Wednesday, 24 October 2018
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, statements on agriculture, to be taken at 1.45 p.m. and to conclude not later than 3.15 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes, those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes, and the Minister to be given not less than five minutes to reply to the debate; No. 2, Judicial Appointments Commission Bill 2017 – Committee Stage, resumed, to be taken at 3.15 p.m. and to be adjourned not later than 5.15 p.m., if not previously concluded; and No. 3, which is Private Members' business, Perjury and Related Offences Bill 2018 – Second Stage, to be taken at 5.15 p.m., with the time allocated to this debate not to exceed two hours.
At 12.45 p.m. today there will be tributes to our former colleague and friend, iar Sheanadóir Maurice Hayes. I hope that Members will attend in good numbers to pay their respects to an esteemed former Member of the House.
We learnt today that, unfortunately, two more schools have closed and up to 1,200 children are affected. The schools are the Educate Together in Tyrrelstown and St. Luke's national school in Mulhuddart. Parents have been told anecdotally that the schools should be open after Christmas. Other parents have been advised, however, that if their child is to attend school next September, they should consider putting that child on the transfer list. Parents are worried about what will happen to their children's education. Many more schools around the country seem to be affected than we initially thought.
Generally after any construction project, whether an extension, a house or a big project such as a school, a structural engineer will come in. It is very worrying that the Department of Education and Skills did not have its own structural engineer sign off on the completion of the schools at the time. It is important that the Minister now come to the Seanad to make a statement on how many schools are affected, why structural engineers did not sign off at the time the schools were completed, and to give us an overview of the schools affected.
On a separate issue, those aged more than 70 years must have a fitness form completed by their general practitioners, GPs. Many people older than 70 receive the GP-only medical card. This fitness form, however, is not covered by the card. This is an anomaly in the system and it is very unfair to pensioners to have to pay this fee. Pensioners are on a fixed income and there is no likelihood of that income increasing. Will the Leader bring this to the attention of the relevant Minister to ensure that this form is covered by the GP-only medical card?
I thank the Government and particularly the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Zappone, on the decision to approve the forensic excavation of the site of the former mother and baby home in Tuam. It was the right decision. After a protracted investigation and forensic research, the Minister took the decision. She came to the House before doing so and said she would keep the House informed. It would be helpful if at some appropriate time the Minister came back to update us on this. My understanding is that significant quantities of human remains were discovered at the site last year. The Minister confirmed that to the House at the time.
The decision the Government has made, on the Minister's recommendation, is that several actions will be undertaken to include a phased approach for the evacuation and recovery of the juvenile human remains, as far as possible and practical, the use of systematic on-site ground testing and excavation to effectively locate the burials on this site and forensic analysis. That is very important. I commend the Minister because she said she was committed to it but that she would have to take expert advice and she did that. The lost children at Tuam, and all children wherever they may have been, deserve truth, recognition and ultimately dignity in their burial. The Government's decision is appropriate and welcome. We cannot forget Ms Catherine Corless who was brave and courageous and went out time and again, against all the odds, to highlight this issue. She put her personal story and that of her family into the public domain, which is never an easy thing to do but she felt she had to do that because she thought it was important to explain the problems around this issue.
I would like to pay a personal tribute to Seymour Crawford, a man I knew well. He made an outstanding contribution, especially to agriculture. As a Border man who was sensitive to the complexities of the Border and an active Presbyterian in his community, he was very much in tune with the sensitivities of North-South relations. I have just returned from the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly, and on all sides his name was raised as someone who was a great advocate of cross-Border support within that group of which he was a founder member.He always spoke very eloquently about the great potential of the island of Ireland in agriculture and how, through economics, we could embrace and overcome many of our differences. BIPA acknowledged his great contribution to Northern Ireland politics and those in the South for the way he had always advocated moving forward. I pay my respects to his family. He was an outstanding politician who brought unique experiences to politics, not least a practical and simple application of agricultural methods. May he rest in peace.
I echo the words of Senator Boyhan about the Government's decision yesterday on the Tuam mother and baby home. I commend the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Zappone, for taking the lead. I also commend Catherine Corless, without whose painstaking historical work, the matter would never have been uncovered. Senator Boyhan is right in saying the families of the babies buried in Tuam deserve truth, recognition and the dignity which was lacking in the past.
Will the Leader invite the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade to come to the House to discuss the action he, on behalf of the Government, proposes to take against Saudi Arabia and the words of condemnation he will utter about the appalling murder of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul in Turkey, about which various things have been leaked in recent days. There appears to have been a complete U-turn by the Saudi authorities which now acknowledge that he was killed in the embassy, despite the fact that they initially suggested he had left alive and then claimed he had been involved in a fight. There is a slow trickle towards the truth which is coming out, but we need to take a strong stance on the issue. I am conscious that we have extensive trade with Saudi Arabia, but we need to look at the issue and what other countries are doing. Canada is taking action on foot of condemnation of the incident. It is an appalling attack on journalism, free speech, democratic principles and the rule of law and needs to be condemned outright.
I hope the referendum on blasphemy will be passed on Friday. I would then like us to have a debate on reforming the incitement to hatred laws. The Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act 1989 prohibits incitement to hatred on religious and other grounds. It is a much more appropriate way to tackle attacks on people because of their religion. Blasphemy is the offence of defamation against religion, not people. In Pakistan a Christian woman is awaiting a Supreme Court decision on an appeal against her conviction for the offence of blasphemy and the death sentence pronounced on her. This is but one example of the use by countries with oppressive regimes of the offence of blasphemy to repress religious minorities. We should be very mindful of this when we vote on Friday.
I echo the words of Senator Boyhan and pay tribute to the late Seymour Crawford who was a family friend, particularly on my mother's side of the family in the Cavan/Monaghan area. I know that there was a huge crowd yesterday in Newbliss to mark his passing. My sympathy goes to his surviving nephews and niece.
Yesterday I had the opportunity to welcome students from Gaelscoil Inse Chór for a tour of Leinster House as part of its Blue Star programme, an excellent programme run by European Movement Ireland and the Department of the Taoiseach which discusses the future of Europe and exactly what it should mean to primary school children. Will Leader invite the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy McEntee, to come to the House for statements on the follow-up to her initial report on the future of Europe? The Joint Committee on European Affairs has done an awful lot of work on the issue, on which there were initial statements on in May. It would be appropriate to have supplementary statements to see where the report is and how we can impact on the future of Europe to make sure Ireland will remain at its heart.
I propose an amendment to the Order of Business that No. 18 be taken before No. 1. It is a Bill which I wish to introduce to amend the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 to facilitate the establishment of a farm safety agency and define its function and role. The Cathaoirleach and Senator Conway spearheaded a very good report in the Houses on farm safety, but, through no fault of theirs, like many other initiatives, it now sits on the shelf. I tried to raise the issue of farm safety to have it included in the work programme of the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine, but I was told that it was the wrong committee, as the HSA came within the remit of the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation. That was when I realised there was a need for a dedicated agency to collaborate with and control all of the great agencies that were doing fantastic work such as the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Teagasc, the farmers' organisations, the HSA and many private NGOs which are doing admirable work. There is, however, nobody to pull all of it together and certain areas of the country are being omitted. I will not go into the details of the Bill at this early juncture, but I hope that, when it is brought back on the various Stages in the House, we can have a good, open and frank debate and that people will see the importance of the agency. Last year there were 24 deaths on Irish farms. While it is a sector that only provides 5% of the workforce, it accounted for 50% of fatalities. I look forward to everybody's input and support.
The Leader will say I am like a broken record when it comes to the Defence Forces, but I have gained information this morning that adjudications provided for increases in income for specialists in the Defence Forces such as chefs and members of the ranger wing, among various other specialists, but the Department has decided that, while it will pay the increases from 1 October, it will not backdate them. A considerable amount of money is involved and it is not good enough that, following a process, adjudications have been overturned by departmental officials. It has resulted in PDFORRA initiating a High Court action to get what is due under the adjudications. What is it about this country that every time something like this comes up, we cannot resolve it without going to the courts, costing the country tens of thousands of euro to defend the indefensible? This morning I also found out that the wives and girlfriends of members of the Defence Forces had opened up a GoFundMe page because they said soldiers could not afford to live. It is embarrassing that they have to try to raise money for Christmas. I heard stories about children eating pasta and cereal for lunch and not having seen meat for several days. We have to get to the truth of the matter. I hope the Leader will support me. We need somebody from the welfare services to meet the families. I am prepared to go with them as we cannot allow this to continue. I hear about soldiers going for a run at lunchtime because they cannot afford to eat in the mess. This is not acceptable. We need to come together to resolve the issue.
I also bang on about the same thing day in and day out. The Department has confirmed that it is willing to pay the increases with effect from 1 October.Unfortunately, the Department has also confirmed that it is unwilling to pay the arrears. This would be in connection with the adjudication on pay for cook technicians, Army rangers, account holders and recruits who must pay for their rations and accommodation. I welcome this decision but it is terrible that we had to raise the issue so much. Senator Craughwell and I have raised the issue many times. It is terrible that it has taken so long to reach the position where the provision will have commenced on 1 October. I am exceptionally disappointed that the arrears will not be paid. As I have said in the House on numerous occasions, this affects several of my friends, two of whom have passed away since this all started. Their wives and widows will not get this adjudication or arrears. Some of my friends have retired and will not get this adjudication paid to them, which is very disappointing.
A rebate should be considered for recruits. In recent years recruits have had to pay for their accommodation and rations. At the very least, and especially as there will be no back pay, they should get a rebate for their expenditure. They have paid for training so should get their money back.
I urge both sides to discuss whether there are alternatives to the absolute denial of the arrears payment. PDFORRA has suggested legal action, as has Senator Craughwell. I would be very nervous of taking legal action until I know that the recruits and cook technicians get what they deserve. Let us get them paid first from 1 October and then consider the adjudication or court proceedings. It is vital that these people get their money because they are entitled to this money. Nobody who works for the Defence Forces should be hungry when they get up in the morning and go out to work. I do not blame the Department of Defence but I blame the Department of Finance. It is vital that we deal with this matter. PDFORRA should see if there is a way to deal with this matter first and at least allow the payments dating from 1 October to be made.
I second Senator Paul Daly's proposal to amend the Order of Business.
I commend the members of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly who attended the 57th plenary conference in London from 21 to 23 October. In particular, I commend the Co-Chairs, Mr. Andrew Rosindell, MP, and Deputy Seán Crowe, on their excellent management and chairing of the session. It was a wonderful experience to meet our colleagues from all over the United Kingdom, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands.
I will try to project my voice. The British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly was established under the Good Friday Agreement. It is a tremendous forum for meeting our colleagues from all over the region comprised of England, Ireland, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands. We had interesting and excellent meetings with the Right Honourable Jeremy Hunt, MP and UK Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, and the Right Honourable Ms Karen Bradley, MP and Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. Indeed, the Irish ambassador to the UK, Mr. Adrian O'Neill, acquitted himself very well, as we would expect from his experience. Yesterday, we were also guests at No. 10 Downing Street where we had an opportunity to meet the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs.
I am encouraged and hopeful that there will be a breakthrough in the Brexit talks on the future arrangements between the European Union and the United Kingdom. I genuinely believe that the backstop will be agreed for a special economic zone between the United Kingdom and Ireland in terms of the Border and the continued trade between us and our nearest neighbour. The United Kingdom and Ireland are two islands located off the mainland of Europe. Therefore, we need a special arrangement to ensure that the continuation of trade worth €1.1 billion between our two countries is maintained. It is vital. I am convinced that goodwill will be shown by both sides to bring about this agreement.
I compliment Prime Minister Theresa May on doing her utmost to solve this issue. She is under enormous pressure but she is an excellent Prime Minister. I firmly believe that she will produce a solution that will be agreed by all sides and that will benefit both Ireland and the United Kingdom.
I join in the words of sympathy extended to the nephews and nieces of the former Deputy, Seymour Crawford, who, sadly, has passed away. He was a humble man who devoted his considerable talents and ability to the services of others.
I wish to raise an education issue with the Leader, but before I do so, I congratulate my fellow Ulsterman, Deputy McHugh, on his elevation to Minister for Education and Skills. I also thank his predecessor, Deputy Bruton, for the extraordinary work that he did in that Department.
I want to talk about a great inequality and wrong in the education system that has gone under the radar. The capitation fee for secondary schools is double that for primary schools. The fee was reduced by 30% in the recession. In the previous budget it was restored by 5% but there is still a deficit of 25% due to the recession. The standard capitation grant in a primary school is about 92 cent a day or €172 per year. The grant is double that amount in post-primary education, at €296. Indeed, the Catholic Primary School Management Association, CPSMA, has said that €46 million a year comes from voluntary contributions.
The important thing about primary education is that we have a new hands-on curriculum and pupils learn by doing. The curriculum involves all facets of education, including music and sport, the same as secondary education. The primary school curriculum also involves IT. The needs of a primary school student, in terms of education, equipment and extracurricular activities, will be similar to the needs of a secondary school student if there is to be active learning as per the curriculum. Primary education acts as a foundation stone and it is where a person really develops. The real way to create equality is to invest in the lower tiers of education.
It is a great wrong that the children who attend primary schools get half the capitation grant and thus are supported half as well as children who attend secondary schools. That is wrong, inequitable and unfair, it does not create equality, and it is wrong for development. We are now in an economic position to solve the problem. I call on the Leader to arrange a debate on this serious issue. People may not notice but it is wrong that a child attending primary school is discriminated against, and it is active discrimination.
I support Senator Leyden's comments as I, too, am a member of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly. We had a very productive two days in London, both at the conference venue and Westminster. Yesterday we had a moving wreath-laying ceremony in Westminster that was led by the two Co-Chairs and that acknowledged all of the people who died in the First World War, or the Great War, as it is also known.
I highlight a report produced by the Nevin Economic Research Institute and outlined this morning. It claims that multinationals hide the weakness in the indigenous economy and that while the average statistics look quite good, it is really the multinationals that are very productive and advanced in terms of efficiencies, thus hiding a lack of productivity in the indigenous sector. The report highlights in particular that the domestic economy is weaker in terms of information and communications, which is somewhat surprising, and real estate activities when compared with European counterparts.
Will the Leader schedule a debate on the topic of our national competitiveness? While we welcome and appreciate the tremendous employment and tax benefits that foreign direct investment, FDI, brings, equally, we must strengthen and protect our indigenous economy. It would be wonderful if we had as many home-grown companies. We have some very successful multinational companies such as Cement Roadstone Holdings, CRH, the Kerry Group, Smurfit and others that have grown out of Ireland. Nonetheless, there are an awful lot of companies in Ireland that are not as productive as I would like them to be and as, I am sure, they would like to be themselves. The Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Humphreys, would be the most appropriate Minister to invite to the House. We could discuss what she and her Department, along with Members of this House and the Lower House, can do to strengthen the indigenous economy, which is always going to be here.I wish for as much foreign direct investment as we can get because it is fantastic. The more FDI we have, the less dependent we are on any individual company. This is, however, an important topic on which I ask the Leader to schedule a debate as soon as possible.
I agree with Senators Leyden and Horkan on the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly. I compliment the British co-chair of BIPA, Mr. Andrew Rosindell, MP, on a truly great programme that he laid on. I had an opportunity at the meeting to pay tribute to the late Seymour Crawford, who was a proud member of that body for some time. On one occasion - I do not know how many years ago - when the conference was held in Dalmahoy, outside Edinburgh, the former Deputy had a bad back and could not fly. I collected him in Monaghan and drove him there and we got on very well.
On a happier note, I personally conveyed the Cathaoirleach's warm wishes to The Right Honourable John Bercow, Speaker of the House of Commons, and I assure the Cathaoirleach they were heartily reciprocated. He told me he had met the Ceann Comhairle and he would like to meet the Cathaoirleach. Perhaps the Cathaoirleach's office will get in touch with the Speaker's office in due course.
He is also very witty.
I would also like to be associated with the expressions of sympathy on the passing of former Deputy Seymour Crawford. I knew Seymour and found him very pleasant company. I extend my condolences to his loved ones.
This month we have seen the introduction of an air ambulance service in the south-west area based in Cork. The new service is run by Irish Community Rapid Response, a group whose work deserves to be commended. It provides airlifts of patients to specialist units arising out of accidents and other emergency events, such as cardiac arrests and strokes. The service is being established voluntarily along a charity model and will, I understand, cost €2 million per annum, all of which will be funded by local contributions. Amazingly, this service will provide a 20 minute response time to a 10,000 mile area. I understand that is its capacity. It is a fantastic initiative, which is fully deserving of State support.
It was my colleague, Senator Feighan, who raised a Commencement matter on this general topic in June of last year. The Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, gave an update to the House on the Department of Health's work in expanding such services. Senator Feighan correctly pointed out that air ambulance services had been vital in saving lives in the Roscommon area following the downgrading of the accident and emergency unit in Roscommon hospital. As I understand it, the vast majority of existing air ambulance cover is currently provided by the Air Corps with back-up provided by the Irish Coast Guard. Perhaps this model of charity-based and voluntary air ambulance services, as we see with the new service in counties Cork and Kerry, could be a means of helping to bridge any gaps in cover across the country.
Last year, the Minister of State agreed with Senator Feighan that there was ample scope for a cross-Border service to be put in place serving Ulster counties. It strikes me that such a service would be especially useful in areas such as County Donegal, where it was reported a few months ago that, over a four-week period, 130 people who had called an ambulance from Letterkenny hospital had to wait for more than an hour. Such circumstances are indefensible and we need to examine possible new solutions.
We should debate this matter to get an update from the Minister on any gaps in air ambulance cover; to explore whether the voluntary charity model might be a means of addressing gaps and whether grant aid or tax incentives can be provided for such community or voluntary schemes; and to find out if there has been any progress on the possibility of establishing cross-Border services, which the Minister of State appears to favour and which might assist more isolated rural areas in the north and north west, such as County Donegal. I would be glad to be brought up to date, as I am sure other Senators would be, on any developments.
I have received a number of angry emails in the past week in regard to a settlement of €550,000 that was made in the High Court to someone who did something totally stupid. Insurance awards are four and a half times higher here than in the United Kingdom. For every €100,000 that is awarded, €42,000 goes on legal and other associated costs. The €550,000 settlement that was made last week will result in an additional €200,000 in costs. Whether one is paying home insurance, motor insurance or business insurance, that impacts on every citizen. Something has to be done about this. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister with responsibility for this matter to the House to debate this issue and discuss the need for the courts to make realistic payments, as opposed to the payment made at the weekend to someone who did something stupid. In the old days, we used grab onto a truck to be pulled along on our cart or bicycle. We knew if we fell off it would be our fault and we would not be able to go after anyone else. Last week, a payment was made to someone who did something totally stupid. If this is the way our insurance payouts will go in the future, we need to do something about it.
I raise the issue of illegal parking in designated disabled car parking spaces. Unfortunately, this problem seems to be on the increase throughout the country. The Garda in Monaghan has recently voiced concern at the increasing trend of able-bodied motorists parking in designated disabled car parking spaces, particularly in the evening and at weekends. This is a disappointing trend, which is very frustrating for those who need disabled parking spaces, for example, while visiting their general practitioner, GP, or calling into a pharmacist. If a space is taken, people are unable to park and are forced to drive off. As Senators will be aware, the fine for anyone caught parked in a disabled parking spaces is €150. This growing trend indicate that the fine is not heavy enough and may need to be reviewed.
At a recent meeting of Monaghan County Council, a local independent councillor, Mr. Paudge Connolly, suggested that we should consider allocating penalty points to those who are found parking in disabled spaces to try to stamp out this trend. I support that proposal. This issue needs to be addressed. I ask the Leader to bring it to the attention of the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross.
I join my colleagues in expressing sympathy on the death of former Deputy Seymour Crawford. Yesterday in Newbliss, the people of County Monaghan bade their final farewell to Seymour, affectionally known as "the Gentle Giant". He served his community, both as a county councillor and a Member of the Lower House for almost 20 years. Seymour was a decent, honourable man who was highly respected throughout County Monaghan and the Cavan-Monaghan constituency. I join others in extending my deepest sympathy to the extended family of the late former Deputy Seymour Crawford and to the Fine Gael Party in County Monaghan which has lost an honest, decent individual and member.
I also want to remember the late former Deputy Seymour Crawford. I served with Seymour from 2002 and 2011. He was, as Senator Gallagher stated, a gentle giant and an honourable, decent and respectful man. He will be much missed by his colleagues in Leinster House and his constituents. As Senator Leyden said, Seymour did more for North-South relations on the island of Ireland than most, including through his work in the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly. He certainly made a difference.
Last weekend, we had an interesting few days at the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly meeting in the UK. I thank the co-chairs, Deputy Seán Crowe and Mr. Andrew Rosindell, MP, who commemorated the centenary of the ending of the First World War with dignity and respect in Westminster yesterday.We have moved forward in many ways, given that we can now commemorate and respect the up to 50,000 Irish men, including the 30,000 from the Twenty-six Counties who were forgotten. That is for another day, though.
Yesterday, we held some meetings with Ms Karen Bradley. We told her that under no circumstances would there be a hard border on the island of Ireland. People, particularly in the UK, are talking about 98%, 95% or 90% of the deal being done. No deal will be done on Brexit if the Border is not respected and the Good Friday Agreement is not implemented in full. Those are the sticking points. Ms Bradley was asked how the UK could ever be trusted again if it did not respect a written guarantee. She effectively stated that the UK would not renege on its Border agreement. I hope so.
Seymour Crawford was a decent, honourable and honest man, and he will be missed.
I rise to voice the concerns and anger of residents who live in the vicinity of Oweninny wind farm, which is in north Mayo not far from Bellacorick and Crossmolina. This raises a larger question of how communities located immediately beside wind farms are looked after. I welcome the wind farm, which represents a €160 million investment. Once completed, which is expected to happen next year, it will provide power for approximately 50,000 households and go some way towards helping us achieve our 2020 renewable electricity targets. However, people who are located immediately beside such infrastructure need to be looked after. In particular, financial provision should be made for them. The offering made by Bord na Móna and the ESB, the authors of this joint venture, is basically a community fund that can be distributed far and wide. Its details have not been decided yet, but it in no way acknowledges the fact that some people will be living right beside and looking at turbines. The area in question saw the closure of the Bord na Móna peat-burning power station at Bellacorick, which had a cooling tower of 290 ft in height. Most of us know what those towers look like. The wind farm's turbines will be more than 580 ft in height, more than double that of the cooling tower. There are no other turbines of such a height in the country.
Under the Bord na Móna-ESB proposals, a near neighbour scheme will be operated. This would see reduced electricity prices, but only for people living within 2 km. In this case, that would only benefit four households. An estimated 100 households will be affected by the development. Bord na Móna and the ESB need to revisit the matter. The new Minister should attend the House to discuss how communities can feel a real benefit of funding that comes from renewable electricity generation projects. There will be a fund of €232,000 per year. These people need more money to retrofit their houses, including improving their insulation, as well as cheaper or free electricity. I do not doubt that, with the right model, this could be rolled out elsewhere.
The community has accepted the wind farm, but many communities are not in a position to do so. Bord na Móna and the ESB need to look after this community better. I call on the Minister to come to the House.
The Safe World Summit 2018 took place in Dublin this week. The organisers, contributors and speakers all deserve our applause. One of the main challenges facing the world is the extent and impact of violence against women and children. Ireland has come an incredibly long way. We have criminalised domestic violence in the Domestic Violence Act 2018. Now, domestic violence is treated as a much greater crime than violence against a stranger. For the first time, we have a robust legislative foundation that recognises and responds to the dangerous patterns of control, domination, inequality and psychological abuse within the home. Thanks to the Act, the barriers victims encounter are breaking down, but some remain. We need to consider how to help victims in bad situations to get out and be free before matters turn more sinister. There are services and supports, but not enough, especially in terms of housing. We need to consider how we listen to and help victims after they have suffered.
According to the Irish Probation Journal, sentence lengths in assault cases range from a fortnight to half a year whereas sentence lengths in theft cases can range from one month to nine months. That is unrealistic. If we fail the victims, we are letting them down. We need to help them and ensure that, instead of silencing them, we encourage them to speak out. Yesterday, Ms Noeline Blackwell, the chief executive of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, told The Irish Timesthat information on how judges decided sentences in rape and sex abuse cases needed to be published to ensure that survivors understood the process and were not discouraged from reporting. We do not have sentencing guidelines and should not tell the Judiciary how to do its job, but we must ensure that it gives support to victims.
Yes. It is important, given the figures, and it needs to be highlighted. It is close to all our hearts. I see it in my area daily with people coming to my clinics. I am calling for a debate with the Minister. This is all about information and letting people know of their entitlements. It is an awareness campaign.
Before the Leader responds, I wish to be associated with the remarks of sympathy to the late Seymour Crawford. I served with him in the Lower House for some years. He was indeed extremely knowledgeable on farming matters and, from my experiences with him, a very polite and decent man. I served on a committee with him. I convey my sympathies to his family and the Fine Gael Party in Monaghan, where he was a pillar. I remember from election results some years ago that he was always on top of his game in his native county.
I join the Cathaoirleach and Senators Gallagher, Feighan, Boyhan, Richmond, Mullen, O'Reilly and Coghlan in expressing to the nephews and nieces of the late Seymour Crawford our deepest and heartfelt sympathies. He was an extraordinary person and a gentle but firm man who was very passionate about Monaghan, his faith and the farming community that he was a member of and represented. He was also very good company. I would love to have been in the car with Senator Coghlan as they travelled from Monaghan to the ferry.
It would have been some journey. Senator Gallagher is right, in that he was a decent and honourable man who was sincere, forthright and open to diversity and inclusion. I pay tribute to him. Unfortunately, I could not get to his funeral. He was a wonderful mentor to the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, and was proud of her elevation to Cabinet.
One of my most enduring memories of the former Deputy, Seymour Crawford, was his ability to bring people around him and to be a catalyst for fun and good discussion. I sympathise with his family. Ar dheis láimh Dé go raibh a anam dílis.
Senator Ardagh referred to the school closures. It is a disgrace that 40 schools have to be inspected like this. Oversight of schools building projects is vastly different today than it was ten years ago when some of these schools were built. The issues that Senator Ardagh has raised relate to schools built in 2009 by Western Building Systems under a design-and-build contract on behalf of the then Department of Education and Science. Phase 2 builds, which were delivered in 2015, are unaffected. The programme of fire safety assessments was initiated by the Department in 2017. It includes all works constructed by Western Building Systems in the 2009-17 period that had not previously been assessed for fire risks as well as a representative sample of 25 other schools. During this week, over the mid-term break and the week after that, the Department intends to conduct structural assessments of all schools constructed by Western Building Systems.In September of this year, the Chief State Solicitor's office, on behalf of the Department, initiated legal action against Western Building Systems in respect of the four schools in which fire-related works have been assessed or carried out. It is important we ensure students and staff have certainty and, critically, safety. We reflect on the great announcement in 2007 of public private partnerships. A rapid-build programme for new schools was announced then. We must learn lessons from that decision as well. I welcome yesterday's announcement.
Senator Ardagh also raised the issue of over 70s and the expenses they face seeing their GPs. I will have the Minister come before the House to discuss this issue.
Senator Boyhan raised the announcement yesterday concerning the Mother and Baby Home in Tuam. We had a discussion about this on the Order of Business yesterday. I again commend, as did Senator Bacik, the decision of the Minister, Deputy Zappone, and the Government to have this forensic excavation. As I said yesterday, it is about respect and dignity and ensuring we individualise, personalise and bring a sense of dignity to this very difficult and traumatic period. I commend Catherine Corless again for her tremendous work.
I join Senator Bacik in condemning outright the killing of Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul. No administration can condone what happened. The drip feed of information is deplorable. There is now an obligation on Saudi Arabia, notwithstanding the actions it has taken so far, to reveal the whole truth of the matter. Anyone who is in any way interested in upholding and promoting human rights must condemn this killing unreservedly. I hope the Minister will come before the House to discuss the matter; I will endeavour to have him do so. There can be no equivocation on this. I would be equally happy to have the matter of incitement to hatred legislation debated post the referendum. Like Senator Bacik, I hope people will vote "Yes" in Friday's referendum.
Senator Richmond raised the importance of Europe and discussing its future. As he rightly said, we had the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, before the House prior to the summer recess. Given the impending Brexit date and the need to have a discussion on the future of Europe, I hope we will have this debate post the Hallowe'en break.
I would be happy to accept Senator Paul Daly's amendment to the Order of Business. I know that the Cathaoirleach and Senator Conway in the last Seanad did work on farm safety. The figures for incidents and deaths regarding farm safety are far too high, and I commend Senator Daly on being proactive in this regard.
Senators Craughwell and McFadden raised the issue of the Defence Forces in the context of adjudication matters. The Defence Forces were the first sector to be engaged with on these matters. Outstanding adjudications and findings in the public service pay deals are in some cases not yet fully implemented. As we know, financial emergency measures in the public interest, FEMPI, legislation is being unravelled and the measures removed from people's pay. We have a public service stability agreement on pay which is addressing outstanding issues, and discussions in this regard are ongoing. I welcome the fact that the adjudication has stated that payments will be made to the range of specialties that Senators Craughwell and McFadden have raised, including cooks, technicians, rangers and account holders. I hope, and I would caution, that any action that might do nothing other than further delay these long-overdue payments would be reflected upon by the unions and others. Like Senator McFadden, I urge both sides to negotiate further to see if a solution can be arrived at that would allow for a satisfactory outcome to the matters raised by the Senators.
Senators Leyden, Horkan, Coghlan and Feighan raised the matter of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly meetings yesterday and on Monday in London. I welcome the discussions and compliment all involved in them. The point made by all Members of the House who are members of BIPA is the importance of the assembly, especially now, given the Brexit timetable. More specifically, post Brexit, it will be equally important to have the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly enhanced and strengthened. I urge Senator Leyden to explore the possibility of more meetings of the assembly than have been held until now, given the importance of the relationship post Brexit. I join him in congratulating everyone involved in the discussions and I sincerely hope that the Speaker of the House of Commons will visit these Houses on foot of Senator Coghlan's advocacy on the Cathaoirleach's part. I am sure the discussions of John Bercow, Senator Coghlan and the Cathaoirleach would make for interesting dinner table conversation.
Senator O'Reilly raised the issue of capitation for schools. It is a very important matter and one on which I would be happy to have the Minister come before the House.
Senator Horkan raised, in addition to the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly, the issue of the Neville report and the need to have a debate on employment and the way in which foreign direct investment plays a key role in attracting jobs to our country. There are some, of course, who do not want us to have any foreign direct investment and who would set corporation tax at a higher level. I know Senator Horkan is not one of them, but we must be mindful that we are a peripheral nation, depending-----
We need a mix, which is what we are trying to achieve.
Senator Mullen raised the issue of the air ambulance service and its importance, acknowledging the work done by Senator Feighan. Notwithstanding the fact that we now have an excellent service being provided in Cork by Irish Community Rapid Response, the points Senator Mullen makes should be aired in a further debate. Perhaps a Commencement matter might be more appropriate and might provide the Senator with a more expeditious reply. He raises an important matter.
Senator Lawlor raised the issue of the High Court, the settlements and the breakdown of the awards in terms of their costs. It is a matter on which the Minister should come before the House, and I would be happy to facilitate that.
Senator Gallagher raised the issue of disabled parking spaces. This is a matter in all cases for the local authorities to police and monitor with the Garda. It is disconcerting to hear and read of an increase in the number of people parking illegally in disabled parking spaces. It is an issue on which we need to educate people further.
Senator Mulherin raised the issue of the wind farm in north Mayo. She raises a very serious question as to how one supports communities in areas where there are wind farms, notwithstanding their benefit and our need for diversity in energy supply. I would be happy for the Minister to come before the House to discuss the matter.
Senator Murnane O'Connor raised the issue of domestic violence. I am sure she welcomes the fact that this Government successfully brought the domestic violence legislation to the House. I commend the former Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald, the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, and the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, for their work in this regard. I spoke about the matter she raised on the Order of Business yesterday. It is important we support people, whether in cases of domestic abuse or child abuse, and that we allow them to come forward to make their allegations or claims and then be supported in having their cases and their voices heard. It takes huge courage, as we all know, for a woman, man or child to come forward at whatever age, at whatever time in their life, to put forward their story.As I said yesterday, sometimes we are all boggled as to how courts arrive at a particular decision. I did not read Noreen Blackwell's remarks but she is a person I have great admiration for, and I know she was interviewed on "Today with Sean O'Rourke" yesterday morning. Sentencing is a matter for the Judiciary, but an explanation must be given as to the way members of the Judiciary arrive at some of the sentences they hand down because it incites people to all sorts of thoughts, some of which are wrong. I agree with Senator Murnane O'Connor that we must support victims of domestic abuse and child abuse. I am happy to accept Senator Paul Daly's amendment to the Order of Business.
Senator Paul Daly has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That No. 18 be taken before No. 1." The Leader has indicated that he is prepared to accept the amendment. Is the amendment agreed to? Agreed.