Wednesday, 14 November 2018
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, motion regarding the appointment of Mr. Justice Seán Ryan to the disclosures tribunal, to be taken without debate on the conclusion of the Order of Business; No. 2, Children's Health Bill 2018 - Report Stage, amendments from Dáil Éireann, and Final Stage, to be taken at 12.45 p.m.; No. 3, Fossil Fuel Divestment Bill 2016 - Second Stage, to be taken at 1 p.m. or on conclusion of No. 2, whichever is later, 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 no less than five minutes to reply; No. 4, Home Building Finance Ireland Bill 2018 - Second stage, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 3 and to be adjourned not later than 3 p.m., if not previously concluded, with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes; and No. 5, Judicial Appointments Commission Bill 2017 - Committee Stage (resumed), to be taken at 3 p.m. and to be adjourned not later than 7.30 p.m. if not previously concluded.
It is a great honour for me to take the Order of Business today on my appointment as deputy leader of the Fianna Fáil group in the Seanad. I look forward to taking it many times in the future and perhaps doing battle with the Leader opposite me.
I wish to refer to the protests that are going on throughout the country today and tomorrow in solidarity with the 17 year old girl who was recently the complainant in a rape trial in Cork. Do not worry, a Leas-Chathaoirligh, I will not take out any items of underwear in this House, but the point was very well made in the Lower House yesterday by Deputy Coppinger. It is very worthwhile to reflect on the words uttered by the senior counsel acting for the defence, Ms Elizabeth O'Connell. I will read them into the record of the chamber: "Does the evidence out-rule the possibility that she was attracted-----"
If I can continue, Ms Elizabeth O'Connell, senior counsel, said: "Does the evidence out-rule the possibility that she was attracted to the defendant and was open to meeting someone and being with someone?". She went on to say: "You have to look at the way she was dressed. She was wearing a thong with a lace front."
Those words were uttered in that trial and they are uttered in trials throughout this country on a daily basis. This is how rape trials are conducted in this country and it is an absolute disgrace. It is time we highlighted it, called it out and reformed the judicial process and the way trials are conducted in this country. This did not come as a surprise to anybody working or advocating in the area of sexual violence. It feeds into stereotypes, victim-blaming and victim-shaming. This was a 17 year old girl, who claims this assault took place in a laneway in Cork. These trials are run in such a way that defendants defend themselves by calling into question the evidence, motives or consent of the victim. That is absolutely outrageous. It is high time that we started to address it at a societal level and on a legislative level here in these Houses.
It is no wonder that only 10% of rape victims come forward and report the crimes they have suffered. An even lower percentage of cases go on to trial, and an even lower percentage get convictions in the end. I know a review has been undertaken by Professor Tom O'Malley of NUI, Galway, in regard to reforming the way these trials are conducted. Professor O'Malley started that in August 2018. Perhaps the Leader could give this House an update on when we will see the conclusion of that review and when proper proposals will be put before this House. For example, in England and Wales judges can give direction if such evidence is used and if such stereotypes are brought up by the defence during the course of a trial. Let us be clear. Rape is an act of violence. It has nothing to do with sex or attraction. It is an act of violence. There are many instances of violence being perpetrated on women in this country and that is just one instance of it.
I would like to add that there is an urgent need for a comprehensive national consent programme to be rolled out in national schools, and I would like the Minister for Education and Skills to come to this House for a debate on that matter. It is clear that the senior counsel in question would not have used this line of questioning if she did not think it would resonate with the jury and feed into some stereotypes to the effect that victims are actually looking for this to happen to them. I would appreciate if the Leader could organise that debate.
I would like to make one final point about delayed discharges.We have learned that delayed discharges, often crudely referred to as "bed blockers", increased from 481 last January to 613 this September. Working families are being blamed for this increase on the basis that they are not taking their family members out of hospital to care for them at home. The blame lies with the Government's failure to provide adequate home care packages. The Taoiseach's statement in regard to supporting families who get up early in the morning and go out to work rings hollow.
Last year €10 million was spent on counselling and talk therapy in comparison with €400 million spent on anti-depressants. We have seen a significant increase in the use of anti-depressants in this country, with one in ten people being prescribed them, not necessarily because they are depressed but because 80% of general practitioners who are the first stop in terms of primary care, have not been trained in mental health. Those who are trained received only six months' training. The easiest and cheapest solution to reduce queues is to prescribe anti-depressants. There has been a 500% increase in the prescription of anti-depressants to 18 year olds, which is harrowing. What does this say about our country?
There was an interesting article in yesterdays Daily Mail by a Dr. Max Pemberton which posed the question of whether as a society we are getting more depressed. In theory, we are not. Owing to poor primary care, doctors feel they can do nothing else but prescribe medication. There are people who need medication but the reality is that medication comes with serious effects and we should not be dishing it out unless for a clear clinical need.
For example, everybody will have heard of the anti-depressant, Prozac. Many countries will not prescribe Prozac to under 18s, but it is prescribed to under 18 year olds here even though one of its side effects is suicidal ideation. We need a proper mental health service alongside a proper primary care service, which should comprise a mental health advocate who will help people who might have mental health issues. Being upset, sad, grieving or unhappy when one does not do well in the leaving certificate examination have become mental health issues. They are not mental health issues. We need to monitor the prescribing of anti-depressants, to bring about a reduction in their use and to ensure they are not being prescribed to people suffering anxiety and other conditions that can be addressed by way of talk therapy.
Yesterday, a draft Brexit withdrawal agreement was agreed between the British and EU negotiators. I welcome that following all of the machinations of the past year and a half and all of the toing and froing and false starts, a suitable deal might be on the table. I use the word "might" because we have not yet had sight of what is on offer. We are hopeful that a deal which meets what Sinn Féin has consistently called for may be on the table. We await the details.
From the beginning of this process, Sinn Féin has consistently called for a special deal for the North reflective of its unique status and which ensures there will be no hard border on our island, that citizens' rights are protected and that the Good Friday Agreement is upheld. We have made this case at home and abroad, including through Martina Anderson in the European Parliament and through others who have travelled to America and other countries. We have urged the Government to promote an all-island view at all times. We have not sought to play politics on this issue.
Sinn Féin has been consistent in calling for special status for the North within the EU. We have at all times supported the Government in what it has been trying to do throughout this process. Those who say that if Sinn Féin took its seven seats in Westminster everything would be resolved are idiots. Those who think the British Tories and others would not come together to stop Sinn Féin and that seven votes within the House of Commons make a difference in all of this are naive. This naivety is beyond belief.
For Sinn Féin the bottom line is the backstop and ensuring there is never a hard border on this island and that the interests of citizens are protected and upheld in the Good Friday Agreement. This protection remains vital. The British must be held to the commitment made last December. The DUP is already out of the traps supposing what is potentially on the table, which is difficult to understand given that none of us yet knows the detail of what has been agreed.
In opposing any positive solutions, the DUP has aligned itself with the most right-wing elements of the Tory Party, UKIP and extreme Brexiteers by moving from an initial position of seeking to avert or avoid a hard border to actively seeking one. The onus is on political leaders to defend our country's political and economic interests. This should be the position of everybody on all parts of this island and everyone within this Chamber.
There is now an onus on the British Government to step up to this mark. When will the parties in this House be fully briefed on what is on the table?
I join Senator Clifford-Lee and Deputy Coppinger in expressing disgust at the argument made in the criminal courts in recent days. The Law Reform Commission has concluded a consultation process on the issue of consent related to the update of Ireland's consent laws. It would be appropriate in that context for the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, to address this House on the issue of rape crime, sexual assault, consent law and how we in this House can be of benefit in assisting the changing of the law in this regard, if required. The message should go out from this House and from every politician and person of influence in this country that the one cause of rape is a rapist.
On Brexit, nobody has seen the draft as of yet. This is a critical time for our country, North and South. I support the calls for a debate on the deal in this House when the text becomes available to us. I am happy to support the Government's endeavours in regard to this deal but the Labour Party holds out hope for a second referendum. It is the responsibility of the Labour Party in Britain to lead that charge. The Labour Party here, through the social democratic family across Europe, will seek to exert influence on Jeremy Corbyn to change his view and to campaign for a second referendum on the basis that there is information to hand now that was not available to the people in 2016. Emotions are no longer running high and the complexities of exiting Europe are much clearer now than they were two and a half years ago. The final deal that is being proposed should be put to the British people, including the people of Northern Ireland. I am sure that if this were to happen, we would have a different scenario. I still hold out hope that Brexit can be stopped.It is the political responsibility of the leader of the Opposition in the UK, Jeremy Corbyn, to lead that fight.
My final point concerns BusConnects and bus corridors. I know that quite a number of people in Dublin city have received communications from the NTA about their front gardens potentially being taken away because of the new infrastructure that is being put in place. I know that there is the potential for a cycle line in Marino to be re-directed from Fairview through certain roads in Marino and on to the Malahide Road. Could the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport come to the House to talk about BusConnects? It has the potential to be positive but it could also have a number of negative effects on a number of small communities. If we could have that debate here and have a bit of political leadership on the issue rather than the Minister distancing himself from the NTA, it would also be of benefit.
I would also support the point made by Senator Clifford-Lee. The sad part was that it was a female barrister who brought it up. I thought the carry-on that took place was despicable.
I want to raise an issue I have been raising for a while, namely, a debate in the House on insurance costs. Businesses across the board are facing a 20% increase in insurance costs. I have asked on a number of occasions for the Minister of State at the Department of Finance to come to the House. I have spoken to him and he is willing to speak here on the matter. I see that it is not on the Order of Business. Instead, we have almost four hours dedicated to the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill, which will also be debated tomorrow. This Bill seems to be holding up an awful lot of work that this Seanad could be doing. Unfortunately, it has been delayed by people in the legal profession to protect people in the legal profession. I ask the Leader to see if the Minister of State could come to the House to talk to us about insurance, including costs and payouts.
I would like to address an issue that has been brought to my attention by a number of different people involved in various projects around the country, namely, the fiasco that is An Bord Pleanála at the moment. The Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government needs to address the issue. Staffing levels in An Bord Pleanála are 10% to 11% below what they were in 2008. The board is unable to reach decisions within any specified timeframe. The average length of time for a decision from An Bord Pleanála has grown from 15 weeks to 17 weeks. This is deplorable given that we have a housing crisis. It is slowing down genuine people who are prepared to build houses and help get us out of the situation we are in.
There are a number of other projects of which I am aware that have no idea when they will get a decision. They are in limbo. Due to the fact that the board is understaffed, it is unable to reach the deadlines it has set but is able to push out that deadline.
Along with bringing staffing levels up to the required number, the Minister also needs to set down clear guidelines for An Bord Pleanála similar to those that apply to any county council or local body so that when people apply for planning permission, they know the date on which they will get a decision, be it good, bad or indifferent. In this day and age, An Bord Pleanála needs to work to a similar system.
I wish to raise the issue of rent pressure zones. When the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government targeted rent pressure zones last year, Limerick was not included yet rents there have gone up by over 20% in the first quarter. This is the highest and fastest growing rent increase in the country. I would like the Minister to come to the House to debate the issue in terms of including Limerick in the rent pressure zones or finding a way to address the fact that landlords are putting up rents at an exorbitant rate in quite a short space of time. We are paying out money through HAP. There are different ways of helping people but given the rate of rent increases, people will not be able to afford to pay rents anymore and it is causing significant problems with regard to our housing crisis.
"The only thing in common between us is that we are all depressed." These are the words of a person in the direct provision centre in Mount Trenchard who shares a room with seven other people. This person described it as an open prison, a place where people forget their dreams and where their CV has gaps totalling years on end. The person said it changes a person completely.
We have replaced the care of the church with the care of private companies and the profit generated has followed suit but the buck stops with this Government. What is it doing for the person in Moville in County Donegal who has to break the law and leave the State to travel on public transport to Dublin for a five-hour interview or the person who cannot access health or counselling services or language classes because he or she is so far removed geographically? We are giving them €20 per week and turning our backs on them. The Government is laying the seeds of discontent among those who come here and in the future, the children who are allowed to stay. Remind me again why Deputy Stanton is the Minister of State with responsibility for equality. This system needs more than tinkering; it is fundamentally broken. I would call for the Minister of State to resign except that all of his colleagues here agree with him.
I want to raise concerns, as I have done on many occasions, about the number of IDA visits to the western region. I have the figures relating to County Roscommon. I am aware that there were no visits in the first quarter of 2018 while there was one visit in quarter 2 and one visit in quarter 3.
As I have stated on numerous occasions, I strongly believe that the IDA is not doing enough to prioritise areas such as Roscommon and east Galway in terms of ensuring we get our fair share with regard to job creation. I say this in the context of a medical devices company in Castlerea called Harmac Medical Products. The Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation visited this company last July. It employs 300 people and is a really important employer in west Roscommon. I say that because it is critical that this company be used as a blueprint in terms of the benefits that an IDA-based company can create for rural communities and towns such as Castlerea.
I ask that we would have a debate in the House with regard to how closely the IDA is working with potential investors in terms of trying to attract them to the western region, particularly to offset the pressures in Galway city and encourage them to set up in towns across County Roscommon and the likes of Ballinasloe in east Galway. There is so much opportunity. It offers a fantastic quality of life. Harmac Medical Products is celebrating 25 years in operation. It is a very good example of where an IDA-based company can be very much rooted in the community and be on a very solid footing to deliver top-class medical device products. It is undergoing further expansion. I would like to know what the IDA is doing in our region and I would like the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation to address the Seanad in an effort to understand fully what is being done to promote our area.
Today is clearly a critical day for Brexit. We have not seen the print so we cannot make an assessment of it. The noise from the media suggests that we are on the cusp of a deal. I honestly believe that there is no such thing as a good deal and that there are far more downsides about any Brexit deal than there are upsides. The whole thing has been highly regrettable and I think the British people made a very profound error of judgment in the referendum but that is their business. It is sad that the voice of extreme unionism seems to be the only voice emanating from Northern Ireland at this time.For whatever reason, the nationalist voice at Westminster - the entire focus is on Westminster, whether we like it or not - is still the voice of Hume and all the great people from the past, including Mr. Séamus Mallon and Mr. Mark Durkan. They represented nationalist thinking at Westminster. I do not understand the Sinn Féin position on this. I listened closely to our colleague.
The Senator objected to being interrupted and I should not be interrupted. Sinn Féin has its reasons for not playing a part here. I do not understand those reasons. My party had to bite some serious bullets when Éamon de Valera came here to Leinster House in 1927. It was most unpalatable for the party but the members did it for the good of the country. Where would the country be if they had not? Daniel O'Connell went to the House of Commons. Charles Stewart Parnell and Michael Davitt went in, as well as John Dillon and John Redmond. They all played a part. It will be very serious for this country if the only voice to be heard, with a compelling say in the matter because of its votes, comes from the Democratic Unionist Party. It will be very sad day for Ireland and it is an awfully backward step.
My leader is addressing a conference on Brexit at Queen's University in Belfast currently, emphasising the total decay of many of the best points achieved in the Good Friday Agreement. These include North-South talks and that the relationship between this country and the United Kingdom is at an all-time low when it should be stronger than ever. We do not have an assembly up there. Many people have much explaining to do here and, without pointing the finger at anybody, we know some of those people.
I have been critical of RTÉ in this House on many occasions but I compliment the broadcaster on an excellent documentary on Sergeant Maurice McCabe that was shown over the past two nights. We must focus on the sustainability of public service broadcasting, particularly the licence fee. An excellent report from both Houses was published with recommendations that were sent to the appropriate Minister at the time, Deputy Naughten. He set up a working group that is supposed to provide findings in the first quarter of 2019. The funding of public sector broadcasting is worthy of debate in this House, particularly its sustainability. Screen Producers Ireland had a briefing this morning for Members identifying the knock-on effect of a poorly-funded public service broadcaster and the effect on the sector producing high-quality content for RTÉ. In 2008, approximately €80 million was spent commissioning these films and documentaries but now the figure is down to €40 million. If we got our house in order in the collection of the licence fee, it would allow the additional €40 million that could be collected to be invested in good quality programming.
Many independent radio stations broadcast far and wide in this country, and they broadcast public service content as a condition of their licence. This is an onerous financial pressure on those radio stations. At an early stage I would like a debate with the Minister on the funding of public service broadcasting not just with regard to RTÉ but with a consideration of the impact it has on the screen producers of Ireland and independent radio shows across the country. I would be grateful if the Leader could facilitate that at an early stage.
I heard what people had to say this morning relating to a court case. We are very good in this House at giving out about things we hear in the media or being said in other fora. When it comes to how a lawyer defends his or her client, we must be extremely careful. We are legislators and if a change in the law is required about the rules of evidence, and specifically what is admissible as evidence in court, we should address that point. We are not helping in the matter by referring to any barrister trying to do his or her best to defend a client as having made despicable statements or otherwise, which we need them to be able to do in our system. We need to take a sober approach to what is or is not admissible as evidence.
It is how we will get to the goal the Senator wishes to achieve. I wanted to address a somewhat vaguely related area, which is the announcement by the Taoiseach and the Minister of State at the Department of Education and Skills, Deputy Mitchell O'Connor, that 45 senior posts in third level institutions would be earmarked exclusively for women. We should debate the proposal in the House with the Minister of State, Deputy Mitchell O'Connor, present. This stems from the controversy about alleged gender discrimination against female candidates for senior positions in my alma materof the National University of Ireland, Galway. I sympathise deeply with the affected people and I agree that the problem should be addressed. This proposal is misguided and it is typical of the highly gaudily-coloured, quick-fix type solutions we get from the Government on matters like this these days.
How can it be a solution to gender discrimination against women to enforce as an absolute policy gender discrimination against men? How do two wrongs make a right? There may be a need for drastic action. We must look at our country in the context of other European countries, as 25% of top posts in Ireland in this area are held by women. The figure is 29% in Norway, 24% in Germany, 23% in France and 21% in Switzerland. If we have a problem, it seems to be a problem shared by other countries. We should look at what other countries are doing to address the matter. I wonder if any country has proposed such a drastic and ill-thought out step. Are we the first to engage in a social experiment like this?
Language is important. I note the Taoiseach and the Minister of State, Deputy Mitchell O'Connor, using words to the effect that they expected the same criticism from the usual suspects. My colleague, Senator Bacik, used similar phraseology in a piece in the Irish Independentyesterday, and she has held the same professorship in Trinity for the past 22 years. She cannot claim to be speaking from personal experience.
I am not criticising her. I am mentioning her article. Why is it that anybody critiquing proposals like this, either on principle or because they see unforeseen consequences, be painted as either misogynistic, conservative or rooted in the past, either directly or by implication?
Critics like Senator Bacik and others have been quite wrong about where the opposition is coming from. Many prominent women have criticised this proposal, including Ms Geraldine Kennedy, the first woman editor of a national newspaper. I would not describe her as one of the usual suspects. We need to think and talk. It would be a service to all of us if we could debate with the Minister of State about how to actually solve the problem rather than having gaudily-coloured proposals.
I want to address the matter of obesity. We need to remind ourselves that the biggest challenge facing our health services, not just in this country but across the western world, are non-communicable diseases. They are not infections. Obesity is an ever-increasing problem with our children now becoming obese and overweight. It is very hard if a child is obese for him or her to lose that weight as an adult. The problems caused include high blood pressure, stroke, heart attack, cancers, diabetes, etc., and I do not need to remind people of the cost of these to our health service.
I raised here before the idea of "no-fry zones" near schools and crèches. In Wicklow we have such a policy but it has run into some difficulty. I see from media reports the possibility there will be a recommendation from the childcare committee that these zones be examined and put in place by the relevant Minister. I hope the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government will get his Department to issue guidelines in this regard and there will be consultation with the Minister for Health in doing that. Children deserve our protection.This is not about the nanny state, something of which we are often accused, rather protecting them and giving them the best chance in life. Then, when they become adults, they will make those decisions themselves. Habits formed in childhood last a lifetime.
We need action on this. We need clear direction from the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government so that local authorities can implement a no-fry zone to protect our children. We had this problem in Skerries recently where a major fast-food facility is being planned. We had all manner of problems. Local people were highly upset about it. The public will be behind us on this. We need to act.
He is away now but I wish to refer to some of the remarks Senator Mullen made earlier. I do not care whether people are the most eminent senior counsel, barristers, legal professors or legal practitioners in this State. If people are advocating or pursuing toxic victim-blaming or quazi-endorsement - that might not be the right word but it certainly veers close to it - around a culture of rape or sexual assault that involves blaming the victim, then I think criticism in this House, the other House, on the street, in the media and anywhere else is fully justified and warranted. Certainly, I will not be afraid to do it. I commend and support fully other colleagues from across parties who have taken a stand in calling out the point in these Houses.
I have no wish to get into a ding-dong with Senator O'Sullivan. There may be other opportunities to debate the issue further.
I do not, because I know the Senator has to come to the House and make the points that he has to make. I am certain there will be other opportunities to do so. If Senator O'Sullivan wants to understand nationalist thinking, why they have turned their backs on Westminster and why they see it as part of the problem rather than the solution, then all he need do is come North, engage with and talk to people. If he did, he would understand – I am certain of that.
The main point for today was around Monday's commencement of the inquest into the massacre at Ballymurphy in 1971. It began in Belfast on Monday and I attended the first sitting. Yesterday, I was glad to see a cross-party delegation from this House. I thank Seanadoirí who attended the inquest. It was not lost on the families. We heard testimony from the relatives of Fr. Hugh Mullan, who was shot and killed by the British paratroop regiment when going to administer assistance and the last rites to several victims. We also heard from the daughter and brothers of Frank Quinn. I do not thing anyone could but be deeply moved, impacted and affected by the testimony we heard. In the coming days families will engage in a session called pen pictures. They will tell the stories of their loves ones. Often with regard to atrocities in the North we hear solely about the end of the lives of people and we do not hear about how they lived or loved, how they played music or sailed, how they were big swimmers, how they cleaned windows or how they worked hard and provided for their families. In this part of the inquest we are getting the opportunity to hear about all of these things. It is a trying time for the families. The inquest is due to go on until the end of March. I encourage colleagues to attend if they get the opportunity. I wish to thank again Seanadoirí who attended yesterday.
We need to have a real debate this afternoon about what the State can do regarding community events and centres. The State is probably the largest landowner in the country, whether the Office of Public Works, the HSE, An Garda Síochána or schools. The amount of properties these organisations own in every town and village in Ireland is phenomenal.
The use of these properties is a great concern for many, especially those in the community sector. I am raising the issue on the back of something that happened in my home town of Kinsale in recent days. A long-term lease was signed for an old HSE building. We put in a men's shed, a youth café and Kinsale youth support services. These three organisations were put into one old HSE building that was revamped. That has to be a template for other towns and villages throughout Ireland. For that to happen, the OPW must have a real strategic view and audit of its structures and buildings throughout the State. Once the office does that, it can then look at the communities to see how the properties can benefit the communities by doing something like what we did in Kinsale. Three organisations are based in one premises there. The building is suitable and appropriate. It is what the town was looking for. This can happen everywhere but for it to happen the OPW needs to get involved and be proactive in this area. A long-term lease was taken in this case. It involved a small amount of money. One knock-on effect was that three organisations were housed. Another knock-on effect is that the entire community got a real lift and benefit from an old derelict building being revamped.
We need to call in the Minister of State with responsibility for the Office of Public Works to ask him about his long-term strategic view for all these properties. It does not matter whether they are old HSE buildings or old Garda stations. We need to see these properties being used by community groups rather than being sold on the private market. They are too important to us and are a real part of our ethos and community. We need to invite the Minster of State with responsibility for the OPW, Deputy Boxer Moran, before the House. We need a real review of his policy in order that an audit can be done. We need to find these buildings and then work with communities to house these great community groups that need a little help to get a base so that they can flourish.
I came across data released recently by IDA Ireland showing the number of site visits conducted throughout the State for three quarters of 2018. Of the 461 visits to date, over half were in the greater Dublin area. It is not surprising that, unfortunately, counties like Monaghan, Cavan and many others have only received one visit to date. There is nothing new in these statistics. Nevertheless, they continue to be disappointing. Thankfully, counties like Monaghan, Cavan and many other Border counties and other counties throughout rural Ireland have many indigenous employers that create employment in those areas. Only for those people, God help us, I do not know where we would be. It is disappointing that many families in these counties have worked hard to put their children through primary school, secondary school and on to university. They have paid hard with fees and big money for rent so that students of the families can be educated in universities in Dublin and the other cities. Unfortunately, once that process is complete they have to wave goodbye to their children because there is no employment for these qualified people in their home counties. This is something that needs to be addressed. We have been talking about it for long enough. We need to ensure that foreign direct investment and high-paid skilled jobs can be located in rural Ireland, especially in Border counties like Monaghan and Cavan and so on.
Will the Leader ask the Minister for Education and Skills to come to the House to explain to the good people of Meakstown in Dublin 11 why he has refused to go ahead with a school for that area?
It is in Meakstown, Dublin 11. That particular part of Dublin has a population of over 10,000 people. The Department and the Minister have refused to go ahead with a new school for the area despite representations on behalf of the community. I am saddened to say there is a deficit of social infrastructure and facilities in that area. The people are disappointed and heartbroken that the Minister and the Department have refused them a new school. I call on the Leader to invite the Minister to the House at the first available opportunity so that he can explain the reason he made that decision.
I also attended the Ballymurphy inquest yesterday. I hope that the people will get justice and that the good names of their families will be finally vindicated. I heard the personal testimony of the relations of Fr. Hugh Mullan and Frank Quinn. I heard Frank Quinn's daughter, Angela Sloan, say that her mother cried herself to sleep every night in memory. She loved her husband so much. It was really heartbreaking. I hope the families of the Ballymurphy massacre get justice.
We talk about today as a big day with regard to Brexit. Probably the less said in this Parliament, the better today because it will have a major impact on what happens in the House of Commons and the House of Lords.Last weekend, we broke through a ceiling in commemoration of the hundreds of thousands of Irish men and women who fought in World War One but also the 50,000 Irishmen who died in World War One, especially the 30,000 from the Twenty-six Counties. When one sees what happened in Glasnevin, Islandbridge, St. Patrick's Cathedral, my home town of Boyle, Sligo, Kilkenny and Enniskillen, with Ministers in Belfast, Enniskillen and London, and the Taoiseach in Paris, these men who deserved remembrance after 100 years got it. There were tens of thousands of people from across communities who turned out on Sunday. I thank everybody. I was in Derry on Saturday night at the 20th anniversary of the opening of the peace park in Messines. I was speaking with Arlene Foster and Paddy Harte, son of Paddy Harte, and Jackie Barr, daughter of Glenn Barr. There should be support for the work groups and organisations have done to bring people from across communities and across the Border to Flanders and the peace park to outline the horrors of war.
When I was Co-Chairman of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly, we brought Irish Deputies and Senators, along with British Members of Parliament, to that peace park and I remember leaving after seeing an inscription on a stone written by Patrick MacGill:
I wish the sea was not so wide that parts me from my love;
I wish the things men do below were known to God above!
I wish that I were back again in the glens of Donegal,
They’d call me a coward if I return but a hero if I fall!
May they rest in peace.
On Monday, I was in Hungary, visiting Government Ministers from the Fidesz party. They are a sister party of Fine Gael. They are both members of the European People's Party. We were there to talk about refugees and the detention of children. It was an interesting series of meetings with Government representatives. They cracked jokes about final solutions. A senior minister told us that when someone climbs over their fence, they let the dogs deal with that person. They proudly told us that they have replaced human rights policies with security policies and how their Christian heritage was under threat from foreigners even though in the 24 hours during which I was in Budapest, I did not see a single person of colour. This is who we are dealing with in the sister party of Fine Gael, Fidesz. We went to the transit zone where we saw children imprisoned in a 30 m by 40 m zone every day for 24 hours a day. They are never let out of that cage. When I remonstrated with the Government representative, all he would do was argue that the 14 year old was really 16 years of age and there was nothing to be seen there. I was lucky enough to speak to a human rights representative from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, UNHCR, who told us of the damage to these children, the pressure and anxiety, and the fact that they are self-harming. I could see the cuts on the wrist of the 14 year old.
I have never seen such contempt for children in my life as I saw from the Fidesz politicians who came with us and were anxious for us to finish the visit. They stopped us from visiting any more. We could see other families and children trapped in similar cages for months at a time, not being able to leave that cage for one minute of one day. This is being implemented by the Fidesz party, which is detaining children daily, and they will say it with pride. I ask for an urgent debate on the issue. The detention of immigrant children is a crime against humanity and we need voices from our Government to condemn it in the strongest possible terms. I need to understand why Fine Gael is prepared to sit in the same party as fascists. That is what they are - fascists. This is a country that gassed 400,000 Jews in 1944. They talk with pride about what they are doing to keep foreigners out. I was never so disgusted with anything I have seen in my life. Children the same age as mine were hemmed in and imprisoned without a second of relief and Fine Gael is sitting with them in the European Parliament. It is a disgrace.
I begin by mentioning the Oireachtas work and learn, OWL, programme. Ten people here are supported by two disability organisations along with the Houses of the Oireachtas Service and the City of Dublin Education and Training Board. They are here on work placement for nine months. When the Ceann Comhairle launched the programme a number of weeks ago, he mentioned this is the first Parliament in the world to do this. I want to mention that in particular because there has been some adverse media commentary on the programme. I am pleased to see the response from the Oireachtas about it. The last census showed that 22% of people with disabilities of working age are in employment and 53% of the rest of the population of working age are in employment. We have a long way to go. Programmes like this and having something such as this in the Oireachtas has to be a strong signal to the country in general, businesses and so on, to do their bit. Many other things have to happen. I ask that Members in this Chamber and the Leader, in whatever way is appropriate and possible, make sure that this programme goes from strength to strength. I note a motion that was tabled in South Dublin County Council on Monday evening which was passed unanimously and which addressed, among other things, having a similar programme within the council. It is important that we give support to these programmes to train people in the workplace.
Senator Feighan talked about commemorations of the First World War. I will quote the gravestone of an Englishman who was in the British army and whose surname was Kemp. It was in Normandy. He had just been married and had a young wife. She inscribed on his headstone: "O for the touch of a vanished hand." I have been all over Normandy, the Somme, Passchendaele, Verdun, Gallipoli and so on for the last 30 years. I have not seen a more arresting gravestone. I saw an unmarked gravestone near the Somme which just read: "An Irish soldier of the Great War". In commemorating them, we need, 100 years later, to have a greater sense of the meaning of our commemoration and what we learn from it about these horrendous events that started again in the late 1930s and in other places since then. What learning have we from it? It is one thing to say it was a senseless loss of life. I am not sure that the world has taken the lessons to heart. Senator Gavan mentioned Hungary. My colleagues with disabilities in Hungary consider themselves and their organisations to be hounded. We will see fewer of them on the streets. I am not making a party political point but saying there are things in states in the European Union that are going terribly in the wrong direction. We know what happens to disabled people in wars.
I congratulate Senator Dolan, who has done much work on disability inclusion. I had the honour of meeting Senator Dolan in Carlow on Monday. I believe the meeting highlighted and advocated for people with disabilities. I pay tribute to the Senator. He has compiled terrific statistics that can only really inform local authorities around Ireland. The amount of work he has done is incredible. He is going around all the local authorities and this is marvellous.
There are 643,131 people with a disability in Ireland, which is 13.5% of the population. In his work Senator Dolan has discovered that people with disabilities are more than twice as likely to report discrimination in relation to housing. They are 1.6 times more likely to live in poor conditions, such as living in damp housing with a lack of central heating, or to live in areas with neighbourhood problems. While people with disabilities represent 13.5% of the population they make up 27% of the homeless population. Currently, when families are classed as homeless, they do not get additional priority if a child has a disability. We must examine that to make the system more inclusive.
Every Senator should get the report and fact sheet provided by Senator Dolan. I am sure they will, as will local authorities. Senator Dolan also mentioned carers. We are not getting carers into the system quickly enough. From my clinic I am aware of a backlog of six to eight months of people who have applied for a carer or carer's allowance. That is not acceptable. Senator Dolan is doing the Government's job. He is doing a great job. He highlights facts of which we were unaware. I say well done to him. It is great that he is going to local authorities-----
I refer to the great work that brave gardaí are doing at present on very limited resources. Garda overtime has been a serious issue of late. The situation has become extreme in Drogheda, County Louth recently. I have spoken to gardaí there who have had to cancel holidays, which is most unfortunate. If the proper resources were in place, Garda overtime would have been used to resolve the policing issue involved.
I also refer to the various Garda resources and the lack of equipment. To be fair to the Garda, its members work night and day in order that the ordinary people of the State can sleep safely in their beds. The least we could do is to equip them properly, pay them a fair and just wage, adequate overtime rates and out-of-pocket expenses due to them. Will the Leader impress on the Minister the need for more resources for the Garda? The new Garda Commissioner, Drew Harris, must do his job. He has started well. He has taken the bull by the horns in certain high-profile cases. I implore the Leader to ensure the Minister resources the Garda properly and pays its members justly for the work they are doing.
I thank the 21 Members of the House for their contributions to the Order of Business. I dtús báire, cuirim fíor fáilte roimh triúr daltaí atá ag obair san idirbhliain. I welcome three transition year students to the House who are here on work experience. They are Senan Ó Ríordáin, who is a nephew of Senator Ó Ríordáin, Diarmuid Lyons Nolan from Carlow and Dara Mac Riocaird. I welcome them to the House and wish them well in their work.
I congratulate Senator Clifford-Lee on her elevation and appointment as deputy leader of the Fianna Fáil Party in the Seanad. I sincerely wish her every success. I look forward to working with her in her new role. She will find from Senators Ardagh, Wilson and other Members of the House that we have very constructive group leaders meetings and she is more than welcome to join that. I welcome her and wish her well in her new position.
I commend Senator Clifford-Lee on raising the matter of the court case. I know you commented on that, a Chathaoirligh. I also note that Senators Ó Ríordáin, Mullen and Ó Donnghaile spoke on the issue. We should reflect, first, on the court case itself, second, on the actions of Deputy Coppinger yesterday, and then on the very sincere contribution of Senator Clifford-Lee this morning. I completely agree with her. We can reflect on the Taoiseach's remarks yesterday. No person asks to be raped no matter what they wear, what they drink or where they are. It is wrong. It is a crime and the person who perpetrates such a crime is a criminal and should feel the full rigours of the law. The sentencing should be 100% commensurate with the crime that has been committed.
The Minister for Justice and Equality has appointed Tom O'Malley to chair the review body on the investigation and prosecution of sexual offences. That work is not complete yet and I do not have a timeline for when the review will be published. I hope we are all united in ensuring that the victims of sexual violence will not have to go through any further trauma. We must support and embrace them and encourage victims of rape to come forward to tell their story by ensuring that the State and the judicial system will wrap its arms around them, so to speak, and give them full protection. I respect Senator Mullen's right to have an option, but irrespective of what he said, we must be concerned at the way in which some of the trials are being handled and what is happening in them.
I will not stray into it but if legislation needs to be changed arising from the O'Malley review, then let us do it. I do not think the review body has a timetable to meet but I know the Minister is very anxious that it would happen sooner rather than later. I thank Senator Clifford-Lee for raising the matter. We should not have to raise it in this House. The fact that we do sends one message. The Government is nearing completion of the actions relating to the Istanbul Convention and we have made significant progress through the Domestic Violence Act 2018, which significantly enhances the legal protections available to victims of domestic violence. I hope the O'Malley review will be completed at the end of this year or the start of next year at the latest. That is the intention of the Minister.
Senator Clifford-Lee also made reference to delayed discharges, which is one that is a source of frustration to patients, family members and those working in the hospital system. It is important to put on the record of the House that €10 million in additional funding has been made available in budget 2019 to ensure that hospitals get patients home from hospital or to an appropriate care setting quicker. As a former Chairman of the Joint Committee on Health, I have been a long-time advocate of the focus being on primary care in terms of transition or step-down facilities, in particular for senior citizens aged over 70. The Minister for Health has an action plan with 21 enhanced actions targeting nine identified sites in terms of improving primary care services, such as by increasing diagnostics, including making arrangements with private providers, among other services. I think Senator Clifford Lee will agree with me that we must increase bed capacity and provide more long-term, step-down facilities. That is the reason the Government opened 240 extra beds and that 79 additional beds will be opened at the end of this quarter. For that reason it is important to recognise that work is being done. There are no simple solutions. Senator Clifford Lee's point is that if we can expedite early discharges more quickly, then we will see a change in the system to the betterment of all concerned.
Senator Freeman raised the issue of mental health, specifically the fact that €10 million is being spent on talk therapy versus €400 million on antidepressants and prescription medication. The culture of prescribing medication in particular is one we need to change in this country. For that reason a number of the points raised by Senator Freeman deserve to be debated, especially the training of GPs and also encouraging people to talk and to engage in counselling and to have a one-on-one relationship with a counsellor. It is important to recognise that talking helps. All of us recognise the importance of looking out for people and paying attention to their needs.Today is a very important day in the history of the European Union and of our country. The Brexit deal or, perhaps, the lack thereof is the topical issue of the day. I acknowledge the contributions of Senators Conway-Walsh, Ó Ríordáin, Ned O'Sullivan, Ó Donnghaile and Feighan. Monsieur Barnier, as the Leas-Chathaoirleach knows well, has worked very hard and has presented what I hope will be an agreement to both Governments. The Government has been very clear in its all-island approach. That has been our policy from the first day and we have not demurred from it for one second. I hope that the UK Government will recognise the importance of the backstop and of the Good Friday Agreement, which protects the constitutional rights of citizens in the North of our country and has received the international recognition of the United Nations.
The best thing we can do is to hope that common sense will prevail and that those who are advocating Brexit will listen to the needs of everyone, especially people of the North of our island. I hope that we will have a resolution today. It is far too serious a matter to play party politics with. I appeal to the DUP to remember that the majority of people in the North voted to remain. We are an island nation on the periphery of Europe but also at its heart. The fact that the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, have secured this agreement today illustrates the work they have done and the profound impact that work has had on other EU member states. I will have the Tánaiste come to the House in due course.
Senator Ó Ríordáin also made reference to BusConnects and the very important issue of public transport. All of us recognise that we spend far too much time commuting. More and more people are travelling to work, which is a sign that jobs are being created outside of Dublin. They are spending inordinate amounts of time on public transport. That is why Project Ireland 2040 is committed to developing and building a world class integrated public transport system not only for Dublin but also for the metropolitan around the capital and for Cork. I would be happy to have the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport come to the House in due course.
Senator Lawlor raised the issue of insurance. We had the Minister of State, Deputy D'Arcy, before the House and I will have him back again.
Senator Paul Daly raised the very important issue of An Bord Pleanála. Members opposite sometimes forget that they were in government when the cuts were imposed. On day one in 2008, Fianna Fáil was in government-----
I agree with Senator Daly that this is a very serious issue. There has been a 19% increase in the workload of An Bord Pleanála. The Minister is committed to providing more resources and engaging on the matter. As the Senator knows well, he has also reformed the board. We all agree that decisions must be made more quickly and we will work toward that. Let us be fair about this, however, because there has been a 19% increase in the workload of An Bord Pleanála.
Senator Byrne raised the issue of rent controls. As she will recognise, the Government has brought in rent controls in certain parts of the country and they have worked in some places. The problem is that we have some bogus landlords who are not willing to abide by the Government's decision. The Government has given more power and teeth to the Residential Tenancies Board. We must be careful not to work to curb the private rented sector further. The Minister is committed to returning to the House for a debate on the issue, including on the points raised by the Senator.
Senator Warfield raised the issue of direct provision. I concur with the broad sentiment of his remarks. People should not have to wait inordinately in direct provision. The Senator will recognise that changes have been made in regard to direct provision on foot of the McMahon report. That is a work in progress. Some 72% of people are now waiting three years or less as opposed to 36% in 2016 but the points the Senator made are valid. The length of time for some people is much too long. We have changed the application procedure so that there is now one single application. I agree with the Senator that this is a challenge, but I would like to hear his alternative.
I knew it. Every time the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, comes in here he says we need solutions. Is the Leader telling me that the wherewithal does not exist within the Department of Justice and Equality to redesign the direct provision system?
That is incorrect. Some of us who have worked on direct provision, both in this House and the other House, have been working hard with the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton. More than 140 of the recommendations of the McMahon report have been accepted and worked on. I fully concur with Senator Warfield and I also agree with Senator Gavan. We need to move people out of direct provision more quickly. I am asking them what the solution is. Maybe we could reflect on that question.
Senators Hopkins and Gallagher raised the issue of IDA Ireland visits. I remind both Members that last year the number of jobs created by IDA Ireland increased by 5% in the west and 4% in the Border region. That is to be welcomed. Senator Gallagher will also welcome that Monaghan is the county with the lowest level of youth unemployment in the country.
If the Senator will not do me that courtesy, he should do IDA Ireland the courtesy of listening to the facts. First, in 2017, there were 11,169 IDA Ireland jobs in the Border region, which is a 4% increase. That is a fact, not fiction. Second, Monaghan is the county with the lowest level of youth employment in the country. That is also a fact, not fiction.
If the Senators do not want to have the facts, that is fine and we will not have a debate. They should not, however, come in here criticising when our country has the lowest number of people unemployed ever. We are at full employment.
I agree with Senator Ned O'Sullivan on one point about Brexit. There is no such thing as a good Brexit; he is 100% right on that. It will have ramifications and repercussions for us as a country, for our relationship with Europe and for our relationship with the UK. We must certainly work to overcome that.
Senator Humphreys raised the issue of the licence fee and I will be happy to have the Minister come to the House. I commend RTÉ on the documentary on the McCabe family and again pay tribute to Maurice McCabe and his family.
Senator Mullen raised the issue of the Minister of State, Deputy Mitchell O'Connor's education gender equality task force report, which was published yesterday. Irrespective of the views the Senator has on the matter, the Government is committed to equality. That is why we are bringing in paid parental leave for both parents, making childcare more affordable and raising standards, and doing more to promote women in the Judiciary and on State boards. Yesterday's is another step in tandem with bringing in quotas during the last Government to increase the number of women running for and being elected to office. There will be those who will oppose the Minister of State's proposal and those who will support it. What we must achieve is a greater level of diversity in positions of authority and in professorships in our third level institutions. That is what the Minister of State is doing. I will be happy to have her come to the House on the matter. Whether it is a gaudily-coloured proposal or otherwise, it is well intended by the Minister of State.
Senator Reilly raised the issue of obesity, having himself been the champion of Healthy Ireland. I will have that debate in the House in due course.
Senators Ó Donnghaile, Feighan, Black and Daly attended the Ballymurphy inquest yesterday. I will not comment on that as it is ongoing but I thank them for being there.
Senator Lombard raised the issue of the HSE, Kinsale and the bringing together of three organisations. I commend Senator Feighan on his great work on the commemoration of the First World War last weekend and his work on the shamrock poppy, for which I thank him.
Senator Gavan raised the issue of Venezuela and the Fidesz party.
Gabh mo leithscéal. It is Hungary. As a member of the EPP, as a Christian Democrat and a Social Democrat, I say there can be no condoning of the mistreatment of people and the denial of human rights. Senator Dolan also made reference to the issue. There is no toleration of the mistreatment of people on this side of the House, ever. The issue of people with disabilities referenced by Senator Dolan is a disturbing and worrying one. I would make the point to Senator Gavan that the Christian democracy I practise has no place for such things, and that the example he has given is not Christian democracy. As a Christian Democrat, one must always uphold the rule of law and have an independent free press and an independent Judiciary. Christian democracy is about respecting people and allowing them to flourish. My party has a very strong record of doing that.
Perhaps the Senator could go back and look at Venezuela and Colombia and his own party's relationships with people in those parts of the world, if he wants to go down that road. I do not choose to go down that road.
I have given my reply to Senator Gavan as a Christian Democrat. That is what I believe in. That kind of behaviour has no place in a democracy.
Regarding the work Senator Dolan is doing on disability, I point out to Senator Murnane O'Connor that it is not just Government work but work on his own behalf, to be fair to him. From long before he came into this House, he has been a very strong advocate for disability. The Government has committed to the disability sector. We have challenges to meet and that is what budget 2018 is about. There has been increased investment in areas around healthcare and disabilities.
Senator Murnane O'Connor might be best placed to put down a Commencement Matter to the Minister. I do not have the answer to that. If she has any particular issue, I suggest she raise it with the Minister or else raise it as a Commencement Matter.
With regard to Senator Davitt, rather than again provoke the ire of Fianna Fáil, I note that Garda resources have been increased, Garda equipment has been replaced, Templemore has been reopened and the matter of overtime is a matter for the Garda Commissioner.