Wednesday, 10 October 2018
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, Health Service Executive (Governance) Bill 2018 - Order for Second Stage and Second Stage, to be taken at 12.45 a.m. and to adjourn not later than 2.30 p.m. if not previously concluded, with the contribution of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and all other Senators not to exceed five minutes; No. 2, Markets in Financial Instruments Bill 2018 - Second Stage, to be taken at 2.30 p.m. and to adjourn not later than 3.30 p.m. if not previously concluded, with the contribution of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and all other Senators not to exceed five minutes; No. 3 Qualifications and Quality Assurance (Education and Training) (Amendment) Bill 2018 - Order for Second Stage and Second Stage, to be taken at 3.30 p.m. and to adjourn not later than 5.30 p.m. if not previously concluded, with the contribution of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and all other Senators not to exceed five minutes; No. 4, Public Health (Alcohol) Bill 2015 - Report Stage (Amendments from Dáil Éireann) and Final Stage to be taken at 5.30 p.m.; and Private Members' business, No. 5, Mental Health (Capacity to Consent to Treatment) Bill 2018 - Second Stage to be taken on the conclusion of No. 4, with the time allocated to the debate not to exceed two hours.
In line with the agreement of the House yesterday, I propose that we stand for a minute's silence to commemorate the centenary of the sinking of the RMS Leinster. The Dáil did so earlier this morning and we agreed yesterday that we would do it this morning at 11.30 a.m.
I commend the Cathaoirleach and the Leader of the House for organising the minute's silence in memory of those who lost their lives 100 years ago today. It was a terrible tragedy just one month before the end of the First World War, a terrible and tragic war.
I take the opportunity to welcome to the House Mr. Joe Callanan, who was a Deputy from 2002 to 2007. He is from Kilconnell in east County Galway. He spent 21 years as a councillor and was a very active member of the Western Health Board. He is a nephew of Johnny Callanan, who was also a great Deputy. I welcome Joe back to the Oireachtas. He does not come very often, but he is very welcome. I am sure we all join in that welcome.
On the Order of Business, I commend the Leader on a very active day today in the House. There is a very commendable amount of work to be done in the House today. Arising from yesterday's budget, I commend Deputies Michael McGrath and Cowen, and indeed the Minister, on negotiating the budget. They put considerable work into it. I commend the leader of Fianna Fáil, Deputy Micheál Martin, on his commitment to the country in supporting the Government in the confidence and supply arrangement. It would be very easy not to get involved and just to stand aside. I commend him on the leadership he has shown.
On the budget and the question of affordable houses and affordable sites, let us call it what it is. We want to build local authority houses in every county, including Dublin, and it can be done.It was done in the 1940s and 1950s. There is no rocket science to building houses. There does not seem to be that commitment with the Minister or Department to implementing a housing policy. When I was 26, I built two houses. I got a loan from the county council, £3,250 from the Department and £3,250 from the county council. I was on a very small wage. I repaid the loan in 1999, just before the end of the millennium.
I want to make a very important and significant point. There should be a national housing bond of approximately €3 billion. People have money saved in banks at 0.2% interest. If one got a 20 year loan from people like that at even 2%, one would raise an enormous amount of money that could be spent on housing and solve this problem once and for all.
I do not have any approval from the party to say this but I will say it anyway. There should be a designated senior civil servant in housing to liaise with our Deputy Darragh O'Brien to see the implementation of the budget which was agreed in the Dáil yesterday. That is the only way of ensuring that our confidence and supply agreement can be implemented. I have no confidence whatsoever that this Minister or the Department will do it without the input from a Fianna Fáil link to the implementation of budget 2019.
I welcome the support for agriculture in yesterday's budget, with an extra €57 million to support the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. This will support suckler cows and areas of natural constraint, ANC. After speaking outside Leinster House last week to the Irish Farmers Association, IFA, and farmers who were protesting, be under no illusion that the industry still has many challenges. It is welcome that the Minister renewed the stock relief mechanisms and income averaging in an industry which has historically been plagued with extreme volatility. Acknowledgement must also be given to the extension of the stamp duty relief for young farmers. Agriculture presents itself as an industry dogged by businesses being asset rich and cash poor. Individuals often work in isolation, being self-employed in small enterprises. It is important that we defend all of these self-employed businesses.
I refer to Senator Butler's comments yesterday and commend him on them. He eloquently described the pressures and concerns within self-employed businesses. It is a lonely place when one is self-employed. We must endeavour to protect these people at all times and apply additional mechanisms, especially in times of adversity.
Central Statistics Office, CSO, figures indicate that small and medium enterprises, SMEs, make up 93% of exports to the UK, with over half of them having fewer than ten employees. Therein lies part of the problem with our Brexit discussion. However, as Robert Burns wrote:
The best laid schemes of mice and men
Go often askew...
Brexit is the elephant in the room.
Any budget will present exceptional circumstances and challenges. An air of realism and pragmatism must be applied to this budget. The absence of any really damning headlines this morning probably indicates that even though yesterday's budget will not satisfy all, it goes part of the way to delivering what Ireland needs. To echo the Minister of State, Deputy D'Arcy's, comments yesterday, we will use all of the tools at our disposal in agriculture and other industries, such as genetics and technology, to improve efficiency and ultimately drive behavioural change in business. A Brexit-ready budget is always challenging, especially in the absence of information and clarity on what the future really looks like. Putting the jigsaw together when one does not know the shape of the pieces is not straightforward. The next few weeks and months will be critical for all businesses, big and small, as the Brexit negotiations progress, and for Ireland, the UK and Europe. History will be the judge of the outworking of these negotiations. Ireland's economic success must be commended but complacency must be avoided. An unremarkable budget could risk presenting itself as someone warming his or her feet at the fire while the house burns down around him or her. We do not need headline-grabbing budgets this moment. I give credit to all the authors of this budget for delivering a pragmatic, considered approach to building Ireland for the future.
I find Fianna Fáil's declarations that it is here to save us all eternally amusing. It is here to save us from Fine Gael and ourselves. They declare how they will fix the housing crisis. It is worth taking 30 seconds to look at Fianna Fáil's record in housing. Fianna Fáil caused the collapse because of its collaboration and closeness with the banks, and the light regulation, not only for banks but for the construction industry too. In the 14 years under Fianna Fáil, the social housing waiting list increased by 258%. It is a proud record indeed. Fianna Fáil's average build of social houses was 5,523 a year and, by 2011, the council waiting list was 98,318 and there were 113,000 people on the rental accommodation scheme, RAS. It followed a pattern of privatising the rental sector. We saw that again in yesterday's budget with the tax breaks for landlords, no taxing for vulture funds and so on. For Fianna Fáil to tell us all that it will come along to fix the housing crisis is incredible. There is much more I could say about it.
Today is World Mental Health Day, which should focus on the services and supports that we provide for citizens who experience mental health difficulties. The theme for today is young people and mental health in a changing world. At the end of last year, the national youth mental health task force published its report on youth mental health. It would be fitting for the Leader to give an update on the implementation of that report. One aspect of the report will be addressed directly this evening by the legislation being brought forward by Sinn Féin. Our capacity to consent to mental health treatment deals directly with recommendation 9 of that report. It would be symbolic for this House to progress this important work on this World Mental Health Day dedicated to young people. Mental health services are in a dire crisis, not only this year and last year but for decades. Some €84 million was announced yesterday but we know that when we dig down through those figures, even initially, that will be €55 million because much of that has already been taken up by needed pay increases. There is dire urgency to reform our mental health sector. Some €55 million will not do that. We need a full debate again here and we need continual debates about mental health in this House and how we can work together to solve the crisis in mental health.
The most astonishing thing about yesterday's budget is that there was no change to the carbon tax regime, despite that Ireland is among the world's worst polluters per capita. It looks to me like the Government, like Nero, is fiddling while not just Rome but the planet is burning. There is a sense of the imminent possibility of catastrophe.Small oceanic island communities are threatened with disappearance and complete submergence under the waters of the ocean.
Former President Mary Robinson spoke very powerfully on RTÉ radio yesterday and she warned that we could be into a catastrophic spiral, where things get completely out of control and nothing can be done. We have, roughly, a ten-year window of opportunity to do something and governments all over the world, including in Ireland, need to be responsible and take the appropriate measures. As Mary Robinson said, it will be for the children - not mine because I do not have any, but others’ - and for humanity.
I am very glad the Leader called for a minute's silence in memory of the tragedy of the RMS Leinster, one of the worst maritime tragedies of the First World War. It was appropriate that Seanad Éireann commemorated this in the dignified way it did. I believe Senator Boyhan took a particular interest in this matter and raised it yesterday on the Order of Business.
I acknowledge the contributions of Senators who referred to the fact that today is World Mental Health Day, which we have been acknowledging for six years. As a State, a Parliament and a society we need to have a conversation about this issue. In the budget yesterday there was a significant increase of €84 million for mental health but we need to have a conversation about it in this House. Indeed, conversations need to happen in businesses, communities and schools. People must feel at ease about having a conversation on mental health and that it is a normal part of one's daily routine.
I draw attention to a very important meeting in Kinsale tomorrow, organised by a wonderful organisation called Kinsale Youth Support Services, known locally as KYSS. A former governor of Mountjoy Prison, John Lonergan, is coming to speak at Actons Hotel. I have heard him speak before and he is very passionate about how we should change our society. He truly believes what he is saying and is a very humane person. Mental health is the big theme of the meeting and I encourage a big attendance because such interactions are what we need to promote.
The issue of carbon tax was raised by Members. The Oireachtas has a special Committee on Climate Action, which was set up a few months ago and has 22 members from all parties.
The Citizens' Assembly, whose chair was Ms Justice Mary Laffoy, will publish a report on 15 January which will give us a greater understanding of what the Government and the State needs to do to sort out the carbon issue.
Yesterday we listened to the budget speech and many of us are still poring over it to see what it all means. What does it really matter when one thinks of two things that have happened in our broken-down health system in recent days? The brave and honest Emma Mhic Mhathúna died on Sunday. Her mass in Kerry took place as the Minister for Finance gave his budget speech. Her remains passed the doors of this House to remind us all how she was failed. She did not need to die on Sunday but she did die because she was failed.
Last week, despite promises made to me that it would not happen again, another brave person, namely, a ten year old boy from Carlow, Brandon Bolger, was also failed. His chemotherapy was delayed because there was no bed for him, the third time in a few weeks he had had no bed, delaying his chemotherapy. Other children are in the same position. I put forward a Commencement matter and the Minister apologised, but the same thing happened two days ago. What is wrong with our society when we allow women to die unnecessarily and when we keep vital treatment from sick children? Real people matter, not numbers, and my thoughts and prayers go to Emma's five children in Kerry today as they lay their mother to rest. She fought very hard to ensure women's lives mattered in this country and she inspired us all.
I call for action on promises made yesterday. I want someone to tell me that Brandon Bolger will not be made to wait for cancer treatment again. His life matters too, and I am calling on this Government to stop breaking its promises and failing the people.
I also wish to comment on World Mental Health Day. This year's theme is young people and mental health in a changing world. Half of all mental illness begins by the age of 14, but most cases go undetected and untreated. As I have seen in my own practice, parents often chalk mental health issues down to puberty or hormones, but if left untreated and without supports, those who experience mental distress can quickly spiral downwards. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15 to 29 year olds worldwide. We all have a duty to help young people to build mental resilience from the earliest ages so that they can cope with the challenges of today's world.
Promoting and protecting adolescent health brings benefits, not just to them but to economies and to society, with healthy young adults able to make greater contributions to the workforce, their families and communities as a whole. Parents and teachers can help build the life skills of children and adolescents to help them cope with everyday challenges at home and at school, but we can all play a role. We should use any opportunity we can to encourage young people and help them to be motivated, whether it is a transition year student on work experience in the office or one's own child. We should help them to develop and stick to routines and to focus on the task rather than on just the results. We should inspire them by telling them our own stories. Prevention begins with being aware of, and understanding, the early warning signs and symptoms of mental illness. If one sees a young person struggling, the sooner one addresses it the sooner he or she can get help. Do not assume that young person will grow out of it or take the first step in seeking help. We need to take the first step.
Yesterday, more with anger than any other feeling, I raised the issue of climate change and how the budget ignored it. The Leader's response was to claim that I was for taxation. I am for taxation, and we have to bring in a carbon tax. The Citizens' Assembly said it-----
-----and yes, Mary Robinson said it. Our own climate change advisory council has also recommended a carbon tax. John FitzGerald of the ESRI came out again yesterday evening to say there was a need for a carbon tax. The Leader it very good at criticising Fianna Fáil for the disaster they left us with our economy but this issue is all on Fine Gael. Fine Gael talks the talk but is not prepared to walk the walk. We are going to leave fines amounting to hundreds of millions of euro to later decades and inflict huge damage on the Third World in the shape of climate change. The Taoiseach said we were laggards but we have taken no action. We are the second worst EU state for tackling climate change and we see no action on it in this budget in the form of a carbon tax. That is totally regressive.
The previous Government had to be dragged into having a climate change advisory council and the then Minister, Phil Hogan, resisted it at every turn, something the people on the committee will be able to tell the Leader. We need action and not words and we do not need the Taoiseach to tell us we are laggards. The action that was expected from the Citizens' Assembly and the climate change advisory committee, from Mary Robinson and John FitzGerald, was some progress on a carbon tax in this budget, but we have seen no such progress. Some people have been running around the country saying they saved rural Ireland from tax on diesel and petrol, but rural Ireland is suffering from climate change, with effects such as floods and fodder crises, and this Government is going to do sweet FA. I find that totally unacceptable. It is totally regressive and leaves future generations to pay for our folly.
I thank the eight Members for their contributions to the Order of Business.
As Senator Norris said, it is important that we commemorate the crew and passengers of RMS Leinster. On this day 100 years ago, 564 members of the ship's crew, civilian passengers, postal sorters and military medical personnel lost their lives in the worst maritime disaster in the Irish Sea. It is important, as Senator Norris said, the House remembers those who died. This morning in Dún Laoghaire, there was an official commemoration of the event.
Equally this morning we remember, as Senator Murnane O'Connor said, Emma Mhic Mhathúna. Yesterday, Members paused for a minute's silence to remember Emma Mhic Mhathúna and the other women who lost their lives in similar circumstances. It is a tragedy and should not have happened. There will be no obfuscation on the Government's part in terms of the implementation of the Scally report's recommendations. Today, we remember those who lost their lives on board RMS Leinster, as well as Emma Mhic Mhathúna as she is being laid to her eternal reward.
I join with Senator Leyden in welcoming former Deputy, Joe Callanan, to the House and thank him for his service. Senator Leyden made an interesting contribution to the Order of Business. Funding for housing is not the issue, it is supply. Supply must be ratcheted up. It is important we have a combined approach to the housing issue. Senator Leyden referred to his party's contribution to the budget. I acknowledge the role played by Fianna Fáil Members in the formation of the budget. That is what confidence and supply is. Having said that, what we must put in place now must be sustainable. That is why in yesterday's budget, the Government committed €2.4 billion to building social and affordable housing, the most significant amount of money invested in housing by any Government in a single year. It will allow us to put in place a model of delivery where men, women, children, husbands, wives and partners can live and have a roof over their heads.
Senator Conway-Walsh gave us the Sinn Féin briefing document on Fianna Fáil. She might share that rebuttal with us. We would love to have it. It was an impressive list she read out.
The issue of housing should not be politicised. It is one on which we all collectively must put forward solutions and ideas in order to build more houses and give people a roof over their heads. That is why the Government committed €2.4 billion on housing spend in the budget. Up to €146 million will be spent on homelessness and €310 million on affordable housing provision.
Today is World Mental Health Day. I commend the Cathaoirleach and the Ceann Comhairle for hosting an important meeting this morning on mindfulness. Senator Swanick spoke about resilience. He is correct that it is about giving people the tools and empowering them to be able to deal with issues which affect their lives. In this regard, this morning's meeting with Chris Ruane MP was important. I thank Deputy Catherine Martin, the Ceann Comhairle and the Cathaoirleach for organising it.
Mental health is an important issue. The Central Statistics Office, CSO, published figures last week which showed men accounted for the majority of the 392 deaths from suicide in 2017. Thankfully, it is a downward trajectory. While we have the tenth lowest rate of the 33 European countries, one person who dies from suicide is one too many. The extra money found in the budget must be put in place not to pay for the rising cost of wages but to put in place mental health services for young and older people. The €1 billion for the mental health budget is a significant amount of money. As the Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly, said yesterday, it is no longer the Cinderella of the health service. There is a compendium of parts to the jigsaw which we must all put in place to ensure the issue of mental health is not stigmatised or forgotten. Members must show leadership. I hope today's mindfulness seminar will be the beginning of a new programme in this House. Yesterday's announcement by the Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly, is significant. I hope we will see spend continuing on the mental health budget.
Senator Marshall made a fine contribution on the issue of the loneliness of the self-employed and the importance of taking care of this sector. That is why the Government announced measures to deal with this in yesterday's budget. Agriculture, particularly in a Brexit scenario, is critical. Senator Marshall welcomed the increase of €56 million in funding to agriculture and the restoration of ANCs. It is important to welcome in the context of climate change the €20 million funding for the new beef environmental efficiency pilot scheme which is on the way. This will have a significant role to play.
I know Senator Humphreys can feign his-----
Senators Norris, Lombard and, my good friend, Humphreys raised the issue of carbon tax and climate change. Nobody is in denial about the importance of the need to have our country take its climate change responsibilities seriously. The Government is committed to that. I will cast the Senator's mind back to the Minister's speech yesterday. I replied to the matter on yesterday's Order of Business. The Senator can protest all he wants. I know he has to do what he has to do. However, one has to be fair about what the Government has done and is committed to doing.As the Senator understands, Ireland has, compared with other EU countries, a very broad carbon tax. It is pitched at €20 per tonne. Regardless of whether people like it-----
----- ours is a tax on diesel, petrol, coal, home heating oil and other fossil fuels. The Government is encouraging people to change their behaviour and move towards cleaner alternatives rather than penalising those who have no option but to use their cars at a time when the price of diesel has risen by 20 cent per litre. It is okay for Senators Humphreys and Norris, both of whom live in the middle of Dublin city. Perhaps they will listen to what I have to say.
What the Government has done in the budget is place a 1% VRT surcharge on new and imported diesel cars, invest €30 million in supports for electric vehicles and extended tax reliefs for hybrid and electric cars. This year, the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, who is criticised in this House almost weekly, will spend more than €780 million on public transport infrastructure and services. In addition, we will agree a price for carbon in 2030 and a pathway to achieve it over the next decade-----
-----which will link us what is envisaged by the Climate Change Advisory Council, a matter to which Senator Humphreys referred. Under Project Ireland 2040, €22 billion will be invested to tackle the issue of climate action. This is in addition to the €8.6 billion being put in place for climate sustainability in terms of mobility.
What does this mean in simple terms? It means that Government is investing. We are also upgrading our public transport system. Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann will have low-emission vehicles. We will also ensure that, by 2030, all new cars will release zero emissions, which is one of the most ambitious projects or plans in Europe. The Senator dismissed my comments on Moneypoint yesterday. We have said that no more coal will be burnt by 2025----
-----and that peat will no longer be used by 2030. We are investing in renewable heating and deep retrofitting of public buildings and homes. We have already put in place schemes and supports aimed at creating that model of delivery in housing. I accept that we have a journey to travel, but it requires partnership not an adversarial approach or point scoring. I ask the Senator to cast his mind back to what the Minister said yesterday regarding the commitments he has given in respect of to the Paris Agreement. I will be happy to have the debate, as the Senator knows I did, on climate change at his request. I hope the Order of Business will be agreed to.
The issue in respect of Brandon Bolger is absolutely inexcusable. The Senator cannot blame the Government for an appointment being cancelled. That is a matter for the hospital, the physician, the oncologist or whatever facility the young boy is attending. As somebody who is deeply aware of the effects of cancer, I know it is important that the young boy in question should receive timely treatment and intervention. If the Senator tabled a Commencement matter yesterday - I did not know she had-----
-----then an assurance needs to be given that it will not happen again. However, as the Senator knows, sometimes procedures and appointments are cancelled for a variety of reasons. It is not always because of issues relating to funding, staffing or resourcing. It is upsetting to the young boy and his family that it has been cancelled more than once.
It should not happen. Nobody on this side of the House - or anybody else - would condone the cancellation of an appointment but it is important to recognise that €17 billion is being invested in the health budget, the highest amount ever.
That is my point. The Health Service Executive (Governance) Bill 2018 will be debated in the House later. The HSE was created by the Senator's party leader when he was Minister for Health and Children. He created this mammoth institution.