Thursday, 12 July 2018
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, motion regarding the arrangements for the sitting of the House on Tuesday, 17 July, 2018, to be taken without debate on the conclusion of the Order of Business; No. 2, motion regarding teacher training places, back from committee, be taken without debate on the conclusion of No. 1; No. 3, Public Service Superannuation (Age of Retirement) Bill 2018 - Order for Second Stage and Second Stage, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 2, with the time allocated to group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and the contributions of other Senators not to exceed five minutes; No. 4, Companies (Statutory Audits) Bill 2017 - Second Stage, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 3 or at 1.15 p.m., whichever is the later, with the time allocated to group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and the contributions of other Senators not to exceed five minutes; and No. 5, Industrial Development (Amendment) Bill 2018 – Second Stage, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 4, with the time allocated to group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and the contributions of other Senators not to exceed five minutes.
Will the Leader enlighten us at some point on the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill 2017? When is it planned to proceed with it? When are we wrapping up? I note that the Government appointed a number of judges in the past two days, which was admirable of the Government. It proves we can get on with the business of the appointment of judges. I have no doubt that they are excellent candidates and the right and proper people to be appointed. I wish them well, despite what some people in Government might suggest about the Judiciary in the State. I wish them well and it is a good day that the Government had the courage to go ahead and fill those vacancies. I take this opportunity to congratulate the Government on that as it is a positive move and was the right thing to do.
At some point may we have clarity as to the proposed referendum on Irish Water? In correspondence with the Oireachtas joint committee the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, stated:
Government is firmly committed to public water services remaining in public ownership and this is reflected in the Water Services Acts. There is widespread support for this view, as recognised in the Oireachtas approval of the report of the Joint Oireachtas Committee.
The Minister is committed to working on this, which is positive. It is welcome that the Government is committed to having a referendum on water at some stage in the future. This is what the public wants and what the Houses of the Oireachtas want. It would be helpful if the Leader would indicate when the preparatory work will be put place for the referendum to take place.
Will the Leader invite the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, to the House to engage in his own portfolio? Fáilte Ireland launched a brand, Ireland's Hidden Heartlands, for the midlands. It was launched with huge fanfare a couple of month ago in my home town in my constituency. For some strange reason they decided not to invite anybody who was not from the Independent Alliance. That is at it is. I would like an update from the Minister on where the Ireland's Hidden Heartlands initiative is at with regard to its set-up. What process has been gone through to hire people? Five people were to be hired. Who organised a video that was released about Ireland's Hidden Heartlands, which showed beautiful areas in my locality? The video, however, omitted to have anybody on it from County Longford, which I believe was a big mistake. Perhaps the Minister will tell us who organised that video, why places were left out and why some places were chosen. It is very important that the Minister comes to the House to discuss that.
The Minister should also come to the House to discuss issues on transport, given that Ryanair pilots will strike today and several flights are cancelled. The summer months are upon us, tourism makes up a lot of business in this State and it is part of our revenue. The Government gave the tourism industry a 9% VAT rate, which is very successful. The Minister, Deputy Ross, should engage with transport and tourism and look after his own portfolio.
I wish to raise the issue of incidences of audiology misdiagnoses in Mayo and Roscommon and the 49 children who have been affected by it. They had hearing loss and were not diagnosed because it was not picked up in the screening process. There are now 49 families who are left trying to cope with what has happened. I would call it a scandal because it was allowed to happen. The proper clinical governance was not in place to make sure that human error was not picked up. We need the Minister to get involved in that directly. The report has been out for the past four weeks. We need urgent action around the services and supports that need to be put in place for these children and their families. These include speech and language therapy and other therapies that are very necessary as well as physical hearing aids and so on. These services and supports need to be put in place urgently.It is not good enough to say a special package of care is in place. I have been talking to these families and that is not the case. The care package has not been put in place. I want to see what extra resources have been provided in that area. The waiting lists for speech and language therapy, for example, are unacceptable even without this latest scandal. Additional supports must be put in place. These families must be contacted individually. It is not good enough for the HSE to wait for the families to make contact first. The families are very afraid that should they create a fuss or contact the HSE about it, the limited services they get might be withdrawn. I encourage the families to come forward and speak out and I thank those who have already done so. The Minister must ensure a redress scheme is put in place for this as there is a long-term impact on these children where audiology problems are untreated. In any event, this cannot be left to go on month after month. We need urgent action. I ask the Minister of State to bring that point back to the Minister and not to leave this in the hands of the HSE. The Minister has a responsibility also to ensure action is taken quickly.
Before I commence, I welcome some guests in the Gallery, namely, Seamus McGarry of the Irish Cultural Centre in London, his wife, Annette, and their friends, the Rev. Odette Lockwood-Stewart and the Rev. Jim Lockwood-Stewart from the American Church in Paris.
The first issue I raise today relates to the already visible crisis we will face in September in the shortfall in student accommodation units. I understand that 17,000 units are required and that we will not be able to cater for our own domestic students. Many large-scale units were built in the past few years by taking advantage of certain tax breaks and less-strict planning guidelines whereby parking was not required to be provided. It is unfortunate that domestic students are being priced out of these units. Prices in or around €1,000 to €1,400 per month are being sought to rent a single unit, which is disgraceful. Our own students are not now in a position to attend college in Dublin as the prices are simply too high. I call on the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government to attend the House to debate this matter.
The second matter I raise relates to the Ryanair strike action. Despite last minute talks to stave off industrial action, the strikes have gone ahead. It is unfortunate as up to 5,000 passengers will be affected. The airline has had to cancel up to 30 flights. I call on the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to suggest gently that talks resume and to ask the airline and the pilots' association to be pragmatic and ensure we see business as usual. Ryanair is a very successful company and it has managed to reduce the cost of flights. It has made travel a great deal more accessible and we are all very proud of it as an Irish company. It has made a huge mark on the world stage. I worked in Ryanair for a very short period and can say that, despite reports, it is not the worst place to work. In fact, it is a very fair place to work and I enjoyed my short time there. Its safety record is second to none. From an aviation success perspective, we must ensure the airline has the support of the Government, especially the Minister, Deputy Shane Ross, and the encouragement to ensure the strike is averted so that business can recommence as usual.
I start on the transport theme also, in particular the Ryanair strike. Ryanair's recognition of trade unions at Christmas was welcomed, but that also means having to negotiate. Unfortunately, there has been very little negotiating taking place.
One of the reasons I would like to see Deputy Ross appear in the House is to discuss his transport brief. The Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill was passed in the House last night, which was welcome. The legislation resulted from the tribunals relating to interference in planning matters. We have many infrastructure programmes taking place, not least the Leader's motorway connection between Cork and Limerick, and we need to ensure the integrity of the public consultation process is upheld.
My concern relates to MetroLink and, more widely, to the standards and integrity of public consultation in general. We must ensure submissions are reviewed properly, clearly and justifiably and provided with a proper response. The Minister, Deputy Ross, replied to me in the House recently on a Commencement matter relating to MetroLink. He said he would meet residents at the end of the year and at the end of the public consultation process. The National Transport Authority has already indicated that its report will be out in August. As such, it is clear that either the Minister is not on top of his brief or the NTA is not briefing him on what is happening with a major infrastructure project.
While we are still in the public consultation period on MetroLink, we have had three different announcements by three Ministers. We have had statements from the Taoiseach, the Minister for Finance and, now, the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government saying the route has changed and the construction level is going from dual bore to single bore. They have said the line has changed on the northside and the southside. It calls into question the public consultation process on MetroLink, which puts a question mark, in turn, over public consultation on all major infrastructure plans announced in Project 2040. Are we going to see a proper consultation process which has integrity and to which everyone has equal access? Not everyone has had equal access to the public consultation process relating to MetroLink. This is taking us back to the tribunal era.
We are now seeing Government interference in a consultation process which is not something I have seen before. If the Leader is not too sure about this, he might like to open this morning's edition of The Irish Times. A very clear process has been laid down whether on special development zones, major roads or major rail lines. We must ensure that the integrity of the process of consultation with the public is upheld and that everyone has equal access, whether it is a motorway from Limerick to Cork or a railway line in Galway or Dublin. However, it does not appear to be happening at the moment.
I raise this morning the issue of home help support in the context of preparations for budget 2019. While it is very positive that 1,096 people are in receipt of home help support in County Roscommon, we have a further 30%, or 306 people, who are on a HSE waiting list having been approved for home help support which has yet to be put in place due to either funding or staffing issues. We know how important it is to ensure people can stay in their own homes and receive assistance with personal and domestic tasks as they require it. It is also very important to support family carers properly through the relief home help hours and home help professionals provide in the community. We must ensure the allocation for home help is increased, in particular in County Roscommon and the CHO 2 area. It is of great concern that there is a further 30% need. Roscommon has one of the oldest populations in the country and we must ensure that we receive our fair share to support people to live at home for as long as possible, which is where they want to be. I have discussed this matter at length with the Minister for Health, Deputy Simon Harris, following many calls to me, in particular from family members across the constituency.It is very important that the Minister for Health and the Minister for Finance, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, ensure there will be an increased allocation of home help hours.
I want to say a few words about the progressing of my Control of Economic Activity (Occupied Territories) Bill 2018 yesterday. I thank Senators across the House for their strong support. A fantastic photograph was sent to me this morning of the Irish flag over City Hall in Ramallah in Palestine. It means a lot to the Palestinian people that this legislation progressed yesterday. I did not have enough time yesterday to thank the people who had been involved. I thank the NGOs Sadaka, Trócaire and Christian Aid, as well as the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. Mr. Gerry Liston, a legal officer with GLAN, did amazing work in the drafting. I must also mention my amazing personal assistant, Mr. Conor O'Neill, and Ms Emma Quearney. They are both fantastic and without whom I could not have done any of it. I thank the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign for its work and activism for many years and the brilliant communities in Carrigaline, Kinvara, Belfast, Dublin and elsewhere who put huge work into fundraising, organising meetings and providing support. Last but not least, I thank the two amazing farmers who were here yesterday and are going through horrendous turmoil on a daily basis. They are Mona and Fayez who travelled all the way from the West Bank to be with us, with Fadi. It was an historic occasion and I am very proud of all the people with whom I have worked. I cannot thank Senators enough for their support, which really moved me. I look forward to returning the Bill to the House as quickly as possible after the summer recess.
Yesterday I attended the launch of the Asthma Society of Ireland's prebudget submission. The society has issued a small booklet which contains some startling information. Some 470,000 people in Ireland suffer from asthma, including one in five children. One person dies every week as a result of asthma. Many of these deaths are preventable. The society has asked for a number of things, two of which could be done without huge expense. One is that every education facility, at third, second and, in particular, primary level, as well as Montessori schools, have available an inhaler and a spacer device which is just a plastic tube in order that when a child gets into trouble and has forgotten his or her inhaler which can happen as we are all human, he or she will not end up in extremis. It is very cheap medication and a little foresight, alongside the campaign the Asthma Society of Ireland is running, could prevent illness and perhaps even save a few lives. The society also calls for an annual check-up for everybody with asthma, to be free at the point of delivery. It would keep people well. There is no doubt that a lot of people do not know how to use their inhaler and studies have shown that some doctors do not know how to use them either. We need regular reinforcement of what to do and how to do it. There is excellent information on the website of the Asthma Society of Ireland. Asthma is so common that teachers must know how to use these things and people should never be afraid to help a child with asthma. It is not like the EpiPen; it is a simple device. I appeal to all schools to have one available.
I do not know what kind of an employer Ryanair is because I do not work for it, but I respect the right of workers to organise and seek to negotiate their own terms and conditions. Unless Ryanair is prepared to sit down and negotiate with its employees, there will be a strike. As there is a failure of industrial relations whenever a strike is called, I ask Ryanair and the trade union representatives to sit down to solve whatever the problem is in order that members of the public can travel in peace and with an assurance that they will be able to fly back home from wherever they are going.
The Leader has been wonderful throughout this term in facilitating most of the requests made of him. Last week my colleague, Senator Gabrielle McFadden, mentioned the Defence Forces, on which I ask for a full debate very early in the next session. In particular, we need to debate the strategies for retention and how we will solve pay and recruitment issues. I have said time and again that one cannot recruit one's way to experience as experience is gathered over time. In his answers to questions about retention, the Minister of State said he was putting strategies in place to allow those who had already left to come back. The Leader and I know that they are leaving to take up better paid jobs. Unless the terms and conditions and salaries are good, they will not come back. I ask the Leader to facilitate such a debate. I also ask him to facilitate a debate, before the budget, on equality of pay for teachers across the profession.
The housing agency, ALONE, made a presentation in Buswells Hotel this morning on supporting older people in their homes in order that they could live in comfort. As some people have problems with their health or loneliness, there is a need to provide supports for them. As people are living longer and have better health, the Government needs to put a plan in place to sustain and keep them at home in a comfortable condition.
Yesterday in the Lower House the Minister for Finance, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, responded to questions from the Fianna Fáil spokesperson on finance, Deputy Michael McGrath, on the effects of a hard border in the context of employment. The Minister gave a stark, factual response which will send a shiver down the spines of many citizens, particularly those living in Border counties. He maintained that a hard border would result in the level of unemployment rising by 2%. That is equivalent to some 40,000 job losses. He also explained that the sectors that would be most affected would be agrifood and manufacturing. These sectors are important in the Border counties of Monaghan, Cavan, Donegal and Louth. The economy of County Monaghan is nearly totally dependent on the agrifood sector. This shows the cliff edge we are on as negotiations take place between Mrs. Theresa May and the European Union. We are all 100% behind the Government in its efforts to date to ensure Brexit will be as soft as possible and that we will retain the current arrangements at the conclusion of the talks. We cannot close the door on our neighbour.Regardless of whether we like it, the United Kingdom will always be our neighbour and we have to ensure that the deal it secures is the best deal possible because that will ultimately have a serious impact on Ireland, particularly those of us who live in the Border counties. Although I am sure it is tempting not to do so and I accept that the negotiations with the UK to date have proved frustrating, we have to be patient and tolerant and give Britain space because ultimately the future of this country, particularly the Border counties such as Cavan, Monaghan and Donegal, totally depend on it.
On 12 July, which is a bank holiday in Northern Ireland, Orangemen celebrate and commemorate the Battle of the Boyne. It was very concerning that cars and buses were set alight and pipe bombs and petrol bombs were thrown at the police last night. A great deal of good work has been done by many political parties and cross-community organisations and the Police Service of Northern Ireland, PSNI. Many of the flashpoints we were talking about ten, 12 or even three years ago no longer exist. because of this great cross-community work. Notwithstanding what happened last night, we are moving in a better direction and I hope tolerance will be shown on all sides today and in the coming days and that good work can continue.
There is a significant water shortage again. Some rain has fallen but the reservoirs and lakes need more water to replenish stocks. The hosepipe ban has to be maintained and I appeal to people to be vigilant and ensure we work together to address this issue.
I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on the refugee crisis when we return in the autumn. We know the issue dominated a recent EU summit and parliamentary sitting of the Council of Europe. A couple of disturbing facts emerged from Europe. Sea-Watch, a non-governmental organisation, NGO, made a presentation in which it told us very clearly that the priority of the EU at the minute is not to save lives in the Mediterranean but to force people to return to Libya. Effectively we have the EU handing people over to a Libyan coastguard which is no more than an armed militia. These people are then subject to forced incarceration, torture, rape and some are even being sold as slaves. It is absolutely shocking. I was also shocked to find that the detention of children is taking place in seven countries, including Greece, Hungary, France, Croatia, Finland and Belgium. We have our own history of shame of course when it comes to the detention of children but it is now becoming the norm across Europe. As part of my work on the migration committee, I intend visiting one of these detention camps on the weekend after next to see for myself the conditions that prevail there.
We must agree, on a cross-party basis, to do more as a country. Our target of taking in 4,000 refugees is simply not good enough. I should make clear that no country's response is good enough. Just as we took a lead yesterday on Palestine, Ireland needs to take a lead to ensure we do more to save lives and bring people to our country to give them a fresh start. We must show the way because our record to date, alongside all of the rest of the countries of Europe, has been very poor. I ask for a debate on this issue in the autumn.
I raise an issue following on from the passing by this House of all Stages of the Civil Law (Missing Persons) Bill 2016. The Bill will now go to the Dáil for debate. As a result of the Seanad debate, I have been contacted by a number of people who raised circumstances in which a body is found in Ireland but the remains are not identified. It appears that there is no centralised database of unidentified bodies found in Ireland. In other words, if a body is found in Cork the information on the case remains in Cork. If it is found in Kerry, the information remains in Kerry. In this day and age, we need a centralised system. In a recent case in County Louth a body was found and it took ten years before a match between the remains and a person who had been reported missing ten years ago. I ask that we deal with this issue in the next term by pressing the Minister to set up a centralised office. It would not cost more than €150,000 per year to run.
Furthermore, we do not have a centralised system and depository for unidentified human remains or tissue. Each area is doing its own thing. In a country of this size, it is time that changed. It would help to identify and assist families if we had a centralised system. I ask that this be given priority in the next term and that we set up such a system. I thank the Leader and the House for supporting the Civil Law (Missing Persons) Bill 2016. That legislation has shown that, as a result of a constructive debate, another issue has arisen on which the Seanad can also play a constructive role.
I want to talk about the referendum to be held in October, which is known as "woman's place is in the home" referendum. It is high time we talked about how little we value women, how we do not honour the incredible and important role of motherhood and how we constantly place barriers to women leaving the home. Home is supposedly the place a woman belongs. Let us talk about freeing women from all perceptions of who they are and have her outdoors instead of her indoors, as the joke goes. The Constitution states the woman should not have to leave the home and neglect her duties because of economics, yet we do not pay women for the work that Article 41 says is so important.
We give universal child benefit but only until a child reaches the age of 18. A woman stops being a mother when the child turns 18 according to the State because that is when the paltry amount of money stops being paid. We do not pay women who do not have children. They have to go out and earn money and by doing so, as the article states, neglect the home. There is no place for that kind of language and judgment. Working women make a massive contribution to society as teachers, doctors, sisters, daughters, engineers, lawyers, singers and politicians. Some of them do so as mothers too. The State does little to value women. We have gender inequality in the workplace, in our board rooms and in our homes. We need to change how we talk and think. I attended a funeral recently of a much loved member of the community whom I knew well. The woman was recalled as a mother and a grandmother but she was so much more than that. She was a gardener, a decorator, a singer in the kitchen when she thought nobody was listening, an activist, a fundraiser, a carer, a great supporter, a teacher and a writer. She was hundreds of things and these were boiled down to two.
It is time we free ourselves from old ways of thinking, open the kitchen door and let women out by removing this article from the Constitution in its entirety. We should allow women who stay at home to apply to the State for a wage and we should continue to pay child benefit until a child has left the home and started earning money. We should stop this nonsense of a woman having a place. She can be in any place she wants. I welcome the proposed referendum. It is important the Minister addresses the House on the matter in September.
I am sure the Leader has already commented on the issue of the amalgamation, to put it kindly, of the Irish Examinerand The Irish Times. This is an historic event for those of us who are daily readers of the Irish Examinerand what we at home call "the paper". The suppression or closure of a newspaper title is always sad. I am happy that both parties have confirmed they will secure as many jobs as possible in the amalgamation. The Examiner has a long history in Munster. It was a great newspaper for politics, current affairs and sport and one of the few papers that would report regularly on dog racing from the track. It would be interesting if The Irish Timestook up coverage of that sport. I wish them well and I know the Leader has already done so. It might be nice if we sent good will greetings from the Seanad.
I may not be here next week, which means I will not meet candidates who declare for the Presidency from this House. At the current rate, there will be three of them.I wish them all well. I understand from contacts I have had with county councillors who are friends of mine that county councils are keen to meet and to consider selecting or nominating candidates. That is a good thing. My party has taken a decision to support the incumbent and naturally, as a party member, I accept and will go along with that. I believe that a contest would be quite healthy. It is interesting to note that the founder of my party, Eamon de Valera, had a contest for his second term in 1966. The Fine Gael Party at the time had indicated that if he put himself forward as an Independent, as the current incumbent is now doing, he would not have been opposed. He decided that he was Fianna Fáil and that it would be misleading to the public to pretend otherwise.
He stood by his principles. He stood on the Fianna Fáil ticket thereby ensuring that an election would take place. He only won it by a squeak, but nonetheless a win is a win, and he got a fresh mandate from the people which stood to him in his old age in Áras an Uachtaráin
I was going to raise the issue of the Presidency and the totally undemocratic response of the main political parties. I was intimidated, however, by the prospect of a bombardment from the Leader, so I am not going to correct his inaccurate remarks of yesterday.
With regard to the position of women in the home, I believe it is interesting that there is an argument, in my opinion, for a modified form of that. I believe we should respect the role of woman in the home, and of man in the home, of parents in the home. I believe that it is completely appropriate that no person should be forced by economic necessity out of being a parent in the home. I think it is a wonderful vocation, whether it is a man or a woman, to look after the children. I believe it must be one of the most glorious things in life, and I believe that the State should do everything it can to ensure that this possibility remains open to people of either sex.
I must say also that the principal person is the woman. She gives birth to the child. In many cases, she breastfeeds the child. That is something a man could try but it would not be much use for the child. I support a modified view of this. I do not think we should eradicate this completely.
There he goes. I want to thank the 17 Members of the House for their contributions to the Order of Business. I want to join Senator Ardagh in welcoming our guests to the House and hope they will have a very pleasant visit.
Senator Boyhan raised the issue of the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill. I thank the Members of the House for their 26 hours of participation on Committee Stage. I know we are nearing the end of term but Senator Norris speaks about bombardment. If one reflects upon the 26 hours of Committee Stage of the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill, one would certainly see-----
I thank the Members. It is not my intention to bring the Bill back next week, to be fair to Members. We have other business we need to get finished before the recess.
In terms of the water referendum, I do not have any policy announcement to make to Senator Boyhan. The Government did publish the Water Services Policy Statement 2018-2025. What the Minister has said about the referendum is that he has no problem having one, provided we have a robust form of wording which does not allow for unintended consequences. That requires a piece of work to be done. We should all reflect upon our political stances around water, given that we are now going to hear cries in the autumn from some Members about the lack of water, about the drought, about investment in infrastructure. Some people and some political parties played football with water to curry favour with the electorate.
Some, not all. I am glad to see responsibility is on this side of the House where we were responsible, including Senator Humphreys's party, about Irish Water. We should reflect upon that when we come to the autumn. We will have a water shortage and we will see the consequences of the drought we have now. The consequences are a failure to invest over decades. Someone has to pay. The Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin mantra is that if we have it we spend it.
Senators McFadden and Humphreys raised the issue of transport and the need to have the Minister come to the House regarding issues around transport and tourism. I have not got the answer for Senator McFadden regarding the omission or inclusion of the tourism promotion. What is important is that there is an overarching policy and I would be happy to have the Minister come to the House.
The 9% VAT rate is a very important piece that the last Government introduced as a catalyst for job creation and to help the economy in the hospitality sector. Those who argue for its removal should remember what the 9% has done and is doing, not just in the hospitality sector, but across a variety of hairdressers, shops, newsagents, coffee shops and small businesses employing people.
It is also important as part of the debate that we recognise that the 9% was instrumental in creating thousands of jobs and that is something we should not forget.
Senator Conway-Walsh raised the very important issue of the audiology misdiagnosis and I know that the HSE have been in contact with all of the families involved. That is my information but the Senator may have different information.
I agree with the Senator, there needs to be complete transparency and accountability as regards how a health service executive handles situations like this. It might be a little premature to talk about redress, but what we need to put in place is a suite of measures to support the families and the people or children affected. I agree with the Senator on that and I will take that back to the Minister.
Senator Ardagh raised the issue of student accommodation. We had a discussion on this already in the House. I remind Members that the Ministers of State, Deputies Mitchell O'Connor and English, published the progress report just this week on the national student accommodation strategy which complements initiatives being taken by the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, to increase housing supply under Rebuilding Ireland. The targets set out intend to have 7,000 bed spaces created by the end of next year, and a total of 21,000 purpose-built student accommodation spaces by 2024. At the end of the second quarter of this year, 2,100 purpose-built student accommodation bed spaces had been completed. There are 7,257 under construction, and 7,154 additional bed spaces have had planning permission granted, of which 1,109 are at the planning permission application stage.
These projects combine to a total of 18,610 purpose-built student accommodation bed spaces, of which 5,423 will be completed or due to be completed by the end of this year. I absolutely agree with the Senator on the need for purpose-built student accommodation. The Government is committed to this. I will be happy to bring the Senator to Cork city where we are building a number of purpose-built student accommodation facilities in a variety of places.Construction is imperative given the fact we are playing catch-up. Access to accommodation is critical for students. As those of us who went to college know, the lived experience away from home is part of what college life is about. However, it is becoming difficult for people albeit there are tax incentives for those who want to rent out a room and the Government is committed under Rebuilding Ireland to increasing housing construction in a variety of areas.
Members have raised the issue of Ryanair. I hope talks will resume. Notwithstanding that Ryanair has recognised a union, Senators Ardagh and Humphreys referred to a strike. Any disruption to the passengers and the travelling public is disappointing and upsetting. While I respect fundamentally the right of everyone to go on strike, I hope talks resume. I encourage all sides to engage with the mechanisms available to avoid a protracted or negative impact on customers. Ryanair has taken steps to reroute or cancel flights, but it is important that people talk and seek a resolution.
Senator Humphreys also raised issues around the standard of public consultation. I am not quite sure what was in The Irish Timesthis morning as I did not see it. I am not quite sure what the Senator meant by political interference or Government involvement. Where he is 100% correct and where I stand united with him is that there must be real engagement with the stakeholders who take the time to put a submission together and engage in the public consultation process. Whether it is the NTA, TII or local authorities, people in a planning process should read submissions and take cognisance of representations, which are sometimes prepared by professionals on behalf of communities or residents. I agree with the Senator on the need for real and meaningful public consultation.
I agree that it should be fair. I will get into trouble for saying the following, but will do so anyway. Sometimes, decisions from An Bord Pleanála beggar belief. An oral hearing takes place at which people engage, but it feels sometimes like a token gesture. As such, the Senator makes a relevant point.
Senator Hopkins raised the important issue of home help. She is correct that we have invested significantly as a country in improving home care supports and packages. However, there is an issue in the system which has to be addressed. It was raised during the week in the House by a number of Senators, including Senator Humphreys. There is something fundamentally wrong if people who are approved have to wait. I am happy to have the Minister come to the House in the new term to discuss the matter.
Senator Black thanked Members in relation to the Bill on the occupied territories yesterday. It is important for the country to reflect on what the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Simon Coveney, said about a resolution during the debate. We all want to see a resolution to the issue that has bedevilled the Israeli-Palestinian relationship for decades.
Senator Reilly referred to the Asthma Society's pre-budget briefing yesterday, which I had the pleasure to attend. I met a gentleman whose son, a young student, died from an asthma attack during the Christmas holidays. Listening to his story about his son and dealing with his death opened my eyes, certainly. As Senator Reilly said, some of what is asked for will not cost a fortune, for example, the provision of inhalers at schools and an annual check up. I hope that is something on which the Government will reflect.
Senator Craughwell referred to the Defence Forces and equal pay for teachers. I would be happy to arrange those debates in the new term. Senator Byrne referred to the Alone housing agency. All of us aspire to seeing people not only live longer but to do so at home. We have made huge strides in that area but the Senator is right that continuous supports must be put in place. I hope the budget in October will reflect that need.
Senator Gallagher raised the issue of Brexit. I hope there will not be a hard border, on which matter the Government's position has been clear. However, what puts matters in context is what the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, said yesterday about possible job losses. We should forget about citing percentages and state the number itself, namely, 40,000 jobs in the agriculture and manufacturing sectors which are critical to the Senator's own region. It is something which must always be promulgated. Every European leader should come to the Border and be made to understand the impact of a hard border. While some EU leaders have visited the Border, the Government and Opposition Members should bring like-minded colleagues from other parties in Europe to the Border to show them the real fact of what a hard border will look alike and the impact it will have.
Senator Feighan raised the issue of the 12 July and the Battle of the Boyne. I hope it is a peaceful day in the North of our country, recognising, as Senator Feighan rightly said, the huge progress which has been made by both communities. It is important that we allow today's events to go ahead peacefully. While it is the right of people to have their day of commemoration, I hope it is done in a respectful manner and that we have a peaceful day. The Senator is right about water shortages. I hope the hosepipe ban will continue.
I agree fully with Senator Gavan on the refugee and migrant crisis. It is disappointing to see some of the comments leaders across Europe have made. There is a need for political action. A meeting is taking place of Interior Ministers at Innsbruck today or tomorrow and I hope Europe will reflect on people's needs. It is not just about putting them on a boat and sending them back, it is about resettlement, ensuring they are safe and it is about saving lives. That is why I am very proud of our Defence Forces. It is also about leaders showing leadership and courage. I am happy to have that debate in the new term.
I congratulate Senator Colm Burke on his missing persons Bill. The point he makes about a centralised system is valid and we will certainly be happy to pursue it. Senator Murnane O'Connor gave a wonderful Second Stage speech on the referendum.
Yes. That is why the Minister for Justice and Equality is having it. I replied to Senator Gavan during the week that the referendum is about the value we put on women. One of the issues we will have in the referendum is who will oppose it. The 50% balance required in broadcasting and the referendum commission might be an interesting issue. It is an important referendum, which is why the work of the Library and Research Service of the Oireachtas is worth looking at. It is a very good document on what the constitutional provision means. There will be pre-legislative scrutiny in committee on the referendum Bill but the work of the Citizens' Assembly should also be considered as a platform to inform. It is a referendum which needs to be held and on which an informed campaign is required. Sometimes, people do not know what they are voting on. It is about the value we place on women but it is also, as the Minister for Justice and Equality said, about allowing people to choose the lives they want.
I join Senator O'Sullivan in wishing the Irish Examinerwell on acquisition by The Irish Times. After 146 years of publication, the paper is being transferred to a new owner. I thank Tom Murphy of Landmark Media for his stewardship and pay tribute to the Crosbie family for their wonderful contribution to public life in Cork and Ireland generally. As Senator O'Sullivan said it is "the paper". When it was the Cork Examiner, we all bought it. The Evening Echois the paper I buy every day because it is the paper for Cork city. Every Christmas, we have The Holly Boughto look forward to. It is an extraordinary day and, in fact, some of us are emotional about it.I had the pleasure of doing some freelance work on sport with the then Cork Examiner and I wrote a column for the Evening Echo for a number of years on sport and community notes. I would have a bias that it is the best sports paper in the country and I would say that without fear of contradiction. I hope the staff of the Irish Examinerare looked after by The Irish Timesand that there will be no major attrition in the amalgamation of staff. They are wonderful people and their families have been exceptional in allowing for the publication of great newspapers. It is not just about the Cork Examiner, now the Irish Examinerand the Evening Echo, it is about the other regional newspapers as well.
I hope the titles will not be lost. I wish we had the Cork Examiner still, but in saying that may I thank the Crosbie family for their tremendous service and dedication. It is an emotional day because it is an element of what Cork is.
Senator Norris referenced the Presidency in his remarks. May I remind Members that there never has been more Independent members elected to councils across the country and there has never been more elected Independent Members in the Oireachtas. If Members cannot get 20 people in the Houses of the Oireachtas to sign their paper or to get four councils to nominate them, they should not bother running. What members of the political parties have done is not anti-democratic. If Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, Sinn Féin or the Labour Party decide to run a candidate, that is their prerogative. If they do not wish to do so, that is also their prerogative. I believe the comments made by some Senators are headline grabbing. I wish everybody well in their pursuit of the Presidency and I hope we will have a contest. I wish all those who seek to have an independent nomination every success.