Tuesday, 19 June 2018
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, motion re the joint sitting of Dáil Éireann and Seanad Éireann for exchange of views with Mr. Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business without debate; No. 2, motion regarding the position of the UK and Ireland in respect of the area of freedom, security and justice, annexed to the Treaty on European Union and to the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, referral to committee, to be taken on conclusion of No. 1, without debate;No. 3, motion regarding the 25th anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexuality, to be taken at 4.45 p.m. and to conclude no later than 6 p.m. if not previously concluded, with the contributions of all Senators not to exceed five minutes and the Minister to be given not less than five minutes to reply to the debate; No. 4, statements on small and medium enterprises, to be taken at 6 p.m. and to conclude no later than 7.15 p.m. if not previously concluded, with the time allocated to group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and the time can be shared, and that of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes with the Minister to be given not less than four minutes to reply to the debate; and No. 5, Data Sharing and Governance Bill 2018 - Order for Second Stage and Second Stage, to be taken at 7.15 p.m. with the time allocated to group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and that of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes, and the Minister to be given not less than five minutes to reply to the debate.
I thank the Leader for organising the events marking the 25th anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexuality. Senator Norris and Máire Geoghegan-Quinn are rightly central to the events and it is a sign of the ongoing maturity of the nation as we grow, develop and evolve.
I wish to raise the situation on the Mexican-American border, where children are being separated from their parents and held in cages. Congressman Kennedy was in west Texas over the weekend and highlighted their plight. He spoke of his own great-grandmother who reminded her own children of a history in which "No Irish need apply", saying the story was our story. I also commend Ms Laura Bush, former First Lady, on her intervention in The Washington Postin an article condemning the practice of the US Government. I also commend the current First Lady on her words on the issue and the concerns she has expressed over how the children are being treated. In the ongoing situation, since April and May over 2,000 children have been separated from their parents.
As we all know, every country is entitled to protect its borders but it must do so in a humane way. Congressman Kennedy said humanity did not come with citizenship or a green card. We are a friend of the United States and when a friend fails, we must point out that they must do better, not just to protect their own citizens, which they are entitled to do, but others, whom they must treat with humanity and respect. We have circulated a motion to all Senators and we hope they sign it so that this Seanad passes a motion to condemn the current US practice on its own border.
I stand as an Irish citizen, an immigrant citizen and a naturalised United States citizen. I am also a father and a grandfather and someone who moved to the United States over 20 years ago to pursue the American dream. I feel compelled to speak out today against the inhumane separation of immigrant children from their parents at the United States-Mexico border. These families, seeking asylum in the United States, are often fleeing the most horrendous conditions in their home countries. They are the most vulnerable of immigrants and their only desire is to seek a better life for themselves and their children. The children have done nothing wrong.
We have been repeatedly told by experts, mental health groups and human rights organisations that this separation can have a lifelong impact on children and their parents and could be tantamount to Government-sanctioned child abuse. Over a six-week period, more than 2,000 children have been separated from their parents. I am not speaking about politics and this should not be about democrats or republicans, or left and right. These are children, human beings, and they are being locked in cages. Toddlers are being separated from their parents.Despite what is being said, there is no law in the United States that requires this separation. I am deeply ashamed to say that these human rights abuses are taking place in the United States of America under the direction of the President, the Secretary for Homeland Security and the Attorney General. This is a policy of the current Administration, which could change it immediately should it choose to do so.
On many occasions we have castigated the Irish Government and authorities here as being barbaric in the context of the policy of separating children from their mothers in the past. However, here we are, in 2018, seeing the same happen again in a supposed First World country. These policies do not reflect the country I know and love. They do not reflect the core values of the American or the Irish-American people. I commend the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Coveney, on his strong statement condemning the actions of the Trump Administration. I stand with those United States Senators and Congressmen, Republican and Democrat, who have visited these prison cages. I urge the Government and this House to use whatever means are at their disposal to let those mothers, fathers and children know that every voice counts and that this country - and our people - stand firm with the values most Americans hold dear. Ireland, Irish citizens, Irish-American citizens and our Irish diaspora must stand united with politicians around the world. I ask them to join me and the United Nations in speaking out against this inhumane, horrendous policy.
I would like to add my voice to those of the two previous speakers. I would be happy to sign Fianna Fáil's motion on what is happening at the US-Mexican border, which is nothing short of evil when we see the pictures of those children being separated from their parents.
I welcome last week's report that CURA, the Catholic Church's crisis pregnancy agency run by the bishops, has closed its doors for the final time. The service had been open since 1977 and had allowed the Catholic ethos to determine the advice it gave to women, even when it was at odds with the best interests of women attending it. In such circumstances, its closure is to be welcomed. The decision was attributed to an RTÉ report on a declining demand for its services and a "new regulatory environment for counselling". It cannot be a coincidence that the closure came only a few short weeks after the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, moved to clamp down on rogue crisis pregnancy agencies through regulation and following extensive investigation and work by the Irish edition of The Times.
I raise the issue of CURA for another reason other than welcoming its closure. It relates to a number of correspondences I have received in which the correspondents make a fair point. It may have been considered already but I ask the Leader to inquire from his party whether consideration will be given to handing over to the State the records of the 160,000 women advised by this organisation. When we consider the Adoption (Tracing and Information) Bill, St. Patrick's Guild and everything else that has been happening in the past while, 160,000 women attended this rogue crisis agency and the data it has might be hugely important in the current climate in terms of forced illegal adoptions in this State. I recall that a part was carved out of the Data Protection Bill that waves all data protection laws when it is in the public interest, and seeking the data from CURA might be in the public interest in terms of illegal adoptions in Ireland. It is worth considering it at least, and I will look to the Leader for feedback on whether progress has been made on that.
I want to begin by agreeing entirely with my colleagues, Senators Lawless and Mark Daly, regarding the horrors currently happening in America. While I have always been critical of many aspects of American policy, I never thought I would see the day when children would be separated from their parents and kept in cages.It is horrific and has echoes of the worst kind of 1930s politics. When one thinks of what is happening in Italy, Hungary, Austria and Poland with far-right parties coming to power with openly racist and bigoted agendas, it is important for all of us as democrats to unite around this issue. I commend the statement on it from the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade. It was strong and clear as it had to be. We should go further in calling in the US ambassador, when available, to explain events.
I want to raise the disturbing issue of the McKesson Corporation and LloydsPharmacy. The McKesson Corporation is the largest pharmaceutical corporation in the world with annual revenues of $195.8 billion. LloydsPharmacy benefits enormously from the State and it is only too willing to accept contracts from State bodies such as the HSE. It gets millions of euro in taxpayers’ money but it refuses to recognise the rights of workers who have had to go on strike on this matter. The company has refused to recognise a simple Labour Court recommendation that it should talk to its workers and their legitimate representatives. What the company actually did was set up its own workers’ representative body and fund it to the tune of €10,000. What kind of independent body is that?
We have one of the richest companies in the world flagrantly ignoring workers’ rights and leaving workers with no choice but to go on strike last week and again for two further days in the coming week. The Seanad must unite around this issue. I will be proposing a motion without debate in the coming week if this matter has not been resolved. I expect all parties to support this motion which will simply call on the company to recognise and work with the Mandate trade union. It is a disgrace that in 2018 we have corporations availing of taxpayers’ money to the tune of millions of euro while ignoring the State's industrial relations machinery and the Labour Court. It is appalling.
I support Mandate and I expect all parties to support the trade union in this dispute. Members will have received correspondence from Brian Forbes of Mandate. I urge Members to read this and act on it.
I join with others in noting the 25th anniversary of the historic legislation which decriminalised homosexuality in 1993. I commend my colleague, Senator Nash, who has led the way on this by putting forward Private Members’ legislation on it, as well as working with the Leader and the Government in drafting a motion to be taken in the Seanad this evening acknowledging the anniversary and offering a sincere apology to individuals convicted of same-sex sexual activity which is now legal. It is an important motion and a similar one will be taken in the Dáil this evening. It started with Senator Nash but has been accepted as a Government motion. I commend the Leader for his leadership on this issue.
It is unfortunate, however, that an amendment has been put down by Sinn Féin Senators, as well as one to the Dáil motion. This motion reflects a genuine cross-party desire to see an apology and an exoneration offered to those who were convicted of offences which were historically decriminalised in 1993. These amendments deal with other matters and, in some respects, use language which is not appropriate to the spirit of exoneration and apology in which the motions were carefully drafted. I suggest we might move on a cross-party basis, without dividing the House, in agreeing the motion once we have debated it this evening. I look forward to that debate and I thank the Leader for facilitating it.
As we are debating this motion this evening, we should remember the tragic killing of Declan Flynn in Fairview Park in 1982. I am grateful to my colleague, Séamus Dooley, for reminding me of that. That was an appalling low for LGBTI communities in Ireland.
I join with colleagues in expressing condemnation of the current US practice of separating children from parents on the Mexican border and detaining them in cages. It is extremely disturbing and shocking to see such brutal treatment of children and of their parents, as well as a defence of this being offered by the current US Administration. Senator Lawless spoke eloquently in expressing his condemnation. I join with him in that condemnation on behalf of the Labour Party Senators.I think we will all support the motion put forward by Senator Mark Daly on the issue. I commend the Tánaiste on his strong words, which we all support.
The issue of teaching principals has been raised in the Seanad previously. It has also been raised by a number of my constituents who are graduates of Trinity. They have talked about the need for teaching principals to have at least one administration day per week so they have the support commensurate with the immense workload of teaching principals. In Northern Ireland, stronger support is given to teaching principals. It is an important issue. I ask that we have the Minister for Education and Skills in here to deal with it and other education issues at some point in the near future.
The House is due to take Second Stage of the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill tomorrow. When will the Government's Committee Stage amendments for that Bill be ready? When will we have sight of them? Without the expected Government amendments to clear up what became a dog's dinner rather than caviar and oysters, we do not know what will be the shape of the Bill the Government is proposing. It is very difficult to engage in Second Stage debate on a Bill that is in the process of being quite comprehensively amended and, in particular, when we have not seen the Government amendments. The Labour Party will have its own amendments. I ask the Leader that we have sight of the amendments in advance of Second Stage.
I would like to be associated with Senator Nash's motion - I look forward to contributing on it later - on those who were treated so poorly by our State prior to 1993.
I was not going to address the following issue because I am always very reluctant to interfere in the affairs of other nations. I grew up in a country that admires America. I have admired much about its ethos, its willingness to fight for smaller nations and its willingness to place its men and women in danger for the freedom of others. We find ourselves with an American President who is prepared to separate children from their parents, a policy which harks back to much darker times. I agree with Senator Mark Daly when he says that friends must speak out. We are very close to the United State of America. This is an immoral, totally wrong practice that is utterly unnecessary. I call on the American President, not that he will listen much to me, to come to his senses and realise what he is doing. He is morally bankrupting the American people and their authority in the world and their standing internationally. If he does not see that, then he needs someone to advise him very strongly of his blind spot. I think of all those great Americans over the centuries who fought for freedom and human rights. They must be turning in their graves.
The major issue today is one which concerns businesses in particular. I refer to insurance. There are several things for which the Alliance for Insurance Reform has asked. The alliance represents the small and medium-sized enterprises that are the backbone of the nation and our economy. The setting up of a Garda insurance fraud unit funded by the insurance industry was well advanced and now there are question marks hanging over it. I am calling on the Minister to come in and explain why this will not be done. It wants sections 25 and 26 of the Civil Liability Act to be linked so exaggerated and misleading claims are automatically forwarded to the gardaí for further investigation. When the judiciary exceeds the book of quantum, an explanation should be given for why an award that would not normally be given was given. If those three things can be done, we would go a long way to addressing what has become a minor industry of people making fraudulent claims with absolutely no incentive not to do it again the next day. I hope the Leader will be able to prevail upon the relevant Minister to come in and address the House on the issue because it is a matter of huge concern.
I want to speak about insurance. My office has been made aware of a remarkable level of discrimination in the car insurance industry. Many of us have stories of our own or have heard stories about the rising cost of insurance. A sector that seems to be heavily affected is the taxi industry. This week, I heard about a taxi driver who had been driving as a named driver on his company fleet insurance. He had his test and wanted to get a policy in his own name. He was quoted €11,000 in respect of a vehicle that is valued at €12,000.That is insane.
We have an ageing population of taxi drivers which is causing more strain on supply. While the supply of taxi drivers has decreased, the demand for taxi services has increased. We often talk about carpooling and trying to encourage public transport, but in places such as Carlow where there is no bus service, taxis play a major part. However, the greatest challenge facing taxi drivers is the cost of insurance. Because of the massive rise in the cost of insurance, the number of taxis in Carlow has dropped by a quarter. I am sure the numbers are similar elsewhere in the country. Drivers looking for taxi insurance under their own name for the first time are getting prohibitive quotes of more than €10,000. It is not just the driver looking to go out on his own. Others who have been driving taxis for years are also finding it impossible to get a quote.
Taxis provide jobs, boost the local economy, encourage people to socialise and reduce the incidence of drink-driving. We need to help the industry. My office has been contacted by many taxi drivers who feel they are being unfairly treated just because they are taxi drivers. In some cases the drivers seeking a quote have no option but to go through the Insurance Ireland declined cases agreement. This means they must receive a quote if they have been refused. However, the quotes they are receiving do not make economic sense.
The taxi industry takes pride in ensuring their drivers have only the best safety record and impeccable driving skills to provide a safe and reliable service to the clients they service. Because the market is pricing them out of the industry, it is time for us to look at how we can support them. We have supported the tourism industry in the past with the reduced VAT rate and we are looking at supporting the construction industry with apprenticeships, which are crucial. However, we also need to support the taxi industry. I have made representations to the Minister and I will follow it up.
I want to bring to the attention of the House a huge issue relating to transport in Ireland, which is Dublin Airport. It is a fantastic facility with 30 million passengers passing through annually. That is approximately 83,000 passengers every day. It has exceeded its capacity. The staff at Dublin Airport are great, as Senator Marshall has said. Fantastic people are working hard to try to cope with that volume of passengers, but they are not able to deal with it.
I suggest moving to Baldonnel. That aerodrome is ready and completed. It is used by the Air Corps and is owned by the Department of Defence. The runway is long enough to accommodate the vast majority of commercial aircraft coming to the country. It is nine miles from Dublin city centre and it is located near a significant number of business parks in a greenfield area. Let us consider airports in other cities. In Belfast, for example, Belfast City Airport has 2.6 million passengers and Belfast International Airport has 5.8 million. There are two airports in Belfast. There are two airports in Glasgow - Prestwick and Glasgow Airport. There are 2 million people in the greater Dublin area and 1.7 million in Warsaw, which has three airports. Milan has two airports while Brussels with a population of 1.1 million has two airports.
I hope the House will support my suggestion to ask the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport through the Leader to actively look at Baldonnel as a second airport for Dublin. It is critical at this stage. We are an island community. If we have a vision for transport to facilitate access, we need to look at an alternative to Dublin Airport.
I welcome the good news announced by Limerick and Clare ETB regarding an apprenticeship programme it is putting in place along with Clenn Construction, an American company, to build eco-friendly homes. They are coming in and training people in how to build homes in an eco-friendly manner. We hear a lot about climate change and our housing crisis. More than 100 people have been accepted on the apprenticeship programme. This will go a long way to providing people with the skills to address our housing shortage by building houses in a quicker manner. I welcome the fact that An Bord Pleanála yesterday decided to grant planning permission in respect of an €8 million expansion of the Savoy Hotel in Limerick. This will create up to 75 jobs. There were objections to the project, but when we have tourists coming into the country, bringing development not only to Dublin but also in the various regions outside of the capital, it is very important that we give as much support as possible to expansions of this nature, which will lead to job creation down the line and which will also provide for tourists.
Regarding Senator Ó Céidigh's call for another runway at Dublin Airport, there are plenty of runways in the regional airports as well. There is a great counterbalance in the west of Ireland, of which I am sure the Senator is aware, between-----
I concur with today's statements in light of the unfolding of trauma involving children, parents and families in Trump's America. There has been a ratcheting up of division and hatred there. We need another way.
I wish to talk about the Bill to amend the Civil Liability Act. We need this urgently. There was yet another High Court case earlier today in which it was recommended that a duty of candour be mandatory. This would ensure an open, honest and consistent approach involving communication with patients and their families when things go wrong. At present, this is voluntary. We have seen the tragic loss of women as a result of the CervicalCheck scandal. Today again there has been a push in the High Court for this. I would like this House to agree to speed the process relating to the Bill in order to that it might become law as a matter of urgency.
I wish to raise two matters. First, I congratulate the Department of Rural and Community Development and its Minister, Deputy Ring, on the brilliant Our Public Libraries 2022, which arrived on my desk this morning and which I have since had an opportunity to read. It is absolutely excellent on the Government's plans for the libraries all over Ireland, through local government, communities and the Government itself. Everyone has run out of rural Ireland. The post offices and the banks have done so. Libraries are one of the major things left. Libraries inspire, connect and empower young people. If we want to talk about education or any level of living well in Ireland, then we must remember the learning, reading and many other brilliant things that happen in libraries for those of all ages, creeds, classes and colours. There are no barriers to young people's use of libraries.
I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Denis Naughten, to the House. The Minister was here last week and, very kindly, he also came before the House approximately two weeks ago. It has been reported in the newspapers that the State will block the German entrant to the banking market here. The Government does not like it, will not facilitate it, will not pay for it and will do this through our own banks and credit unions. I do not agree with this on any level. I would like the Minister to come in and tell us why An Post does not support this model. What are its reasons? What is going on? If it is not going to support it, exactly how it proposes to parallel the Sparkassen banks' interest rates of 1% and 2% through the credit unions and the other banks? I want to hear what the Minister has to say about this because this is one of the most important community elements of progression within the towns and villages of Ireland. We seem to have reports but we are not hearing anything about them. I ask the Leader to set aside time for the Minister to come before the House to explain exactly what is in the report, what is happening with it, why there is an exclusive in one of the newspapers saying that the Government is not backing the Sparkassen banks and why it is not doing so. If anyone is going to tell me that the credit unions will be a parallel of that model, I must inform them that will not be the case. They are going to do what the Government tells them to do.
I join my colleagues in absolutely condemning the horrific scenes of children of illegal immigrants being separated from their families. I say this as somebody who has huge respect for the people of the United States. It has been the leader of the free world. Any time I look at the Seanad or any democracy, I think we would not have a free democracy in the western Europe except for the United States. After the Second World War, it came in with the Marshall plan and rebuilt Europe politically and through economic stability. Every time I have watched the film "Saving Private Ryan" the hair rose at back of my neck with gratitude, admiration and pride. Today, listening to RTÉ Radio 1 as I came up to Dublin, as the parent of a young child hearing young children crying for their mothers and fathers, I had the same feeling but it was of dismay and disgust and a sense of being let down by a country that I absolutely believe in, the country I believe has been the leader of the free world. It has done huge work and it has never got thanks for it. It has taken the lead when it has come to preventing wars and stopping genocide and taking on despots. What is happening under President Trump is not on behalf of the citizens of the United States. He has turned on his allies in recent weeks. It is embarrassing to watch. He met the leader of North Korea, and I understand what he has to do, but this is a man who has killed anybody who has got in his way. Perhaps we need a recalibration. It is extremely worrying to see a country and democracy in which I believe going so far to a certain level, which is working with despots. There has to be a better way. This is not the right way.
Curiously enough, on this day when we are having a very welcome apology from the Government, I must raise a situation which is as yet unresolved. I ask the Leader to ask the appropriate Minister why the sections of Parts 2 and 3 of the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015 have not yet been enacted after three years. These are provisions which will allow same-sex parents to adopt what are essentially their own children. Without this, if the non-birth parent is bereaved, the child has no parental relationship at all and no consent can be given for hospitals. It is a very practical measure. I have received quite a large amount of correspondence. Without striking a discordant note, I ask the Leader to raise this as a matter of urgency with the Minister.
I note the upcoming motion. I do not want to pre-empt it, but it is great we are accepting and realising the suffering of a great number of people because of their sexual orientation. I commend Senator Nash on his motion. I note an amendment to it has been tabled and, like Senator Bacik, I would prefer if we could get consensus on this because it is too important to be messing around with it.
I am very proud as a Fianna Fáil member that it was a party colleague of mine, Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, who steered through the legislation, notwithstanding the wonderful work of Senator Norris and others who fought a lone fight for a long time.
She had to do the business and she did it in the teeth of public opinion polls at the time, which showed that 50% of the population did not want any change in the legislation. That took courage. We look forward to the motion.
I agree wholeheartedly with the comments of Senator Ann Marie O'Donnell's-----
I agree with Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell's point on libraries. She has the jump on me because she has the programme in front of her, which I do not have. I had planned to talk about it because, as the Leas-Chathaoirleach knows, I was very involved in library development in Kerry as chairman of the arts committee for many years. It is a particular interest I have. The Government is hoping to expand membership of public libraries from 16% to 30%, and I wholeheartedly support this. The public library service is fantastic.
The local authorities deliver a fantastic service and I would like to see it further developed and supported budget-wise. I ask that the Leader arrange for the relevant line Minister to come to the House in the near future for a debate on the plan.
As the House will be aware in January 2017 12 beds at the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Dún Laoghaire were closed. Despite numerous visits to the Seanad by the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, and the Minister of State with responsibility for disabilities, Deputy Finian McGrath, and many promises and commitments to reopen these beds, I was informed by officials at the hospital today that six of these beds have not yet been reopened. The constant excuses from the HSE, the directors and board of management of the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Dún Laoghaire, the Minister, Deputy Harris, and the Minister of State, Deputy McGrath, are very disappointing.
I have written to the Taoiseach on the matter and I have had a response from him to the effect that he has referred it to the Minister for Health. I have also written to the Minister for Health and I have tried to make contact with him in the last two weeks. While I accept and respect that he is a busy man, particularly at this time in the context of the many other issues arising, I still have not received a full explanation as to what is happening. I ask the Leader to use his good offices to find out what is happening. While I will have to respect what ultimately the Minister will have to say, the problem is that I cannot get the accountability that is required. I cannot identify the person who has responsibility for the reopening of these beds such that the blame for their not being reopened can be laid on the shoulders of that person. However, this is not about blame, but about reopening these six beds at a time when many hundreds of patients are waiting in acute beds in this country trying to access these services. It is critical they are reopened.
We cannot talk about reform of our health service and assisting people if we cannot even reopen beds. I ask the Leader to assist me in getting a commitment to the reopening of these beds. Given these commitments were made in this House, it is important a Minister of Minister of State comes to the House to explain when the remaining six of the 12 beds closed in January 2017 will be reopened.
A number of weeks ago I asked the Leader to invite the line Minister to the House to discuss foetal anticonvulsant syndrome and the prescribing of valproate. I reiterate that request today. We need to bring this issue to a conclusion. We need to know what measures she is putting in place to address what has happened to these families and children as a result of the prescribing of valproate.
On the Tusla report, I support the call for the Minister, Deputy Zappone, to come to the House to discuss it. It is obvious that children are not being protected in the way that they need to be protected, that Tusla is not fit for purpose and that this is leaving children in danger. Despite the recruitment of 250 new staff, owing to the high number of staff leaving the agency, for which I do not blame them, the net gain is only 18. Given the impossible caseloads and inherent risks associated with the job, if I was a social worker I would not continue working there.
In May, we learned that more than 4,000 children referred to Tusla were waiting to be allocated a social worker. We talk about children in this House all the time. In this instance, we are talking about children in this State who are being left at risk. I ask that the Minister come to the House for a debate on the report and to tell us what plans she has in place to address this issues highlighted therein and, also, given this report took almost one year to complete, what plans were put in place to address issues arising in the interim.A year in the life of a vulnerable child is a year too much.
Many students will be glad to see the back of the Leaving Certificate examination, once it is completed, and will enjoy their summer break. Their thoughts and those of their families will soon turn to finding accommodation for the next step in their education. That may be in colleges in our main cities of Dublin, Cork and Galway. I am sure many students and their families will be dismayed and alarmed by a recent report. It highlighted how many students from rural parts of our country are commuting daily to and from these cities. Some journeys take up to two to three hours in the morning and evening.
We all understand that the lives of students are stressful and they work long hours. They must get a bus from somewhere like Cavan or Carlow and travel for two to three hours to get to the capital city, go to college, try to concentrate for a full day there and then return home on a bus for another two to three hours. We can understand how that is not good for a person's concentration never mind his or her health. The lack of accommodation and the cost of accommodation, for those fortunate enough to find it, is a serious issue, which needs to be addressed.
We come in here year after year with different Members raising this issue of students from rural Ireland trying to find accommodation and of their parents trying to fund it. It is getting to a point where it is nearly impossible. I know one young lady renting a single bedroom in the basement of a house in the city who is paying €650 a month. It is a serious issue that needs to be addressed. While we have great sympathy for those students having to travel two to three hours a day each way, what about students from places like Donegal or Sligo where commuting is not an option. Third level education will not happen for them because of the lack of accommodation and the cost of it. It is time we grasped this issue. I ask the Leader to bring the Minister for Education and Skills to the House to debate the lack of accommodation for students from rural Ireland.
I thank the 17 Members for their contributions to the Order of Business. We will have a debate later on the motion in respect of the 25th anniversary of decriminalisation of homosexuality, which is important. In advance of debating the motion, I appeal to the Sinn Féin Members not to table their amendment and that, instead, we have an agreed cross-party motion. It was put forward in that spirit. I do not want to pre-empt the debate but I hope the motion can be taken without having to divide the House.
Senators Bacik, Mark Daly, Devine, Feighan, Gavan, Lawless, Reilly and Ruane raised the immigration policy of the United States Administration, which separates children from their parents as part of border controls. As Leader of this House, I thank all the Members for their contributions on this, although I single out Senator Lawless for his contribution. The policy is immoral, wrong and disgraceful. It goes against everything for which the US stands. Many Members have family members, going back generations, who travelled to the United States in pursuit of the American dream. They helped to build an America, as Senator Reilly rightly said, which we all look up to and, as Senator Mark Daly said, with which we work and stand with on so many different fronts.
The most vulnerable people are being discriminated against. I watched the images last night of young children and families being separated and listened to the recording of young children crying and looking for their parents.It certainly sends the wrong signal and the policy is wrong. As many Members have said here today, friends must speak out. The remarks of the Tánaiste last night should be echoed today. This kind of leadership gives license to other countries to follow inhumane policies towards vulnerable refugees. Is this making America great? It is the question the Trump Administration must listen to and answer. Many Members have said it is unusual that two former First Ladies and the current First Lady have spoken out against the policy. We respect the right of any country to protect its borders but it should be done in a humane way. As the current First Lady said, they should govern with heart. I have not yet seen Senator Daly's motion but I would be happy to liaise with the Tánaiste and I hope we can have an all-party motion to support the matter raised this afternoon.
Senator Ruane raised the matter of CURA being closed and the different files and details of women who have gone through its offices. She is right to raise the matter and although I do not have an answer, I am sure that in the course of time we will deal with the need to have those women protected and particularly their information. It would be important that those files are handed to the State as a matter of urgency. Senator Gavan raised the matter of LloydsPharmacy and I join him in calling on the company to protect workers and allow them the right to collective bargaining and to have their views heard in a legitimate way. I certainly stand in solidarity with the workers in this case.
Senator Bacik raised the matter of teaching principals, which was raised last week. The Minister and the Government are committed to developing leadership roles in schools and that is why we see 2,600 assistant principals. Almost all smaller schools have assistant principals and extra day release has been given to teaching principals from two to four days. A group of approximately 50 schools have come together to ensure principals are released, and there is also postgraduate training. This is about investment in education and how we spend money in the Department. I would be happy to have the Minister come to the House to discuss the matter, as Members mentioned it last week as well. I do not have the information on the Government's amendments to the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill but I hope they will be published as soon as possible so Members can have sight of them and work on them. It is an important point.
Senator Reilly raised the matter of insurance, as did Senator Murnane O'Connor. The Minister of State with responsibility for insurance, Deputy D'Arcy, has been in the House and he would be happy to come back. We have seen the working group established and had a debate in the House. We will have a debate later on small and medium enterprises and Senator Reilly will be able to make the points he has eloquently raised here regarding insurance. The fundamental point is we must all work together to ensure fraudulent claims are eradicated or reduced considerably. They are a scourge for everybody, whether people are involved with a festival, a small or medium enterprise, a school or a sporting club. We must all do our best to ensure people who claim do not do so fraudulently and that we cut this out.
Senator Murnane O'Connor raised taxi insurance specifically and I am sure she is aware the National Transport Authority launched a campaign to recruit more taxi drivers last year. That is ongoing. The Government of which her party was part, under a former Minister, Mr. Bobby Molloy, increased the number of taxi drivers significantly, and that flooded the market. We can have that debate again. It is important to recognise there has been a reduction in car insurance but she makes the point about insurance for taxi drivers, and we must work to reduce that.
Senator Ó Céidigh raised the very important matter of Dublin Airport, its growth and its potential as a hub. Capacity has been reached and the Senator makes an interesting point about Baldonnel. Senator Byrne mentioned Shannon and like her, I would very much welcome it if Cork could be used more by Dublin Airport Authority as a gateway to our country. I am sure Senator Byrne will continue to fly the flag for Shannon.She made the point that the volume of aviation traffic at Dublin Airport has increased. I am not sure that Baldonnel Airport would find favour with the Dublin Airport Authority. She called for a debate on aviation policy, in particular to find ways to grow business for other airports apart from Dublin Airport. I am happy to invite the Minister to debate these matters in this House.
I join the Senator in congratulating the Savoy Hotel Group in Limerick on the wonderful news yesterday that it had been granted planning permission for an extension. I welcome the new jobs and I congratulate all involved in the new apprenticeship programme. The Senator champions issues that concern Limerick and today she has raised two good news stories for the city.
Senator Devine asked about an amendment to the Civil Liability Acts. Unfortunately, I do not have an answer for her because I do not have the information to hand. As she said, it is important that the legislation is fast-tracked in order that women with cervical cancer get answers and full accountability. I am happy to work with anyone to resolve the matter quickly.
Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell raised the issue of public libraries. As a former member and chairman of the Cork city library committee, I join her in commending the Minister for Rural and Community Development, Deputy Michael Ring, on the fine document entitled Our Public Libraries 2022. Like Senator Ned O'Sullivan, we must ensure that libraries receive much deserved funding and prominence. As Senator O'Donnell rightly said, libraries connect and empower people because they are a source of information and education. I am happy to arrange a debate on the report before the summer recess.
We must keep the issue of the post offices to the forefront in the House. Again, I fully concur with Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell that post offices must be seen to be at the heart of rural Ireland. I reiterate that if people do not use post offices, they will no longer form part of the social fabric of rural Ireland. I know of one post office located in a rural part of County Cork that closed this year when the postmaster retired because no one would take it over. It was not seen as a viable entity. I do have not an answer on the decision by Government about the German bank but I am happy to invite the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment to the House to debate the matter. We must keep the issue of post offices to the forefront because they are important for the survival of rural Ireland and small towns.
Senator Norris raised the issue of the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015, which has also been raised by Senators Nash, Warfield and myself in the House. There is an issue regarding the amendments. The Department is working with the Office of the Attorney General to bridge the deficit regarding the enactment of the legislation. The legislation deserves to be enacted as expeditiously as possible. It is important that we get it right, notwithstanding the fact that a delay of three years is unacceptable. I hope that there will be action soon on the matter.
Senator Boyhan raised the issue of the National Rehabilitation Hospital. I do not have an answer for him. It is inexcusable that the beds have not been opened. It is clearly a matter for the HSE at local level in the Dún Laoghaire area. I am happy to communicate his comments to the Minister.
Senator Rose Conway-Walsh again raised the issue of prescribing the drug, Valproate. The European Medicines Agency and the European Commission have taken a stance on the matter. The Senator might get an answer quicker if she tabled a Commencement matter on the subject. Given the schedule, I will endeavour to arrange for the line Minister to come to the House for a debate in the coming weeks. We need continued action on the matter.
The Senator also raised the HIQA report on Tusla. Every Member should read the report. HIQA has made 11 recommendations - four relating to the Department and seven to Tusla. The recommendations need to be enacted as a matter of urgency. Tusla demonstrated serious shortcomings in how it handled allegations of serious abuse. The HIQA report has catalogued a list of failures and shortcomings, which has left some children vulnerable, and there was also a failure at an operational level. I do not subscribe to the Senator's view that it is all about shortcomings in terms of resources and staffing. Perhaps that is part of the problem. We are committed to ensuring the independent expert group, which is being set up to oversee the implementation of the HIQA recommendations, do its work. We all need to have confidence in the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015. Fine people work for Tusla both on the ground and at an administrative level.We must continue to ensure that we have robust and strong child protection systems in place. I would be happy to have the Minister come to the House. I have put a request in to the Minister to have her come to the house to debate the report. Senator Gallagher raised the issue of children travelling to and from college after finishing the leaving certificate. It is important that we realise that the leaving certificate examinations are coming to a conclusion this week, if not today or tomorrow. We thank all the students for their endeavour, patience and hard work and we commend their teachers and families for their support and commitment to the students. It is a very stressful time.
We have seen the point the Senator made regarding student accommodation acknowledged by many different colleges, but also by the Government. We need to build more. I would be happy to have the Minister come to the House in that regard. In my own city of Cork, University College Cork is building student accommodation. If one looks at the building programmes of many different institutions one sees that being replicated across the country. Part of the student experience is, of course, the move away from home and living in various degrees of student accommodation, but it is also to be recognised that in today's modern world, the commute from Dublin to Carlow, which the Senator cited, takes less than an hour at off-peaks time. That is not exactly a strenuous commute. Equally there are more and more people commuting from many parts of west Cork to Cork city. The Senator makes the point that we should encourage the development of student accommodation but also that we should see more and more people living in student accommodation. I would be happy to have the Minister come to the House in that regard.