Seanad debates

Wednesday, 7 November 2018

10:30 am

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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The Order of Business is No. 1, Copyright and Other Intellectual Property Law Provisions Bill 2018 - Committee Stage (resumed), to be taken at 12.45 p.m. and to be adjourned no later than 2.30 p.m., if not previously concluded; No. 2, Health and Social Care Professionals (Amendment) Bill 2018 - Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken at 3 p.m.; No. 3, Health Service Executive (Governance) Bill 2018 - Report and Final Stages, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 2 and to be adjourned no later than 5 p.m., if not previously concluded; and No. 4, Parental Leave Amendment Bill 2018, a Dáil Private Member’s Bill - Second Stage, to be taken at 5 p.m. with the time allocated to the debate not to exceed two hours.

Photo of Catherine ArdaghCatherine Ardagh (Fianna Fail)
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I want to speak about Drimnagh in the context of the housing crisis and planning and development in our capital city. Drimnagh lies between Crumlin, Inchicore and the Grand Canal and has a population of approximately 12,000. Ten years ago, Dublin City Council highlighted the need to ensure the proper development of amenities in this part of the city and to ensure that potential development sites were fully serviced. The council spent €140,000 on the Drimnagh area development plan, which was then shelved. I ask the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government to put this area development plan back on the agenda. There are many sites along the canal on Davitt Road and near Crumlin Shopping Centre that could be developed for housing. With proper planning and investment, Drimnagh could be an even better part of our city than it is currently. It could be made even more beautiful, with better utilisation of the canal. Consideration could be given to developing canal walks and to ways of increasing biodiversity. I ask the Minister to urge the council to revisit its plan so that we can maximise the potential of an area that is an integral part of Dublin city.

I also wish to refer to a matter I raised previously regarding school building issues. As we know, two affected schools in Tyrrelstown and another in Lucan have not reopened. The Minister has made various statements regarding how this came to pass. Two weeks ago, I asked whether the Department has its own engineers to inspect new school buildings, which would be the norm with other State projects. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Education and Skills to the House to explain what is happening in the context of school closures and the structural defects that may affect up to 42 schools.

The final matter I wish to raise relates to in our emergency departments. The Taoiseach indicated yesterday that doctors and nurses should not take holidays over the Christmas period. That is ironic, particularly in view of the fact that last year he jetted off to Miami to get some winter sun. A ban on Christmas leave is not the solution. We need to see a proper plan to address what we know is coming down the line for our health service. We know that there will be serious problems in our emergency departments with increased patient numbers over the winter months. Glib comments like those made by the Taoiseach yesterday will not help at all. I ask the Leader to comment on that issue.

Photo of Paul GavanPaul Gavan (Sinn Fein)
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As the Leader knows, I have raised the crisis of industrial relations at University Hospital Limerick, UHL, on a number of occasions since May of this year. I highlighted the victimisation of shop stewards, including the case of one man who, eight months on, is still awaiting a resolution. I also highlighted a culture of bullying which is embedded deep in management thinking at the hospital. I referred to the failure to investigate a most vile letter which was sent to a staff member. I have highlighted an incidence of nepotism, whereby an individual related to hospital management landed a senior post at the hospital without even having an interview. Since then the Workplace Relations Commission, WRC, has intervened but this morning I learned that the management of UHL has done something quite remarkable, elevating incompetence to the level of an art form. Despite months of crisis, despite the intervention of the advisory service of the WRC and despite a finding by that body that industrial relations dispute resolution processes were “dysfunctional”, management seems intent on making a bad situation worse. As things stand, we face a four-hour stoppage by hospital porters tomorrow, the second such stoppage in recent weeks. An eight-hour stoppage will be scheduled after tomorrow’s action. This is happening in a hospital with the worst bed and trolley crisis in Ireland.

I have previously written to the Minister for Health and asked him to intervene. In a response that would not be out of place in an episode of “Father Ted”, he wrote back telling me that he had been in contact with the hospital and management had assured him that everything was fine. Everything is not fine. Hospital management continues to move from one blunder to the next. An agreement to hold regular meetings under the auspices of the WRC has been ignored by hospital management. An agreement with unions to deal with the staffing crisis, signed off in February 2017, still awaits implementation. Chronic shortages of healthcare attendants are as bad today as when that agreement was signed 19 months ago.No recruitment process is in place to deal with this.  The handful of hires that have been made are to cover backfill positions.  No new interviews are scheduled.  Nineteen months on, management constantly breaks its word and has lost the confidence of the entire staff working in UHL.  I call for an urgent debate with the Minister on the matter.  I call for an intervention by the Minister and not just a letter telling me he has written to the hospital.  The people of Limerick are suffering and the staff at UHL are at their wits' end.  Hospital management continually fail to deal with industrial relations in a professional way.  It has lost the confidence of the entire staffing body.  We urgently need action on the issue.

Photo of Aodhán Ó RíordáinAodhán Ó Ríordáin (Labour)
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I raise the issue of the potential establishment of a transport police.  The Leader will be aware of a number of unsavoury incidents on the northside DART line.  A recent stabbing incident happened between Killester and Harmonstown stations.  Earlier this year a DART service was stalled while a gang of youths tried to spray-paint the outside of the carriage between Bayside and Howth Junction stations.  There are ongoing vandalism and other issues at Clongriffin station.  The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, has said he is open to the idea of having a transport police.  I ask the Leader to facilitate a debate on the potential of establishing such a force from within An Garda Síochána to ensure that those who work on, and use, our train services feel safe and secure as they go about their daily business.  Those who believe in public transport, as I do, need to feel safe and secure while accessing that service.

This House should react positively to the initiatives taken by Councillor Rebecca Moynihan on Dublin City Council and Councillor Deirdre Kingston on Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council.  They have secured funding to roll out pilot schemes to provide free sanitary products in their council areas.  An initiative by Councillor Moynihan on Dublin City Council was successful a number of months ago.  At last night's Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council budget meeting, Councillor Kingston secured funding for a pilot scheme to provide free sanitary products in libraries.  A Plan International Ireland survey has found that more than 50% of girls aged from 12 to 19 are unable to afford sanitary products.  We could tackle period poverty if we were to provide free products in our primary and secondary schools.  It is not a radical proposal; it has been done in Scotland.  We believe it would cost about €5 million.  It would be useful to have a debate on period poverty in the House and I call on the Leader to facilitate that.

Photo of Ian MarshallIan Marshall (Independent)
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I take the opportunity to congratulate BASF on opening its financing platform in Dublin last week.  As it is a platform trading more than €10 million globally, it is a significant investment.  I especially congratulate Bastian Rietz, head of BASF Ireland financing platform, and Richard Carter, the company cluster head for the UK and Ireland.  This is a significant investment and expansion in Ireland, building on the success of its existing business in Cork, supplying products to the agricultural sector and other manufacturing industries.  It reinforces the point that Ireland still presents an excellent opportunity for global companies to locate and invest here, and for the economy to benefit from their commitment of provision of high-calibre skilled labour.

It is also significant because BASF is a world leader in research and innovation in a variety of areas such as smart energy, food, agriculture and urban living.  BASF touches on areas of business, life and society that one could never imagine.  In addition, the Cork site provides solutions for metal recovery through solvent extraction technologies, as well as solutions for energy-saving, efficient and environmentally friendly recovery of metals from ore such as copper, nickel, uranium and vanadium.  The Cork site produces more than half its electricity requirement using combined heating and power plant.  It is an efficient use of energy.  The resultant steam from the turbine is used in its manufacturing facility.

In a conversation last week, the BASF team suggested that Ireland presented an opportunity to develop and grow in a pragmatic and accommodating fashion.  Ireland made the process of relocation happen in a relatively straightforward and seamless fashion.  Ireland lent itself to working with international partners.  I congratulate all on this significant investment.  I have no doubt it will be a successful venture for BASF and the State.

Photo of Anthony LawlorAnthony Lawlor (Fine Gael)
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I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment to the Chamber to discuss the ongoing saga of the non-appearance of the wind turbine guidelines.  Those of us from rural areas have been waiting for them since 2015.  A number of applications are being held up because the guidelines have not been published.  Local authorities are in limbo over what they should do with planning applications.  Communities want something they can grasp onto with regard to making objections to the erection of wind turbines.  We also need to understand what community benefit can be gained from them.  I ask the Leader to arrange a discussion on when the draft proposals of the guidelines will be published.  We should get them as soon as possible.

Photo of Diarmuid WilsonDiarmuid Wilson (Fianna Fail)
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I propose an amendment to the Order of Business that No. 75, motion No. 13 be taken before No. 1, without debate.

Photo of Ned O'SullivanNed O'Sullivan (Fianna Fail)
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I second the amendment proposed by Senator Wilson.

A month ago, the delay in upgrading a leaving certificate examination result caused trouble for a courageous student in Wexford, who, thankfully, was able to secure her college place.  It is time for the Minister for Education and Skills to address this debacle.  Every year the same crisis seems to develop.  We hear there is a shortage of qualified markers for the various subjects.  It is not rocket science.  It will happen again next summer unless the Minister takes action now.  At one stage I was very involved in that business.  I was a senior marker or supervisor of English leaving certificate papers.  I know how difficult it is and the volume of work involved.  The Minister will need to address pay levels for the people who volunteer to do this.  It is important to have working teachers doing the marking because retired teachers and others are not au faitwith the curriculum.  To ensure a proper marking system with results out on time for students to avail of the best CAO choices and options available for them, we need to work on it now.  I ask the Leader to invite the Minister to discuss the matter in the House so that we can let him know our concerns.

Photo of Tim LombardTim Lombard (Fine Gael)
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I raise the issue of bus services and a national policy regarding Bus Éireann and the privatisation of some services.  In some areas, fares are extraordinary.  For example, one can travel from Ballincollig or Carrigaline to Cork city for €1; it is a fantastic service.  The Cathaoirleach knows Skibbereen better than I do.  A return trip from Skibbereen to Cork costs €30.  A return trip from Bantry to Cork costs €30.  A return trip from Dunmanway to Cork costs €24.  A return trip from Clonakilty to Cork costs €20.  It is unsustainable to have such an expensive bus service, especially given our new vision to become carbon friendly and the negative environmental impact of cars on the road.We must address that lack of joined-up thinking. There are several ways we can deal with it. We could talk to Bus Éireann about reducing these extraordinary bus fares, which are beyond belief. I am sure Members are appalled that some people pay €30 for a return ticket every day to go to work. It is unsustainable. We must move to a more proactive approach to ensure there is good, cheap public transport, and not have it only in urban areas while rural Ireland is left behind.

We must either examine the price structure or consider privatising some of these services. We have seen them privatised in Dublin and other locations and that has a major impact on the price. There must be a new vision for the price structure. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to the House to discuss these fares in rural areas and what his vision is for these important issues outside of Dublin, because it is unsustainable at an environmental level and also on the economic level. If people are to survive in rural Ireland we must provide them with cheap and efficient public transport. Cheap does not mean a fare of €30 to travel from Skibbereen to Cork, which is outrageous.

Photo of Denis O'DonovanDenis O'Donovan (Fianna Fail)
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I take this opportunity to welcome the Georgian Ambassador and his good wife. You are always welcome in this Chamber.

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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I also welcome the Georgian Ambassador and his wife to the Chamber. They are regular visitors to Leinster House and are actively involved with matters in our State.

I know of people who managed to travel 7 km, less than 5 miles, in 55 minutes this morning in Dublin. It was raining and there was much surface water, but we must have a debate with the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport about traffic in the greater Dublin area, the provision of public transport, BusConnects and other matters. The Minister has been in the Chamber previously but generally he just gives a long speech and does not get enough time to answer the questions raised. The quality of life for people living in the greater Dublin area, people travelling long distances into Dublin and the people who live in Dublin city is greatly affected by the volume of traffic and the lack of connected public transport. It has improved somewhat with the Luas red and green lines, the DART and so forth but much more must be done. Our public transport is not up to the required specification for a growing capital city and the volumes of people using it.

I call on the Leader to invite the Minister, Deputy Ross, to the House. He is the constituency Deputy for the area of Dublin where I live. We must have a proper debate and proper provision because this is affecting everybody who works, lives and studies in the city every day. It is very important. For the people who travel in and out of the city every day and who are not living here, it is important for their quality of life that they are not spending hours in traffic, having the frustration of being late for work, having to get up extra early to ensure they are not late for work and so forth. It is a serious issue and I call on the Leader to invite the Minister, Deputy Ross, to the House with the utmost urgency.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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I thank the nine Members of the House for their contributions on the Order of Business. I join you, a Chathaoirligh, in welcoming the Georgian Ambassador and his wife to the House.

I am happy to accept the amendment to the Order of Business proposed by Senator Wilson. The motion Senator Wilson referred to concerns Georgia and the illegal decision of the Russian occupation regime in Tskhinvali. All of us must be deeply concerned about the matter being reported and actively pursued. It is unacceptable to have illegal moves being made by the Russian Federation, which I believe is violating the fundamental norms and principles of international law and undermining the international system based on the rule of law. It is important. I had the pleasure of being in Georgia two summers ago as part of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, OSCE, Parliamentary Assembly, and one of my regrets is that we were unable to go to the frontier, if I can use that expression.

All Members of the Oireachtas, as parliamentarians, must always uphold human and civil rights and the continuation of the Georgian people having self-determination, so I am happy to accept the amendment to the Order of Business. I commend the ambassador for his work and for reaching out to Members of the Oireachtas. It is important that we stand with Georgia not least because, as we said yesterday, it is about not allowing demarcations in the world but having stabilisation, ensuring continued freedom of movement and reducing the amount of conflict that takes place not only in Tskhinvali but also in the rest of Georgia. The international community must stand up against the Russian occupation and support the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia.

Senator Ardagh was going well until she personalised the attack on the Taoiseach, which was unfair. She is right that Drimnagh is an important part of Dublin. Those of us who travel from Cork to the city drive through Davitt Road or the main part of Drimnagh. It reminds me a little of my area of Bishopstown in Cork in that it needs a heart. The Senator is right about the need to have that plan re-established and proper development in the area. I am aware that Senator Ardagh is working hard in the area with the Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne, and there have been a number of meetings about issues in the area. I had the pleasure of going there recently with the Minister of State and I canvassed with a Fine Gael local area representative, Eoghan Howe.

In fairness to Senator Ardagh, she has worked hard at highlighting issues in her area and I am happy to invite the Minister to the House to discuss the matter. The Senator is right that it is an issue we need to address in a modern world. Project 2040 is one part of the plan but Senator Ardagh’s point is about the fact that in areas such as Drimnagh it is about marrying the old with the new and the demands that exist. I support her and commend her for raising the matter and for her work in the area.

The issue of the schools is very difficult and sensitive. To be fair to the Minister for Education and Skills, he has not opted for the blame game. To begin with he has tried to ascertain the faults in the schools and to give clarity and certainty to the pupils, teachers, parents and community. There was a meeting this morning in Tyrrelstown regarding an inspection at 9 a.m. I have put a request to the Minister to come to the House to discuss the schools issue.

With regard to the health story yesterday in terms of the Taoiseach’s remarks and hospitals, I believe he was trying to say that there is a need at peak demand times to have full service, whether that is in the health sector or the retail sector. For example, in the retail sector nobody is off during the time before Christmas, which is the peak time. People are working and they take their time off when the peak time ends.

In the case of the health system, and I have made my view clear on numerous occasions, it shuts down in some parts at 5 p.m., be it for outpatients or certain types of procedures. We must examine that. To be fair, nobody is advocating that we not allow hard-working members of the health service staff at every tier to take holidays. That is not what was said. The Taoiseach is saying that we must examine how, between 22 December and 3 January, we can keep some of the hospitals, not front-line and critical services, from being shut down. Nobody is advocating that we have elective surgery on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day or St. Stephen's Day or that we open outpatient departments on those days.Nobody is advocating that outpatient departments be opened on those days. However, we have to look at how we can address the issue on an ongoing basis. The remarks of President Higgins in his election night speech were to the effect that all of us, whether politicians, the Taoiseach or those in health unions, matter. We should be careful to work to address the situation rather than instilling fear in people. That is what the Taoiseach was trying to say.

An additional €10 million in funding has been allocated to this year’s winter plan, as well as an extra €10 million next year. The Government is committed to addressing the inequalities in the health system, and we must not create barriers to tackling waiting times and the trolley crisis. Instead we should create solutions. I would be happy for the Minister for Health to come to the House to discuss that matter.

I do not have the answers to the questions raised by Senator Gavan. I would be very disappointed and dismayed if the allegations he has listed today are not being addressed. Nobody can condone bullying in the workplace. In fact, the opposite is true. I have stated in this House on many occasions that there is a need to have unions representing workers which can engage with management or the heads of sectors in order that disputes can be ironed out and solutions can be found. I hope that the machinery of the State can be employed to address industrial relations and workplace issues. I would be very disappointed to hear that any industrial relations are not being conducted in a professional manner. It is the very least we can do, irrespective of ideology. We need a proper mechanism where people can engage in a respectful manner. Perhaps the Senator would be better served by tabling a Commencement matter on this issue.

Photo of Paul GavanPaul Gavan (Sinn Fein)
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That is the next step.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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It genuinely believe it is an important matter.

Senator Ó Ríordáin raised the issue of transport police. It is a very good suggestion and is one I have made myself. We should have a separate transport police to augment the work of An Garda Síochána on the ground. The issues of vandalism and attacks on passengers or personnel working on the Luas or DART services raised by the Senator are a source of concern. It is unacceptable and there is a need to have a real debate about a transport police specific for Dublin which can augment the work of An Garda Síochána. In Cork city recently the Jack Lynch Tunnel and the Lower Glanmire Road were closed and there was gridlock. Rather than using Garda resources to deal with this kind of event, it would be a good idea to have a transport police section to deal with them, which would allow for free movement of traffic and to end some of the commuter heartache referenced by Senator Horkan.

The issue raised by Senator Horkan is one of the challenges we must face as a nation, given that we are back to full employment. There is more traffic on the road, so we should be investing more in public transport, as both Senators Horkan and Lombard have said. I would be happy to have the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, come to the House to address the issues the Senator has raised this morning. It is a huge source of concern. The point made by Senator Lombard about the cost of public transport in west Cork is a legitimate concern to be articulating here.

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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We might ask the Minister to address the separate points.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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I will certainly try to do that.

I commend the local authorities in Dublin and the two councillors, Rebecca Moynihan and Deirdre Kingston, on their pilot scheme for sanitary products. It is a wonderful idea, and I would be happy to have the Minister come to the House to debate the matter.

I welcome the investment in Ireland made by BASF, as described by Senator Marshall. It is both a huge vote of confidence and a large investment. The Senator pointed out that that company is worth some €10 billion globally. We want to see further growth in that area. The Senator articulated very forcefully the importance and the benefit of the BASF investment.

Senator Lawlor requested that the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment come to the House to discuss wind turbine guidelines. I would be happy to facilitate that.

I thank Senator Wilson for raising the very important matter of Georgia. Senator Wilson deserves to be commended on his work on many different issues around international human rights. He is working across many different frontiers to create a better world for citizens of Ireland but also for people in places such as Georgia and Taiwan. I thank him for that.

I believe we will all welcome changes to the leaving certificate appeals process, as raised by Senator Ned O’Sullivan. We should have a real debate on that, to avoid a repeat of what happened last summer with that unfortunate student. The Senator made the point well and we will have that debate in due course.

I thank Members for their participation and I accept the amendment to the Order of Business.

Photo of Denis O'DonovanDenis O'Donovan (Fianna Fail)
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Before we move on I would like to welcome a long-standing friend of mine, Mr. Martin O’Mahony, and his business colleague, Chris Samuelson, who has diplomatic immunity in west Cork for most of the year. They are very welcome to the Seanad Chamber.

Senator Wilson has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business, "That No. 75, non-Government motion No. 13, be taken before No. 1." The Leader has indicated that he is prepared to accept the amendment. Is the amendment agreed? Agreed.

Order of Business, as amended, agreed to.