, Maura Hopkins, Terry Leyden, Tim Lombard, Gabrielle McFadden, Michelle Mulherin, Catherine Noone, Kieran O'Donnell, John O'Mahony, Joe O'Reilly, Ned O'Sullivan, Neale Richmond.