Wednesday, 4 July 2018
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, motion regarding special committee on climate action, to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business, without debate; No. 2, motion regarding the proposal to re-establish the Seanad Special Committee on the Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 1, without debate; No. 3, Education (Admission to Schools) Bill 2016 - Report and Final Stages, to be taken at 12.45 p.m.; No. 4, Judicial Appointments Commission Bill 2017 - Committee Stage (Resumed), to be taken on the conclusion of No. 3, and to adjourn at 7 p.m., if not previously concluded, and to be resumed on the conclusion of No. 5 and adjourned at 11 p.m.; No. 5, Private Members' business, Civil Liability (Amendment) (No. 3) Bill 2018 - Order for Second Stage and Second Stage, to be taken at 7 p.m., with the time allocated to this debate not to exceed two hours.
I mention an issue that has been raised in this House before, namely, the increase in energy prices that will affect everyone, but in particular 1.2 million households, come September. These announcement was made by Electric Ireland. We will see increases of up to 6.2% in the residential sector. What this means is that householders will be nearly €110 per year less well off. These are hidden taxes for individuals. When energy prices increase, we do not necessarily see an increase in income, or an increase in social welfare payments. The Society of St. Vincent de Paul announced last year that half of the people living in consistent poverty went without heating at some stage last year. Many of us who canvassed during the winter, going door-to-door, will have met many elderly people who go to bed at 6 p.m. or 7 p.m. to avoid having to put their heating on in the evenings. This is something we must address. This is especially important as these price rises are coming in in September, a time when parents are under a lot of pressure to pay out for children who are going back to school. There is the cost of uniforms and books and the payments to schools to subvent the very low capitation levels. This is something we need to discuss so I call for a debate on energy prices.
The second issue I would like to raise is unemployment levels. We know unemployment levels are at an all-time low. The National Economic and Social Council is trying to focus on the reason people find it difficult to transition from social welfare benefits to employment. It has noted that unemployment levels remain consistently high in many communities around the country, especially in disadvantaged areas. We need to invite the Minister to the House for a debate, particularly on how people can transition adequately and fairly from being in receipt of State payments to being able to contribute to the workforce.
The Leader will know I have some interest in the position of the President. I understand the Government is going to hold referenda later this year to tidy up the Constitution. One of the places that it might consider tidying up is the nominations for President. It is held among the political parties. This makes it very difficult for any citizen of the State to successfully seek a nomination. I am not talking, of course, about myself because I will have no problem doing that. I am talking about future elections.
What I am talking about is extending the nomination process in order that there is an alternative route outside of the political system. It is something that we might have a debate on with the relevant Minister after the summer break. I am sure whoever is sitting in my seat will not mind taking up the issue on my behalf.
Last night we had what can only be regarded as a disgusting shambles. A Bill was brought before the House and we understand from those who oversee these things that there is difficulty with it. Somebody was shouting about Ireland being independent and all of that. Is this Bill likely to end up before the European Court of Justice at some stage?
What happened last night was outrageous. It is even more outrageous that we are going to try to drive on. I said it was the Minister's Bill, but it is the Leader's Government that will face the wrath of history for what it is trying to do here. It really needs to step back and look at what is going on around it. No support is worth that price, that it would sell its soul.
I raise the issue again of the Versatis patches. The Cathaoirleach will know I have raised this issue many times over the past months.I recognise that there has been something of a rowing back on this matter and that some adjustments have been made. While I welcome those adjustments, there are still thousands of people in chronic pain who really need Versatis patches. I want to give the House an idea of the plight of one of these people. Her name is Anne-Marie. She is 49 years of age. She says she has had rheumatoid arthritis since 1975. Over the years, her condition has become chronic and she has had almost 40 surgeries, 13 of which involved joint replacements. She has had both hips, both knees, both shoulders, both elbows and several knuckles replaced. Most recently, she has had revision surgery on her shoulder. The other procedures included orthopaedic surgery, gall bladder surgery and so on. She was only five years of age when she found out she had rheumatoid arthritis. Given the amount of surgery she has had over the years and all the wear and tear on her joints, she had pain every single hour of every single day. Given that she had been on opiates long-term, they do not work. The Versatis patch gave her a great deal of relief when she was on it. She has severe back and shoulder pain. In recent days, she has begun to suffer from hip pain again. She also has problems with her kidneys and eyes.
For someone like that to be left in chronic pain, though she gets relief from the Versatis patches, cannot be right. I am appealing for the Minister to give us an update or status report on Versatis patches. I have asked many times for the decision to withdraw Versatis patches from the medical card scheme to be reviewed. It is now time to review it. We are many months into the blunt decision made. I call on the Minister to come to the House to have a debate on this and to provide a true and accurate update on the situation relating to Versatis patches.
I propose an amendment to the Order of Business to defer consideration of the resumed Committee Stage of the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill. Anyone who was in the Chamber last night or who was observing the debate would have been struck by the extraordinary and somewhat farcical nature of the debate. Those of us who were engaged in putting amendments in good faith – I have tabled 20 amendments to the Bill – asked the Minister whether he had sight of the Group of States against Corruption, GRECO, report. We know the report expressed significant concerns about the Government proposals in the Bill. I was able to read into the record of the House certain excerpts from the as-yet-unpublished GRECO report. At least, they are purported to be excerpts because no one can be sure what it is and we have not seen it yet. The Minister made the extraordinary statement in the House that he had not seen the report. It was unclear whether or how many people in his Department had seen it. He said he had not yet brought it to Government. He said he would seek Government clearance to publish it at the earliest opportunity. When we pressed him, the Minister said there would be a Cabinet meeting tomorrow, Thursday. We understood this to mean that he would be able to seek clearance from Government tomorrow to publish the report.
I am proposing an amendment to the Order of Business. It is reasonable to suggest to colleagues that we should not be asked to legislate in the dark. We should not debate amendments without knowledge of the full content of the GRECO report or without full knowledge of what the Minister's response will be when he eventually sees the report. It is a most unsatisfactory state of affairs. The House will sit late again tonight. We were here until 11 o'clock last night. We got to amendment No. 3 because of the issue surrounding the GRECO report. If we were simply to defer consideration of the resumed Committee Stage from today to enable us to have sight of the report when it is eventually republished, then we would be able to move things on far more swiftly and without the controversy that arose last night.
It is extraordinary for the Minister to state that a report is out that he knows of by a reputable Council of Europe body, the Council of Europe Group of States Against Corruption. The group has expressed or is reported to have expressed significant criticism about the Government proposals. The excerpt I have is up-to-date as of 31 May this year. Yet, the Minister has said he has not read it and only intends to seek clearance to publish it at the earliest opportunity, when we are half way through Committee Stage. We understand that the Minister wishes to have Report Stage next Tuesday, in less than a week.
It is utterly unsatisfactory to ask us to debate and draft amendments in this setting. I appeal to colleagues with any sense of decent and efficient procedure in this House to support the amendment to the Order of Business today. I am grateful to those who supported it yesterday. It is a reasonable to request that we would not be asked to continue the debate on Committee Stage without sight of the GRECO report. It is an important report that appears to be in the hands of many people. Some of us have excerpts from it, but the Minister does not yet appear to have read it.
While we are debating important issues, there are many families, especially in my constituency, who have no water at the moment. Since last Saturday afternoon, the entire community of Fanore in north Clare has had absolutely no water – not a drop, not enough water for people to wash their hands. In the past 24 or 48 hours, the people of Ballyvaughan in County Clare have been in a similar situation whereby they have no water. They do not even have water to wash their hands either. I acknowledge and respect the effort that has been made by engineers and other staff of Clare County Council to resolve these problems and make water available. However, I have no regard for the atrocious behaviour of Irish Water. People from the villages of Fanore and Ballyvaughan contacted Irish Water in the past 48 hours. They have been told by the help desk or call centre that Irish Water did not know there was a problem or water shortage in the area.
I am a Member of the Oireachtas and I live in north Clare. Yet, I have had no communication of any kind from anyone in Irish Water to indicate what is going on or to outline the timeline for resolving the problems. That is totally and utterly unacceptable. The time has really come for every county to have an office with Irish Water written over the door where people who are paying for water, either through taxes or rates, as is the case with commercial interests, can walk in or ring up and discover the problem with their water pressure or the reason there is no water in their taps and when the supply will be restored. I am asking the Leader to summon Irish Water to the House today to explain to Members of the Oireachtas exactly what is going on. The audiovisual room is downstairs. The officials can come in. They held clinics here for long enough. We have not seen sign nor light of Irish Water for the past two weeks since a crisis has developed in water.
No, I am asking the Leader, through his good offices, to intervene and try to get some communication for the people of Ballyvaughan and Fanore in County Clare specifically and for the other people of Ireland who are facing water shortages. It is time Irish Water came out and explained this.
We have all been enjoying the unprecedented good weather recently. I want to mention the unsung heroes who once again keep us safe on a day-to-day basis. Just as it was during the bad weather we witnessed some months ago, the emergency services have been handling several weather-related crises of late. The fire services are dealing with unprecedented gorse and grass fires. The Irish Coast Guard is being called on multiple times each day as those swimming in the sea get into difficulties. The health services are dealing with people who have suffered bad sunburn and heatstroke. There are more cyclists and motorcyclists on the roads, which ensures that our first responders are kept busy.
Last week, I was contacted by the Irish Water Safety informing me that the lifeguard station at Claycastle Beach in Youghal – I imagine the Leader is familiar with this – was broken into and lifesaving equipment was stolen. The station was vandalised and sprayed with fire extinguishers. Lifeguards up and down the country are exceptionally busy. They are under immense pressure with the good weather and now they have to contend with thugs who would seek to destroy this vital equipment that is needed to save lives. I call on the Leader to convey to the Minister for Justice and Equality the need to look after these people as they look after us. I would like an update on when the Life Saving Equipment Bill will proceed to Committee Stage. As we know, there has been great cross-party support for the Bill. It would be great to see it back before the House soon.
I want to raise the issue of hotel workers.The Leader might recall that a couple of weeks ago I raised the fact we intended to have a meeting. We had that meeting yesterday and I thank colleagues who attended. We had a very good attendance from all parties except one. Unfortunately, nobody from Fine Gael was able to attend which was a huge disappointment to the SIPTU delegation and the hotel workers who came along.
I ask for a debate specifically on the issue of the VAT rebate and the €500 million we subsidise hoteliers with each year. I want to raise it because the money should be going to health and housing. If we accept that the money has to keep going to hotels, at the very least the Government should insist that the Irish Hotels Federation, IHF, engages with workers. Standards in the vast majority of hotels are plummeting. Only one hotel in Cork - the Imperial Hotel - still deals with workers on a collective bargaining basis. There is only one such hotel in Limerick, which is the South Court Hotel. The vast majority of hotels, under direct instruction from the IHF, do not deal with unions nationally or locally and do not attend the Workplace Relations Commission. As a result, we have standards like this. We heard from one of the workers yesterday in one of the biggest five-star hotels in the country that on an eight-hour shift she has to clean 30 rooms on her own. It is the industry "standard" that is being applied. We have minimum wage jobs. We got to the bottom of the skills shortages we hear about with regard to chefs. The average wage of a chef in Ireland is €10 an hour. Even the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation has acknowledged that the problem of the skills shortage arose because the industry will not pay the necessary rates of pay.
I am asking for a debate because the Government has another opportunity to do the right thing. It has consistently failed to do it in previous years despite it being highlighted by me and others. The right thing to do is to tell the industry that before it is given the subsidy of €500 million it should sit down and engage and work out a sectoral employment order to raise standards and conditions for everyone in the industry. I ask that we have that debate as soon as possible.
I want to highlight the alarming state of affairs which results in tens of thousands of roadworthy vehicles being prematurely scrapped every year. It is a growing phenomenon. The rate at which it is happening this year means there will be a 129% increase on the number of vehicles scrapped last year. The big concern is it is not driven by a road safety issue per se, because all vehicles on the road have to have a certificate of roadworthiness, but by the fact insurance companies are universally refusing cover or quoting exorbitant premia for vehicles that are ten years old or older. The consequence is it is not economically viable to insure them and people have to replace their vehicles. Something stinks in this regard.
From an environmental point of view, it takes a lot of energy and carbon emissions to produce a vehicle. We have an NCT system in place to ensure vehicles are roadworthy. If we accept a vehicle is roadworthy, we have to be concerned if cars are being put off the road by insurance companies because it does not suit their agenda.
There is another issue. Many people who have older vehicles cannot afford to buy newer vehicles. In rural Ireland a car is not a luxury, it is a necessity because we do not have public transport. When many youngsters get their first car, they get an older vehicle. The issue has to be examined. The Minister of State, Deputy D'Arcy, has to look into it and he needs to come to the House. I would like him to investigate if there is collusion between the big insurance companies and the motor manufacturers because this seems to favour the motor manufacturers.
Another issue, which has been well highlighted, is the number of imports from the UK. If people are replacing their second-hand vehicles with imports, VRT is not generated by the State.
Conor Faughnan comments on motoring matters on behalf of the AA on the radio and in the media all the time. He represents the AA, which is a big player in the insurance industry. I would like him to set out that there will be no impediment to people with vehicles that are ten years old or older obtaining insurance from his company at least and to shine some light on what is happening here.
I compliment Autobiz, which is the motor trade monthly magazine, on fighting this campaign because it is not good for local economies. There are serious questions to be answered.
A series of insurance issues have been raised in the Chamber in recent weeks. I would like the Minister of State, Deputy D'Arcy, to come in and deal with them.
I second Senator Bacik's amendment. She made the arguments extremely well. I point out to the Government that the GRECO report will not go away. It will land with a splat and the criticisms will be out there to be reckoned with.
I refer to comments the Taoiseach made in New York about the media. He was perhaps a little ill-advised to align his views with those of President Trump but when he said the media was not interested in the truth but in the story he was 100% right. I laughed when I heard them all twittering and screaming on RTÉ radio this morning about it. It was a complete nonsense. The media get into hysteria at the slightest criticism of them. From my experience, they lie and lie and lie again. During the presidential election RTÉ, the national broadcaster, allowed a woman to say on air that I advocated parents having sex with their own children. The Sunnewspaper said I abused the Seanad to get passports for lovers. Both were absolutely damnable lies and I could give the House 20 or 30 other lies. They were not interested in the truth; they were interested in the story and they did not give a damn if they lied. I am one of the few people prepared to stand up and say this. I know the media will gut me over it but that is the way they behave. I have to laugh at them getting into a hysterical twitter because the Taoiseach said they are interested in the story and not the truth. The other thing is he said it at a private lunch. There is no such thing as a private lunch nowadays because people have their telephones out and they are recording and filming and all the rest of it. It is all right for somebody like me who does not give a damn what he says because I always try to tell the truth and I do not care whether it goes down well or badly.
I will also address the point raised by Senator Craughwell about the presidential election and the nomination process. He is 100% right. The political parties have it all sewn up. It is grotesquely wrong and unfair, and militates against the private individual. At the Constitutional Convention, I got a motion through broadening it and allowing the ordinary people of Ireland to have a say in the process. It went through by 98% of the vote, by far the highest of any vote in the Constitutional Convention. The Government has ignored it. It is about time we look at the Presidency and revise both the nomination procedures and the financial provisions which also favour the political parties over the private individual. The citizens of this country are entitled to a fair whack.
I will raise the issue of Shannon Airport and its collaboration with ESB on the plan to reduce its carbon emissions. Climate change is something we are all very concerned with. Over the next 18 months the airport will bring down its electricity use by over a third, which is welcome.
There was a report on small breweries in The Irish Timestoday. Their drinks have become popular, especially in local pubs. It is alleged that the bigger breweries are paying publicans not to stock a large supply of drinks from smaller breweries. I have been contacted by a local brewer in Limerick who is concerned. The commission investigated the report and said this is not happening. My local brewer does not agree with the findings. Local brewers are coming up against a brick wall trying to get some local pubs to stock their goods.It is time we bring in the Minister to have a debate and make him see there is an issue here.
I was appalled at the revelations at the Committee of Public Accounts yesterday that Sammon Contracting received 98% of the payment it was owed under the public private partnership contract but none of the payments were passed on to the subcontractors. Ever since the umbrella company Carillion collapsed earlier this year, this has been a mess. Carillion collapsed, Sammon went into examinership and these contractors were never paid. This is nothing short of disgraceful. Where is the accountability? The contractors deserve good pay for good work. They worked hard for it and they should not lose out. They have families and employees to support and a future to protect, and we have to do something.
I am utterly disappointed with the news that yet again, Carlow has been left at the bottom of the list to have promises delivered. While contractors are now in place at two Wicklow schools and one Wexford school for work to be completed in September, Carlow was scheduled for December. I have spoken about our case for a long time and it is frustrating to see Carlow left with a longer timeframe, despite 90% of the school being complete. A December completion date is better than none but it is unfair on the new secondary school students to have to uproot halfway through their first year in a new school and a new system. I am not happy with any of this. I want the Minister for Education and Skills to explain how we can pay someone for a job not done. This is taxpayers' money and there are subcontractors who have not received a penny.
I will follow on from the theme raised by Senator Conway on the issue we have with water restrictions. We have had an exceptionally dry period over the past four or five weeks and the knock-on effect of the dry period is that wells and water systems throughout Ireland are under pressure. In my part of the world places such as Nohoval and Robert's Cove are under pressure, as are major towns such as Clonakilty where there were water restrictions last night from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. This will be a big issue. Having water restrictions in place in early July means we will have at least six to eight weeks of real water issues in my part of the world. Traditionally we are used to having an issue in August if we have had a dry summer. This is six weeks earlier than ever anticipated. I am very concerned about what will happen, not alone with regard to our tourism trade and busy towns but also the agricultural community, which depends on water for very obvious reasons as they have to feed their animals.
This is a crisis we have to manage over the next eight or nine weeks. I do not see any major change in the weather going forward and a long-term plan has to be put in place to ensure water systems can survive the next eight or nine weeks. At present we are sending tankers to many of these places. Clonakilty and Nohoval have received tankers. These tankers are augmenting the supply, which is very positive. We need to put in place a real campaign to start monitoring water and to ensure there are no leakages. We must also ensure there is no waste of water. The public needs to be informed on an hourly basis on the water levels required in order that we can actually survive the next five or six weeks. In the long term, we need real investment in these places to ensure we have a water supply in order that these towns can develop and, more importantly, the water systems required for the future are put in place so that when we have dry weather like this, we will not have the crisis we have at present.
I wish colleagues such as Senator Craughwell who are contemplating a presidential election every success in the coming weeks, including my good colleague from Cavan, an Ulster man, Senator Wilson, who is contemplating a run for the presidential election. I know he has much deliberation to do.
On another issue, yesterday I voted to support the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill being debated and I will do the same today. The reason for it is not that I have been captured or bought by any politician or Government Minister. I do it because I firmly believe it is the right thing to do. International comparisons should be used, and all of the international non-legal research that has been carried out by academics who are not linked to the legal profession has shown that having a lay majority for judicial appointments works. It works in England and Scotland, where the chair is independent. It is the right course of action to take.
Yes there are people with concerns and that is only right, but I think the manner in which we lay out those concerns should be discussed on Committee Stage.
Much has been said about the latest GRECO report. I have not read it but I read the previous GRECO report. It was overwhelmingly supportive of the current strategy by the Government on this legislation. It recommends a lay chair to provide balance and independence. That was the GRECO position in 2014. I would be very surprised if GRECO has changed its viewpoint so substantially, as has been inferred by other Members. Some people say Independent Members were bought. I certainly was not bought. Nobody approached me to support the Bill. I am doing it because I believe it is the right thing to do. I believe the highest office in the land, the Judiciary, which makes laws as well-----
Everyone in the House is thoroughly enjoying the good weather and why would we not? It is a unique Mediterranean-type weather experience here. Like everything else it presents its own problems. There are real issues in the agricultural sector. There was a very good piece on the RTÉ news last night about the difficulties grain farmers along the south have. In the area where I live, there is a real issue with water shortages for farmers in Cavan and Monaghan. There have been challenges in a number of incidences. There is a challenge with the growth of a new cut of silage and in some instances, there are challenges with crop growth. There will be a challenge with getting alternative feed for cattle and drawing water in some instances. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine to the House as a matter of urgency to discuss a raft of very specific strategies to be looked at to deal with shortages and the problems confronting agriculture. We need to know that Teagasc is on board and that the Department is completely on board. We do not want to anticipate such things, but it may be necessary, unfortunately, in the end to give a form of fodder relief to farmers and that cannot be shirked from if it has to happen. Will the Leader considering this as a real priority issue? There are people suffering the downside of what is a wonderful weather spell. Neighbours of mine throughout Cavan and Monaghan are having bad experiences.
I feel somewhat locked out of the conversation about nominating presidential candidates, considering the Irish people's disappointing decision to keep it to those who have reached the age of 35 years. Senator Ruane would make a wonderful president.
I have been meaning to raise the issue of street art for some time. It adds to the vibrancy of our cities and towns. My sense is the public art created for the ESB boxes around the city has been popular.I only wish that the artists themselves were rewarded and paid properly for that work. Recently an order was given by Dublin City Council that a number of very high profile murals be taken down or greyed out, in spite of consent being given by the owners of the property for the artist to paint the gable end. Places such as Waterford have festivals that champion, encourage and elevate street art and facilitates the work of artists. This work does not appear out of thin air. It is the result of many artists toiling together behind the scenes.
I welcome the formation of a new collective of street artists called Subset, who are asking for more clear rules and regulations in Dublin City Council. Subset referred to a lack of infrastructure and designated areas for street art, which make the endeavour essentially next to impossible. I think it is time that we have ministerial guidelines for local authorities regarding street art, murals and busking. I accept that perhaps a Commencement matter with the Minister might be more appropriate, but I would appreciate a response from the Leader.
Having listened to people talk about the water crisis, sometimes I think it is like crocodile tears. Climate change is a reality and one must take a holistic approach. Last night the Heritage Bill was voted through the Dáil, which means grubbing and upland burning can take place now. There is no point in saying that it is terrible to have a water crisis unless one actually addresses climate change in a holistic way. Unfortunately not everyone is prepared to go down that road.
On the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill, I must say that something stank last night. The Minister who was in the Chamber said he had not read the GRECO report. Then he was able to turn around to Senators and say there will be no earthquake when one reads it. After sustained pressure he said that he would bring the report to the Cabinet. Cabinet papers were circulated several days ago. Is he bringing it as a matter of urgency? He had not obviously planned to bring it to the Cabinet at present because at the very least what would be expected of any Minister from any party is that he or she would have read the papers he or she circulates to Cabinet before they are circulated.
GRECO is the Council of Europe's Group of States against Corruption and has issued a report, but we have not seen it. I believe we were being misled in the Chamber last night. It is a case of getting this through at all costs. My party has always acknowledged that there are some good elements in the proposals and we need to debate and discuss them, but we cannot do that in the dark. At the very least, the full facts should be put in front of us. I will take the Minister at his word, that he will bring this report to Cabinet tomorrow; that he will seek publication and then it will be circulated. There is an onus on the Seanad to say that we will not take Committee and Remaining Stages until we have had an opportunity to consider the report, the Government's viewpoints and to ensure that the amendments to the Bill take account of the GRECO report. I think there is an onus on us to do that. We have a responsibility to do that. The courts are one of the pillars of our democracy. We have seen the Northern Ireland Assembly being taken down as a consequence of "cash for ash". This is more important than cash for ash. This is one of the foundations of this State that has served us so well. We as legislators have a responsibility to ensure any changes in our court services are the best they can be. I will be supporting the amendment to the Order of Business.
Recently I had cause to drive to the west and to the very south point of the country in the same week. By the time my journey was over, I was really depressed by the decline in the villages and rural areas. I do not have to go to such far flung places as I can see it in my own county where the villages are passed by and closed down. The shop fronts remain but the shops are closed. This has not happened by chance. In the past 20 years several Governments have orchestrated an oppressive national planning framework and spatial strategies and foisted them on people. This was supposed to save rural areas but it is killing rural areas, which have been decimated. In the past ten years some 17% of the houses built in the country have been one-off houses. Large scale development is non-existent.
I call on the Minister to liaise with county managers and ask them to interpret the county development plans to assist and help those applying for permission for a one-off house. Many county managers stand behind their county development plans to deter planning permission. This should not be the case nowadays where people cannot start a home. If one is living in Dublin, Galway or Cork or a metropolitan area one could hope to buy a house but if one is living in Mullingar, Athlone, Ballina or Letterkenny where it is not viable for developers to build a house, houses are not being built. The only tool that people have is when the county manager loosens up the planning regulations to help people and allow one-off planning permission. Local authorities should be trying to assist people who apply for planning permission and give them a chance to move on. This would allow them to start a family and give them hope.
Senator Humphreys is correct that the Judiciary and the Courts Service is a pillar of our democracy. However, it is an elitist area of our democracy and I concur and thank Senator Ó Domhnaill for putting it succinctly this morning. The noise that is being caused about GRECO as an important report does not take away from the fact that the Bill is for the reform of the elitist Judiciary and it will make the courts and the law available to the ordinary Joe and Josephine Soap in this country. That is why I will support it.
I want to raise the disappointment with HIQA. HIQA has written 15 reports on the different centres for people with disabilities throughout the country. Unfortunately Cherry Orchard in my area of Dublin South-Central in Ballyfermot has been taken off the register of approved centres for people with disabilities. It is two separate houses in the Cherry Orchard campus and it has been taken off the register for major non-compliance with standards. What was very concerning was the procedure in regard to what we term "do not resuscitate", DNR. This was not discussed with the patients or their families and yet DNR was in their notes and a few of the patients were not resuscitated to the surprise of the family because they had not realised that this decision was made. The other issue was in regard to the finances of the patients and whether there was proper oversight and record keeping. They set up a new records system but when HIQA went to look at it, the actual record book was completely blank. The third area was healthcare infection procedures.The Minister could respond, in particular, to the deregistration of this centre for people with disabilities, which is one of the most vulnerable.
We are all aware of how closed-circuit television, CCTV, systems can assist to identify criminals and to deter criminals in the first instance from committing assaults and other crimes in towns and villages. Over the past three or four years €3 million has been allocated to the installation of CCTV in our towns and villages, but unfortunately only four applications have been approved to date. The low number is worrying and clearly signifies we have a problem that needs to be looked at. People are sick and tired of assaults and antisocial behaviour, including littering. The benefit of CCTV systems particularly in urban areas is immeasurable. It can assist gardaí, who are short in numbers, in their role. A light should be flashing over the low uptake level. Clearly communities want this but unfortunately the application process is too cumbersome and applicants are walking away from it.
There is another issue with GDPR. The County and City Management Association, CCMA, has instructed all councils not to process applications because apparently there is an issue with who holds the data and who the data controller is. For example, if a camera is mounted in a Garda station an issue arises as to who the controller is in that case. There has been at an impasse for some time and in the meantime assaults, littering and burglaries are all taking place throughout the country. The Minister needs to get a hold of the issue. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister to the House so that we can discuss the scheme in general. He might be in a position to inform us that he has the GDPR issue resolved to the benefit of everyone.
Notwithstanding what my good friend and colleague, Senator Ó Domhnaill, has suggested this afternoon, I am quite happy and honoured to be a Member of this House and have no intention of moving out of it for some time to come. Hopefully my electorate will agree with me on that.
I support Senator Bacik's proposed amendment to the Order of Business on the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill which is before the House. I sat through more than four and a half hours of debate up to 11 o'clock last night where we discussed amendment No. 3, which in essence was the first amendment because amendments Nos. 1 and 2 were ruled out of order. During that time as the debate progressed, it became increasingly evident that there was something amiss with this legislation. I alert colleagues who may have concerns but who have given a commitment to support this legislation that there is an international report in the Department of Justice and Equality-----
----- which the Minister says - I have no reason to doubt him - he did not read. He only agreed to bring it to Cabinet tomorrow when he was pushed by colleagues on all sides as to when he would do this. However, he was able to clearly state that nothing in the report would have any negative impact on the legislation before us. If that is the case, I ask the Leader at this the 11th hour before the legislation comes back before us to contact the Minister's office and suggest to him that it is the opinion of the majority of this House that the Committee Stage of the Bill should not progress until we have clarification on this report. I repeat that there is an international report on the proposals in this legislation in the Department of Justice and Equality. We know how that Department deals with reports, emails etc. I will say no more on that.
I welcome Senator Wilson's clarification of his intention. I hope he remains in this House. To have one Member of the Opposition running against another for the position of President would be unbelievable. The Senator would make a wonderful President. I had the honour of studying with him and I know he is a man of high values and morals. I hope he will one day run for the Áras.
I thank the 20 Members of the House who contributed on the Order of Business. I am not sure if it is the hot weather or the impending summer recess, certainly the octane level has reached a new high.
I join Senator Ardagh in expressing my disappointment, as I did last week, on the energy price increase. Of course, we have an independent regulator. As the Senator will realise, the Government extended the fuel allowance, which can be paid in two lump sums. It is worth recognising that the price hike is due in part to wholesale energy costs. Car users will have noticed that the cost of petrol and diesel has also increased. People who have a legitimate issue paying for fuel should in the first instance talk to the Department about the supplementary welfare allowance scheme which allows them to avail of money for heating. It is a supplement that can be paid to a person who lives alone. We should make people aware of it because the points Senator Ardagh raised are valid and should not be dismissed. Equally we should ask people to engage with the community welfare service.
The Senator made a point about the transition from State payment to work, on which we have done a lot of work. People with an issue have an avenue available to them. We need to inform and educate people on it. The transition from being out of work to being back at work can be difficult for people and I concur with the Senator on that.
Senators Craughwell, Bacik, Norris, Ó Domhnaill, Humphreys, Devine and Wilson made reference to the debate on the judicial appointments Bill. The Government's position has not changed. I have proposed the Order of Business and I do not intend to accept Senator Bacik's amendment. I understand where she is coming from. I know Senator Craughwell has left. The use of language is also important. We are Members of the Upper House and I will not use derogatory words, like Senator Craughwell. We are all here to debate an issue. We can debate its rights and wrongs, its merits and demerits. The Minister for Justice and Equality has brought a Bill to the House. He has made amendments to the Bill and if the Bill needs further amending, I am sure he is open to engaging with Members. Regarding the tenor of what is being said, Senator Ó Domhnaill put it very well. The Bill is about increasing judicial independence through reforming and transforming how judges are appointed. It is about transparency.
It should not be on the personality issue. The Bill has been amended as it has gone along. If there are other changes to be made, then let us make them but let us not do so in a manner that is about a particular Minister or person. Let us have the debate about the issues relating to and aspects of the Bill. We will have that debate, subject to the result of the vote on the Order of Business.
That will resolve it. I am not accepting the amendment.
Senator Conway-Walsh raised the issue of the Versatis and Anne-Marie's story, which she told, is disturbing. The Minister for Health and the HSE have been before the Joint Committee on Health. Clarity is needed. It might be best for Senator Conway-Walsh to table a Commencement matter. The issue she raises is important.
Senators Conway, Lombard, O'Reilly and Humphreys raised the issue of water. I cannot summon Irish Water to the House. Senator Conway made a very good point, however, in that Irish Water did run a clinic in the previous Oireachtas. Perhaps it should consider resuming that clinic because it gave Members an opportunity on behalf of their constituents to raise matters around water supply. As Senator Lombard said, we are having an exceptionally dry spell there are issues regarding water. We receive updates from Irish Water by email. It has a Members' help desk which responds quite quickly to queries. As Senator Reilly said, farmers face challenges in terms of growth and fodder for cattle. I hope that the water pipe repair work happening in Fanore and Ballyvaughan in County Clare will be completed. I agree with Senator Humphreys that we need - collectively and collaboratively - to tackle and face up to climate change. We seeing in our country now four distinct weather periods or seasons that we perhaps did not have before even though we had four seasons. It is not going to go away and we need to address that matter collectively.
I concur with Senator Swanwick about the thuggery taking place in some parts of the country involving damage to property and equipment of the Civil Defence and lifeguards. These groups make a great contribution to our safety. No words of mine will describe the thugs that treat people so badly. I do not have an update on the Life Saving Equipment Bill 2017. I will not be a barrier to the Senator having it brought back to the House and I hope the Department will engage with him on that. I have worked with him on other Bills and the one that is coming before the House this week. He will not find me wanting in respect of this matter.
Unfortunately, I was not able to meet Senator Gavan's delegation yesterday. He is right about the hospitality sector that it is important that people are treated properly in respect of wage and working conditions. I am an advocate of collective negotiation and bargaining. I disagree with them, however, on the 9%. That was a very good decision on the part of the previous Government. No only does it benefit the hotel industry, it also benefits the service industry. Are we saying to the hairdressers of Ireland that we will put their prices up and force them to question whether they take people on or let them go and increase the prices to customers? It affects more than the hotel industry. I understand the Senator's point but there is a bigger picture and this benefits many different sectors of our economy. The Irish Hotels Federation should and must engage with workers. I have never deviated from that view.
Senator Mulherin raised the issue of premature scrappage of cars her point about the different ways people use cars is important. The Council Directive 2000/53/EC on end-of-life vehicles govern this area. Senator Mulherin's points on this are very pertinent and valid and I would be happy to invite the Minister to the House.
Senator Norris referred to the Taoiseach's comments on the media. I was not present. The Taoiseach's spokesperson said that his comments were taken out of context and quoted selectively. We do need to have an independent media.
We need to have a media that will hold people to account. Senator Norris is correct that with the number of members of the media tweeting and commenting, one would swear they were immune from criticism themselves when that is not the case.
To be fair, we are well served by the majority of our journalists who are people of integrity and of the highest calibre but they are not immune from being to held to account or criticism themselves. I smiled when I listened to 'Morning Ireland' earlier. I also smiled when I read about the matter on Twitter. However, I was not at the Taoiseach's event. We live in a society where we are all open to being held to account. That is the way it should be and we do need to have an independent strong media that holds us all to account. I am all for that.
Senator Byrne referred to Shannon Airport. I commend those in Shannon Airport working with the ESB on the reduction in carbon emissions and reducing electricity usage by one third. I agree with the Senator that we are benefiting from small craft breweries emerging. Deputy Alan Kelly has a Bill before the Dáil which will come into the Seanad before the recess. It is unacceptable that the bigger brewery can have a monopoly. We need to support our small craft beer industry.
Senator Murnane O'Connor raised the very important issue of the Carillion schools and Sammon. The contract was awarded to the company and it has the obligation and duty to look after the subcontractors but I agree with her that it is unacceptable that many subcontractors, small people employing one or two or even working on their own are being treated the way they have been treated. I fully concur with her on that. I have met several subcontractors who have been engaged in work at the schools to which the Senator referred. One contractor living in Cork has had to let people go. That is a disastrous consequence of a decision which we all thought was a good one and we have seen what happened. The examiner is negotiating or engaging with the creditors. That is of no real benefit or solace to the subcontractor but the Senator is right to raise the point.
Senators Craughwell, Warfield, Wilson and Senator Norris, who did so half jocosely, half sincerely raised the matter of the Presidency.
Let us await the decision of An tUachtarán on whether he is going to run again or not. Then we might have a debate on who should run against him or not or who will who might not run. There are always difficulties in the nomination process, whether internal to a party or an independent grouping. Democracy involves elections, whether for the presidency, the local authority, the European Council, the Dáil or Seanad. I would certainly welcome an election contest for the presidency. We should be afraid of that. Whether it is right or not is a different matter. Some members of the media will say Michael D. Higgins should be let run on his own. Others will say he should be opposed and do we want the cost of an election. I do not think we can put a cost on democracy. A price should not be put on democracy.
I join Senator Warfield in congratulating those involved in street art, not just in Dublin but also in Cork. The Reimagine Cork group did a wonderful job transforming the streetscape and public realm in Cork. I fully welcome the start collective that has been put in place. It does add vibrancy to the city and I would be happy to work with the Senator to ensure that we recognise the different groups. Sometimes the decisions of local authorities on the erection of hoardings or murals baffles those of us who are not planners or architects or engineers or urban planners.Sometimes we should just allow people to be creative. In White Street in Cork, we have a series of walls where those who engage in graffiti go in and do their work. It is very creative and artistic. It might not be to everyone's taste but it is a space where young people in particular can go. Reimagine Cork has transformed the streetscape and I congratulate the volunteers.
Turning to Senator Humphreys, the Committee on Procedure and Privileges, CPP, of the Seanad agreed yesterday to the request from the Dáil regarding a climate change committee. It is important and we will endeavour to take it seriously. Senator Mulherin has been very strong within our party in terms of promoting measures against climate change. She been a great advocate in that regard. I would love to travel around the country with Senator Davitt. I would love to get into the car with him.
I am trying to assist. Senator Davitt is right that local authorities and local representatives must work to ensure that we protect our towns and villages because they are the lifeblood of rural Ireland. To be fair to the Minister for Rural and Community Development, Deputy Ring, he has a programme of work and he is engaging with it. There needs to be a collaborative approach.
On Senator Devine's question, I only heard a snippet regarding the report on Cherry Orchard that is emerging from the Health Information and Quality Authority, HIQA. It is a concern. The report needs to be implemented. I refer also to the issues raised in respect of resuscitation, engagement and communication. It is a source of worry. Senator Devine works in the area and I am involved myself. This is one that we need to get right. It is not just about resources, it is also about a combined effort on resourcing, communications, staffing and engagement. To be fair, we are very lucky that the vast majority of the facilities and homes that people live in are of an impeccable standard. However, the points Senator Devine raised need to be worked on. I would be happy for the Minister to come to the House to discuss the report.
Senator Gallagher comes in with the hard question at the end nearly every day. He raised the issue of CCTV today. The Government committed €1 million last year and this year to the project. There have been four CCTV projects commenced, four are awaiting approval and 14 more are going to be approved. The Senator's point on the issue of data protection is one that is exercising the local authorities because they will be the data controllers. There must also be engagement with the local joint policing committees and the councils. We should not be putting bureaucracy in the way of CCTV equipment being erected. That is the point Senator Gallagher is making and I agree with him.
The final point I will make is that while I understand where Senator Bacik is coming from, I will not be accepting her amendment to the Order of Business.
Catherine Ardagh, Ivana Bacik, Victor Boyhan, Lorraine Clifford Lee, Gerard Craughwell, Mark Daly, Aidan Davitt, Joan Freeman, Robbie Gallagher, Alice Mary Higgins, Gerry Horkan, Kevin Humphreys, Terry Leyden, Rónán Mullen, Jennifer Murnane O'Connor, Gerald Nash, David Norris, Marie Louise O'Donnell, Grace O'Sullivan, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, Keith Swanick, Diarmuid Wilson.
Colm Burke, Paddy Burke, Ray Butler, Jerry Buttimer, Maria Byrne, Paul Coghlan, Rose Conway Walsh, Martin Conway, Maire Devine, John Dolan, Frank Feighan, Paul Gavan, Maura Hopkins, Anthony Lawlor, Tim Lombard, Pádraig MacLochlainn, Gabrielle McFadden, Michelle Mulherin, Catherine Noone, Kieran O'Donnell, John O'Mahony, Joe O'Reilly, Brian Ó Domhnaill, Niall Ó Donnghaile, James Reilly, Neale Richmond, Fintan Warfield.
Colm Burke, Paddy Burke, Ray Butler, Jerry Buttimer, Maria Byrne, Paul Coghlan, Rose Conway Walsh, Martin Conway, Maire Devine, John Dolan, Frank Feighan, Paul Gavan, Alice Mary Higgins, Maura Hopkins, Anthony Lawlor, Tim Lombard, Pádraig MacLochlainn, Gabrielle McFadden, Michelle Mulherin, Catherine Noone, Kieran O'Donnell, John O'Mahony, Joe O'Reilly, Niall Ó Donnghaile, James Reilly, Neale Richmond, Lynn Ruane, Fintan Warfield.