Thursday, 29 March 2018
Order of Business (Resumed)
The Parkinson's Association of Ireland has 12,000 members who receive no State support. We heard heart-moving stories yesterday, especially from Gary, a young man suffering from Parkinson's disease, who said support from the HSE has been excellent and that support has helped him to live a fuller life. Certainly, there is a need for practice nurses and for support workers with regard to the Parkinson's Association and I would like to see Members having that debate soon after Easter.
I wish to raise another matter that was raised earlier by Senator McDowell on a very important point. It is with regard to the planning of cities and towns. We have failed miserably in this regard. We have development plans and a planning department but more and more, it is engineers who are tearing up and ripping up our city. MetroLink is very welcome and it is needed. An underground system is needed in our city.
However, we need proper planning and a cost-benefit analysis. Putting massive rail lines through communities such as Rathmines and Ranelagh, where they may not be needed, is probably the wrong way to go. I am very concerned that engineers are planning our cities. We wish to see a city of villages and living, breathing communities, for which we need proper planning, whereby people of all wealth status can live side by side, and the person working in a hotel or restaurant, as well as the millionaire, has an opportunity to live in the city centre. At present, in Dublin city 9% of the country's GDP is generated and develops within four square miles with very little planning. While we have engineers, we have very few planners. We really need a strong debate with regard to planning in our villages and towns, because we have seen our villages, towns and cities hollowed out from being living, breathing communities. This echoes from Cork to Dublin to Limerick to Mallow. We need proper planning and it is long due time we had that debate. We need to debate this before we pour billions of euro into the MetroLink. We need a debate with the Minister, Deputy Ross, in the House to let him explain his proposals.
I was also on the delegation to Westminster with my esteemed colleague from Kerry, Senator Coghlan. It was informative in many ways because we were given a copy of a report by the House of Commons committee on the issue of the Irish Border and its assertion there is no viable technical solution that will allow the Border to remain frictionless and seamless and that no such system exists anywhere in the world. With regard to Brexit itself and the backstop, all sides from all parties on the delegation were emphatic that we will insist on the backstop being in any final agreement but we are concerned about the backsliding by Britain on this. Its interpretation of the backstop seems to be entirely different to the Government's interpretation and Europe's interpretation. At the next Council meeting, we need to ensure this is clarified and that unless it is clarified and Britain signs up to it, there can be no further discussion on trade because it is of such vital interest to Ireland.
This is organ donor week. The inaction of the Minister, Deputy Ross, on allowing information to be shared between medical practitioners and the driver licence authority is nothing short of ridiculous and reckless. At this moment in time, he has already signed-----
This is with regard to the sharing of information between the organ donor transplant organisation, the HSE and medical professionals and the driver licence authority, which holds information on whether people have indicated on their driver licence that they would like to be an organ donor. If the number 115 is on the card it indicates the holder would like to be an organ donor. This information cannot be shared with anybody but the Minister has signed a ministerial order allowing information from a driver licence to be shared with the M50 toll company and with regard to the collection of fines from the courts, as is appropriate. I cannot understand why he will not allow the information that is held to be shared. A total of 2.6 million driver licences are renewed over a ten-year period. Already, 40% of those who have renewed driver licences, and over ten years that would be almost 1 million people, have indicated they would like to be organ donors. When someone is being asked whether they would consider donating their loved one's organs the information on their loved one's wishes, as indicated on the driver licence, could make all the difference-----
-----between that decision being made and not being made, and I cannot understand why the Minister, Deputy Ross, is allowing the information to be shared between the driver licence authority and private companies to collect fines but is not allowing it to be shared with those who can save and transform lives.
In the next few months, Ministers will meet to plan the budget for 2019. It is appropriate that we have a debate here on taxation. Some of the complaints I now receive from employers, particularly with regard to doctors and nurses, are about going into the higher tax bracket once they go over €34,500 in earnings and comparing this with taxation levels in Northern Ireland and the UK. We are competing for workers with those areas now. This morning, I spoke to a builder who brought people back from England to work here on building sites. He advised me they are now returning to the UK because they find the tax rates here extremely high and they would be better off staying in the UK. It is now a problem and we need to look at our taxation system. While we need to ensure we have adequate money to improve services, we also need to ensure we can compete on the world market for people in many areas, from the building industry to the hotel industry to the medical area. We should have a debate in the House in April or early May on this issue with regard to taxation and future planning.
At some stage after the Easter break, the Leader might invite the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade to the Seanad to discuss the undocumented in the US. Recently, I read the special envoy from Ireland to Washington, Deputy Deasy, has said that the number of undocumented is 10,000, rather than the 40,000 or 50,000 that has been alluded to on numerous occasions previously.His assertion has not been disputed by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. I ask the Leader to invite in the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade to give us the up-to-date position on the number of undocumented Irish the Department believes to be in the United States and what progress has been made with the President of the United States following the visit by the Taoiseach to the United States over St. Patrick's weekend. It would be a very worthwhile debate to have in this House. I hope the Leader will arrange for such a debate on our return following the Easter recess.
I thank the 16 Members of the House for their contributions on the Order of Business. I am happy to withdraw the motion, resubmit it and have a debate on another occasion rather than to divide the House on an issue we assumed had cross-party support. I will not divide the House on an important issue.
I will do that. Senators Horkan, McDowell, Conway-Walsh and Norris raised the issue of homelessness following today's announcement. It is disappointing to see the current figure. The issue is a priority of Government. Rebuilding Ireland provides for an investment of €6 billion in multi-annual funding. We accept that there is a crisis in the homelessness area. It is distressing and disappointing. However, it is also important to acknowledge that work is being done. To listen to people from some quarters one would swear nothing was happening. A lot of work is being done. We understand it is unacceptable to have people who are homeless or in hotel rooms but the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, has put together a package of measures that will take time to produce results. I listened to Sister Stan this morning on the radio.
Part of the difficulty we have is that we did not plan in the past for student accommodation in university towns such as Cork, Galway and parts of Dublin. While it might not be achieved, the hope is that by building dedicated student accommodation that will free up houses. In Washington Street, in the area surrounding University College Cork, this week Cork City Council gave planning permission for new student accommodation. We hope that when it comes on stream houses will be freed up which could be bought by the council for social housing and areas would become gentrified and people would buy there.
I agree with Senator McDowell that there is a need for joined-up thinking between the Department and local authorities. The all-party committee on housing that was chaired by Deputy Bailey produced a report. Let us look at the issue and be a bit more adventurous. Some say we should not have private landlords while others say we should not have the construction sector involved. Where would we be without them? Perhaps we need to take a different viewpoint in terms of how we look at the crisis. Another point which is important, and which Senator McDowell touched on, is that all of us aspire to buy and own our own home. We should never take that dream away from people. The Minister and the Government are committed to Rebuilding Ireland, which is delivering solutions. People are exiting hotels and emergency homeless accommodation, but to listen to some people one would swear nothing was happening. We accept progress is slow but it will take time.
Senator Horkan referred to councillors' pay and conditions. The debate will resume on 24 April. It is the third occasion in this calendar year to have such a debate and it will resume again. The points made by Senators Craughwell, Leyden and Horkan are valid ones on the body politic and how we value politics and the work of politicians. Members were criticised for making comments in the past but I hope we will never allow our democracy to become like others, where big business can fund politicians and where it is only the chosen few who can run for office or be elected. I hope we will not allow that to happen in our country. As a consequence, we need to look at how we pay people. That is not a very popular thing to say but if we need to do that then let us look at how we can provide remuneration. I assure Senator Craughwell that I am happy to have such a debate in the coming months.
Senator Horkan also raised the Good Friday Agreement. I welcome the commemoration that will take place on 10 April. The Senator is correct that we have had significant stabilisation in terms of peace in our country. That is because of the ability of all people on the island to reconcile and to move forward. Unfortunately, it looks like we will not have devolved government in Stormont for the anniversary but I hope we can see that happen soon. The Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney, and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Ms Karen Bradley, have been working with the other parties to achieve that end. I hope it happens in the short term.
The shortage of teachers was discussed yesterday on the Order of Business. The Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Bruton, has convened a specialist group to examine the matter, which is under his remit. It is also worth saying that we have seen investment in education increase by €1 billion in the past two years. The Minister has provided 5,000 additional teaching posts in the past two years. Notwithstanding that, the Senators are correct to highlight the fact that there are deficiencies, for example, in home economics, science, Irish and in other subjects, as Senators Lombard and Gallagher mentioned yesterday. Since 2013 there are now 8,900 more teachers working in schools. I accept there are issues that need to be addressed. We have seen educational establishments offer more places, for example, St. Angela's in Sligo, in terms of home economics. The teaching conferences are coming up next week and it is a very important time for teachers in terms of debating their conditions. I am sure we will have such a debate following the conferences. I hope we will have positive engagement on the various interventions the Minister is making to address the supply of teachers.
In terms of the opening hours on Good Friday, Senator Lawless's Bill was the catalyst for the pubs opening tomorrow. I sincerely hope that people will drink sensibly and will not go overboard. It is a new day in terms of pub openings on Good Friday and it is one that I am sure will be met with opposition in some quarters and with joy in others. I hope it does not turn into a drink-fest and that people are sensible.
Yes. Senators McDowell and Humphreys raised the metro and the need for planning in Dublin. I refer my two esteemed colleagues to the Ireland 2040 plan. That is what this Government is about, namely, ensuring that we plan for the development and growth of the entire country. The points made are valid and I am happy to have such a debate with the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, in the post-Easter period.
I join with Senator Conway-Walsh in welcoming the decision by the Minister for Justice and Equality on the pardon to Maolra Seoighe. The issue she and Senator Bacik raised about the coverage of sexual offences, rape trials and cases concerning physical domestic violence is one that requires significant sensitivity and protocols. I do not wish to refer to any specific case but I hope that any woman or man who feels she or he is a victim of abuse can come forward and have her or his story heard. We must always support people in those vulnerable situations.I really hope the Domestic Violence Bill will be passed quickly in the Lower House. Again, I thank our colleagues in this House for the way in which this legislation has been dealt with.
Senators Conway-Walsh and Bacik noted that we have made progress in our jurisdiction. There is a duty and an obligation on those who cover trials to do so in a sensitive manner. We are dealing with cases of vulnerable people and we need to support and encourage them. All of us, in our roles, have a duty to work with people. It is important that we handle these matters with sensitivity.
Senator Norris raised the issue of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges, CPP. That is a matter for that committee and I would be happy to have that debate there.
Senator O'Reilly, with Senators Coghlan and Mark Daly, raised the issue of Brexit. He also raised the matter of the Common Agricultural Policy, CAP. The former Minister, Commissioner Hogan, will be in this House in April, and I assure Members that we will have the opportunity on that occasion to discuss the issue of CAP and the future of agriculture in Europe.
Senator Lombard raised the issue of the Wild Atlantic Way and the town of Union Hall. I would be happy to have the Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Griffin, come to the House in this regard
Senator Mac Lochlainn raised a very sensitive issue, which he has raised before, regarding the repatriation of the body of Danielle McLaughlin. That situation is distressing for a family in itself, but to have the added complication that the Senator has outlined is most traumatic. It is disappointing that the response from the consul was what it was. As the Senator said, it was not a typical response. The issue has to be highlighted, and we should not depend upon the Kevin Bell Repatriation Trust to assist families. We have to be hugely sympathetic and work with families in these situations. My own experience has been different to what the Senator has outlined, because I find the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the consular staff to be most co-operative and helpful. It is a matter of which the Minister should be made aware and I would be happy to oblige. It is hard to argue with what the Senator has said this morning. I will revert to his contribution on the issue of Syria.
Senators Gallagher, McFadden and Humphreys yesterday held a briefing in the audiovisual room. Senator Humphreys raised the issue of Gary Boyle's testimony and he praised the HSE. We all agree that the Parkinson's Association requires more funding to develop further services, and as Senators McFadden and Hopkins said yesterday, the issue of the nationwide nurse specialist is one that should be pursued. I would be happy to have the Minister come to the House.
On behalf of the House and on my own behalf, I congratulate and thank Páraic Duffy for his stewardship of Cumann Lúthchleas Gael. I had the pleasure of working with him and of getting to know him over the past decade. He brought huge competency to his role as ard-stiúrthóir and I thank him and his family for their service. He is a proud Monaghan man and I am glad he is going back to his club. I thank and congratulate him and wish him well in his new career, I also wish Tom Ryan, the new ard-stiúrthóir, every success. Páraic Duffy brought huge calibre and vision to Cumann Lúthchleas Gael.
Senator Mark Daly raised the issue of organ donation. We are in the middle of organ donation week, which is a very important week. We all know that the level of organ donation and transplant operations has increased this year. The Minister of Health, Deputy Harris, is working on a Bill. The information arising from the issues raised by Senator Mark Daly should be shared. People can give the gift of life by carrying an organ donation card. I appeal to all Members of this House to promote organ donation. It gives life and joy to people.
Senator Colm Burke raised the issue of taxation and budget 2019. I am sure we will have the debate before the budget, and I will be happy to have that discussion.
Senator Paddy Burke raised the issue of the undocumented, and I would be happy to have the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney, come to the House to discuss the matter.
I am happy to withdraw the motion on Syria to allow for a consensus debate on it. The intent of the motion was to highlight the atrocities that are taking place. It certainly was not intended to divide the House. If we can agree on a compromise motion I am happy to do that. Senator Bacik put a huge amount of work into it but rather than divide the House, I will amend the Order of Business to remove that motion in order that we can come back after Easter and have that debate on Syria.
On Brexit, I want to commend the visit of the Committee on European Affairs and to commend Senator Richmond on his work on the Seanad Special Committee on the Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union. We have heard the views of the Tánaiste, the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy McEntee, and An Taoiseach, and they have not demurred from that view. There has been a realisation in the United Kingdom that the Border question will not go away and must be resolved.
The invitation to British parliamentarians to visit the Border is something I would encourage. As Senator Wilson and others living close to the Border will recognise, Brexit will have a huge impact in the future, especially if a hard border is allowed. Progress is being made. The Government has always stated the backstop will apply unless another solution is found. It is important that this august Chamber should invite our fellow parliamentarians to visit the Border and to see for themselves the daily economic and social activity that goes on there and the impact that a hard border would have. Senator O'Reilly mentioned the fact that milk lorries cross the Border regularly, and cattle travel back and forth between the jurisdictions on a regular basis. This is not going to go away. I have asked the Minister to come to the House after Easter in respect of Brexit and he has agreed to that. We will be happy to have that debate as well.
I acknowledge Councillor Pat Daly from Ennis, County Clare, and Mr. Tommy Moylan from the Association of Irish Local Government, AILG. I am sure they are here for the very important debate that will follow. I am somewhat curtailed in what I can say but I hope the debate goes well and that they leave with some positive news.
The Leader has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business to the effect that the proposal regarding No. 59, motion 14 on Syria, be deleted from the Order of Business. Is that agreed? Agreed.