Wednesday, 11 July 2018
Order of Business
Before I ask the Leader to outline the Order of Business, I welcome two lovely young ladies to the Seanad Chamber, Alison and Caoimhe Donegan, whose great-grandfather was a Deputy and a Senator. I also welcome their father, who is a regular visitor to the House. It is nice to see young people coming in to visit us. It is a sign that a new generation is coming up.
At the risk of incurring the wrath of the Cathaoirleach, before I outline the Order of Business, I also wish to welcome Alison, Caoimhe and their father, Bart, who come from a very distinguished family of public servants from Cork. I hope they are enjoying their summer holidays. I commend the family for its service and I join with the Cathaoirleach in welcoming them.
The Order of Business is No. 1, motion regarding a proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on European production and preservation orders for electronic evidence in criminal matters, to be taken on conclusion of the Order of Business, without debate; No. 2, Private Members' business, Traveller Culture and History in Education Bill 2018 - Second Stage, to be taken at 12.45 p.m., with the time allocated for the debate not to exceed two hours; No. 3, statements on Palestine, to be taken at 2.45 p.m and to conclude no later than 4 p.m., with the contributions of Senators not to exceed six minutes and the Minister to be given no less than six minutes to reply to the debate, and time may be shared; No. 4, Control of Economic Activity (Occupied Territories) Bill 2018 - Second Stage (Resumed), to be taken on conclusion of No. 3, and the time remaining in that debate is 15 minutes; No. 5, Intoxicating Liquor (Breweries and Distilleries) Bill 2016 - all Stages, to be taken on conclusion of No. 4, with the time allocated to group spokespersons in the debate on Second Stage not to exceed six minutes and all other Senators not to exceed four minutes and the Minister to be given no less than five minutes to reply to the debate, Committee and Remaining Stages to be taken immediately thereafter; No. 6-----
No. 6, Judicial Appointments Commission Bill 2017 - Committee Stage (Resumed), to be taken on conclusion of No. 5 and to be adjourned no later than 6.45 p.m., if not previously concluded; No. 7, Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill 2016 - message from Dáil Éireann, to be taken at 6.45 p.m., with the contributions of Senators not to exceed five minutes and the Minister to be given no less than five minutes to reply to the debate; and No. 8, Heritage Bill 2016 - Report Stage (Amendments from the Dáil) and Final Stage, to be taken on conclusion of No. 7 or at 7.15 p.m., whichever is the later.
I welcome Bart, Alison and Caoimhe Donegan to the Seanad and to Leinster House, a building that their family has served in with distinction and honour for many years.
The issue of disturbances in Derry and attempts by Catholic and Protestant church leaders to ensure the marching season and 12 July pass by peacefully have again come to the fore. Youths have been arrested, shots fired at security forces and there has been a return to inter-communal strife between residents of the Bogside and Fountain areas of Derry. Those issues must be addressed, although there will not be time to so do in this session. The ongoing drift in Northern Ireland caused by the absence of a functioning Assembly in Stormont has led to a lack of decisions and inadequate progress in the peace process. It is of concern to all Senators. I ask the Leader to allocate time for us to comprehensively address that matter in the next session.
All Senators are concerned by the health service. The HSE has money lying idle for home helps but a staffing crisis is preventing it being used. This issue does not affect only my county. In Galway, Mayo and Roscommon there were 45,000 unused home care hours in the first three months of this year. One in every four people in the country waiting for home help is in that area but no HSE staff are available to carry out the work. There is a systems failure of monumental proportions not just in terms of the startling home help crisis but across the health service and that must be addressed. A trolley crisis, equivalent to that in the annual January peak period, occurs daily. That is another systems failure. People arriving by ambulance at Cork University Hospital may wait for three hours before the ambulance can release them to the care of the accident and emergency department to receive treatment. Step-down beds are available in hospitals such as those in Kenmare, Dingle and Tralee but there are insufficient staffing levels to be able to allow patients use them. Meanwhile, the HSE is spending hundreds of millions of euro on agency staff. All of those issues point to a systems failure in our health service.
The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, is responsible for much legislation of huge importance which has come before the Seanad, whether from his Department or through the Department of Justice and Equality by proxy. However, Ryanair has cancelled 30 flights and a proposed strike tomorrow will affect businesses and the economy.Despite this, while the Minister is willing to intervene in just about every other system and every other Department, he will not intervene in his own to ensure that flights continue between Ireland and the rest of the world. I will refer to Fine Gael rather than the Government because we know the tail is wagging the dog at the moment, but maybe the dog will take control of its own tail.
I commend the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation, INMO, for coming before the Joint Committee on Health today. The representatives outlined the stark reality of what work is like for their nurses. I will read a short passage for the House:
The reality of the ED Nurses daily/nightly experience is described as deep frustration and anger at the fact that they feel unable to care for their patient's fundamental needs in the way they would wish and are trained to do. The physical environment where patients are crammed together within touching distance of each other, with little or no privacy, poor hygiene facilities are inadequate to maintain patient dignity or privacy. This is a dehumanising and degrading experience for patients, their relatives and those that care for them is, and is now in its second decade.
That sums up what is happening in our hospital emergency departments and the conditions in which nurses have to work and in which patients are treated.
I refer to the previous speaker who talked about home help. The fact is Fianna Fáil went through this country and took hours from people who were vulnerable and elderly. A 99 year old man in Westport was told that he could not even have two hours' home help a week under Fianna Fáil. That was the reality of it. When it was supposed to stand up to the troika and protect our heath services, it offered them up as a sacrifice as it bankrupted the country. I will not take lectures from Fianna Fáil on what is happening within the home help service now.
I need to talk very briefly about what is happening in respect of Translarna. I have spoken about it several times in the House. I welcome the fact that the drug company PTC has withdrawn its legal charges. There is now an opportunity for the HSE to get back into negotiations on the price, which it did not do in the first place, and to look at the conditions around the expert evidence available at the time. I want the Minister for Health to outline the timeline and process involved in the approval of Translarna and to take responsibility for it. It is not good enough for the Minister for Health to abdicate responsibility while there are five children in this country waiting for a drug that will enable them to continue walking.
The 2018 sustainable development goals report, Global Responsibilities - Implementing the Goals, was issued just this week. This index is a measure of progress across all 17 sustainable development goals. Countries like Sweden, Denmark and Finland are top of the ranking in terms of their progress towards achieving their goals by 2030. It was no shock to see that, with regard to the sustainable development goals relating to the environment, Ireland is on the red list, which means we have a very poor status. When it comes to the proportion of renewable energy in the total amount of electricity we consume, we have a red mark and a very poor rating. When it comes to responsible consumption and production, again Ireland fares really badly. On climate action and energy emissions, again we see a red dot and Ireland performing very poorly. On sustainable development goal 14, life below water, Ireland receives a red dot in respect of ocean health. Ireland again performs very badly. We seem to be missing leadership when it comes to environment and water health. In fact, with regard to life on land, Ireland is not performing and receives a red mark in respect of the annual change in forest area. We are not, in any way, moving towards achieving the sustainable development goals we have signed up to by 2030.
I want the Members of the House to be aware of this. We have to work together and we have to try to meet our international obligations. We have to work together to put pressure on the Government and on Members of all parties and none to work towards protecting the Irish environment. This index shows we are not measuring up whatsoever, so we need to take action.
In the context of the possible forthcoming presidential election, I have to say that it is very disillusioning to see the three principal political parties, that is, all the principal parties except for Sinn Féin, attempting to close off the nomination process. It is quite wrong.
I was talking about Fine Gael, not Fianna Fáil, but they are all in it. All the political parties are in it. They are doing their very best to close off the nomination process and prevent the ordinary people having any access to the nomination process for the Presidency of Ireland.
They are not interested in it themselves. They want to save their money. They could not be bothered and do not think that there is anybody of sufficient talent within their own ranks. Perhaps they are right. Perhaps there is nobody of talent in these parties. They should not seek, however, to close off the nomination process from the ordinary people. I am delighted that the councillors are rebelling. I would like to incite this rebellion in the councillors. It is one of the most important powers they have.
Turning to the disturbances in Derry, the attacks from the Bogside on the Fountain area, which is a small Protestant enclave, are very disturbing. They show how dangerous it is to allow any opportunity for dissident republicans to take up this thing. In fact, it shows how volatile the situation would be if there were any attempt to institute a Border again in this country. With regard to setting a spark, incendiary activities and all the rest of it, these bonfires that the so-called Protestants set up are appalling. I am glad that I am a member of the Church of Ireland, which is the reformed Catholic Church in this country and which is not associated with this shower up in the North of Ireland. These monumental, enormous, vast skyscrapers are partly triumphalism and partly these people marking out their territory.They seem to be very threatened, but I would say to them that the only way forward is by sharing. That is the only way they will get anywhere, not contesting, not being territorial, not attacking one's neighbours but trying to share what is good in the country.
I wish to follow on from your comments, a Chathaoirligh, in welcoming the delegation from north Cork, Bart Donegan and his two daughters. I served with Bart on Cork County Council and his father, Mick Donegan, the girls' grandfather. He was a great patriot and a great person and I worked very well with him over the years. It is great to have them in the House.
I raise the plight of the agricultural community that seems to have materialised following the drought, in particular in the past five to six weeks. Four and a half months ago we had snow and now there has been no rain in my part of the country for the past five and a half to six weeks. There is a knock-on effect on the water supply and grass growth has become a major issue. Other crops are affected as well, in particular spring cereals.
We must consider how we will manage the vast amount of stock in the future. We have 365,000 extra cows in the country since 2013. We must have a plan in place for when we have extreme weather events. In the past five years, in both 2013 and 2018, we went to France to get fodder for the winter. Given the scenario we are in at the moment we must come up with a long-term strategic plan so that we are not going to France when the situation develops into an emergency. If we have to import fodder it should be done on a managed basis. The situation is becoming dire in that most of the second cut of silage has been either grazed or cut and fed to cattle. Fodder will be an incredibly important issue for the agricultural community for the coming winter.
We need to consider how we are going to deal with the issue. Going forward, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine must be proactive in ensuring that winter fodder will be imported and be available. We must put a strategic plan in place now to ensure fodder comes into this country not in March or April of next year but before the winter begins.
I praise the Men's Sheds Association which operates throughout the length and breadth of this country. As Members know, the emergence of men's sheds is a fairly recent development and they are now located in many areas around the country. I am familiar with the one in Monaghan town. It has been a great development and offers great solace as well as outreach to men who for one reason or another feel isolated. They could be retired or unemployed. The groups are made up of tradespersons of all ilks. It is a fantastic organisation that deserves great praise. In light of all that, it is difficult to understand the decision by the HSE and the Government to cut funding to the Men's Sheds Association nationally by up to 7%. We are talking about a cut of almost €19,000. That is most regrettable and will affect their ability to function as a national association. It is difficult to understand the thinking behind the cut given the relatively small amount of money involved and the immeasurable return for society.
I am sure I speak for most men when I say that a lot of us find it difficult to talk, to open up and discuss how we are feeling, especially when we are feeling down. The Men's Sheds Association reaches out to people who are going through difficult times and offers them a base where they can meet people, have a chat and a cup of tea and get involved in voluntary and community projects. It has been a great success story. For that reason, I am astonished that the Government would decide to cut its funding. I ask the Leader to bring this up with the Minister for Health and get the funding reinstated as a matter of urgency.
Many of my colleagues will be aware of the good work done by the PEACE IV programme, funding for which comes through the European Regional Development Fund, ERDF. It brings €270 million into the country. Projects are 85% funded from Europe. Cavan, Monaghan, Donegal, Leitrim, Louth and Sligo directly benefit. The programme funds shared educational initiatives for children and young people among other projects. It is a very important fund. For example, Cavan County Council gets in excess of €1 million for PEACE projects. Its importance is highlighted in particular in the context of the fighting and trouble in Derry over recent nights. The fund is crucial.
The European Social Fund is also crucial for employment. It has funded a number of initiatives throughout the country. I am very familiar with a number of them in Cavan and Monaghan. I call on the Leader to arrange a special debate in this House to discuss with the relevant Ministers - if necessary we could have more than one debate - how to keep the funds in place and to prevent them being reduced following Brexit. Even though we will be losing the UK from the EU the funds should be maintained at the same level. The European Social Fund, which deals with unemployment in general and the creation of employment, would be much more crucial in a post-Brexit situation. We need to protect PEACE IV, the European Social Fund and regional funding for the entire Border area. I call on the Leader to provide a debate on the issue to ensure that none of the funding is lost. I previously called on the Leader to arrange a debate to hold on to the Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, in its entirety but, similarly, I want to ensure we can hold onto those programmes because Ireland needs them. Such a debate is urgently required. Now is the time to address this issue.
I welcome the remarks of Senator Lombard on developing a long-term strategic plan for agriculture. Given the increased stocking levels of an extra 365,000 cows in the country I accept there is a stocking crisis and a fodder crisis. As Senator Grace O'Sullivan said earlier, there is an environmental crisis. Senator Lombard has an opportunity this evening to vote against the Heritage Bill, which attacks the very environment we have been trying to protect over a long period in this House. When the vote is called this evening I hope he puts his vote where his mouth is and votes down the Bill.
I have great respect for Senators Noone and McFadden who voiced their opinions on the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill. I recognise that Fine Gael has made an agreement with the Independent Alliance on the programme for Government. I can very well understand Senator Noone's remarks that she is better staying within Fine Gael and fighting for change and I respect that but perhaps Fine Gael would try to assist the Minister, Deputy Ross, in his ten core principles and priorities that are laid down by the Independent Alliance. One of those is to abolish the party whip in Leinster House. I suggest that perhaps we would have a conversation with the Independent Alliance and that Fine Gael would assist it on a trial basis on this occasion in that the whip would not be applied on the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill and that one of the Independent Alliance's core principles would be trialled over a number of days and let all parties vote without the whip being applied on a very important pillar of our democracy. Perhaps no party should apply a whip on this occasion and let people vote according to what they see as being the correct thing to do.
I also condemn the attacks in Derry and wish to point out that great cross-community work is being done to try to address these very difficult issues. It is something we must highlight. We are in a much better situation in the past 20 years because of the Good Friday Agreement.
I can hardly hear the Senator. If people want to have a discussion they can go to the ante room. It is not fair. Senator Feighan is a quiet-spoken man. I have good hearing but I am finding it difficult to hear him at times. Ar aghaidh leat.
Those in Derry will get to the bottom of this very difficult situation and will have our support. I commend the Irish Air Corps, which helped put out a forest fire in Slieve Gullion in County Armagh. This cross-Border co-operation sometimes goes unnoticed but we must welcome it.
I welcome Prince Harry and Meghan to Ireland. I have worn my Commonwealth tie today for everyone to see, to commemorate the occasion. What is happening is absolutely incredible. We have had the Taoiseach visiting east Belfast and the Orange Order and being welcomed and asked to come back again. We have had Prince Charles and Camilla coming to Cork and being welcomed. Today we have Harry and Meghan in Dublin. This all comes off the back of the most successful visit of the Queen and Prince Phillip to Dublin in 2011 and the reciprocal State visit of the President to the United Kingdom. The charm offensive is certainly working and most of the Irish public is falling for it. We need to counteract this successful charm offensive. The President should go on another State visit to the United Kingdom.
Tomorrow is a very important day as it is the date the British Government has proposed to publish a White Paper on its exit from the European Union. It is a do or die day for Prime Minister May. The print was hardly set on the paper when it was denounced by David Davis and Boris Johnson, who have both walked out of Cabinet. It does not augur well for the White Paper becoming official policy if there is acoup d'état against Prime Minister May in the next few days.
Nevertheless, if the White Paper is agreed on and presented to Mr. Barnier, our diplomats and the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Simon Coveney, should be proactive in working with the British Government in respect of a good deal for the United Kingdom. A good deal for Britain should be a good deal for Ireland. We have so much in common and there is trade of €1.1 billion a week between our two countries. We have the most to lose in these negotiations.
I was in Vienna on Monday at a meeting of the chairmen of all the European affairs committees in the EU, including representatives from the UK Government. I reminded my colleagues that we are an island off an island off the mainland of Europe. We are more affected than any other region in the European Union. That is why we have to get special concessions. If the White Paper is agreed and becomes part of the negotiations, I am hopeful there will be a good outcome allowing free trade between the United Kingdom and Ireland on a constant basis without any barriers or borders and with freedom of movement of people, goods and services.
Towards the very end of the Order of Business yesterday, the fantastic news came in that all 12 boys and their coach had been successfully rescued from the cave in Thailand. It was an amazing achievement in extremely difficult terrain and a very complex path. The best divers in the world took part. The story captured the hearts and minds of the entire world. I am delighted that one of the key people involved in the rescue was a gentleman living in Ennis, County Clare, called Jim Warny. He is originally from Belgium but lives and works in Ennis and is a very important member of our community in Clare. It shows that the outdoor physical activity that is taking place in Clare is bringing the best people in the world to live in and enjoy our county. It was wonderful to think somebody from Ennis was able to fly out last Friday and play a crucial role in the rescue of those 12 boys and their coach. I suggest that the Leader might write to the gentleman in Clare and pass on the admiration of the Upper House to him. It is great to think we have such heroic people living among us. It is a great story and I am delighted to share that news with Seanad Éireann today.
I join with Senators Daly, Norris and Feighan in their condemnation of the violence and attacks in Derry, which are unnecessary and unwanted. All of us condemn the provocation and attacks. As Senator Daly mentioned, we are on the edge of the marching season and of tomorrow's events in particular. I hope all who take part in tomorrow's marches are cognisant of all communities who live in the North of our country. We have made great progress and I hope tomorrow will be a day of peaceful demonstration and of parades. I do not use the word "demonstration" in the sense of protest. I welcome the decision of Ms Justice Keegan in the court in Belfast regarding bonfire size. As Senator Norris expressed, I hope that tomorrow we can all share in what is good and recognise that we have to live together on our island.
Senator Daly also made reference to the issue of home help. The Government has invested significantly in home help hours. As Senator Humphreys said yesterday, there is a road blockage somewhere regarding the allocation of home help hours and home care packages. I know from my own experience that there is a blockage somewhere in the system. I agree that we need to ensure that the system frees up that allocation of resources so that those who need home help hours or home care packages are able to avail of them.
Senator Daly also raised the Ryanair strike. We hope the strike will not discommode the travelling public. It is a matter for the industrial relations mechanisms of the State and it is a matter between Ryanair and its employees and their representatives. I welcome the talks taking place today. There is a lot of confusion about what a Minister can and cannot do.
I do hope that the flying public will not be disrupted.
Senator Conway-Walsh made reference to the INMO and its input at the Joint Committee on Health. I thank the nurses' organisations and the nurses themselves for their work in our hospitals. The INMO is a trade union of the nurses which came to the health committee with a particular vantage point. There has been significant investment in the resourcing of our hospitals through recruitment, investment under the capital programme, and investment in upgrading facilities.There are ongoing issues, so we must change the model as part of our overall work. The Sláintecare report calls for further investment in primary care. For many, the emergency department should not be the first port of call. There are urgent care centres and out-of-hours South Doc and GPs. I accept that there are strains and pressures on those working in the health system.
The matter of Translarna was raised once again by Senator Conway-Walsh. I welcome the company's withdrawal of its challenge. As the Senator knows, the HSE negotiates with companies through the primary care reimbursement service, PCRS. There is an ongoing issue with the price of the drugs basket. The PCRS negotiates on behalf of the Government with various health-----
I know, and I am not against what the Senator wants to achieve, but it is not the Minister who goes in, sits down and thumps the table. There is a way of doing this. Our drugs basket price has decreased. I would be happy to take up the matter on behalf of the Senator.
I would be happy to do that. Senator Grace O'Sullivan raised the important issue of our responsibilities under sustainable development. We are lagging behind other European countries in our commitments on climate change. I would be happy to arrange a debate on renewable energy. We need to keep working on this.
Senator Norris referred to the presidential election. In my response yesterday, I neglected to mention the important point made by Senator Conway regarding behaviour during election campaigns. He spoke about the Standards in Public Office Commission, SIPO, having a role to play. I hope that all involved in the presidential election campaign - candidates and media - will take a sensible approach. We heard some commentary on the election on radio this morning. It is an important election.
I do not mean to sound a discordant note, but it is almost like Senator Norris can say whatever he wants in here and go unchecked. The Fine Gael Party has made no decision yet.
In connection with that, some of the commentary being levelled against the Fine Gael Party during the House's discourse on the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill is laughable. I will not take a lecture from anyone about the role of Fine Gael, as a party in government, in the appointment of judges, our support for the Judiciary or our support for the pillars of our society. I would certainly be happy to participate later and outline some of the mistruths being told by people in this House. If we are going to have a debate, let it be on the facts, not the personality of a Minister. At times this week, I despaired at the level of debate and the carry-on of some. It beggared belief. We wasted so much time. I appreciate that calling quorums and walk-through votes is a parliamentary device, and to be fair to my good friend, Senator Wilson, he was not the person calling the quorums, but some of the carry-on would not be seen in Tom Duffy's Circus.
Senators can argue that perhaps we would do the same, but I hope that the debate will focus on the Bill itself. If there are demerits, let us iron them out.
Senators Lombard and Humphreys raised the issue of the effect of the drought and fine weather on the agriculture community. There will be a knock-on effect. Consider what Teagasc said last week about growth - there was no growth. Yesterday, the Minister convened numerous meetings with stakeholders. He has engaged daily. I will endeavour to have him before the House next week for a debate on the matter, but it may not prove possible.
Senator Gallagher discussed the Irish Men's Sheds Association. There are 400 in the country, including 40 in Cork, which are doing great work, as the Cathaoirleach knows well. I was not aware that there had been a funding cut. I will endeavour to find out what that was about.
Senator O'Reilly referred to PEACE funding. I would be happy to arrange for a debate on that. It is important that the Senator's concerns be addressed and that there be no slippage in funding. Money should be put in place. Particularly in this Brexit era, ERDF funding is important to the Border area. A debate is necessary. The Senator has often expressed his views on the need to keep the PEACE projects. I would be happy to support him in that regard.
Senator Humphreys also discussed climate change. I would be happy to arrange for an ongoing debate. The Senator also referred to the Whip system. I am amused by the Labour Party's late conversion to it. I hope that the party will apply the Senator's proposal to all votes instead of just a particular Bill.
I join Senator Feighan on congratulating the Air Corps on its wonderful assistance this week. It illustrates the importance of North-South joined-up approaches. I also join Senators in welcoming Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan, to the country. Some Members of the House attended last night's garden party. I am sure they had a wonderful time. More of us were here soldiering on-----
-----in hoping that the publication of the White Paper on Brexit will lead to a furthering of the understanding of the needs of the UK and a bringing together of the EU and UK on the issue of Brexit. The resignations of members of the British Government are a matter for that Government, but we should be cognisant of their impact on us as well. Brexit is a catastrophe for everyone.
It is imperative that we all continue to put the case for our country, as the Tánaiste and the Taoiseach are doing. The Cathaoirleach commended Senator Leyden on his role. I am sure that he will continue to be the voice of reason, as will Senator O'Reilly and other Members of the House who travel and undertake European work.
I join Senator Conway in congratulating all involved in Thailand, particularly the gentleman, Mr. Jim Warny, from Clare via Belgium. It is important to acknowledge the tremendous role of those involved in the rescue. Equally, it is important to recognise that a diver's life was lost. I sympathise again with his family.
A number of Senators are concerned about the time for the Minister's speech during our statements on Palestine. I am happy to work with Members to ensure that his speech is not a lengthy tome. I will speak to them after the Order of Business if there is a concern. I am more than willing to increase the time for each Senator to eight minutes. I will revert to the House. A number of Senators raised this matter with me during the Order of Business, but they did not move a formal amendment.
That is fair enough. I do not want to have a division in the House on this matter because some people want to have their views expressed which is fair enough and I want to try and accommodate as many people as we can. I will come back later with an amendment to the Order of Business if it is necessary and I take the Cathaoirleach's view on board.