Thursday, 19 April 2018
Order of Business
Today's Order of Business is No. 1, statements on public service broadcasting and social media regulation, to be taken at 12.45 p.m. and to be adjourned at 2.05 p.m, with the contribution of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes.
I speak in a personal capacity and as a Senator. For a Minister to say he is speaking in a personal capacity on an issue to do with his own Department defies belief and credibility. He needs to explain what he is doing.
Something else which needs to be explained is the fanciful figure-making represented by the recent pronouncements by the Government on house building. Lorcan Sirr was on "Morning Ireland" this morning and filleted the numbers, as well as the spin put on them by the Taoiseach's spin unit, which obviously has not gone out of existence. The Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Damien English, was in Cork last week and said the Government had built 7,000 houses. The cumulative figure for social housing from July 2016 to date was put at 2,592 which, less the total completed in 2016 of 652, gave a subtotal for 2017, including Part V houses, of 1,940. Without the Part V houses it was 3,000 and the total local authority and social housing build completed in 2017 was 1,640. One would have to have a PhD as Lorcan Sirr does to read the report. The report states in one place that Part V houses are not included but elsewhere states that they are included. The Government's report is lying to itself - quite an achievement by any Government. The Government has to get a handle on the facts before it can get a handle on the housing issue. At the moment, it is making up its own facts.
I wish to propose an amendment to the Order of Business, which is that we take No. 61, motion 14, on the Order Paper. The motion states, "That Seanad Éireann recognises the outstanding achievement of the Storm Lake Times Newspaper, Storm Lake, Iowa, winning the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing by its editor Mr. Art Cullen, whose ancestors came from Ireland."
This Saturday there is a memorial mass for Fr. Joseph Cullen, who was the last surviving son of the 1916 leaders. He was in Kilmainham Gaol the night before his father was executed. He was two and a half years of age. The last letter from his father told him, "My little man, be a priest if you can". Fr. Joseph ended up as a missionary priest in Hong Kong, where he served for over 60 years. I had the honour of sending him a birthday card on his 100th birthday and he wrote back to me. He said he had got a letter from the then Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, congratulating him on reaching his 100th birthday and one from Sinn Féin but he had only written back to Sinn Féin. On his 102nd birthday I organised two first class tickets for him to return to Ireland for the 100th anniversary of the Rising. I rang him up to ask him if he had got them and he said he had, but "too old". I told him to see how he felt the following year but he said it was not that he himself was too old. It was that his doctor was too old, at 85 years of age. He passed away at the honourable age of 104 and we should remember him and his family for their great sacrifice.
I second the amendment to the Order of Business. I thank the Leader for conveying to the Minister and the Department the need to publish the list of targets for social housing to be built by the 31 local authorities across this country for 2018. I sit on the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government and we received the information at 8.30 a.m. today. It was a surprise to members of the committee and was certainly a surprise to me, as I was up earlier in the morning and had read the reports in all the national newspapers, which were briefed yesterday afternoon by the Department. It was quite extraordinary.
I took out a file to look at correspondence with the Department, which had indicated that it would convey the information but chose to go to the media before going to the political Chambers, something which the Department is asked to do.The issue is best illustrated by The Examiner, a newspaper with which the Leader is familiar. I checked with the Department this morning and the figures from The Examinerare those that have been agreed.I will read them out. The Government has committed to building 115 social houses in County Carlow, 41 in County Cavan, 29 in County Clare, 249 in Cork city-----
The figures are for the direct construction of social housing in the 31 local authorities and have nothing to do with bringing voids back into use. The commitment given is to build 249 social houses in Cork city, 235 in County Cork, 104 in County Donegal and 1,045 in Dublin city. The figures show that thousands of people are waiting for social housing in Dublin city. The number of new social houses to be built by Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council is 183, while the figure for Fingal County Council is 408. In County Kerry, 140 social houses are to be built, while the figures for counties Kildare, Leitrim, Mayo, Meath, Monaghan, Offaly, Roscommon, Sligo and Wicklow are 217, 23, 69, 269, 46, 19, 41, 34 and 156, respectively. I challenge the Leader to contradict me and if I am wrong, I will accept that. However, if I am right, I expect the Leader to apologise on the record of the House.
I reiterate that these are the direct build targets sent to each and every chief executive this morning. I have a copy with me and if someone wishes to challenge me on the figures, I will be pleased to debate the issue. I challenge the Leader to contradict me. If he chooses to do so, I will respond in greater detail.
Two years ago, when the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Richard Bruton, was appointed, he created a funding stream for new projects that would widen participation in education. Yesterday, I had the pleasure of launching one such programme, Turn to Teaching, on which I congratulate the Department. This is an access programme for children from diverse backgrounds, including migrants, Travellers and children from schools that would not be able to access the standard of Irish and other subjects required to enter the teaching profession. It provides an access route and will create more diversity in the schools system in order that children from migrant or working class backgrounds can be taught by people who have had the same experiences as they have. Not only will the programme help the school community, but it will also improve retention and encourage young children to aspire to entering the teaching profession as they will see peers who have done so. Turn to Teaching is a positive programme and I am delighted to have been asked to give a weekly guest lecture in Maynooth University. I am honoured to be part of the team.
In this connection, I also raise the decision of the Department of Justice and Equality to withdraw funding from two intercultural centres in Tallaght and Clondalkin, which may result in their closure at the end of May. These centres play a vital role in integrating migrants in the community and providing literacy and other programmes. While the Department of Education and Skills is taking steps to widen participation in one area, the Department of Justice and Equality is taking steps to narrow participation in working class areas. I ask the Leader to request that the Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality, Deputy David Stanton, come to the House to bring Senators up to speed on the reasons for the decision to withdraw funding from two vital programmes.
I will raise two issues if I may, the first of which is the ongoing crisis in University Hospital Limerick. It is ironic that last Friday, on the same day the Taoiseach was making a glitzy presentation at the University of Limerick, the crisis at University Hospital Limerick continued with an 85 year old grandmother who presented subsequently spending four days on a trolley. My colleague, Deputy Maurice Quinlivan, has written several times to the Minister for Health seeking a meeting and we are still waiting for an opportunity to discuss the crisis. I would appreciate the Leader's assistance in this regard because Members are entitled to speak to the Minister and express the grave concerns shared by many people in Limerick regarding the ongoing and ever-worsening trolley crisis in University Hospital Limerick.
An excellent and detailed TASC - Think-tank for Action on Social Change - report is being launched in Buswells Hotel this morning by Senator Alice-Mary Higgins who deserves great credit for doing so. Entitled, Living with Uncertainty: The Social Implications of Precarious Work, it is a hell of a report. It shows how precarious work affects many people's mental and physical health, many precarious workers are not covered by either the public medical card system or private health system and precarious work forces people to be dependent on others. To put the issue in context, one in five people is employed on a part-time or temporary basis and precarious work has increased significantly.
It is funny that my colleague, Senator Boyhan, spoke of correcting the record. In that regard, I could speak about the childcare, transport and storage or education sectors but I will focus on the home care sector. On Thursday, 22 March, Senator Colm Burke misled the House - unintentionally in my view - when he twice stated that workers employed by private providers of home care were receiving the same rates of pay as home helps employed by the Health Service Executive. I accept the Senator made that statement in good faith and I expect he will be shocked to learn not only that the rates of pay differ but that they differ significantly.
The home care sector has three types of providers, namely, public, voluntary and private. Public and voluntary providers are fully funded through the HSE and the average rate of pay for home care workers in these sectors is €15 per hour, which is a reasonable rate of pay for the challenging job done by the professionals in question. The voluntary sector rate is between €11.50 and €12.50 per hour, whereas rates in the private sector are between €10.10 and €10.50 or €5 per hour less than in the public sector. However, the problem does not stop there because those who work for private home care providers are not paid for time spent travelling between clients, during which time they must work for free. Only one type of contract operates in the private home care sector, namely, a precarious work contract under which workers do not know what hours they will work from one week to the next. It is a scandal that the sector is built on poverty pay. That is the truth and it is not good enough for the workers and certainly not good enough for the people they look after. It also explains the high rate of turnover among staff in private home care providers. It is incumbent on Senators to have a debate on the sector and recognise there is a major problem. We must not be cheerleaders for a private sector that is built on poverty pay.
I sound a solemn warning to the Government this morning about the referendum on the removal of the eighth amendment to the Constitution. If it does not wake up soon, it will lose the referendum. It is not doing anything and there is no campaign whatever that I can see.
I have received numerous communications addressed to me personally in the post from decent, well-meaning people. These are printed documents that commence with the words "Dear David" and so on and include videos, pamphlets and leaflets. I have received a number of these communications in my office. Yesterday, as I was entering Leinster House, I was approached by a television crew who asked me my view on the eighth amendment. When I stated I was in favour of removing it, the discussion became increasingly aggressive and harassing. Luckily, I am not easily intimidated.
I have not heard anything from those who wish to remove the eighth amendment. This is a serious mistake as there is a great danger that the referendum will be lost unless the Government gets out and explains the position, particularly with regard to the 12 week gestation limit because that issue causes many decent people real concern. Many people do not realise that the reason for the proposed limit is that the abortion pill is available on the Internet, which means young women can take it without medical supervision and do themselves great physical harm. I call on the Government to start a campaign now, get off the fence and do something to ensure this obnoxious amendment is removed.
-----the place for this kind of expression and it should be left to the legislators. I say again, the people on the other side do not trust the legislators. They do not trust the people. They do not trust the judges. Who do they trust? Themselves.
I would like to remark on the fact that there is an extremely fine portrait of President Michael D. Higgins in the lobby. It is a very welcome addition.
I welcome the fact that Aerospace Asset Trading has recently purchased a warehouse in Shannon Airport and plans to expand. The company will join a cluster of 60 aviation companies, which is most welcome. Aerospace Asset Trading is a Florida based company that operates in Shannon Airport. When the company purchased the warehouse recently it stated that Shannon Airport gave it great access to Europe. That is why the company has decided to locate its European headquarters in Shannon Airport. One hears a lot negativity about Brexit but I believe it has encouraged companies to consider locations in Ireland. I am also pleased that Aerospace Asset Trading plans to double the number of people it employs within the next two years.
Recently, the Shannon Foynes Port Company purchased a state-of-the-art crane valued at €2.8 million and, according to the company, the crane will be used to dredge the River Shannon. There is potential for over 3,000 jobs to be created along the banks of the River Shannon, which run all the way from Limerick city to Foynes. This is a most welcome development. It is not often that we see such investment in companies. It leads into part of the 2041 vision for the future development of Limerick port and Shannon Foynes Port Company.
I also congratulate him on the development of community banking, which is ongoing. We have had many discussions in here about the importance of a post office in locales, villages, towns and regions in Ireland. I consider the post office to be a place of communication, resource, connection and engagement for people in cities as well as in country towns. His success proves that he was a very good choice. He has done a great job and will continue to do so. He has also begun to control the impasse between An Post and the Postmasters General of Ireland.
Senator Norris is a man of artistry and is a renaissance man. Therefore, he should know that artistry and portrait painting is, of itself, unique. The portrait of the women parliamentarians is a quite beautiful thing because it has brought all of them together. Maybe some of the images are not what we might have liked. What he has said is a bit of an insult to the women who, in the Dáil and Seanad, work collectively and individually for the good and the betterment of Irish society. He likened the portrait to looking at a pond of tadpoles. He was not looking at tadpoles; he was looking at an artist's hand at work. He was looking at great faces, endeavour and energy. He was looking at people from all walks of life who represent something in here. His comment was disingenuous, which surprised me because he is a man of artistic endeavour and one whom I consider to have a cultural heartbeat.
I rise to ask that the Leader invite the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Josepha Madigan, to this Chamber to debate issues arising from the habitats and birds directive, particularly in the context of Project Ireland 2040 and the various infrastructural projects that have been identified such as roads, rail, ports, etc.
The directive designates lands as special areas of conservation. It seems to me that such designation is very difficult to overcome when one seeks to develop the land. In the normal course, one cannot interfere with a habitat that forms part of a special area of conservation, SAC. Also, the opportunity to mitigate using engineering works in order to make a project acceptable, such as a road, are very slim. This situation can be overcome by management plans but, unfortunately, such plans are few and far between in this country. I want to cite Mayo as an example because 50% of the county has been designated an SAC. Therefore, it is no surprise that in the past while every piece of infrastructure that we have tried to develop has stalled. In 2010, development of the N26 was refused due to the potential impact on the habitat of Whooper swans. Also, part of the road was over designed and two bridges were deemed necessary for an SAC, which was the River Moy valley. We are now trying to upgrade a bridge located on a national primary road or N26, which dates from the last century. There is an issue as it is an SAC with alluvial woodland and, potentially, freshwater pearl mussels. We had an issue with flooding in Crossmolina. We were told that we could not dredge the river due to the presence of freshwater pearl mussels. More recently, An Bord Pleanála has refused an application for the building of a bridge on the R312 that runs between Castlebar and Belmullet due the existence of freshwater pearl mussels.
There are problems in every area located along the western seaboard. I will cite another example located outside of my county of Mayo, which is the road from Galway to Clifden. The situation is only going to get worse. We have plans and money to build. Are we going to succeed with the way things stand? There needs to be an intervention. We need management plans that allow for human activity, human progress and economic growth. We do not have all of those things right now and we are being tortured with the habitats directive. We want to be responsible and we want development. It is critical as we seek to develop and grow, under Project Ireland 2040, that the Minister is invited in here for a debate. I ask that the Leader invites her here, as a matter of urgency.
Yesterday, I tabled a Commencement matter to which the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Jim Daly, responded. My Commencement matter related to a motion passed in this House last February. The motion was unopposed. It stated clearly that a non-HSE parent representative should be on the HSE primary care national steering group for children with complex medical needs. Unfortunately, that view seems to have been overturned, over-ruled, ignored and disrespected by, I presume, not just the HSE but by the Minister for Health. The HSE has progressed with the focus group, which the parents do not want. Instead, the parents want a direct professional voice to be part of the group.
This morning I spoke to representatives of the Disability Federation of Ireland. They strongly believe that we have a case. I will find a way to ensure that the preferred representation occurs and that a parent is heard on the steering group. The federation believes the current situation goes against the recently ratified UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, in particular Article 4 that allows for equality of voice, inclusion and decision-making.I also will pursue the issue regarding the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission. Members of this House need to be aware of and not allow something that was passed unopposed in this House to be ignored and disrespected. Democracy itself has no meaning when it comes to the HSE, and I ask the Leader to request that the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, come to the House to discuss this absolutely heartbreaking decision that has been made, underhandedly and not too obviously.
A couple of months ago I raised the issue of posters pertaining to this referendum. I made the comment that perhaps it would be best for all sides if neither "Yes" nor "No" posters were erected because of the sensitive nature of the issue at hand. I feel that even more strongly now. Walking past Leinster House today, I was greeted by an incredibly offensive and insensitive banner. Members of An Garda Síochána told me that there is a very long and complicated process involved in complaining about such an offensive banner.
The posters around the city and the country feature statements that do not have to be verified or fact checked. In fact, there is nobody whose job is to fact check or verify statements written on referendum posters. As the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Naughten, signed the order for the referendum quite early, we have a two-month campaign rather than the one-month one we were anticipating. My suggestion to the Cathaoirleach is that the Minister should come in and discuss this matter. There should be some mechanism for overseeing or verifying statements or slogans used in referendum campaigns. One such slogan has no basis in fact whatsoever, namely, the claim that one in five pregnancies in Britain ends in a termination. There is no basis for that declaration whatsoever but it is on every lamp-post in the land.
I spoke to a woman who rang the Labour Party offices and who last year was in the traumatic situation of having to deal with a fatal foetal abnormality. Of course, she had to leave this country because of our archaic legislation and constitutional amendments on pregnancy. She was highly traumatised by the entire situation and now has a poster outside her door that is extremely upsetting to her. We arrived and stuck a poster on the same pole to countermand or balance the situation, because of how offensive that poster was to her. Can we have the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment before this House? There is a loophole in legislation here. It is nobody's fault but we need to rectify it. If a referendum is taking place and posters are being erected, people should not be able to tell lies. One should not be allowed to display deeply and gratuitously offensive messaging and posters outside the Houses of the Parliament of the Irish Republic in a huge and graphic style. It is offensive to me, it should be offensive to every Member of this House and we should be in a position to do something about it.
Senator Mulherin has touched on this point in her remarks but there is a total imbalance when it comes to capital development projects being delayed. In my native town, I was chair of the Lough Key Forest Park action group. We secured a development worth about €20 million. However, about five different hotels have been refused planning permission in the past ten or 15 years and now there is no hotel in a region that has a huge tourism facility in Lough Key Forest Park.
One development was refused because the lesser horseshoe bat was found in the cellar of the tower in Lough Key Forest Park. The lesser horseshoe bat has never been seen north of Athlone. If I was trying to stop a major development, all I would have to do is take - forgive me - droppings and place them 15 or 20 miles ahead. That can stop a development worth €100 million. I would love to see the town if we had that development today. We would have a vibrant town and tourism industry. It is an issue and Senator Mulherin was right to bring it up. It is something over which we, as politicians, have no say. However, there is a huge imbalance and it needs to be addressed.
More importantly, last night's vote in the House of Lords was a major setback for Brexit in the UK. The Government was defeated on an amendment to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill 2017-19. The amendment provides that the UK remains in a customs union with the EU. The Government was defeated by 348 to 225. It was probably one of the biggest votes in the House of Lords in recent memory. I want to pay tribute, because sometimes people deride the Upper House of this Parliament. These are people who are ahead of the curve. We saw this with the report of the European Union Committee of the House of Lords on British-Irish and North-South relations. I remember Lord Jay coming to Dublin for the launch. For the first time, it had a statement on the impact on Ireland and it was welcomed. That was more than a year and a half ago.
These things must be welcomed, and I hope that it is a wake-up call to ensure that Brexit does not happen, because Brexit will not just damage the UK. It will damage the island of Ireland and this must be very much welcomed by our House today.
In recent days, the Irish Examinercarried a feature on some of the most enjoyable walks in Ireland. Second on their list was Swan Park, Buncrana, County Donegal. Eight months ago, that riverside park was destroyed by the floods in the Inishowen Peninsula. I have raised this repeatedly in this room. This is a major tourism amenity in the second largest town in Donegal. I do not know anywhere in Ireland where this would be tolerated. As a Member of this House, I have yet to get a meeting with a Minister. I have yet to sit down face-to-face with a Minister, and the Leader knows that this was promised to me. I have stayed silent for all of these weeks in good faith but nothing has happened. There has not been a single face-to-face meeting with a Minister about the fact that a major tourism and community amenity, beloved by our community and our visitors, has been absolutely destroyed.
The cost of restoring this park has been estimated at €2.3 million by Donegal County Council. Some contribution from the Government would be welcomed at this stage. I appeal to the Leader again today. Parliamentary questions have been tabled and I have raised the matter face to face with Ministers in brief conversations in these halls. However, I need a proper meeting with senior Department officials present. Costings have been sent to them by Donegal County Council but Departments are batting questions on the issue back and forth to each other.
Across all parties, all nine county councillors in the Inishowen Peninsula have asked for a meeting on this matter with the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, and the Minister for Rural and Community Development, Deputy Ring. A petition signed by over 4,000 local people was recently handed to the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy. I make the appeal again today for a cross-party delegation of local councillors from Inishowen and all the local Oireachtas Members to meet the two Ministers, thrash this out and find a solution. It is absolutely intolerable that after eight months, I read in one of our major national newspapers that we have the second most enjoyable walk in the entire island and that walk lies in ruins.
In fairness to Senator Mac Lochlainn, he has raised this consistently and if my memory serves me correctly a commitment was given that some sort of meeting would be facilitated. I will indulge that the Leader might attend to it, because it has been raised at least five times in this Chamber.
As Senator Feighan has said, it is interesting to note that yesterday in the House of Lords, the British Government suffered a major reverse on an amendment to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill 2017-19. The Lords quite rightly pointed out the benefits of a customs union after Britain leaves the European Union. The Senator referred to the outcome of the vote, which was carried by 348 to 225.The House of Lords very firmly wants a new arrangement which would enable the United Kingdom to continue participating in a customs union, which is the only sensible solution. It wants a comprehensive deal with the EU which would totally remove any need for borders within this country or in the Irish Sea. Obviously, it would not want to ignore the European Union market, a market of 500 million people, when the UK leaves, so it makes sense from the point of view of protecting jobs, supporting manufacturing and, as I say, removing the need for a border. That new comprehensive UK-EU customs union after Brexit would continue the close relationship which exists within the EU. I believe that what happened yesterday in the House of Lords will force the British Government to rethink its position. Of course we do not know precisely what is being negotiated on the detail of the question of trade. Those negotiations are going on every day in Brussels. However, after the next European Council meeting it would be useful for this House to have a further debate on the matter.
When I was in Britain a few weeks ago as part of my work on the Joint Committee on European Union Affairs, which is chaired by Deputy Michael Healy-Rae and on which Senator Neale Richmond also sits, we found that in meeting all of the groups across the parties there was tremendous good will in respect of the arrangement between Ireland and Britain. It behoves us all to keep up our good contacts with all of our British friends and to support that, because it is having an effect. We found that when we met different committees of both the House of Commons and the House of Lords. That good will is there. Coupled with that, yesterday we had the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, warning that there will be no withdrawal agreement and no transition deal for Britain unless it forms and agrees to some sort of customs partnership. It does not have to be the existing customs union. That can be gotten around with a suitable formula of words. It would be unthinkable for the UK Government to ignore this.
I want to encourage Members from Fianna Fáil to support the Provision of Objective Sex Education Bill 2018 which is being voted on in the Dáil today. I found the reasoning for its opposition to the issue last night to be somewhat pathetic, as was pointed out by Deputy Ruth Coppinger. Fianna Fáil claimed that the issue would be dealt with in the coming weeks by the Joint Committee on Education and Skills. However, if any level of research had been done on the issue it would have found that the characteristic spirit clause, which is effectively a veto on curriculum for ethos-based schools, is by far the biggest obstacle to inclusive and robust relationships and sexuality education, RSE.
Fianna Fáil's representative went on to say that the Oireachtas should not dictate the curriculum in schools. However, it was Fianna Fáil, when in government, that implemented the characteristic spirit clause which has dictated the curriculum for the last few decades. If we wish to see a curriculum that does not rely on dogma, that is fact-based and objective, and that equips our young people with positive values regarding their sexual health, we should absolutely support this Bill. I hope Members of Fianna Fáil in the Lower House would accept that. I held a briefing with Senators Lynn Ruane and Grace O'Sullivan and not one Fianna Fáil Member was present.
I would also like to say to the people moving around this city with LGBT rainbow flags and graphic images relating to the referendum campaign that they may have the space to display those images outside Leinster House today but that they will be met with LGBT visibility when they protest our spaces. I commend Radical Queers Resist and other LGBT people and our allies who have sent that message loud and clear. The agenda of the LGBT community is about redefining a social code that is repressive to us all, and that includes the right to bodily autonomy and self-determination. What does this come back to? Those same people outside would have opposed contraception, marriage equality, the decriminalisation of homosexuality and, probably, sex work. The people at the gates of Leinster House with graphic images are on the side of history that says that any sex that does not result in a family is abhorrent and wrong.
I support Senator Mulherin in her proposal to bring the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht to the House in respect of the issues the Senator raised. There have been many projects which have failed to get through. It is unbelievable to think that a route cannot be found from Ballina to Swinford for a national primary road and that every avenue considered is closed off by the National Parks and Wildlife Service and the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht because of objections for various reasons, including the presence of snails, mussels and Whooper swans.
I have also asked on a number of occasions for the Minister to come in. I have spoken to some people in the National Parks and Wildlife Service with regard to projects which have gone ahead after objections were raised in respect of the displacement of species, whether grouse, Whooper swans, snails or mussels. I wanted to see if there had been displacement and if the species did come back. I have first-hand information myself of a case in which a wind farm went ahead despite objections lodged about the displacement of grouse. I have seen where grouse are now nesting under the wind turbines. They have come back. I have asked that an investigation or assessment be carried out to see where there was displacement, if there was displacement, whether species have come back, and if there were any adverse effects on the environment. Perhaps an independent assessment might be best. Many of those projects took place more than 20 or 30 years ago so ample time has passed to see whether any displacement was permanent or whether the species have come back into those environments. I support Senators Mulherin and Feighan with regard to bringing in the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht because this is a very important matter.
I thank the 15 Members of the House who contributed to the Order of Business. I am happy to take Senator Mark Daly's amendment to the Order of Business, which he articulated yesterday. The Minister, Deputy Denis Naughten, will be in the House after the Order of Business. To be fair, let us be clear, the Minister is a person of probity. He is a man of great integrity. The matter is before the courts, as the Senator knows quite well. I think we would all prefer if the conversation had not taken place but it is important to recognise that the Minister made a purely personal comment on a matter that is in the public domain and, as he said in the Lower House yesterday, the outcome was well known.
If the Senator wants to have the Minister come in, he is coming in. He will make a statement as part of the debate later. To be fair to him, he explained yesterday and he was supported by Eoghan Ó Neachtain, who said that he would not change an ounce of what the Minister said. This goes back to what we all said yesterday on the Order of Business. Everybody wants to have an independent free press which is not, as Senator Coghlan said, controlled by a few. It should be open to everybody to be involved in buying and ownership. The Minister gave his answer to the Dáil yesterday. He will be here later on and will answer again. I am quite happy to have him do that, but to be fair to him he acknowledged what happened.
The other point that needs to be recognised is that there is an onus on those who lobby to register and to be held to account for their actions as well. That also needs to be looked at.
Senators Victor Boyhan and Mark Daly raised the issue of social housing. Let us make it quite clear, the Government has committed €6 billion to support the accelerated delivery of 50,000 additional social housing units by the end of 2021 through building, acquisition and leasing. To clarify for Senator Boyhan, I was not disputing his figure in respect of building, I was saying that he was being selective in how we deliver. Social housing is about building, acquiring and leasing. If the Senator takes the page he has, the figure for Cork including all three aspects is 4,221. That was the point I was making. I was not disputing his figure for building. I was saying that he was being selective in arriving at the point.
That is the point I was making. I was not in any way being derogatory towards Senator Boyhan. They are the three ways we deliver social housing. If the Senator disputes that, we cannot agree to disagree on it because-----
It is not just the old way of delivery by social build. The other point I want to make is that targets announced today are a significant step in the provision of social housing. What we must make happen, as I have said repeatedly, is that we deliver in terms of affordable and social housing. That is why the unveiling of the commitments here is a significant approach by Government. I am quite happy to support the Government's initiatives in terms of delivering affordable housing. The Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, has acquired extra infrastructure money to the tune of €25 million for development on local authority sites. What we must also do, as I said yesterday, is look at the issue of the affordability of land. If we can do that, we will go a long way towards tackling our social housing crisis.
I commend Senator Ruane for her leadership on the issue of back to education and allowing for people to return to education. She should be admired for what she stands for and for encouraging people to come back into education. I commend her for launching the initiative today. It is about offering people second chances, but also first chances for those who go to school, leave early and opt out of the education system for whatever reason. As a teacher, who spent ten years directing education, I am aware of the number of people who in later life come back in and have that opportunity, including women and men and married, single, elderly and young people, who recognise that they have missed an opportunity but come back in. For me, education is about empowerment and giving people that opportunity. To be fair, the Minister, Deputy Bruton, has been very strong in the delivery of choice and opportunity.
In regard to the migration and cultural integration centres, I have not got the information but if the Senator gives the details to me, I would be happy to talk to the Minister afterwards. The Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, is very committed to the issue of integration and has done a power of work both as a former Chairman of the joint Oireachtas committee and as a Minister of State.
Senator Gavan raised the issue of University Hospital Limerick and the trolley crisis. As I said yesterday, we are talking about people who should not be on trolleys. It is important to recognise that progress is being made in terms of the delivery of extra beds. It is important to give the House a number of figures as doing so puts things in context. Attendances are up by 7% and admissions are up by 7.3%. Attendances of over 75s have gone up by over 20.1% and admissions of over 75s are up by 18.2%. There are more people now using our hospitals, or arriving into hospitals. The increased demand is about a combination of weather and other factors that we need to address as a country.
Why is the acute hospital the first point of entry or first port of call? It should not be. There should be investment in primary care. To be fair to the Minister, Deputy Harris, he has approved a further €5 million in funding to support the safe discharge of patients and has also increased home support packages. Some 300 additional transitional care beds have been allocated. In University Hospital Limerick, which the Senator spoke about, there are 17 new beds being opened. As the Senator knows quite well, it is about investment. I would like to hear the Senator's plan for what we should do in the emergency departments because I do not hear any plan from him about what we should do.
There is a lot of disrespect for the Chair here today and if it continues, I will suspend the House for 15 minutes. This is argy-bargy. I am in the Chamber a long time. Let the Leader respond. If the Senator is not happy, he has the right to raise the matter again next week.
Senators Norris and Ó Ríordáin raised the issue of the eighth amendment. I would say to Senator Norris that it is not the Government's to lose. This is a democracy. It is up to the people to make a decision. It is up to the Members of the Oireachtas to show leadership and, if they are for repeal, to go out and campaign for it, not to come in here criticising those who are doing work on the ground to ensure the referendum is passed. Equally, those who have a different viewpoint are entitled to it.
The fundamental point that Senator Ó Ríordáin addressed - I know as an independent Chair, the Cathaoirleach had to refer it to me - was that there is a fundamental problem that needs to be addressed about the inaccuracies in the postering by one side of the debate. There is an obligation and duty on the Referendum Commission, in my opinion, but also on independent journalists to highlight, promulgate and verify that the facts are incorrect in postering on one side of the equation. It is disingenuous of one side of the debate - the "No" side - to put up misleading information and to cast fear and use diversionary tactics. I am all for debate that is informed and that is not based on scaring and fear. There is a duty on the Referendum Commission to clarify. We spoke about social media and the influence it may have. Equally, the area of postering has had an influence on this debate so far.
Senators Marie-Louise O'Donnell and Norris also raised the issue of the portrait.I want to disassociate myself from the remarks of Senator Norris. The portrait by Noel Murphy, an acclaimed artist, is a reflection of the 53 women who have served and serve in the Houses of the Oireachtas. It is unfair to use headline grabbing sentences to denigrate the portrait. I am not an artist or a critic-----
Votáil 100 is an important event in the history of our country. It is right and proper we celebrate the women who have been and are elected to the Houses of the Oireachtas.
Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell raised the issue of An Post and commended its chief executive, David McRedmond. It is good to see An Post going in the right direction. It is about all of us using the service. The Senator has been a champion of community banking. We need to see further progress made in that regard.
Senator Byrne raised the issue of the good news about Aerospace Asset Trading in Shannon. I congratulate the company. She also referred to the recent investment in Foynes Port. It is a sign of the economy recovering and I commend all involved.
Senators Mulherin, Feighan and Paddy Burke called for the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht to attend the House on the birds and habitats directive. All three Senators made pertinent points about getting the balance right between development and preserving and protecting endangered species or habitats. We must get that right because we must have progress. Yesterday, I forgot to mention that Senator Mulherin has been raising the fodder crisis for some time. She also has been advocating balanced regional development for a long time, as have Senators Feighan and Paddy Burke.
I told Senator Devine that we would not oppose the motion concerning a non-HSE parent representative being on the HSE primary care national steering group for children with complex medical needs. The Minister was brought to the House on the matter. At the time, he explained his and the HSE's reasoning why there should not be a parent representative on the board in question. I am not going to rehash that debate. I have had correspondence from parents on the matter myself. The Minister is not bound by a motion of the House.
It is important there is parent representation on the expert advisory group's sub-committee. I would be happy to talk to the Minister again on the matter.
Senators Feighan and Coghlan raised the issue of the House of Lords vote on Brexit yesterday and the statement it sends. We should all reflect on what the House of Lords voted on yesterday. The Seanad Brexit committee, which Senator Richmond chairs, will resume its work and be holding public meetings in a couple weeks. It is my intention to have the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, to the House to discuss Brexit.
I have engaged with Senator Mac Lochlainn on the damage to the riverside park in Swan Park, Buncrana, County Donegal. I am disappointed he has not got his meeting. I will endeavour to take up the issue with the relevant Minister. When the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, was in Donegal, he was presented with the petition to which the Senator referred. I will be talking to the Department afterwards regarding this matter.
I share Senator Warfield's views on the two matters he raised. There is no disagreement from me. It is daft to put it mildly that the vote in the Lower House is being opposed and objective sex education cannot be pursued in a cross-party manner. One of the ancillary recommendations of the committee on the eighth amendment concerned sex education. It beggars belief that in a modern democracy-----