Thursday, 14 December 2017
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, motion re arrangements for the sitting of the House on Friday, 15 December, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of the Order of Business; No. 2, motion of referral of Planning and Development (Amendment) Regulations 2018 to the Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Development, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of No. 1; No. 3, motion re report of the Joint Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport on a proposal, COM (2017) 647, for a regulation of the European Parliament and the Council amending Regulation (EC) No. 1073/2009 on common rules for access to the international market for coach and bus services, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of No. 2; No. 4, Social Welfare Bill 2017 – Report and Final Stages, to be taken at 12.45 p.m. and conclude not later than 2.15 p.m. by the putting of one question which shall, in relation to amendments, include only those set down or accepted by the Government; No. 5, Public Service Pay and Pensions Bill 2017 - Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 4 and conclude not later than 4 p.m. by the putting of one question which shall, in relation to amendments, include only those that have been accepted by the Government; No. 6, motion re earlier signature of the Public Service Pay and Pensions Bill 2017, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of No. 5; and No. 7, Private Members' business, Landlord and Tenant (Ground Rents) (Amendment) Bill 2017 – Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken at 4 p.m.
As this is the last Order of Business in 2017, I take the opportunity to wish the Cathaoirleach, the Leas-Chathaoirleach and their staff a very happy Christmas. I thank all of them for their work to date. I thank all of the staff in the Seanad Office, including Martin and Brigid, for their help throughout the year. I also thank the Leader of the House, the group leaders and all other Senators for their contributions throughout the year. I wish everyone a very happy Christmas and new year.
The United Kingdom is scheduled to leave the European Union on 29 March 2019. To date, the discussions have focused mainly on the Border, how much the United Kingdom owes the European Union, what will happen to EU citizens living in the United Kingdom and to UK citizens living in the European Union, the future trading relationship and the Single Market and the transition period. Thankfully, on 8 December there was a breakthrough deal on the Border thanks to the hard work of our Ministers and the perseverance of civil servants in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. It is to be hoped the agreement and the heads of terms outlined in it will become a legally binding document without dilution in the weeks to come.
As the President of the European Council, Mr. Donald Tusk, said last week, the first phase was the easy part. Those who say the key issues have been settled definitively are clearly fooling themselves. I have a number of very specific points on which I seek clarification from the Government. Will it explain exactly what is the definition of a frictionless Border? It obviously involves no physical barriers, but is the Government stating it will also involve no payments or trade costs? What differences are anticipated in the current cross-Border arrangements and what changes would be acceptable to people on both sides of the Border and the Government? We know that the objective is for there to be no change. However, if there is to be a change, how much of this fits within the Government's understanding of what is acceptable? Would a Canada-plus type deal be acceptable, as proposed by the British Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, Mr. David Davis? Unfortunately, it is now beyond doubt from statements made that there are profoundly different views on what the agreement involves, its status and implications. The commitment to having an open border is contradicted by statements the United Kingdom as a whole will leave the customs union and the Single Market. In the case of Ireland, the agreement states regulatory alignment will be maintained if there is no overall deal. If there is no overall deal, the United Kingdom's membership of both the customs union and the Single Market will automatically lapse. Has the Government received assurances from the European Union on what will happen in such circumstances?
In relation to pay levels in three areas, will the Leader obtain some information on the Government's strategy and plans? The main focus is on teachers' pay. It is like a train that is going to crash. There is a significant requirement for teachers, yet people are not entering the profession. The thought struck me a few days ago that 25 years ago I was a teacher in a secondary school in Galway when I was on twice the starting salary teachers are on today. There is something seriously and fundamentally wrong. We have to address that issue as teachers are a key aspect in the context of our future.
The other area to be considered is health care. We have a significant issue in attracting nurses and keeping them in Ireland.I suggest that the Government should focus initially on key primary areas, including salaries, for the maintenance of our communities and education and then build on that. These are fundamental professions for the well-being of our citizens.
There is a third area. I know many general practitioners and doctors. Some of them have to emigrate. They are going to countries in the Far East simply to make ends meet. We talked the last day about retiring at 70 years of age and we had a good debate on the question. GPs cannot retire at 60, 65 or even 70 years of age in some cases; they have to keep going.
I believe we are at the middle stages of our education system almost crashing. The same applies to our care structure. Let us look at how we treat teachers. Certainly, something is really wrong because I was getting a salary 25 years ago that is twice the amount that teachers who are starting now get. There is something wrong if we cannot attract nurses who were trained in Ireland. They are going abroad to work and they are not coming back. Others are not going into the profession. There is really something wrong if GPs have to work until they are 70 or 75 years of age simply to keep going.
I want to raise the crisis in Letterkenny University Hospital. Letterkenny has the sixth-largest hospital in the State in terms of inpatient numbers, with approximately 23,000 every year. It is a major hospital, not a minor or medium-sized hospital. The funding the hospital has received, compared to other major hospitals in the State, puts it at the bottom of the league. It has clearly been discriminated against for years.
What happens as a result of this discrimination? Again and again, we have the highest numbers of patients, many of whom are elderly people, on trolleys every day because of the over-crowding in the hospital. The doctors and nurses are under ferocious pressure. When people get into the system, they praise the doctors and nurses but they are under ferocious pressure. They are left with an impossible task and the stress is unbelievable.
The impact on waiting lists is significant. One in eight of the men, women and children in Donegal is on a hospital waiting list. The number of people waiting over a year and a half is growing all the time. We are facing an absolute scandal.
In that context, the hospital management appealed to the HSE for funding to reopen what is called the short-stay ward. It houses 20 vital beds to take the pressure off front-line staff and give patients dignity when they come to the hospital. The management team expected to have good news in October. They expected to have the extra beds as we approach the inevitable winter crisis and challenge. They applied for €1.8 million under the critical unmet need and winter surge initiative. The urgency is clear even in the title of the scheme that these people have applied under.
Even at this late hour, I appeal to the Government. I call on the Leader to bring this to the attention of the Minister for Health and the senior officials in the HSE. They have to meet this request. We already have a crisis. I do not even want to think about what we are facing in the weeks ahead if they do not meet this request. The matter has been raised again and again by me and other public representatives in the county in recent weeks and months. I am appealing to the Leader today. This is the last opportunity I have this year. Will the Leader bring this to the attention of the Minister for Health? The facts are incontrovertible. The hospital has been profoundly discriminated against in funding. We need this funding. This ward is empty. Next week, the short-stay ward will be empty. The beds will be unoccupied when there is a crisis in the hospital, and that is unforgivable. As we come close to Christmas, I am appealing to those responsible to get this sorted once and for all.
I stand today on behalf of the people of Bantry and the south west. They are in distress over the granting this week by the Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Damien English, of a seaweed licence to BioAtlantis to mechanically harvest 1,860 acres of kelp in Bantry Bay.
Will the Leader ask the Minister of State to come to the House to debate the future plans of the Government on the development of the commercial seaweed industry in Ireland? I want the Minister of State to discuss the issuing of seaweed licences with us. I would also like to discuss why the Government and the Minister of State did not consult and engage with the 1,200 people who signed a petition against the issuing of the licence.
Wild seaweed is a valuable resource in Ireland. In other countries, like Japan, Korea and China, they cultivate seaweed. We could have a niche market here - it is certainly an emerging market – if we do this right, but already we are getting it wrong.
I am appealing to the Minister of State and the Government to address this before they issue any more seaweed licences. A request by BioAtlantis for another licence to cut 12,900 tonnes of Ascophyllum, a type of seaweed in Clew Bay, has been submitted. Before any other licences are permitted and issued, those responsible should consult the people and communities in these rural areas. We need to look at how we can do this sustainably, because we can do that. However, the way the Government is going about it at the moment is wrong and is destroying vast tracts or areas of seaweed.
We have an opportunity now. I am asking the Leader to get the Minister of State before the House as soon as possible in the new year to debate the issue.
Aontaím go huile is go hiomlán leis an Seanadóir O'Sullivan maidir leis an méid atá sí ag rá faoi chúrsaí feamainne. I concur wholeheartedly with Senator Grace O’Sullivan's thoughts on the seaweed industry. I put in a related question as a Commencement matter, but it seems there was a major demand for Commencement matters today, especially on that issue.
I have raised this issue several times. It is my understanding that the Attorney General is looking into the review of all the portfolios and folios throughout the island of Ireland with regard to pertinent seaweed harvesting rights held by folio holders. I understand the report has not been finalised. Therefore, I find it strange that a licence has been issued in Bantry since, as I understand it, the Government has not finally received or published the Attorney General's remarks in respect of where those holders stand. It is absolutely and totally inappropriate that licences would be issued before the report and legal guidance are made fully available.
Ós rud é nach mbeimid anseo arís ar an Riar Gnó ó thaobh na Nollag de, guím chuile bheannacht na Nollag ar gach duine sna Tithe seo. Tá súil agam go mbeidh Nollaig mhór mhaith ag gach éinne.
I call on the Government to challenge the Irish Medical Council decision to grant unconditional accreditation to RCSI Bahrain. The decision makes no reference to the appalling human rights situation in Bahrain that is impacting on local training hospitals used by the college.
I have been provided with information by the Global Legal Action Network regarding the controversial accreditation of RCSI Bahrain on this day in 2014. According to GLAN, human rights abuses and maladministration continue to affect the local clinical training sites used by RCSI Bahrain. Based on this information, I am calling on the Government to address this troubling issue as a matter of urgency.
Following the crackdown on the Arab spring protests, numerous medical personnel were imprisoned simply for treating protesters. Irish trained Dr. Ali al-Ekri was still imprisoned throughout the accreditation process of the Medical Council and was only released earlier this year after serving five years in prison. A women's rights activist, Ms Ghada Jamsheer, was imprisoned for tweeting about corruption and poor standards in a Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, RCSI, affiliated hospital controlled by the Bahraini military. She, too, was imprisoned just before the Medical Council visited Bahrain to inspect the hospital.
In January 2017, the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy reported that an injured sit-in protester, an 18-year-old man called Mustafa Hamdan, was refused access via ambulance to a RCSI-affiliated hospital, the Salmaniya Medical Complex. According to reports members of his family were intimidated by the security forces when they tried to access the hospital. Unfortunately, Mr. Hamdan later died from his gunshot injury in March 2017.
These are just some of the issues that have been brought to my attention. It is unacceptable that the Irish Government and the Medical Council have turned a blind eye to human rights abuses in this manner, especially as standards adopted by the council require attention to be paid to such issues. If a medical programme in Ireland used such hospitals, would it be granted the same accreditation? Why are these hospitals and organisations doing this? Is it just for the money? If so, what is the price for human rights? I call on the Government to ensure that this unethical practice is stopped as soon as possible. I also call on the Leader to engage with the Minister for Education and Skills and for a debate on this issue to be arranged as soon as possible in the new year.
Two of the most important documents for this country's future will be issued shortly after our return in the new year. One of them is the capital programme for the next ten years and the other is the national planning framework. We have a national remit but we must still look after every region of the country. If we wish to be relevant then we should have a specific discussion on the contents of the national development plan and the planning framework at the start of the new year. Let me give an example. In my own constituency, there is a road that links Dundalk with Sligo, which is known locally as the east-west link. It is a vital piece of the road network and an artery for a number of important businesses like Carton Brothers in Shercock, Abbott Ireland in Cootehill and a number of other indigenous businesses. These businesses depend on the road. The Leader has a great interest in the regions as I do. He knows that one does not readily attract jobs to these areas and, therefore, it is crucial to maintain existing jobs. The development of the east-west link road that connects Dundalk with Sligo is crucial for the people in the area as it will help maintain their businesses. It is also crucial for the local community and should feature very strongly in the capital programme for the coming ten years. It is important that we get an opportunity to say so to the Minister early in the new year so I ask the Leader to arrange the debate. I want an opportunity to explain to the Minister in the House the importance of the east-west link road that goes through Cavan and Monaghan, and towns like Carrickmacross, Shercock, Cootehill, Cavan and right through to Sligo. As a priority, I urge that the road is upgraded to a level that is user-friendly and suitable for modern commerce and the businesses which are so important to the region.
I thank the Minister of State, Deputy John Paul Phelan, for his announcement yesterday that he has established two committees to review the local electoral boundaries, which is important. The issue will affect all the 31 local authorities at some stage. The committees are being formed, the people have been nominated and approved and I understand they must commence their work early in the new year, which is welcome. I ask the Leader to contact the Minister with a view to setting a timeline. Local elections are expected to take place in June 2019. Therefore, it is reasonable and fair that the work to review boundaries should be completed as soon as possible. I know it is a matter for the commission and not a matter for me. I simply want to express a view that my colleagues have asked me to convey. It would be ideal if the work could be wrapped up by the middle of 2018 to allow a clear 12-month period for local councillors to bed-down and get to know their new areas. The reality is there will be changes. It is open to people to make submissions under the public consultation process before the final document is agreed. I welcome the initiative. The Minister of State said he would do such work. He is not that long in office but he has established the committees and clear terms of reference. All we await is the date that public consultation will take place. It will happen sometime in the spring but I ask that happens earlier.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the people in the House, in particular the Leader and his support staff, for the work they have done throughout the year. I also thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach, the Cathaoirleach, the Clerk of Seanad Éireann and their staff for their work. I also thank the ushers and all the people who deal with us in catering and in the facilities area, all of whom make both Houses work well. We could not do our work without them. People do not see the background work, the support and the preparation that makes the sittings of the Seanad, in particular, work smoothly and well. It is important we acknowledge all that work. We appreciate it and do not take it for granted. The public and the people who view us in here do not necessarily see it but we rely heavily on such support. I want to acknowledge that work and thank everyone concerned. In particular, I thank the staff in the Leader's office. We meet them every week and they do an awful lot of preparation, in conjunction with the Seanad office, to make the proceedings here run smoothly.
Finally, I wish to draw attention to the fact that the environment and space in which we work and the facilities provided only happen due to the Trojan work done by the staff of the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission. I thank the ushers, porters, catering staff and all the other people involved for their hard work.
I join with the other members in wishing everybody a happy Christmas and I thank them for their help, support and co-operation throughout the year. I rise to mention the calibre of science graduates. In 2016, Ireland was ranked tenth overall in terms of quality scientific research. Ireland has jumped 26 places over a 13-year period, the first time it has risen so quickly through the world rankings. In terms of global scientific rankings, we lie second in the agrifood sector, fifth for chemistry and sixth for medical research. It is wonderful that the standard of science education and the calibre of science graduates here is so high, which has resulted in us being highly ranked in world terms. Overall, Ireland is the seventh most innovative country in the world, which is wonderful. All this helps with inward investment and job creation. The situation will encourage companies to invest here and locate their businesses in Ireland.
On behalf of the Sinn Féin group, I wish the Senators, the party leaders, the Clerk of the Seanad, the Clerk Assistant of the Seanad, their staff, the ushers and all the staff a happy Christmas. I thank everybody who has made our stay here possible. I wish the Leader of the House an especially happy Christmas and new year and wish him well with his nuptials. I know that marriage will mellow him.
During the week we found out that Facebook put €12.6 billion through the State but only paid €29.5 million in tax. Obviously, the multinationals can see the changes in terms of the base erosion and profit sharing, BEPS, and everything else. The writing is on the wall in terms of Ireland's over-dependence on multinationals. However, responsible multinationals are always welcome here.
Yesterday, Senator Tim Lombard mentioned the seaweed industry and called for the Minister to come to the House to debate it. I am happy to support his suggestion and I also support the calls made by Senators Ó Clochartaigh and Grace O'Sullivan today on the same issue. Sinn Féin has raised the issue of seaweed for a long time. One might ask what is the connection between Facebook and seaweed. I believe it was a major mistake to sell Arramara Teoranta to Acadian Seaplants, a deal surrounded in secrecy. I believe the sale started off the push for mechanical seaweed harvesting all along our coastal areas.Seaweed is a significant natural resource that can give rise to many indigenous businesses and cottage industries in rural areas. We could link into it using, for example, the STEM subjects that were mentioned in order to promote employment, enterprise and innovation, but we have failed to do that. Instead, we again took the route of privatisation and selling off what was owned by a State company, in this instance Údarás na Gaeltachta. It is wrong that licences are awarded before everything has been clarified. I look forward to the Minister telling the Seanad in the new year how we can proactively generate jobs using a wonderful natural resource that is valued throughout the world and available to us in our coastal areas.
I wish to signal my opposition to the use of a guillotine on the Social Welfare Bill and Public Service Pay and Pensions Bill today. There is only one amendment on the Social Welfare Bill, so we should be able to move quickly on to the second Bill, on which there are seven amendments. I have tabled one or two amendments, which are down the list. We should not guillotine these sessions, as they will be quick enough.
Discussing my next issue will be harder for me, but I will try my best to speak without emotion getting in the way. Today, I woke up to a phone call about another friend passing away due to addiction. This happens to me often. It is an issue of class. So far this year, I have buried four friends - two because of addiction, one because of homelessness and one because of suicide. I sat there this morning and counted the friends I had lost since I was 13 years of age. There were 42. It is not old age, it is not cancer, it is not anything that everyone else experiences. It is the impact of how we live, where we live and the opportunities that we have.
At this point, I am just pleading - I have asked for it before - to have a real, open, honest conversation in this Chamber with the Minister for Justice and Equality on the issue of class. I have no interest in blaming Ministers, budgets or all of those things. That is not what I want to do. I want to have a conversation that looks to how we can work together to find solutions to stopping so many young people from dying unnecessarily in deprived communities. I have said it before and it is something that I will stand over, but class is killing us. Were we any other group of people, this would be taken more seriously. I do not want to play a blame game about why society is set up in a certain way. I want a conversation about it and I want a real debate on it. I want to be able to remember my friends in a dignified way and let them know that their Government cares about them and wants to change the situation.
In the new year, will the Leader please invite the Minister for Justice and Equality to the House to debate the issue of class? It is something that I entered this Chamber to highlight. It would mean a lot to me if we could have that conversation.
Like others, I wish everyone a happy Christmas, especially the staff who support us all so well.
Senator Ó Céidigh referred to the retention of doctors, nurses and teachers. We are facing a crisis in general practice, with a large tranche of doctors set to retire in the coming years, an increasing population and, rightly, greater delivery being asked of primary care. I welcome the Minister's decision to give medical cards to carers, who do invaluable work and go to great lengths to support the ones they love and keep them at home. I hope that he will also put the resources in place to allow doctors to do that work. I have encountered more doctors closing their lists because of the workload. They cannot cope. We need a proper new contract as quickly as possible and we must address these issues. As the Senator stated, many of our younger doctors are leaving the country, so we are getting caught at both ends.
In the context of carers, I wish to raise an important issue that I have raised previously, namely, pensions. Some 40,000 people have been unjustly discriminated against by the 2012 Act. They are mainly women who took time off work to care for their children, the elderly and other loved ones. The Ministers, Deputies Donohoe and Regina Doherty, are working on this matter, but I encourage them to expedite their work and rectify this injustice as quickly as possible in the new year. It reflects badly on our society that we discriminate against the very people who go the extra mile to look after, keep at home and support those whom we all love and appreciate. I hope the Ministers will move on this as quickly as possible in the new year.
Like many others, I wish the staff a happy Christmas. Judging from the television this morning, it will be a difficult Christmas for people who lost family members in that terrible fire in London. It has been six months since the fire in Grenfell Tower. We remember our own people who were lost in the Stardust fire. Those families have never got over the loss of their children. They raise the matter constantly, and rightly so.
I have sought answers on the issue I am raising this morning. Since the terrible fire in London, the London fire brigade has changed how it deals with high-rise fires. When I say "high-rise", people think of large towers, but they are not. They are six storeys and above. There are many such buildings across the country.
Prior to the Grenfell fire, London fire brigade would send four fire appliances and one high-reach vehicle. In the six months since, it has changed that complement to five appliances and one high-reach vehicle. Why are we only sending three fire appliances and one high-reach vehicle? Following the Grenfell Tower fire, the London fire brigade has ordered new high-reach appliances, which are necessary when one is going above six storeys. There are only three aerial appliances in Dublin, all of which are second-hand and spend more time out of service than in service.
After the fire in London, we carried out a survey in Ireland and found 262 multi-storey buildings with questionable cladding. I have asked a question time and again but have not got an answer - is there a register in each fire brigade station of these buildings' locations? Do our first responders know what they are walking into when the bell rings and they set out in their fire appliances? They could arrive at one of these buildings with questionable cladding that transfers fire rapidly through the building. We would be sending our first responders into those buildings.
When I raised this matter previously, I got no answers. The Minister of State, Deputy Phelan, told me that he would contact his officials and revert to me. I only raised this matter to prevent a tragedy like the one in London from happening in Dublin, Cork, Limerick or Galway. We need action, and I want answers as quickly as possible. I do not want to drag the Minister of State into the House. If we could just get some answers to the questions we raise in this Chamber, it would be helpful. If the Minister of State is not prepared to forward answers, there is no option but to ask him to return to the House, which I will do early in the new year if I do not get those answers.
I thank Senator Ruane for her passionate intervention on the drugs issue. That 42 of her friends have died is horrific. We need to debate this issue, which we have sometimes ignored. There were inner city issues in the 1980s, especially in Dublin, but heroin and other drugs are a nationwide issue. Young male relatives of mine from privileged backgrounds have died. We need to have this serious debate in the new year. Senator Ruane is right, in that this is about class. While lifestyles and a lack of education are involved, it is a class issue. I thank the Senator for raising it in an emotional and passionate way. Last night, in the House of Commons, the British Government lost a vote which means that the UK Parliament will have the final say on the Brexit agreement. It is good to see common sense breaking out. Last week was a good week for the island of Ireland. We have done the UK and Europe a service. I pay tribute to the Tory MPs who voted with their conscience. I hope that the UK, which is an ally of ours, will stay in Europe. We must do everything possible to work with our friends and neighbours to ensure that we get as good a deal as possible for the island of Ireland and the UK, and Europe.
I will begin by wishing seasons greetings to everyone in the Chamber. I echo the sentiments expressed in terms of thanks to the staff, in particular, for their support during the year, and wish all a good break.
I will briefly raise the issue of Ryanair. As the House will be aware, a number of passengers are facing the prospect of strike action, which is totally avoidable but unfortunately is the consequence of Ryanair's horrendous attitude, in particular, towards workers and trade unions. There is no need for this strike to go ahead. The difficulty is that in society for years there have been parties, particularly on the right, such as Fine Gael, who like to fete Michael O'Leary and hold him up as a great captain of industry.
With respect - Senator Conway is a man I respect - one cannot have it both ways. If we believe in the right of workers to be represented by trade unions, if we believe in the right to collective bargaining, we should not be welcoming the likes of Michael O'Leary in to give a little dance and a speech to raise a few bob for the Fine Gael Party. We often hear that all of us believe in trade union rights. Let us put our names to it and state clearly to Ryanair that this is completely unacceptable and the airline needs to work with the workers and needs to accept the right to collective bargaining.
It also highlights the issue that Ireland is one of the few countries in Europe that still does not have a statutory right to collective bargaining. I would ask the question, when will we fundamentally address that issue and is it one on which we can unite and work towards in this Chamber.
I concur with the everyone else regarding Christmas greetings and where we are going for the next few days, and wish the staff and everyone involve in the House a happy Christmas. I also compliment the Leader and wish him the very best in the next few days. I wish him a happy marriage at the end of the year and hope it all works out well - I am sure it will. I am sure it will be a fantastic night for Jerry.
We should note that road fatalities are an issue at this time of the year. I was looking at the reports yesterday. Unfortunately, the half-year indication showed that 77 people lost their lives on the roads in Ireland. That was the six-month figure. We must get the message out that road fatalities, in particular, at this time of the year, are something of which we need to have cognisance. It is a huge issue. Unfortunately, the next few days and weeks form one of the highest periods statistically for road fatalities all year. We must promote safe driving and what will happen on the roads, in particular, in the next two weeks, because traditionally it has been an unfortunate time of the year. I hope the Minister will promote the idea that we have to ensure that what is done in the next few days will literally save lives. I am sure the Leader will do his bit to talk to the Minister to ensure that there is a dedicated campaign, in particular, for the next few days, to ensure that message gets out.
I realise that the Minister announced funding in the past few days regarding pinch points throughout Ireland, with €132 million for road safety measures. That is important, but more needs to be done regarding that kind of funding. I welcome the provision of €132 million for those projects but if one looks at it statistically, Dublin and Cork were the two highest areas for road fatalities in the first six months and neither received funding in that allocation. We need to look statistically - it is all about statistics - at where there were fatalities and put the funding towards that, but that is probably a side issue. Today, I want to promote the idea that we will have a very good campaign in the next two weeks to promote road safety.
I join with everybody else in wishing staff and Members here a happy Christmas and join with others in wishing Senator Buttimer, the Leader here, all the best for his wedding. I was in a school this morning, Pobalscoil Neasáin in Baldoyle. It is interesting that we had a short discussion about the sexual orientation of various different political leaders and it was of absolutely no interest to them. It was wonderful in the presence of young people that such issues are of no interest.
I remarked to them that when I was a child it would have been almost impossible but now, thanks to the leadership of people like Senator Buttimer, my own colleague, former Deputy John Lyons, the Minister, Deputy Zappone, the Taoiseach and so many others, we can stand in the House like this and wish our good friend and colleague all the best, and it is no big deal.
I will raise two issues quickly.
In regard to the trade union rights issue, we had a good day here yesterday in terms of having a motion on SNA rights passed with support from the Civil Engagement Group, Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin. That was brought to the fore because of the actions of IMPACT trade union. The comments that have been made in regard to Ryanair are valid. This is a 30-year issue coming to bite Michael O'Leary quite hard. The message has to go out to the people of Ireland that there are good decent trade unions that one can be a member of that will fight for one's workplace rights and that membership of that union will always be a good thing and money well spent in terms of being part of that.
Finally, if I might, I congratulate all the members of the Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution, many of whom feel strongly on this issue in many different directions. My party would call on the Government to move quickly. We would hope that no political party, regardless of its reservations, would stop the people from having a say on this. We have had the Citizens' Assembly and now the deliberations of the joint committee. We need a referendum now. I would hope that no party in the Oireachtas would stop that from happening.
I would also make a call in regard to the campaign - many of us are anxious as to the tone of it - that on this occasion the erection of posters is something that might be reconsidered on both sides. If we are to have a calm debate, if we are to have something that people can reflect on and analyse, the sloganeering and images that could potentially be erected on posters around the country is something that could be re-examined as to its appropriateness in this situation.
I thank all the staff and all those who work in the background in this House for their help and support throughout the past 12 months. I thank all my colleagues for their help and support as well, in particular, the Leader, and I wish him well in his forthcoming marriage. I wish him every happiness into the future. Normally, when people get married they move house. Can I just advise him that there is no vacant house in Cork North-Central-----
-----but there are plenty down in Cork South-Central, just in case people were concerned that he is moving constituency.
I fully agree with the comments made by Senator Ruane and the matter to which she referred. Over the past 30 or 35 years we have made little progress in bringing about a downward trend. I refer to the way areas like this are managed. There has been a number of good projects, such as the Young Ballymun Project, which is about working with young people and working with their parents at the same time. It is likewise in my own constituency, in my own former local electoral area.It is about working with everyone, not just with children.
In 1996 the breaking the cycle scheme was introduced which saw a reduction in the pupil, teacher ratio in certain schools. That was very helpful but that alone cannot solve the problem. We have to work with the whole community. Senator Ruane is right about the need to have a debate on this matter. We need to bring forward a far more comprehensive method of working out problems and coming up with solutions. We need to put a long term plan in place in each of these areas and I would welcome a debate on that.
I have raised the issue of respite care on a number of occasions in recent months. I am glad to report that an extra €10 million has been allocated by the Minister for Health for respite services which will increase the number of bed nights available by 19,000. However, I still maintain that we need to do a lot of long term planning on this issue. While the additional funding is helpful, it will not sort out the problem. It is an area that needs serious attention and a plan for the next three to four years. That said, I welcome the decision by the Minister to allocate extra funding for respite care.
I join with others in thanking Martin, Bridget, Carol, Niamh and Aisling and all of the staff in the Seanad office, as well as our stenographers and sound people, for the great work they do. I wish them all a very happy Christmas. I would also like to be associated with the comments on our dear Leader and his upcoming event.
Senator Ó Ríordáin was right in what he said about society moving on. We can wish the Leader well with confidence and in the sure knowledge that society has indeed moved on.
I came in to speak on the Order of Business today, having listened to Senator Ruane's contribution. She is somebody for whom I had high regard, even though I did not know her. Having gotten to know her and having worked with her, I must say I now have enormous time and respect for her. She is a phenomenal person and someone of whom I am very fond. When she speaks about these issues, she speaks with authority. There is a role here for the Seanad Public Consultation Committee, chaired by the Leas-Chathaoirleach, in terms of doing some work in this area. Senator Ruane is right that we need to have a proper dialogue on this issue and how we address it. It is something that the aforementioned committee should look at in the new year. The committee has done great work on issues like the national anthem, farm safety and so on. One can see results from the work of that committee, as with the mental health report that was done recently. I urge the Leas-Chathaoirleach to put this on the committee's agenda. Perhaps he will consult Senator Ruane and others in terms of the approach that could be taken. Big issues like this must be dealt with, head on. This Oireachtas is dealing with the eighth amendment and hopefully there will be a referendum on it next year. We need to be dealing with difficult, contentious and challenging issues head on and the Seanad Public Consultation Committee is one mechanism by which we can do that.
Just to show how impartial I am, I would like to congratulate two Senators. First, I congratulate Senator Catherine Noone on her very dignified conduct of the business of the joint committee on the eighth amendment. She has done an extremely good job, as did the Leader on a previous committee.
It is also worth noting that a very important Bill will go through the Houses in the next 24 hours or so, namely the Recognition of Irish Sign Language for the Deaf Community Bill. We must congratulate Senator Mark Daly for the work he has done on this legislation. This is a great day for the Senate because once again we have initiated and passed legislation that will have a serious impact on the lives and well-being of Irish citizens. This is yet another reason why it was so important that we saved the Senate from extinction.
I thank the 19 Senators who contributed on today's Order of Business. I join with Senator Ardagh in stressing the importance of the talks taking place today and tomorrow at European level. The summit is very important for us as a nation. As we all know, significant progress has been made in the Brexit negotiations but the meetings over the next two days are pivotal in terms of deciding whether sufficient progress has been made to allow us to move on to the next phase. It is important that we consider the future shape of Europe and that we recognise that as a nation we have a fundamental role to play in shaping the future of the EU. Equally, as the Government has said, this is about ensuring that the island of Ireland is represented at the table and we must acknowledge the work done by the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Simon Coveney, the Taoiseach and the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Helen McEntee in that regard. At its meeting on Tuesday last the Committee on Procedure and Privileges, CPP, recommended that Seanad Éireann continues with the work of the Seanad Special Select Committee on the Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union. In that context, I am very happy to arrange for further work on Brexit to take place in this Chamber in the new year. It is important that we all play a role in terms of wearing the green jersey.
Senator Ó Céidigh raised the issue of public sector pay, particularly for teachers and health care professionals. The Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Bruton, along with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Donohoe, has begun the process of pay restoration for teachers.
A €2,000 increase for new entrants has been sanctioned and those who have signed up to the Lansdowne Road agreement will see that happen. The Minister for Education and Skills is also actively considering other measures to assist in the retention and recruitment of teachers. Pay restoration is something that we all want to see happening. Pay inequality is an issue that many of us want to see addressed to the benefit of all teachers. It is important to recognise that the Minister for Education and Skills has put in place a very active campaign around recruitment of teachers, special needs assistants and other posts of responsibility.
Senator Mac Lochlainn raised the issue of Letterkenny University Hospital. I do not have answers to the specific questions posed by the Senator but I do know that the budget for Letterkenny hospital has increased from €91 million to over €121 million in the last five years. The Senator has raised issues to which I do not have answers now but I will raise them with the Minister for Health. I am sure that Senator Mac Lochlainn, Deputies McHugh and Pearse Doherty and other representatives from the area will be able to work together to ensure that there is sufficient capital investment in the hospital. I know that when Senator James Reilly was the Minister for Health and Children he-----
As the Leas-Chathaoirleach has said, perhaps Senator Mac Lochlainn would consider raising it as a Commencement Matter in the new year. That said, I will raise it with the Minister on the Senator's behalf.
Senators Grace O'Sullivan, Conway-Walsh and Ó Céidigh raised the issue of seaweed harvesting. Yesterday, Senator Lombard raised the same matter on the Order of Business and I gave a commitment then that I would invite the Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy English, to the House to have a debate on it. I understand the concerns expressed by the Senators this morning and by Senator Lombard yesterday.
Senator Ó Céidigh also raised the issue of human rights and the role of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, RCSI, in the university in Bahrain. It is a point well made by the Senator. Again, I am perturbed by the fact that we can turn a blind eye to human rights issues. To be fair, recruitment is taking place across the world and the Middle East is an important area in terms of where we recruit. In saying that, it is important that the matter is addressed and I am happy to raise it with the Minister. I would also suggest that the Senator also raise it as a Commencement matter.
Senator Reilly raised the capital programme and the national planning framework, two very important issues on which I am happy to facilitate a debate in the House in the new year.I would be happy to facilitate a debate in the House on the two matters he raised. He also highlighted the importance of the east-west link. Senator O'Reilly has been a champion of the north west and the north east, to be fair to him, and he has been very strong in his promotion of Cavan.
I join Senator Boyhan in commending the Minister of State, Deputy John Paul Phelan, for the initiation of the local boundary committees. All politicians recognise the importance of the impartiality of the committees and they should be allowed to do the work. The Senator asked for a time limit and I am sure the Minister of State, Deputy Phelan, will include a time parameter. The next local elections will be in 2019 and I know the Cathaoirleach is keeping a very watchful eye on that. The local authority boundaries are very important.
Senator Maria Byrne raised the importance of the quality of science graduates and the need to have that prioritised. She stated we are the seventh most innovative country and it is good to see our ranking in the world improve. It is a sign of the commitment of the Minister, Deputy Bruton, and the action plan that he is implementing that it is bringing a benefit. The Minister of State, Deputy Mary Mitchell O'Connor, is also involved with this.
Senator Conway-Walsh was going well until she mentioned tax. Sinn Féin seems to have an issue with foreign direct investment and multinationals coming in.
We are approaching the last few days before Christmas. We have commonality in saying nobody should avoid paying tax. As part of an international tax reform process, all companies should pay tax. There will be repercussions in terms of reform of international tax but we will not get into that today. I am sure the new leader of Sinn Féin will move the party towards the rest of us after the election.
It will welcome jobs and investment. When the Members meet constituents working in those companies, they will recognise that the companies pay tax, create employment and contribute to the local economy. They will say it is great that they are here.
I saw the light a long time ago. We welcome international tax reform, as the Senator knows.
Senators Ruane, Feighan and Conway spoke eloquently and passionately about addiction issues and class. It is important to acknowledge that we must all commit ourselves to the breaking of the cycle of disadvantage, poverty and addiction in our society, whether it is in Dublin, Cork or wherever else. I commend Senator Ruane on her work.
Senator Conway stole my thunder as in my reply I was going to suggest that the Seanad Public Consultation Committee should consider the matter raised by Senator Ruane. Rather than having a two-hour debate in the House - it would be important and I commit to doing it - it is a piece of work we should look at with a long-term view to setting goals or targets that can be measured. It is important to acknowledge people like Senator Ruane and others who have the courage to stand for election, come to this House, be empowered and empower others. They are showing leadership.
As Senator Ó Ríordáin noted, it is also important we engage with young people to break the old traditions, concepts, cultures and mindsets. We must break down barriers. Senator Burke spoke about different programmes and we have invested billions of euro as a society and country in tackling disadvantage. Something is not working, as we know. It is important that we rededicate all our efforts in that regard, irrespective of political ideology. I pay tribute to Senator Ruane for coming in here and speaking as she did this morning. We should remember the people who have died; not just her friends but all the people who died in tragic circumstances.
Senator Reilly referenced pensions and I know the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, and the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Deputy Regina Doherty, are working on the matters arising from the 2012 Act. I would be happy to have that debate in the new year. I have not got the answers to the questions raised by Senator Humphreys on our first responders. I know the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, has met county council chief executives and put the matter to the fore. The Senator is correct and there is a duty on all of us, and particularly those charged with management at local authorities and the Department, to ensure first responders are not walking into buildings that are in any way inadequate and dangerous. I fully subscribe to that view. I would be happy for the Minister to come to the House to discuss the matter. The Cathaoirleach's suggestion is good and if the Senator puts down a matter for the Commencement, it might be a better way of getting an answer.
We will endeavour to keep going. Senator Feighan spoke about the vote in the House of Commons yesterday. I hope the British Parliament and Government will work with all of us on Brexit, as I said earlier. I hope the Irish issue will be recognised properly, as it is around Europe. It is also important that common sense is retained in the British Parliament.
Senator Gavan raised the Ryanair matter. I must half agree with the Senator, as he knows, as the management of and attitude towards employees leaves much to be desired at the company. I believe in the benefit and power arising from membership of a union and I know it is important that workers are represented. In saying that, Michael O'Leary has employed thousands of people. He has made travel accessible and affordable for many people who could not travel otherwise. The Senator mentioned the Fine Gael fundraiser but I would love to see the attendance list of Sinn Féin gatherings in Australia or New York.
The concerns of the workers in Ryanair are important and we should recognise that they have a right to be represented. Senator Lombard has raised the very important matter of road safety, especially at this time of year. I appeal to everybody who drives and uses our roads to do so with care and consideration for others. For those who might contemplate turning the key after consuming alcohol, please do not do so. It is reckless, irresponsible and dangerous. It was very heartening to see a checkpoint on Merrion Street the other night at 8 p.m. It puts it in the minds of people that gardaí are doing their job. Irrespective of who we are, there should be no tolerance of drink-driving at this time of year. Those of us travelling during the festive season should do so safely with care and consideration. It is important that we do not allow more people to be killed on our roads, especially at this time of year.
Senator Ó Ríordáin mentioned trade unions and I have dealt with the matter. I have also dealt with the matter of the committee on the eighth amendment. The Taoiseach has said there will be a referendum. It will be up to us as Members of the Oireachtas to ensure the legislation to enable the referendum can be passed. As the Senator said, it is important that the tone of the referendum campaign should be one of respect and tolerance. There are diverging views and there may not be a meeting of minds in many cases. It is a very contentious and vexed question that must be addressed and the Irish people will decide. I commend all members of the committee, particularly Senator Ruane, on her sterling work. I join Senator Norris in commending Senator Catherine Noone on her excellent stewardship of the committee. She was an impartial, fair and thoroughly professional chairperson who did a tremendous job. She does not deserve to be treated badly by the members of the committee who were on the airwaves yesterday. I condemn their comments out of hand.
I join Senator Burke in welcoming the additional €10 million for respite care. He is right in that more work must be done and I would be very happy to work with him in that. Senator Norris referenced the Irish Sign Language Bill that will come before the House tomorrow. I commend Senator Mark Daly on his stewardship of the Bill through the House and thank all Members for their co-operation in working on a very important piece of legislation.
As Leader of the House, on my behalf and that of the Fine Gael group, I thank all group leaders and Members in the Seanad for their co-operation during the term. I thank the Cathaoirleach's staff and the Cathaoirleach for his friendship and robust stewardship of the debate. It is about getting work done. I thank all Seanad staff, including Mr. Martin Groves and Ms Bridget Doody, who are here this morning, for their unfailing professionalism and courtesy, as well as their advice. I thank the Captain and the ushers for their courtesy, professionalism and dedication. I thank our stenographers and recording people for the work they do.In particular, I thank the staff for working very unsociable hours at times and for having the patience and flexibility to put up with us. I wish them a very happy Christmas. I thank the staff who work in our offices, including Orla and Stephen in my office, and the staff in the Bills Office, the Library and Research Service, the canteen, the restaurant and the bar, the cleaning staff and everybody who works in the Houses. We are very lucky that genuine, sincere people, who are committed to providing a service to the people, work in Leinster House. We are fortunate to be at the front line. I wish all the Senators a very happy Christmas and a prosperous new year. If Senator Conway-Walsh thinks I am not mellow, she should wait to see me in the new year.
In regard to the guillotine, it is not the intention to have one. I cannot find the Order Paper but I am sure the Clerk can advise me. I do not want to guillotine anything. It was said the Social Welfare Bill 2017 would be completed relatively quickly. It is scheduled to commence at 12.45 p.m. and conclude at 2.15 p.m. I am happy not to have a guillotine and to let the Bill roll over.