Tuesday, 23 October 2018
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, Markets in Financial Instruments Bill 2018 - Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken at 4.45 p.m.; No. 2, Greyhound Racing Bill 2018 – Committee Stage, to be taken at 5 p.m. or at the conclusion of No. 1, whichever is the later, and adjourned at 6.30 p.m., if not previously concluded; and No. 3, statements on the Disclosures Tribunal report, to be taken at 6.30 p.m. and conclude not later than 7.30 p.m., with the time allocated for group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes each, which time can be shared, and the Minister to be given not less than four minutes to reply to the debate.
A recent report by Care Alliance Ireland states nearly 6,100 people nationwide are awaiting home helps. It outlines that it is more difficult to access a home help today than it was ten years ago. Care Alliance Ireland also indicates that there seems to be a disparity between areas within the country and describes a "postcode lottery", whereby people seeking a home help in some areas will have to wait for up to two years for one. I have made representations for a couple living on the south side of the city in Walkinstown. They are aged 85 and 87 years, respectively. Their family are looking for another four hours of home help per week to help them to stay in their home in order that they can stay together. If they cannot receive this help, it looks like one of them will have to move into a nursing home, which would be more costly to the State. We need to have a proper discussion on the provision of home help. I know that my colleague in the Lower House, Deputy O'Dea, has a Bill in progress that would apply the fair deal scheme system to the allocation of home help hours in order that people would be able to live securely in their home without having to move into a nursing home. We need to think about this issue, especially because of the ageing population. I, therefore, ask for a debate on the allocation of home help hours and provision of care in the home.
The second issue I would like to raise is that of domestic violence. It is incumbent on us to be more aware of it, especially in the light of recent cases which are in the public eye. We should learn the signs. As policymakers, we need to ensure more supports will be available to men and women suffering domestic violence in the home and that there will be avenues of escape in order that they will be able to leave situations where they are suffering physical or mental abuse. We have to forget about paying lip service to the issue and have a proper discussion on it to make sure the correct supports will be in place.
This is Epidermolysis Bullosa Awareness Week. Sometimes children with the condition are known as "butterfly children" because their skin appears to be more fragile. We all have two layers in our skin and most of us have an anchor which keeps the two together. However, children with epidermolysis bullosa do not have that anchor and their skin appears to be more fragile. We should take a minute to look it up to create greater awareness of it because it is a condition that affects many children in this country. They are very brave children, many of whom are coming out this week to create an awareness of the condition.
I compliment the Minister for Education and skills on taking rapid action at Adrgillan College. I know that some of the Leader's colleagues are in the constituency. The question on my mind is whether we will pay for the mistakes of the Celtic tiger era a second time, as we find ourselves tearing apart brand new schools, or schools less than ten years old in order to repair structural faults. I was delighted to hear the Minister say this morning that the cost of the work will be subject to litigation that will take place in due course. I compliment Mr. Paddy Lavelle, chief executive officer of Dublin and Dún Laoghaire Education and Training Board, on taking rapid action and keeping the safety of students and teachers foremost in his mind in making a decision to close part of the school. As the Leader knows, being a teacher, this is a serious decision. We do not close schools or parts of them very easily. It was rapid action on the part of the Minister and the CEO who are to be commended and complimented.
I cannot let this session pass without discussing the Defence Fores. Recently the Minister of State with responsibility for defence matters told us that the Public Sector Pay Commission would meet on 23 October with a view to releasing in the first quarter of 2019 a report on the issue of Defence Forces pay. I cannot pre-empt what the commission will find, but there is an awful lot more wrong in the Defence Forces.The time has come for an assessment of the entire structure of the Defence Forces to be carried out by an independent auditor, preferably from outside the State, who would have no axe to grind with anybody. That would be in the interests of the Minister of State and the Defence Forces and it needs to happen urgently.
I ask the Leader for his assistance in examining the way by which the blind pension tax credit might be extended to people suffering from hearing loss. They endure many of the same disabilities as those who are blind and I would like to see them avail of the same tax credit. I am not talking about my hearing as I am not profoundly deaf, but I would like the tax credit to be extended to those who are.
I refer to the closure last Friday of the Authentic Food Company in Dundalk. Senator Nash raised the issue during the Commencement debate earlier. Staff in the company were treated deplorably by management. Its parent company has its headquarters in Manchester. A total of 180 people were employed at the facility in Dundalk, most of whom had given a lifetime of service to the company, yet when they arrived at the factory on Friday, there was no work for them to do. My colleague, Deputy Adams, wrote to the managing director on 21 October following the making of representations to his office. Attempts were made to contact management, but there was no response until a letter arrived giving notice that liquidators had been appointed to the company. I am also aware of unsuccessful attempts by Unite to speak to management to gain clarity on its intentions. Staff should have access to the full redundancy arrangements contained in their contracts of employment, but they have no idea if the company will honour them. Its conduct to date does not inspire confidence. The staff are owed wages; some of them are owed a month's pay and shift premium payments, as well as their annual leave entitlements. Technically they are still employed, as they have not yet been issued with their P45 and cannot access social welfare benefits. The matter will be raised in the Dáil Chamber by Deputies Gerry Adams and Imelda Munster shortly. The Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation must secure the sale of the business. She must also take steps to ensure companies will not be able to use tactical liquidations to circumvent their responsibilities as the staff have been left in dire straits. It is not the first time we have seen this happen. It is reprehensible. Workers and their families have endured the injustice of companies pulling out of the country without any explanation being given and certainly without showing any care for the workers who had worked for them for a long time.
It is only a few days to the presidential election. I wish all of the candidates well, in particular, a certain female candidate from the rebel county of Cork. I alert citizens to the blasphemy referendum which is being held on the same day. The confusion caused is obvious when one canvasses on the doorsteps. We need a "Yes" vote to support freedom of religion, belief and speech, as well as the separation of church and State, to respect our international human rights obligations. People need to vote "Yes" to allow Irish media outlets to deal objectively with religious issues without having to self-censor. People need to vote "Yes" to support those facing persecution in Islamic states.
The next speaker is Senator Nash who spoke at length earlier during the Commencement debate about the job losses to which the previous speaker referred. I am sure some action will be taken to deal with the matter.
I thank Senator Devine for acknowledging my work on the issue which I raised and debated earlier with the Minister of State. Apart from the requirement to ensure the staff will receive the entitlements they are due, there is a bigger issue at play - showing respect for workers caught up in insolvencies where organisations simply believe they can get away with impunity, putting staff on the side of the street and directing them to the State insolvency fund for the redundancy payments to which they are entitled.Some workers in the plant have worked for 25 years and built up certain rights and entitlements that employers are dodging and not fulfilling through fancy corporate footwork. They are denying staff their rights and entitlements, an issue to which I know we will return. Arising from the Clerys debacle I brought recommendations on this matter to the Government in April 2016 in terms of how workers can be better protected in the context of insolvency arrangements like this one. However, it seems we have learned nothing in this country in that regard.
I note the confidence and supply arrangement is being renegotiated. It will probably be renewed because we all know there is very little difference philosophically or ideologically between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael.
One of the important aspects of the original confidence and supply arrangement was the requirement that all arrangements between the Government and Independent Deputies on whom it depended for its support would be published, but we have seen no such material arising from that or evidence in writing to suggest the dirty deals that may have been done to buy the support of Independent Deputies.
That is something that should be of great concern to everybody who is interested in democracy and ethics. This is a matter not just for Fine Gael but for Fianna Fáil as well. I ask that it would focus clearly on those arrangements and demand that Fianna Fáil ensures that takes centre stage in the context of this renewed relationship I anticipate will happen.
As part of this much derided new politics, Bills have passed Second Stage in the Dáil and the Seanad that, at least under the terms of the confidence and supply arrangement, were supposed to move to Committee Stage within ten weeks of their Second Stage passage in both Houses. Unfortunately, approximately 200 of them have been sent to the place where Bills go to die, so to speak. I ask Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil to focus clearly on that requirement to move Bills through the legislative process as expeditiously as possible to make sure all legislators get the opportunity to get new laws that are required enacted and put on the Statute Book without any delay-----
I want to talk about the Department of Education and Skills and thank the new Minister for his quick response in providing measures to deal with the school buildings that have structural failures.
I refer to the issue of leaving schools vacant when the school moves to another location. There are former school sites in four areas in my constituency, namely, Trim, Athboy, Kildalkey and Kells. Last week, the old convent on Patrick Street, Trim, caught fire. In Athboy, a company is interested in buying the old site. I got involved with the board of management. We sent an email to the Department which replied that it is doing a survey on the needs of the local school community. I believe it is dragging its heels in that regard because I can provide it with those figures. There is ample space for pupils in the two schools. The interested company would bring jobs to the local community. A new school has opened in Kildalkey. We have a site but it has been vandalised already. We have the new Eureka secondary school in Kells, and there is an old site in that location.
These sites are being left vacant but surely we can give them to community groups under Government schemes which might use them to run coffee shops or community centres. It is terrible to see these buildings vacant and left in ruins in rural Ireland.I would like the Minister to come to the House. Legislation should be brought in so these sites are not left vacant for years, going to rack and ruin and being destroyed.
The Leader will recall I raised the issue of the water supply from the Eddie Fullerton Dam, north of Buncrana, last week. I asked for the assistance of the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, to make it clear to Irish Water that it needs to meet with the Oireachtas Members from Donegal and the councillors in the north Donegal area.
We have a water supply that continually bursts because it was built to a substandard level back in the day. Rather than address the issue and repair this huge pipeline, Irish Water is going to extend the supply to Letterkenny, the major town in Donegal. It is incredible.
In a separate issue, earlier this year, the public representatives asked Irish Water to meet us. Irish Water refused. It gave us assurances about a €5.8 million project to make water safe in north-east Inishowen, particularly for the community of Greencastle. Irish Water refused a meeting, gave us assurances and has not honoured those assurances. I am sad to report to Senator Buttimer that this is the second time that a meeting has been turned down. We have been referred to a one-hour clinic at the end of November where all the individual issues affecting consumers will be addressed. One can imagine the number of councillors who want to see Irish Water. Irish Water wants us to go to a clinic at the end of November, along with all the other councillors about all the other issues, rather than address this serious issue of public concern.
I ask the Leader to intervene and bring this issue to the attention of the Minister. I can email him all the details. We cannot accept this for the second time this year. It is making a mockery of public service that public representatives cannot meet with them about serious issues. I ask for a solution.
I raise an issue in respect of the Dormant Accounts Fund and welcome the announcement by the Minister of State, Deputy Kyne, of the allocation of €1.2 million to upgrade eight volunteer information services to full volunteer centres. I have a particular interest in this because Roscommon is one of the locations that will be upgraded to a full volunteer centre, which is important.
Pobal was before the Joint Committee on Rural and Community Development recently and much of the discussion was about ensuring we support volunteers to get involved and support them in the face of challenges around governance, the importance of promoting best practice and challenges around paperwork and making applications. It is extremely positive that €1.2 million is being allocated to eight centres across the country, Roscommon being one, because, without volunteers, many community facilities, services and activities would not happen. We need to support the volunteers that we have and try and encourage more to get involved.
When will this funding be available to the eight centres and what will be allocated for each of them?
I note a report in The Irish Timesthis morning that refers to a finding of the Law Reform Commission, LRC. It has called for a new, properly-resourced white-collar crime agency to work in close conjunction with the new white-collar or corporate crime agency in the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions. The LRC is also calling for regulators to be able to fine and impose sanctions upon companies.
The former Governor of the Central Bank, Patrick Honohan, pointed out that criminal convictions - and there have been some for white-collar crime - were not related directly to the question of reckless trading.He said that, like many commonsense people, he had assumed that reckless trading was a criminal offence and should be prosecuted. However, he was told by the responsible authorities to dream on and that there was not sufficient case law for this to be sustained. This is nonsense. It shows the utter laziness and dereliction of duty of the prosecution service. What do they mean that there is not enough case law? There will never be enough case law until they start bringing cases.
I was chairman and managing director of two companies that were formed for charitable purposes but were registered as limited companies. I closed one of them down for a period because I was afraid of being charged with reckless trading. There is an offence of reckless trading. In my opinion, particularly in the wake of the financial crisis, this should be prosecuted and it is just not good enough to say that there is not enough case law. Case law must be build up and it is about time the authorities got their act together and did so. I also agree completely with the suggestions of the Law Reform Commission that this special agency should be created and that regulators should have the opportunity to impose financial and other regulations.
I will follow a trend in today's contribution by raising the efforts by the Minister for Education and Skills to clarify the position in respect of 30 schools that have been affected by unfortunate building habits in recent months and years. Several of these schools are in Cork, including one in Clonakilty. This is a cause of serious concern. Speaking to parents and teachers from that part of the world, they were genuinely concerned about how this could have happened and what recourse will be available. Will this issue affect the education of their children? What plans have been made?
Clarification is required sooner rather than later regarding the reasons the schools are in this condition and the plans in place to ensure this cannot happen again. Children attending these schools need to know if their schools are damaged and, if so, how bad that damage is. I hope the Leader will get clarity for the thousands of children and hundreds of teachers who are affected by this issue. They need assurance that their school is a safe location and they can do what they are supposed to in school.
I raise the issue of the €700 million overspend in the health budget. I ask that the Minister come to the House to provide a detailed breakdown of this budget overrun and details on the health capital plan. In my area, the planning permission for an endoscopic unit in Naas General Hospital is rapidly running out and we want to see that proposal developed as quickly as possible. Will the Leader ask the Minister to come to the House to discuss the €700 million overrun, in particular, whether it will increase further by the end of the year, and how much additional funding we will have to allocate for health in next year's budget?
I welcome today's announcement that there will be an extensive exhumation of bodies at the Tuam mother and babies home. The remains will be forensically examined and, most importantly, there will then be a respectful burial. This issue has been widely debated and discussed. I understand the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Zappone, presented the proposal to Cabinet this morning. It is the right decision and the Minister deserves our full support.
I raised previously the need to establish a central database for unidentified human remains.Today, it was announced a body discovered over 17 years ago, washed up on Quay Island in Clare, was identified as being that of a person reported missing a number of months previously. He was reported missing in February 2001 and I may be wrong on the dates but the body was discovered a number of months later. There was no identification until recently. The family had to wait for 17 years for a decision on this matter. I have given a detailed proposal to the Minister for Justice and Equality for a central database in the country about unidentified remains so that there would be a co-ordinated effort with regard to information about missing persons and human remains. This has not been done. Each coroner's area keeps the information and there is no connection between one coroner's area and another. We need to do that. I ask that the Leader again raise this matter with the Minister for Justice and Equality. I had a Commencement matter dealt with here but I do not believe we should delay in bringing forward this proposal.
I raise the matter also raised by other Members of structural issues in Ardgillan Community College and some 29 other colleges. We should not be in this position. I had the Minister here in the House earlier today to address accommodation issues in Rush and Skerries and he alluded to this problem in Ardgillan too. We have new schools built in the last ten years and we find that some of them are not safe.
I understand that there was a failure in this instance to ensure sufficient ties between the outer and inner walls. If this is true, it is gross neglect. The builder has to be held to account and no further contract should issue to that builder until the full facts are available and the costs are recovered. One wonders if there are other buildings outside the 30 identified that could have other problems due to this old pre-2014 habit of builders certifying the buildings themselves through their own agent. We need to look at our new regulations from 2014 and ensure there are no other loopholes that would allow this sort of behaviour.
I thank the Minister and the Department of Education and Skills for acting so swiftly to protect our children and teachers from an unsafe building. Our children are our future and they are getting the best education from excellent teaching staff. Both our children and teachers are entitled to a safe and excellent environment, to allow teachers to give our children the best education to prepare them to compete in a very challenging and modern world. I will continue to work for the parents and children of Dublin Fingal to ensure there is adequate, safe accommodation for our students. I will be very happy to work with the Minister to ensure that we achieve this goal. There is no point in having a situation where people, having fought long and hard to have accommodation for their child at school, find that the accommodation is not safe.
I thank the 11 Members for their contributions to the Order of Business. I agree with Senator Ardagh that we all need to take time to become familiar with the issue of the epidermolysis bullosa awareness week and the impact that it has on children. The Senator beautifully described them as butterfly children. We should all join with her in her advocacy and ensure that there is a pathway of care for young children with rare diseases and conditions. I commend the Senator for raising the matter. On the allocation of home help hours and home care packages, we all share the overarching desire to see people's quality of life improve, in particular older people. That is why the State values the home support service which is at the core of what the HSE is doing for older people. It is worth indicating that, in monetary terms, the home support service budget has grown from a base of €306 million in 2015 to over €420 million. In saying that, it is important to acknowledge that the need is growing and that more people are looking to have home help hours allocated to them, as well as extensive home care packages. The 2018 HSE service plan provides for the allocation of over 17 million home help hours to 50,500 people. The Minister for Health has also secured a significant increase in the health budget. I hope, therefore, that the Department and the HSE will continue to improve existing services. If there is a blockage - to be fair, many of us understand there is a delay in the approval of some home care packages - there is a need to streamline the application process to make it user-friendly. I hope we can make that happen sooner rather than later. The point made by Senator Ardagh is valid, but it is worth noting, as I said, that there has been a significant increase in the budget for home care services.
I join the Senator in highlighting the issue of domestic violence. While she did not reference the decision on sentencing in one of the courts yesterday, we must always encourage the victims of domestic violence or child abuse to come forward and speak with clarity and authenticity. While the ordeal of having to go before a court can be horrifying, it is important that all of us involved in public life support victims who as citizens of this republic deserve our support and empathy. They have a story to tell and need support to tell it. It is important that we encourage them to do so.
Senators Craughwell, Reilly and Lombard referred to a number of schools, in particular Ardgillan community college which is a source of major concern. I, too, commend the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy McHugh, his Department and the Dublin and Dún Laoghaire Education and Training Board for being proactive in dealing with the matter. It is of huge concern that a school built between 2007 and 2010 is today a source of worry in terms of the health and safety of the students and staff. The Minister's first priority is to ensure their welfare and safety. We all hope it was not a case of corners being cut or a compromise being reached in terms of the structure of the school. As Senator Lombard rightly said, parents and staff want to know promptly about the issues involved. It is welcome that the Minister having carried out a programme of safety assessments at the different schools, one of which is in my constituency. It is a source of worry and the utmost clarity is required. It is welcome that the Minister and the Department have engaged the services of a project manager and a full technical team to organise and oversee remedial works required arising from the assessments. I hope the cost will not be borne by the State, but that is not a matter for me to decide today.
Senator Craughwell referred to the Defence Forces. As he knows, in 2015 the Minister of State, Deputy Kehoe, commissioned the White Paper on the Defence Forces.It was a comprehensive review of the Defence Forces and defence policy and involved a major engagement with a variety of stakeholders. I welcome the proactivity of the Minister of State, Deputy Kehoe, who acknowledges that the Defence Forces face challenges in recruitment and retention. He does not operate in an ivory tower but is a hands-on Minister of State who is acutely aware of the importance and value of the Defence Forces. A public pay commission was established for this reason and it is also why members of the Defence Forces are rightly having their pay restored under the FEMPI legislation and some of the other pay agreements.
The Minister of State has also pushed for a White Paper to be published expeditiously to target the skills gaps in the Defence Forces. I think Senator Craughwell will also agree that the extra €47 million for the Defence Forces in budget 2019, of which €6 million is for the pay and conditions of our Defence Forces personnel, is to be welcomed.
If the Minister of State had his head buried in the sand, we would not have had the White Paper or the evolutionary change we see in the Defence Forces. He is well aware of the needs of members of the Defence Forces, as we all are from our constituencies. We are very fortunate and we should commend the men and women of our Defence Forces on the extraordinary work they do both at home and abroad.
The issue of the blind pension and hearing loss is not one to which I have an answer at my fingertips. Perhaps Senator Craughwell would get a more judicious and expeditious reply if he raised it as a Commencement matter, but I would be happy to work with him on it.
Senator Devine raised job losses in Dundalk, which are most disappointing and distressing for the families and the workers involved. Senator Nash also raised this as a Commencement matter with the Minister of State, Deputy Phelan. The Government's concern is for the workers directly affected by the announcement at this very difficult time for them and their families. Many of us have seen in our own work people who have been similarly treated. It is most upsetting and distressing. The Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection is working across Government with the workers in the transition to find new employment. It is also important to recognise that the reply Senator Nash received from the Minister of State recognises that the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection will provide the workers with "any redundancy, insolvency and jobseeker payments to which they may be entitled in a timely manner and will proactively help them to access available opportunities for employment". I think we all agree this should not have happened in the way it did and that the way the workers were treated was wrong.
We collectively worked to try to rectify that situation. It is disappointing to see this happening today and it is unacceptable. All of us will work to ensure that the employees are treated properly. That is the best thing I can say to the Senators right now. It is disappointing.
The Cathaoirleach indulged Senator Devine a little on the issue of the referendum on blasphemy, which I too hope will be passed. I will not engage in a discussion on the referendum now. I also wish all the presidential candidates every success and luck on Friday.
When I say "success", I mean they might get their deposits back. There can only be one victor, and to the victor go the spoils. Perhaps I should not say "the spoils", but to be elected Uachtarán, the Head of State of our country, is a huge honour and privilege, and I wish whoever that person may be next Friday every success and blessing in the job.I am smiling at Senator Norris, who was a candidate in the previous election. The work he did then and beforehand should be recognised.
I accept that. Many of us can tell the story and have the scars to prove what happened. It is important that we allow the talks to commence and wish the negotiators well in their deliberations. Perhaps some of the Bills that Senator Nash has referenced are not fit to have gone any further than they have. Many of them are unworkable or unconstitutional.
Some are not ready to proceed any further, but perhaps some others should be discussed by the Dáil's Business Committee. We in the Seanad do our business in a prompt manner and do not delay legislation unnecessarily.
Senator Butler raised the issue of the Department of Education and Skills in the context of school buildings being left empty when schools move to new premises. That such lands and buildings could be used for a variety of purposes is worth considering, so I commend him on that.
Regarding Senator Mac Lochlainn's comments, I am disappointed that Irish Water has again chosen not to meet public representatives about the Eddie Fullerton dam. It is incumbent upon Irish Water to discuss an issue of this importance with public representatives. As with Senator Nash's issue, perhaps a Commencement matter might be the way to go. I have no information for Senator Mac Lochlainn to hand.
Yes. Senator Hopkins deserves credit for her work with the Roscommon volunteer information service. She is a strong advocate for it. I congratulate the other aid centres on their upgrades and commend the Minister of State, Deputy Kyne, on the €1.2 million that he has allocated. Senator Hopkins shows the importance of working with groups in the community.
I have no information for Senator Norris regarding the Law Reform Commission. I have not seen the article, read the report or heard anything about the matter, but I would be happy to invite the Minister to attend the House to discuss it in due course.
Senator Lombard raised the issue of education. Senator Lawlor raised the issue of the additional health spend of €700 million. The Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, took the Health Service Executive (Governance) Bill in the House last week. Rather than an overrun, we would all prefer to see value for money and accountability in the HSE's extra €700 million. We now have the largest health budget in the history of the State and I hope it will deliver for people.
Senator Colm Burke referred to the report on the Tuam mother and baby home by the former Senator and now Minister, Deputy Zappone. I welcome the Cabinet decision to have a full forensic examination of the site.I welcome that there is to be a respectful reburial of the babies and a memorial at the site. The work of Catherine Corless is to be again commended today. This must now be about dignity and respect. I hope that at this late stage we can bring dignity and respect to what has been a profound tragedy and blight on our lives. The Senator also raised the issue of the need for a centralised database for unidentified human remains. I welcome that his Bill has passed through the Seanad and I commend him on his work in that regard.
Senator Reilly also raised the issue of schools, for which I thank him.