Wednesday, 13 December 2017
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No.1, motion re orders of reference of the Seanad Special Select Committee on the Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of the Order of Business; No. 2, Social Welfare Bill 2017 - Committee Stage, to be taken at 12.45 p.m. and adjourned not later than 5 p.m., if not previously concluded; No. 53, Private Members' business, non-Government motion No. 15 re special needs assistants, to be taken at conclusion of No. 2 or 5 p.m., whichever is the earlier, with the time allocated for the debate not to exceed two hours; and No. 3, statements on Permanent Structured Cooperation, PESCO, to be taken at conclusion of No. 53, non-Government motion No. 15, and conclude within one hour and 15 minutes, with the time allocated to all Senators not to exceed five minutes each and the Minister to be given five minutes in which to reply to the debate.
With the Christmas season approaching, we usually see an increased demand on the health service and health system. To date, we have not seen any clear strategy imparted by the Government communications unit for how the Department of Health will combat this issue. Genuine and life-threatening challenges will face the health system. According to the figures of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation, today there were 479 patients on trolleys. It is mid-week and the number is exorbitantly high. Patients on trolleys in the south of the country comprise 37% of this number. There seems to be a consistently high number of patients on trolleys in the south of the country, with no clear pathway provided by the Government to address it. I, therefore, call on the Minister for Health to attend the House in the new year to discuss trolley figures.
The second item I wish to address is also related to the festive season. I call on people to be vigilant as there has been an increase in petty crime throughout the city and country. Anecdotally, we hear that many elderly people are targeted by thieves. This instils horror in us all and is not something we like to see. I, therefore, ask people to be vigilant and ask the Garda to keep a presence to ensure people will feel safe when walking the streets.
I will raise two issues, the first of which relates to the District Court. I am conscious and mindful of the separation of powers, but I do not know if many of my colleagues saw the "RTÉ Investigates" programme on Monday night, in which we heard about a litany of issues, specifically in the District Court, the element about which I want to talk. I want to make it clear before I say anything further, as I have always made it my business as a public representative to visit the District Court in various locations, I am not directing my concerns at any specific District Court. I was in three the week before last and on each occasion I witnessed judges being downright rude in conducting cases. Last week I visited another District Court in which I witnessed rudeness, aggression and a negative attitude being taken, with no opportunity being given to the litigants, counsel or solicitors to make representations. People were put down and not listened to. What I heard on Monday night on the "RTÉ Investigates" programme all resonated with me. What was rehearsed was exactly what I had seen for years. I took the time yesterday to contact a number of solicitors. I rang them from my office and they all said the description on the programme matched their experiences in some courts. It is a difficult issue to manage, but it is not right that health service staff, probation officers, social workers, solicitors, counsel, litigants and people before the courts are put down and subject to an abusive attitude and downright rudeness.The time has come to intervene because the people in question cannot complain or, feel that if they do, it will affect the outcome of their cases. Will the Minister for Justice and Equality have a root-and-branch examination of the District Courts to find out to whom these judges are accountable? Nobody should treat people in a disrespectful, aggressive or rude manner and attempt to undermine them, be they legal professionals or litigants. This is my personal experience and it is a matter which needs to be dealt with.
Since the day I came into the Seanad, I have raised the issue of services at the National Rehabilitation Hospital, based in Dún Laoghaire, time and again. On 1 January 2017, 12 beds were shut at the hospital. We were promised in various statements in the House, as well as through questions and correspondence, that they would be reopened by mid-June. However, nothing has happened. After much pressure, two were reopened. The Taoiseach and the Minister for Health, Deputy Simon Harris, met me at the hospital when they were turning the sod for a new development phase which has started there. They assured me then that it would receive the utmost attention.
Today, eight beds remain closed at the National Rehabilitation Hospital. It is nothing short of a disgrace. Those eight patients affected are not sitting in their homes. Instead, they are sitting in acute essential hospital beds waiting for treatment at the National Rehabilitation Hospital. Will the Leader raise the matter again on my behalf? I will certainly write to the Minister myself. I would like a debate early in the new year on national rehabilitation services.
I want to raise the issue of affordable housing. In March, the Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Damien English, promised there would be a scheme for affordable housing and affordable rental units. We are still waiting for it. In September, the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, made a similar commitment in an article in The Irish Timesand that we would shortly see an affordable rental scheme. We still have not seen that scheme.
I am raising it today because there is a danger that, in the new year, several developments will be delayed going to procurement because there is no clear understanding of what affordable housing should be. Will the Minister attend the House to explain the Government's plans for affordable housing and affordable rental schemes? This year I have raised this each month in the House but I still have not received a satisfactory answer. Research has identified there is a real problem for young couples acquiring affordable housing. If they want to plan their lives and see where they are going, we need legislation in this area published as quickly as possible. The Minister needs to attend the House on this issue.
I have also been continually raising the issue of Airbnb. When the Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy John Paul Phelan, attended the House last month, he gave a commitment that legislation on the control of short-term lets will be published. We are still awaiting the publication of this legislation, however. It is clear Airbnb and short-term lets are having a real impact on the housing crisis, not just in Dublin but in Cork, Galway and Limerick. We have been promised legislation but there is still no sign of it. There are many promises but no delivery.
I am requesting that the Minister, not a Minister of State, attends the House early in the new year to give a clear explanation as to why we have seen no movement whatsoever on affordable housing or dealing with short-term lets.
I want to raise the issue of the hospital trolley crisis again. Up to November 2017, 82,459 people had been left on hospital trolleys. We are in danger of 2017 becoming the first year that the number of people on trolleys tops 100,000. It is important to remember that each one of these figures represents an individual with a family. I commend the approach of the homelessness campaign which protested outside the gates of Leinster House yesterday. The main theme of the #mynameis campaign seeks to change the attitude towards homelessness figures, stressing that behind each figure is a real human being and each one is one too many. We also heard the phrase homelessness is not normal. This should also apply to people languishing on hospital trolleys.
The Irish Association of Emergency Medicine, IAEM, estimates that between 300 and 350 patients die each year on trolleys. It is awful to think that someone, who toiled and went through many things in life, might end their life on a hospital trolley. At the rate we are going, many more people will actually end their time on this earth on a trolley. It is shameful and a disgrace in a country that has wealth like ours. If there was an outbreak of disease, there is no capacity left in the hospital system to deal with it. I do not know what would happen.
Sinn Féin's policy document, Tackling the Trolley Crisis, seeks to resolve the crisis by using existing resources without seeking more capital spend. It maps out how to increase capacity by reopening beds which were closed, increasing recruitment and retention of staff to provide adequate step-down facilities, home help and home care packages.
The trolley crisis has hit Mayo University Hospital where there is a severe staff shortage in the emergency department. It is down five full-time staff from this time last year. It is a crazy situation. How can one expect two full-time staff nurses take full responsibility for everything that happens in that department and for every individual who comes through its doors? There is no point in giving newly qualified staff to these departments because there is no time to train them. Doing so only puts them into a dangerous environment.
This has to be examined. Will the Minister for Health come to the House in the first week when we return next year to discuss the trolley crisis, what happened over Christmas and to discuss the plans he has for once and for all to alleviate what is an inhumane situation, both for people presenting at emergency departments and the staff who work in them? I commend each and every member of staff in every emergency department for the wonderful job they do every day.
When does the Leader expect the Public Sector Standards Bill 2015 to come before the House? It proposes to set up a commission in place of the Standards in Public Office Commission, SIPO. It will have significant consequences for local authority members across the country, putting onerous obligations on them to comply with the law when it is introduced. The Bill will have to be examined closely by the House, as well as by the Dáil.
Under the Bill's proposals, if a local authority member received €50,000 in a will, they would have to declare it. It may well have to be declared in private to the county secretary or county manager, but it still has to be declared. This could be in breach of data protection legislation.
The Bill will involve other obligations for local authority members. If their circumstances change, they may have to make up to three declarations per year and hold documentation for up to 15 years. Local authority members have limited secretarial services, if any. Holding records for 15 years and making three declarations a year will put quite an obligation on them. As well as that, they will be classified as category A public officials, putting them in the same category as Oireachtas Members, the Judiciary and departmental Secretaries General.It is most unfair that a local authority member would be categorised as having the same obligations as those groups. When is it envisaged that the legislation will come to this House? Is it going to start in this House?
I concur with the views of Senator Paddy Burke. The terms and conditions of councillors in many spheres need to be addressed and I look forward to the Minister coming in early in the new year to do just that.
I wish to raise the terms and conditions of some school secretaries. The school secretary is the first point of contact when one enters a school. The secretary is a vital link between pupils, teachers and parents and many principals will say their school would not function properly without the school secretary. Despite the important role they play, their terms and conditions leave a lot to be desired. There are two groups of school secretary, those paid directly by the Department of Education and Skills and those paid out of the ancillary grant. Both do the exact same job but they have very different terms and conditions. The secretaries paid by the Department are public servants and they enjoy standard terms and conditions but the secretaries paid out of the ancillary grant are in a very different situation. Their terms and conditions are at the discretion of the board of management. School boards of management are under a lot of financial pressure and are limited in what they can do. This group of school secretaries have to sign on during their holidays, whether at Christmas, summer or Easter, and this is very unfair. Other support staff, such as SNAs, have better terms and conditions, which is right. I would like this issue to be addressed as soon as possible as it is very unfair on school secretaries. I would like the Minister to come into the House in the new year to outline his strategy to ensure school secretaries are given proper terms and conditions.
I call on the Leader to hold a debate on our natural resources so that we can see where we are going and what our long-term plan is. Yesterday I had a meeting with the Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Damien English, about seaweed harvesting in Bantry Bay, of which I am sure the Cathaoirleach is very aware, where a licence has been granted in the past few days. We need a debate on what we are doing with our natural resources. Seaweed harvesting at the level proposed has never happened before in the British Isles. There is great concern among the general public and we need to decide how we are going to police it. One of the conditions of the licence is that it will be self-policed and no other organisation will be recording data about what is happening on the ground. We need to have a debate with the line Minister, Deputy Damien English, and the Department needs to clarify how the licence is granted. It needs to address issues such as advertising, informing the public and ensuring that policing of the activity is done by the itself, rather than the individual who holds the licence. This can start a general debate about our natural resources and how we police them. This is a test case and I hope the Minister can come to the House for a real debate and a detailed discussion on his plan. We need to hear what he thinks of these proposals because without a national plan, we are shooting in the dark.
Yesterday the Minister launched a programme for mental health in schools and Kinsale Community School was in here. Somebody, somewhere should look at that school because it is an example of excellence in education. There is an attitude in the school and when I was a former union leader I tried to figure out what this was. Everybody has their shoulder to the wheel and takes responsibility for all the students. This is reflected in the young scientist exhibition every year so the Minister should send somebody to study it. It is one of the finest schools in the country.
Senator Humphreys spoke about homelessness and housing. I tire of the Minister being hammered constantly over not producing houses because one cannot build houses overnight. We can look at historical facts but we cannot change what we have today. However, we can insist that everybody on the team plays the game and we have a couple of people who are not playing the game, specifically, the banks. Young people are coming to me all the time to tell me they have paid out tens of thousands of euro in rent and they have no way of establishing savings because they spend all their money on rent. When they are provided with a deposit to buy a house or apartment, by relatives or somebody else, the bank will not give them a mortgage because they have no track record of saving. They have a track record in paying rent and very often that far exceeds what they would pay on a mortgage. We have to start looking at who is wearing the green jersey in regard to housing. In my area of south Dublin an entire estate is almost complete but not one house is sold on it yet. Why? It is because the value of property is increasing by the week. We have to do something in this regard too as it is plain, outright greed. We could have people moving into those houses and freeing up other accommodation for the homeless. There is a plethora of estates in south Dublin where that is happening. I do not know how the Minister will tackle that but we have to make everybody play the game and not just one side.
I agree with what Senator Boyhan said about the RTÉ "Prime Time Investigates" programme, which found that 300,000 crimes were committed by persons on bail between 2003 and 2011, amounting to 2,000 every month. This is unacceptable and I ask for the Minister to come to the House to discuss how we can resolve this. I understand that there is separation between the judicial system and ourselves. I ended up in court 25 years ago when I was caught for after-hours selling in a pub I owned. When I went to court I was absolutely terrified because I come from a law-abiding community. A few years ago I got a speeding fine in Carlow. I am one of these politicians who does not go to court but I was shocked when I heard of these repeat offenders.However, I was very impressed by the competence and control of the superintendent at the time. Gardaí and judges need to work with the political system to deal with people who reoffend. I do not know what can be done but we need to debate this serious issue. Last night, we saw the result of the US Senate election in Alabama, with the Democrats' Doug Jones defeating Roy Moore of the Republicans. This is a huge defeat for President Trump. Maybe we should acknowledge it. I am not commenting either way, but-----
I ask the Leader for a debate on GP care. I have received correspondence from Sutton, in my own part of the world, indicating that a GP there is now charging between €20 and €30 for blood tests. I also note the comments of the Minister for Health, Deputy Simon Harris, suggesting that GP visits for children could cost between €5 and €10, which is a row back of the scheme brought in by the last Government. Even though GP care for children up to 12 years of age was provided for in the budget before the most recent general election, it has not happened yet. My worry is that free GP care is not being expanded and rolled out further. Instead, it is being curtailed, and individual GPs are making their own decisions as to how much they will charge for something as simple as a blood test. I understand that this particular GP is also encouraging people to go to Beaumont Hospital rather than provide the blood test in his own surgery. I would very much appreciate a debate on free GP care in this House.
To the people of the great state of Alabama, I send congratulations from this House. They have managed to defeat one racist and homophobic sex offender and, hopefully, the other racist, homophobic sex offender in the White House will soon have a similar fate.
Today, a group of protestors will be outside Leinster House asking for a simple, common-sense approach. The protestors are concerned about the lack of transport equality for disabled people. The Joint Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport will be discussing the accessibility of public transport for people with disabilities today. It is terrible that they have to be tough but this Government makes their lives tough. Did the Members know that to travel in a wheelchair, one has to notify Iarnród Éireann 24 hours in advance that one will be taking the train? It was announced earlier this year, as part of the national disability inclusion strategy, that there would be a pilot project that would reduce notice time to four hours for the DART. Yes, a wheelchair user cannot simply decide to take a train. There is beauty and charm to Irish stations, and I am certainly not advocating major restructuring work. I am simply calling for some common sense. We have mobile technology, we have the Internet. Why is it that a wheelchair user or someone with a disability cannot turn up and wait for a train like everyone else? Why is it that the line cannot just be switched following a simple phone call?
I have witnessed and heard of wheelchair users being abandoned on a platform waiting for the next train or being pushed up a ramp by some huffing and puffing, although kind, stranger because no assistant was available. Worse, like many Members, I have heard stories of taxis having to be called because a train cannot accommodate the wheelchair. In this day and age, this is appalling treatment. This is not equal rights. We should hear more about this from the Minister of Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Shane Ross. I would like to know more and I call for the Minister to come to the House to discuss this issue.
I hope the Cathaoirleach will add 30 seconds to my time, because I want to raise a point of order. Senator Ó Ríordáin accused somebody of being a sex offender. The person has not been convicted. This House believes in due process, and I do not think that is appropriate. People should be given the right to due process. His other comments about the outcome of the election are his own business. I am sure many people in this country are very pleased, and I will not say any more about that.
I rise to talk about the housing issue, which others have raised. This morning the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, was in Lusk, reviewing a new social housing scheme of 74 houses. The houses are rated A2, the top rating, and some of them are occupied already. The Minister then went on to Donabate to turn the sod on a new road that will lead traffic from the centre of Donabate and allow passage down to Portrane. It will also open up the lands there to more housing, private and social and affordable. The housing is badly needed. I concur with Senator Craughwell when he says that we need to acknowledge where progress is made. Much more needs to be done, and we all accept that.
A related issue I want to raise is the new National Forensic Mental Health Hospital there and the number of trucks passing through the centre of Donabate each day. The planning permission was intended to ensure that these would not travel during school opening or closing times, because the footpath coming out of the school is very narrow and there is a danger to children. However, concerned residents have sent me multiple pictures of lorries passing by at those very times, creating serious danger. I cannot confirm whether those lorries are from the hospital site or from other developments, but I must raise the issue of enforcement. When conditions are attached to planning permission, they must be enforced. Fingal County Council is doing fantastic work and is leading the way in many respects, and it may need more staff to ensure that enforcement can be carried out. I would like the Minister to come to the House to discuss this issue on a national basis because the enforcement of planning permission conditions, particularly traffic restrictions, affects areas right across the country.
On the matter Senator Reilly raised, it was a bit over-the-top for Senator Ó Ríordáin to make such remarks. Neither the President nor the unsuccessful candidate for the Republican Party has a criminal record as far as I know, and we have to be very careful of making such allegations from the safety of this Chamber. I do not condone such remarks. It is unfair, and I am not in favour of anybody outside the Chamber being castigated where there is no obvious evidence. Allegations have been made against many of us. However, the case here has not been proved.
Yesterday, I came here on the Luas. I also listened yesterday to property commentators. They were saying that there would be an additional increase of up to 20% in the value of the houses along the Luas lines. Many people may think this is welcome, but I hesitate, because this increased value will inevitably lead to an increase in property tax. The street where I live was a run-down and semi-derelict 18th century street 40 years ago, when I bought the house. I restored my own house to a high standard. I rescued 35 North Great George's Street, turning it into a James Joyce Centre which is still very successful 20 or 30 years after it started. I was personally involved in the positive change of ownership of 12 out of the 48 houses in the street. I created a preservation society, which I have to say is absolutely excellent. It has had a succession of chairpersons after me. They have all worked hard. We have made a great impact on that street. It is now a desirable place to live. Combined with the Luas and the very welcome redevelopment of Parnell Square, particularly the library moving into the Coláiste Mhuire premises, this will lead to an increase in the value of our houses. This means that we will have to pay far more property tax. This is grossly unfair and wrong, and I believe that property tax should and must be scrapped. It is going right back to what James Fintan Lalor and his colleagues fought against, the practice of rack-renting. When a tenant farmer dared to increase his profits, to increase his holding, to redecorate his little farm or to improve his living conditions, the landlord immediately slapped extra rent on him. This is what is happening now, but it is not due to malign landlords, it is what our Government is doing to its own people. It is wrong and it has to stop. I would like to ask the Leader if we can have a debate on that in the new year. I believe there are some parties, principally Sinn Féin, which have taken up this issue, and they are prepared to go to an election with one of their planks being removal of the property tax. I think this is absolutely necessary in the interests of equity and fair treatment for citizens.
With the Cathaoirleach's permission, I would like to welcome neighbours of mine from Dunamon in Roscommon; Mr. Brian Flynn, Ms Denise Flynn, and their children Meghan, Nathan and Suey, who are here for the first time in Leinster House. I welcome their visit to this Chamber.They are seeing some very distinguished people here today, not least our resident James Joyce expert, Senator David Norris.
I wish to raise an issue I have raised previously in this House about which I have not yet received a satisfactory response. I refer to a charge for fishing in rivers in my local area. It is the only part of Ireland where there is a charge for fishing. If Megan, Nathan and Zoe Flynn wanted to fish on their parents' land, they would have to pay a levy to the fisheries board. That is wrong. The ESB seems to have ownership and is acting like a latter day British landlord. I have asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Denis Naughten, and the Minister of State at his Department, Deputy Seán Kyne, to resolve this issue. It applies to the River Suck and its tributaries, including Linbaun Lake. Tourists to our area must pay a fishing levy but if they leave our area they do not have to pay such a levy. That is not fair. I would hope I would have the support of this House were I to table a motion to resolve this issue early next year. As a former Minister, I find it very difficult to understand why the Minister, Deputy Naughten, has not addressed this matter given that it is in his bailiwick. It would be very simple to resolve and Ministers should look after their own areas. They always have done so in the past and always will do. It has been a while since we had a Minister in our area. The Suck valley centre in Athleague, county councillors and local people, as well as Donamon Castle are all arguing for this particular concession. It is hard to believe that there is a levy of €10 per day for a child to fish in Roscommon's rivers while down the road on the river Shannon, no levy applies. That is not fair, equitable or just.
I wish to voice my concern at the resistance by Amnesty International to follow an instruction from the Standards in Public Office Commission and refund an illegal payment of €137,000 made to it by a foreign donor-----
-----in an effort to influence policy and the law in this country. It is not good for our democracy that anyone from outside this jurisdiction who is not a citizen and does not have a connection to this country but who has deep pockets should be able to invest substantial sums in order to effect political, policy or legal change. It is pretty sinister and should not be happening, no matter what side of the argument one is on. It is particularly regrettable that this has happened in the context of the abortion issue. This should be an issue of concern regardless of whether one is pro-life or pro-choice. The people of Ireland are well able to debate this issue. Indeed, there are enough people here with views on the matter and there is no need for any side to be funded by external organisations.
I am calling for a wider debate in this House on the limit on political donations, which is €2,500. There may be a need for that to be increased. That said, I strongly believe that people from outside this country using their money to try to change things here is not right. I sincerely hope that Amnesty International will abide by the law. The cornerstone of any democracy is the rule of law and Amnesty International is not above the law.
Having taken on board the comments of Senator Reilly and the Cathaoirleach, I accept that it is not appropriate for a Member of this House to make the comments that I made in terms of labelling someone as a sex offender without due process. I want to withdraw my remarks and apologise for them.
I thank the 15 Senators who contributed on today's Order of Business. The issue of health was raised by Senators Ardagh, Conway-Walsh and Ó Ríordáin. I will begin by saying that the trolley figures show a decrease of 509 in comparison to this time last year. In November, 1,864 fewer patients were on trolleys and year on year, 2,373 fewer patients were on trolleys. Notwithstanding the positivity of those figures, we all acknowledge that there should be no patients on trolleys in any of our hospitals. That is why the Minister for Health worked to secure an increase in the health budget and additional investment in our health service is happening as I speak. Sometimes Senator Conway-Walsh should leave her single transferable speech at home and look at the investment that is happening in our health service, in terms of the recruitment of staff, capital development in hospitals and the ways in which we are reducing the waiting lists. There has been a decrease in the number of people on trolleys.
The Senator is great at putting words out there. It would serve her better to acknowledge what the Government is trying to do and to work with us rather than serving up the single transferable speech from west Belfast. Let us have some reality here.
I have no difficulty with the Cathaoirleach's comment but the reality must be faced as well. Senator Craughwell, in his contribution, made reference to the fact that we must acknowledge the positive developments that are happening. I said in my response to Senators that nobody should be on a trolley in our hospitals. In that context, Senator Conway-Walsh should not lecture me about the humanity, empathy, compassion or concern of anyone on this side of the House. We live in the real world too so the Senator should not lecture me.
She does not recognise, in any shape or form, that there is investment in our health system. She will not acknowledge that recruitment is taking place and that capital investment is happening in hospitals around the country.
The Minister for Health and the Government are committed to breaking the cycle of overcrowding and of people having to wait for procedures. That is happening through the renegotiation of the GP contract, investment in primary care, changes in diagnostics and how we do business as well as through an increase in home care packages. That is the reality but I know that Senator Conway-Walsh does not want to hear good news.
Senator Reilly, both the Leader and the Sinn Féin Senator are wrong in terms of interacting with each other directly. That said, Senator Conway-Walsh is entitled to make her case, whether the Leader likes it or not. I do not think it is personal but I would ask the Leader to move on now.
The reality is that in November 2017 there were 1,800 fewer people on trolleys by comparison to last November. That is a decrease and can be described as a positive trend downwards. There are 405 patients waiting on trolleys in acute hospitals today. While we all accept that there should be nobody on trolleys, there is a reality that must be faced by all sides of this House. The reality is that for the month of December 2017 there will be 460 fewer patients on trolleys as compared to December 2016. That is progress, black-and-white independent facts that are verifiable. Senator Boyhan raised the issue of the District Court. I did not see the "Prime Time" programme but the issue he raised on the manner and behaviour of judges is one on which you have probably ruled, a Chathaoirligh, we have no direct say. The Government is producing the Judicial Council Bill. The Bill is before the Oireachtas. It will promote and maintain excellence among the Judiciary in terms of their functioning and high standards in conduct and behaviour. A judicial committee will be established to consider complaints against judges. The point the Senator made is that we should expect all involved in any type of interaction to be courteous and polite irrespective of where that interaction occurs.
Senator Boyhan has raised the matter of the National Rehabilitation Hospital on numerous occasions in the House. The Minister has reopened several beds through the HSE. We have had a debate on the matter in the House. Senator Hopkins has raised this matter as well. I am happy to have the Minister come to the House, but perhaps Senator Boyhan could put in a request for a Commencement matter tomorrow to get his issue resolved.
Senator Humphreys raised the matter of affordable housing. I concur with his views completely. There is need to see the scheme progress. I know the Minister is committed to it. To be fair to the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Murphy, and the Minister of State, Deputy English, they are working on the scheme. There is a need for affordable housing. Airbnb is producing a knock-on effect. I share the views of Senator Humphreys and I would be happy to have a debate on the matter in the new year on housing and Airbnb.
Senator Conway-Walsh raised the #mynameis protest. I agree with the Senator on this much in that we all need to see the attitude change towards homelessness in terms of the language used. These people are citizens of our State. They are men and women who, for whatever reason, are unable to provide for themselves or secure accommodation. There is an obligation and responsibility on each of us to work to ensure that no person is left homeless, put out on the street or left sleeping rough. This requires a co-ordinated effort with different interactions between different agencies. Through the Minister, the Department and Rebuilding Ireland a complete package is available. We want to see progress made in this area.
Senator Burke raised the issue of the Public Sector Standards Bill 2015. In particular, he raised the issue relating to section 5 and local authority members. We will debate the matter when the Bill comes before the House. The classification of county councillors in the same vein as Oireachtas Members, special advisors, chairpersons or chief executives of public bodies and those on remuneration at deputy secretary level in the public sector is somewhat mystifying. The people who serve local authorities work part-time and do not have the same resources or supports that we and others have. While we all want to see transparency, high standards and maintenance of the level of obligations, I believe that placing some local authority members in this category is a wrong move. We will have that debate in the House. I do not have an answer as to when the Bill will be brought back.
Senator Gallagher raised the important issue of school secretaries. He is right to say they are one of the most important points of contact and engagement in the school. I would be happy to have a debate on the matter in the new year.
Senator Lombard raised the issue of seaweed in Bantry Bay and the Minister granting the licence. There is a dispute on the matter of harvesting that relates to the impact on kelp stock. BioAtlantis was awarded the contract. The issue has been coming up in France and Norway since the 1970s. I imagine the Minister of State, Deputy English, would welcome the debate and I would be happy to arrange it for the new year.
I join Senator Craughwell in commending those in the school in Kinsale on their work and the approach they take. Senator Craughwell also raised the issue of housing. There is an obligation and a duty on our banks to work with all of us to provide mortgages and loans to keep people in their homes. That is one piece of the jigsaw that needs to be further strengthened and enhanced, and I agree with Senator Craughwell in that regard.
Senators Feighan, Ó Ríordáin and Reilly, made reference the issue of the state of Alabama and race, as you did, a Chathaoirligh, in your ruling. I congratulate the new Alabama Senator, Doug Jones, on his victory and wish him well in his term in the US Senate. Whatever our viewpoints on the issue that was discussed and adjudicated, to be fair, Senator Ó Ríordáin withdrew his remarks. That was the right thing to do. The issue that dogged that campaign is one that we can never condone or support. Irrespective of our political viewpoints, we can say that the state of Alabama stood up for honesty and decency this morning. That is evident in the result.
Senator Feighan also raised the issue of the "Prime Time" programme. Again, I would be happy to have a debate about the issues of crime and bail in the new year.
Senator Ó Ríordáin made reference to the issues of GP care and primary care. This is a central plank of the Sláintecare report and Government policy. I hope no member of the GP profession would unravel the free GP care that has been put in place. We will have that debate in the new year.
Senator Jennifer Murnane-O'Connor raised the important issue of transport equality for disabled people. I fully concur with the Senator on the matter. It beggars belief that, whether in public or private transport, there are issues around disabled access for people who require specialised entrances or vehicles. It is important to have that debate in the new year and I would be happy to do that.
Senator Reilly also made reference to the issue of housing in Lusk. I welcome the opening of the development today by the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Murphy. The Senator also raised an issue around the new hospital in Donabate and traffic. Perhaps he might get a response more quickly through a Commencement matter. In any event, the issue is important to raise.
Senator Norris commented on the property tax. The debate is one that I very much welcome. As I said yesterday, it is important to welcome the Luas and the joined-up approach being taken in Dublin now. The issue of property tax will not go away. I know many Members have different viewpoints on the matter but we will have that debate on it in the new year.
I am not familiar with the remarks of Senator Leyden regarding the issue of the licence for the area he referenced in Roscommon. It is important to have clarity and for the matter to be resolved. I am sure he could arrange that by means of interaction with the Minister rather than a debate in the House.
Senator Mulherin raised the issue of Amnesty International and the rules of the Standards in Public Office Commission. There has been controversy around Part IV of the Electoral Act 1997, as amended. The matter is being investigated. There is an onus on everyone to fulfil their obligations and comply with the rules of the State. In the case of SIPO, there is a duty on all of us to uphold the law and provide for transparency. That matter will not go away given that there is concern about the legislation, as written and enacted.
That is the other point. I am not going to go into a long-winded reply but there are consequences for the legislation for a wide variety of organisations, groups and political parties, and that is fair enough. The Department has met representatives of Amnesty International and other groups to examine the issue around the definition of "political purposes". As Senator Norris said, SIPO has raised concerns over the years in its annual reports. The matter has been to the forefront in recent days and is unlikely to go away. Clarity needs to be brought to the matter because there could be unintended consequences for other groups and organisations, including community councils or resident associations. Certainly, as the law is presented and written, there is an obligation on everyone to uphold the law.