Wednesday, 5 December 2018
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, Finance Bill 2018 - Committee Stage, to be taken at 12.45 p.m. and to be adjourned not later than 3.30 p.m., if not previously concluded; No. 2, Consumer Protection (Regulation of Credit Servicing Firms) Bill 2018 - Second Stage, to be taken on conclusion of No. 1 and to be adjourned not later than 3.30 p.m., if not previously concluded, with contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and all other Senators not to exceed five minutes; No. 3, Qualifications and Quality Assurance (Education and Training) (Amendment) Bill 2018 – Committee Stage, to be taken at 3.30 p.m. and to be adjourned not later than 5.30 p.m., if not previously concluded; No. 4, Private Members' business, Control of Economic Activity (Occupied Territories) Bill 2018 – Report and Final Stages to be taken at 5.30 p.m. and to be adjourned after two hours, if not previously concluded.
Threshold's annual report was launched this morning in the presence of the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, and the chairperson of the agency, the former Senator, Aideen Hayden. The report highlights a significant increase in the number of tenants being unfairly evicted and there has been an 18% rise in calls from renters who have been told their tenancies are coming to an end. Some 32% of the calls to the charity last year were from tenants faced with losing their homes. Last year, Threshold received 73,526 calls, a staggering figure. It also outlined that in Dublin rents are up 10% this year, despite the rent pressure zone limit of 4%. It is very clear that these rent pressure zones are not working. At this launch Threshold called on the Government to admit that rent pressure zones are not working and to introduce a transparent rent register so that people can see rents from one tenancy to the next, what rent was being paid for the property they are going into and any increases being applied.
The British Government has had to publish the full legal text it received on Brexit and we await that.Yesterday, a five-day debate on Brexit commenced at Westminster. The British Prime Minister, Theresa May, told the House of Commons that another deal would not miraculously appear if this one does not go to plan. Remainers have welcomed the opinion of the legal adviser to the European Court of Justice that the UK could abandon Article 50 unilaterally and does not need the agreement of the rest of the EU to do so. The British can revoke Article 50 if they so choose and that is something that many of us hope they will consider. We could then think of the past two years as a bad dream. Either way, we must make sure that, from our perspective, Brexit is the least worst option. We are all united on that for the sake of the peace process, the health of our economy and everything else.
I draw the attention of Members to the fact that the chairman of the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council, IFAC, Mr. Seamus Coffey will address the Committee on Budgetary Oversight later today. He has said that the forecasts for economic growth will move beyond potential for 2019 and that overheating will emerge in later years. He is also warning that predicting the Irish economy's performance will be very difficult and that the long-term spending plans of the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, "lack credibility and look unrealistic". I call on the Deputy Leader to invite the Minister for Finance to the House to discuss and thoroughly examine the latest report from IFAC. While I believe the Minister is doing a good job, it must be acknowledged that he has been lucky that interest rates have been so low in the context of repaying the national debt. At the same time, somewhat miraculously, billions in corporation tax receipts have been appearing out of nowhere. We will take in approximately €9.4 billion in corporation tax this year, compared with only €4 billion or €5 billion five or six years ago. While these additional funds are very welcome, they are unpredictable and I would like a debate on the long-term sustainability of our public finances.
I wish to raise two issues, the first of which relates to yesterday's charade in the House when we were dealing with statements on climate action and low-carbon development. There is a statutory obligation on Ministers to present their plans to the House and while they walked in, they actually ran out. Apart from the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Bruton, none stayed to listen. That was an insult to this House. I have thought about this long and hard and have chatted with a lot of people who feel the same about the matter this morning. The Ministers and Ministers of State did not come here voluntarily; they are obliged by law to present their annual national transition statements to the House. While I will hold my fire on the matter for the moment, I ask the Deputy Leader to invite all of the relevant Ministers and Ministers of State to come back to the House so that we can hold them to account. They read out statements yesterday but there was not a lot in most of them. It seemed to be, for many of them, a box-ticking exercise. I respectfully ask the Deputy Leader to contact the lead Minister, Deputy Bruton, regarding this matter. I would also like to see all of the other Ministers and Ministers of State back in the House, listening to and engaging with Members.
My second point should serve as a wake-up call for anyone involved in politics and as an illustration of the need for an electoral commission. A woman called to my house at 10.30 p.m. yesterday to say that she had received a letter from a particular local authority suggesting that she is no longer residing at her address and that her name is being passed on to the county registrar to be struck off the electoral register.
-----for 2019 as it appears that she is no longer resident at that address. This woman has lived in the same house for 48 years. In any event, I contacted the local authority and was informed that it has issued hundreds of similar letters. I checked with a number of other local authorities and was told the same. Hundreds of these letters have been issued and the names will be presented to the registrar on 13 or 14 of December to be struck off. When I asked if I could look at the list, I was told I could not. People's names are being deleted from the register of electors this week. I have since learned that a notice is supposed to be published in the press regarding this procedure but that this has not yet happened in some counties. We really need an electoral commission and I ask the Deputy Leader to prioritise that matter and to determine the current Government position on it. I urge all Members of this House to contact their own local authorities to find out how many names they are proposing to delete from the register of electors. That process will start next week and is supposed to be completed before the end of the month. This is a very serious wake-up call, particularly when it has been confirmed to me that hundreds of people in Dún Laoghaoire-Rathdown have received this correspondence. It is worrying.
I welcome the announcement by the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, of a new autism plan for next year. Sinn Féin has been arguing for this for a long time. I do not know the details of the plan but I ask the Deputy Leader to invite the Minister to the House to discuss his intentions with us. It is really important that we all-----
The Minister for Health has announced a new autism plan for next year. I ask that he be invited to the House so that we can discuss the plan in detail and give him our input and views on it. We must ensure that the plan works for people with autism and their families.
A recently published report from the Society of St. Vincent de Paul warns that many households are at risk of fuel poverty and blackouts this winter. Increasing energy bills and higher prices for those on pay-as-you-go meters mean that many low income families will struggle to heat their homes. Some will have to choose between feeding their families and heating their homes. SSE Airtricity and Pinergy customers are facing 6% increases in energy costs over the coming months. I have looked at energy bills for different household types and compared them to last year and the year before. People now have to find enormous amounts of money to meet their energy bills, which is a matter of real concern.
Sinn Féin believes this issue must be tackled head on and proposes a number of measures that can be taken immediately. A cross-departmental report on the effectiveness of the fuel allowance scheme, taking account of increased energy costs, must be prepared. The Government should also explore the option of introducing a cold weather payment, similar to the one in place in Northern Ireland in times of severe weather events. There is also a need to provide additional resources to local authorities to enable them to increase the number and frequency of inspections of private rental properties. Local authority houses should be setting the standard for the warmer home and conservation schemes. We must see the continued roll-out of the energy efficiency retrofitting programme and the Government must ensure that phase 2 is made available to improve local authority housing across the State. Sinn Féin also urges the Government to expand eligibility for the warmer homes scheme, which offers some energy retrofitting to certain low income households free of charge. The qualifying criteria for that scheme must be relaxed. We also call on the Government to introduce a subsidised, low cost, green loan scheme to enable the purchase of energy efficiency and microgeneration technologies by a wider cohort of households so that increasing numbers of households can enjoy low energy bills.
It is really important that we act on this and I ask that the Minister be invited to the House to discuss fuel poverty and some of the solutions put forward by Sinn Féin.
I echo Senator Boyhan's complaint about the fact that this House was treated with contempt yesterday in the context of the Climate Action and Low-Carbon Development Act 2015. That Act clearly states that Ministers are to be held to account by both Houses of the Oireachtas. The Ministers clearly failed in their statutory duty yesterday. They lined up in the seats beside the Public Gallery, ran up and spoke for five minutes and then shot out of the place. There was supposed to be interaction and discussion on targets. Ireland was supposed to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 1 million tonnes last year but instead our emissions increased by 2 million tonnes. It appears that we will breach our 2020 targets by 16 million tonnes. This is what we were supposed to engage on yesterday, as outlined in the legislation but what we saw here last night was contempt.It was not just contempt of the Seanad but it showed contempt of the people of Ireland, who are far ahead of the people in both these Houses. They want action and Ministers held to account over the targets and commitments they give. It is not good enough for the Taoiseach to say we are climate change laggards. The Government talks the talk but, in reality, it is comprised of climate change deniers. They are not prepared to start to reduce our emissions, something I find disgraceful and despicable, and they ignore the legislation laid down in both Houses in 2015.
I would also like to raise an issue relating to Threshold's report which was launched earlier. The Government talks about hitting supply targets and we have seen the press releases and the articles in the newspapers about what action it is going to take. Unfortunately, these are not being followed up with legislation. We have been promised a rent register and a reformed PRTB and we have been told constantly that this matter was going to Cabinet. We were told earlier that proposals will go to Cabinet next week but this is not the first time. It was announced that a land agency would have control over State lands and would make sure they were made available for housing but there has been no heads of a Bill or other legislation. Measures have been promised to deal with short-term lets and a promise on this was made again earlier at the launch of the Threshold report. We have been listening to this for more than a year and there was an announcement in September of action in the shape of legislation in both Houses by the end of the year, to be implemented by June 2019. As of yet, nobody has seen heads of Bills or draft legislation nor has there been scrutiny at committee level. There has been discussion about supply in our cities and we have been promised a height strategy for urban areas, but this is delaying planning applications being put in by developers who want to get on-site and are waiting to see what that strategy is. The mantra is, "Supply, Supply, Supply", but four issues can be dealt with now. We can move on later to deal with microbeads, single-use plastics and all the other issues the Government mentions in press releases but takes no action on.
The PricewaterhouseCoopers report on rents in Dublin refers to vulture funds buying up properties as they are being built, which affects all of us around the country and is something that makes rents prohibitive for people in the rental market. Limerick has not been included as a rent pressure zone, RPZ, but it needs to be included and I call for the Minister to come to the House for a debate on how we tackle ever-increasing rents in large urban areas.
The channel is only available if people have the proper platform to receive it. I regret very much that RTÉ has decided not to show "Oireachtas Report" on three nights of the week, that is, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.
We are paying €160 per year for the licence fee and the public is entitled to have a summary of events in the Oireachtas during the day. Leaders' Questions are taken at 12 noon but a person who is working will not be able to watch them at that time and they are being deprived of the opportunity to see the debate until a night when the Oireachtas does not sit. RTÉ should restore a summary like "Oireachtas Report", even if it is at 11.30 p.m. If RTÉ is not prepared to carry out its public service duties, we should tell the director general that we will invite Virgin Media 1, 2 or 3 to provide the service. Those channels provide a good service and they could also take some of the licence fee from RTÉ. The Oireachtas approves the licence fee that goes to RTÉ and we need a more proactive approach to this. People have told me they miss Senator Norris and they miss being able to watch a summary of events in the Oireachtas when they are at home at night.
As a member of the Joint Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Environment, I will raise this with the director general and ask how she would feel if €10 were taken off the €160 fee and handed over to Virgin Media 1, 2 or 3.
I am not afraid to do so. When I was on the education committee, I initiated a report into class K PRSI and I initiated a High Court action against the State on county councillors' class K PRSI. The State capitulated and gave county councillors class S, while giving those who had joined me in the legal action a tidy sum for their trouble, without them having to go to court. However, the noble gesture of putting them on class S PRSI, without retrospectively recognising the 4% they had paid under class K, has been a disservice to some county councillors, particularly those who had a broken PRSI record and who are now looking for benefits such as optical or oral benefit. We need to discuss this but I am going to go further today. This House should not be afraid to debate terms and conditions of employment for all politicians.
I am sick to my back teeth of my PRSI record, which is broken because I moved from class A to class K. A man of advancing years like myself does not get an opportunity to maintain his PRSI record and were I to try to do that, it would cost me €5,000 per year, having taken €8,000 of a pay cut to sit in this seat. I am not afraid to talk about it because I am one of the few politicians in this country who was denied an opportunity to maintain an external career and a political career. I had to take a career break under statutory instrument so I am not afraid to talk about our terms and conditions of employment.
We are not all in here on golden pensions and many of us came into the House with a short time left to serve. We will not build up a substantial Oireachtas pension in that short time. Why are we afraid to talk about our terms and conditions? A few junior Ministers met the Minister for Finance last week and the newspapers had a feast on what they suggested were junior Ministers cribbing about their costs but they were right to meet the Minister and to stand up for what they are entitled to. People ask me about my expenses all the time and I was featured in the media last Sunday because of a trip I took during the summer. They reported that the cost of flights was €4,000 but they did not report that the first journey, three flights over 18 hours, and the following journey, four flights taking over one and a half days, were done on budget airlines.The cost of my accommodation for a week was €646. I am, therefore, not afraid to talk about the money spent or about terms and conditions of employment. We should have an open debate and let the media do whatever they do about it. I do not care.
At times the Seanad has the opportunity to debate issues of national importance on a forum basis. I am now finding that the issue of climate change affects every facet of society, including the dairy industry and business. We are looking to decrease our carbon footprint. I ask the Cathaoirleach and the Deputy Leader to look at doing what we did on Brexit, that is, to hold a day forum within the Chamber to which we would invite witnesses from a range of sectors. I ask that we, as a Chamber, do a body of work on climate change. There has been a seismic change in the public consciousness on this issue, particularly in the past six months to a year. We are now at a stage where people want feedback from independent witnesses as to the precise impact. To take a basic issue, that of dairying, we are encouraging farmers to increase the sizes of their herds while, at the same time, asking them to decrease their carbon footprint. The question is how to do that in a sustainable way. I would like to hear from expert witnesses. The Cathaoirleach might look at how we could structure a day, at some point in the not too distant future, when we would bring in good witnesses from a range of sectors and do a body of work on the issue ourselves.
On an issue which pertains more to the House, I congratulate our colleague, Senator Frank Feighan-----
It is nice to see one of the good guys getting a proper break. Senator Feighan is a lucky man. I hope he appreciates the wife he has. On a human level, I wish him, Elaine and Francesca well. It is a good day for all of us.
I do not stand in any danger of a vote from Senator Feighan, but I am delighted to hear his news and wish him every happiness in the future. With regard to the question raised by Senator Craughwell in respect of politician's pay, I am weary from talking about this issue and am very glad to be joined by him on it because few people are prepared to talk about it. I am in about the only job in Ireland in which there is no long-service increment.
This is the only job. After 32 years and umpteen elections, I am on exactly the same pay as somebody who was appointed last week without any election. That is absolutely ridiculous.
I would like to refer to Senator Horkan's comments on Brexit. We are awaiting news of the UK Attorney General's advice. I hope it is explosive. I have been saying since the beginning of this mess that the British would fart around and eventually stay in. That is what is going to happen. All the signs are that, after this catastrophic mess, the British will stay in the European Union. They will have a second referendum. The polls show that the British public is increasingly moving towards staying in. They were sold a pup in the beginning by a collection of liars. The thing is that Britain will be seriously weakened for years to come in Europe, which is a pity. I firmly believe there will be a second referendum, that Britain will stay in, and that will be it. David Cameron, who is a complete nincompoop, should have said in the beginning that the Government took the people's advice, that it knew they were divided equally, and that the UK would stay in as the referendum was not legally binding, end of story. He did not have the guts to do it, however, because all the British politicians at that stage were putting their parties' interests ahead of those of their country. That is the wrong way around. I am a big fan of Jeremy Corbyn but I regret the fact that he is so totally wishy-washy on this issue.
I join with my colleague regarding Senator Feighan's wonderful news last weekend. I acknowledge his wonderful wedding and everything else. We were shocked that Senator Leyden missed it. Perhaps he is just losing the touch when it comes to local politics.
This morning, I want to raise the issue of Bord Pleanála, where it fits into the hierarchy of planning permission, and applications for planning permissions it has granted or refused in recent months and years. In the past 48 hours, planning permission for a waste plastics factory in Skibbereen has been granted by the board. The inspector's report opposed the project, but the board granted permission. That seems to be the way in which An Bord Pleanála has been doing its business of late. If one looks at other planning permissions regarding solar farms and an incinerator in Cork Harbour, one will see the same process. The independent inspector goes through the project, examines it, probably holds an oral hearing, compiles a report and then makes a recommendation to the board, which is ignored before it grants permission. It is an issue that needs to be examined. A judicial review of decisions of An Bord Pleanála can be requested, but is an audit conducted of its decisions? Is there an independent planning inspectorate that steps back and examines how the board deals with these issues? There is an issue here, particularly in respect of environmental projects, which can involve jobs and employment on one side and environmental issues on the other. The board seems to lean towards regarding the potential for jobs as more valuable than the environment. We have seen that with an incinerator and with solar farms and now we are seeing it with the plastics factory in Skibbereen. It is an issue at which we need to look. I call for the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government to be brought to the House to discuss the planning affairs of the State to see what can be done to ensure that the decisions made are appropriate and, if not, to see what can be done to ensure applicants do not have to go through the expensive process of a judicial review. It is an issue which has to be raised and on which change is needed.
I refer to the topic of Spinraza again. I have spoken about this in the past, as has my colleague, Senator Conway-Walsh. Representatives of the spinal muscular atrophy, SMA, patient group met the newly formed rare diseases review committee on 8 November. They presented for 40 minutes on what life is like with SMA, the disease burden of SMA, and the perceived impact of treatment with Spinraza. The patient group was happy with the committee, which comprised a good mix of independent experts, including treating consultants and experts on patients' concerns. It was also evident, however, that the committee would not make a statement, as it needed to further consider proposed suitable treatment guidelines and access through a managed access programme. The patient group believes that this has since been completed and that the statement from the review committee will be accessible to the drugs group in December. I have been contacted by the parents of an affected child. They believe that the group meeting is scheduled for 11 December. Parents want to be assured that the matter is being considered at the first available opportunity, which is the 11 December meeting, and that it will not be kicked out until January. It is only fair that families have a decision before Christmas. I would appreciate if the Deputy Leader could give me an update on that.
I join in the hearty congratulations to my colleague, Senator Feighan, and his new bride, Elaine. I wish them long life and happiness together.I wish to voice my concern over the disappointing news I have received from An Bord Pleanála that it intends once again to put back the decision on the planning application for a new bridge at Cloongullane, Swinford on the N26, which is a national primary road. This is quite shocking. In March 2017, an oral hearing was conducted by the board. From then until July 2018 it was asking questions of an environmental nature, citing concerns about alluvial woodland and freshwater pearl mussel, because this is a designated special area of conservation, SCA, never mind that there is a road there and a sizeable population. We are not talking about a wilderness but an area where there is human activity. That does not seem to be catered for. More than €4 million has been spent to date just to get to this point. The planning process has not even concluded nor has a cent been paid to a farmer for land. It is shocking that although the decision was to have been made on 30 November, it has been delayed once again. This is the worst stretch of national primary road on the network. Year after year, people have been trying to find a solution to overcome the environmental designation. It is very frustrating. There are serious questions to be asked. There is either a significant problem within An Bord Pleanála or serious practical issues with the operation of the habitats and birds directives. This is impeding much needed development of a road that is necessary for economic and social growth and all the good measures planned under Project Ireland 2040. I ask for the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, to be invited to the House in order that we can get to the bottom of this. The N26 Cloongullane bridge is not alone. The west, including the western seaboard, where there is a significant volume of designated land, is being persecuted by this designation. The balance is not being got right between the wildlife and the human beings.
I echo some of what Senator Norris said about Brexit. Yesterday I spoke about the desirability of this House sometimes expressing its views on these matters; we had a special committee on Brexit. It has not been sufficiently emphasised in Ireland what a tragedy Brexit is for Ireland within the European Union. Because the Government has naturally, as a matter of politeness, been driven to the position of accepting the outcome of the referendum in Britain and is saying it is a matter for the British people to proceed further, there has been a complete failure to emphasise in public discourse that Brexit is bad for Ireland. It will be bad for North-South relations and east-west relations, and for Ireland's position in the EU. I speak as a former Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and former president of the European Union's council on justice and home affairs. We will lose one of our great allies in the European political process. People talk about ancient enmities between Ireland and Britain but it should be emphasised that in EU affairs, Britain and Ireland have been close as allies on so many issues. Each has been generous towards the other's position on many issues. We are losing a significant friend and ally at the Council table in Europe.
Some may empathise with the dilemma in which Mrs. May now finds herself. Our optimal outcome is that the Brexit decision be reversed. If Mr. Dominic Grieve, MP, a sensible conservative, has managed to prize open the brickwork to enable a reconsideration of that issue, our Government should be on his side asking that the British people be given the opportunity to reconsider their position. It has been stated that there is something undemocratic in asking the British people to reconsider their decision. However, on the night of the Brexit referendum, the head of the Brexit movement, Mr. Nigel Farage, thinking he had lost the vote, said it was only the beginning and that he would not accept the outcome. He said he would be back again and again to argue the point. There is nothing undemocratic about allowing the people to change their minds. Parliament can change its mind; why can the people not? We should be unequivocal from now on in supporting those in Britain who want to reconsider the issue. Ireland's interests require it and we believe in good faith that Britain's interests also require it. We should not be shy in saying, however embarrassing it may be for some in the Tory Party in England, that the people of Britain at least deserve the opportunity to reconsider the decision they made.
I thank the Cathaoirleach and all those who offered us good wishes. I agree with Senators McDowell and Norris. What is happening in Westminster has been impacting on our lives over the past three years and will do so like never before in the next few months. Mr. Dominic Grieve, MP, and many others have shown great leadership, vision and courage in trying to look at a situation that was damaging to the UK, the island of Ireland, the EU and world politics. I hope that there is a second referendum in the next few months or that the UK will remain. Senator McDowell put his finger on the pulse of what is happening. The UK is our best ally and friend in Europe. I hope in the coming months that whatever happens, those relationships North-South and east-west will be cemented even more. The UK is our nearest neighbour and our friend and we rely on it to a great extent. I hope sense prevails in the next few months.
I note that Temple Street charity is going to start collecting cashless payments online. I welcome this, as it is the way forward. Another politician in another House was saying churches were being affected by Garda checks for drink-drivers. Senator Mullen will agree that there can be something lazy about church gate collections. They happen all over rural Ireland and they are hitting the 10% or 20% who are going to mass every Saturday or Sunday. I know it has nothing to do with the church, which has been tolerant in allowing church gate collections. They are, however, outdated. Some 25 years ago, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil had church gate collections, which was wrong. Charities need to consider a different way of targeting the public. Standing outside a church gate or a supermarket is just hitting the same people at the same time. Cashless donations should be considered because there is a generation Z now that needs to be addressed as well.
I concur 100% with Senator McDowell. On a second referendum, as circumstances change, so too should people's opinions be allowed to change if they so wish. I sincerely hope that a second referendum will be the ultimate outcome and that UK citizens will have an opportunity to vote based on what they know today as opposed to what they were told was going to happen two years ago.Today, I wish to raise the plight of the farming community. Yesterday, Teagasc launched its review of the year gone by and an outlook for the year ahead. It makes very depressing reading, particularly for farmers. Costs continue to increase, including foodstuffs, fuel or fertilisers, while prices continue to decline across all sectors but for suckler and sheep farmers in particular. We all know the benefit of the farming sector to the Irish economy. Thankfully our exports are booming. That is great news and long may it continue, but we should not forget that these exports are achieved on the back of the farming community. For the vast majority, their incomes are between €12,500 and €17,500 per annum and that does not include their own time and labour.
If we are serious about ensuring that our exports continue, we cannot allow the farming community to fall by the wayside because we are killing the goose that lays the golden egg. It is high time that we ask the Minister to come to the House to facilitate a debate about the future of farming. The reality is that were subsidies to be removed, many farmers could not survive at all. If we are to continue to see exports boom, something must be done to protect our farming community. I ask that the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine come to the House as soon as is practical in order that we can have a discussion on the future of farming.
I congratulate Senator Feighan. Speaking for myself, I have no problem being mugged on a Sunday coming out of mass by a church gate collection. However, any organisations, including political parties, that have shown scant regard for fundamental ideas shared by Christians, among others, about the protection of innocent human life have some neck to be collecting in such places, although they are perfectly free to do so. I hope, however, that they would be told where to go, in a nice way, when they do.
I raise the matter of Nos. 61 and 62 Thomas Street. They are adjoining buildings in an old and historic part of Dublin city that are due to be bulldozed and replaced by a modern office block which will keep only token features of the past glories of those buildings. Dublin City Council gave permission for the demolition in 2009 and that permission was extended in 2014 even though, in the meantime, the buildings came within designation of an architectural protection area. It is believed that No. 62 was built in the 17th century and No. 61 was built in 1687. Both were purpose-built inns, one called the Blue Boar, the other the Golden Last. Records of both establishments survive.
Experts from Dublin Civic Trust, an important group that has done excellent work to preserve buildings across this city with which many colleagues will be familiar-----
-----have examined the buildings and found original features which have miraculously survived, such as original wooden beams, masonry, and chimney stacks. They say nothing like this is known to survive in Dublin and there is very little that is comparable elsewhere in the country. What does it say of our notion of heritage that a building which experts tell us has survived since the reign of James II could be bulldozed and replaced by an office block? Writing to The Irish TimesPeter Keenahan noted that "The development of an office block to be known as 'Sixtyone Thomas Street', trumpeted in the Commercial Property pages of this newspaper, drives a stake through the heart of the designated Architectural Conservation Area."
Colleagues will be aware that Dublin City Council has committed many heinous crimes against heritage over the years, the two most infamous being the concreting over of the Wood Quay site in the late 1970s, hiding Christchurch Cathedral from the quays in the process, and the terrible decision in the 1960s to demolish a large stretch of Georgian Dublin along Fitzwilliam Street. That is a cause close to the heart of our colleague, Senator Norris, and work is being done to partially undo that damage.
Some of us wonder about Dublin City Council's priorities, currently being run by Sinn Féin, with support from the Labour Party and the hard left. The council has bent over backwards to save buildings on Moore Street from demolition. That is fair enough, but why are no councillors stepping up to save the buildings to which I refer which are over 250 years older and are of genuine historical and architectural merit? I understand that while it is late in the day, the Minister has power to intervene in such matters. I ask that this matter be raised with her and call on all parties here who are represented in Dublin City Council to intervene in this matter.
That is an improvement on seagulls.
I have no wish to lock horns with Senator Mullen, especially as we will have adequate opportunity to do that in coming days. I cannot, however, let his comment go unanswered. Senator Mullen posits an opinion that anyone who voted "Yes" in the recent referendum has no business or entitlement to stand outside a Catholic church to take up a collection. During the height of the repeal debate, I was accosted by someone of a similar opinion to the Senator, who said I had no right and it was a disgrace for the likes of me to be outside a church taking up a collection.
I suggest that were Senator Mullen's thinking to flourish, it would not be long before he would stop people from going into the church. I remind him that two thirds of people in this country voted "Yes" on the eighth amendment and I assure the Senator that they were not all non-Catholics. We will leave that for the moment.
I came into the Chamber because I was watching proceedings on the monitor, and heard Senator Craughwell courageously speak out on terms and conditions and pay of public representatives. Local elections will be coming up next May. This is a great exercise in democracy at local level, community involvement and so on. I commend anyone from any party or persuasion, independent or otherwise, who puts forward his or her name to stand for the local council.
My concern, and there is considerable anecdotal evidence that I am correct, is that there will be much fewer candidates in 2019 than was the case five years ago. I have chaired party conventions and have spoken to members of other parties who did the same and a startling number of conventions are uncontested. Some have had fewer candidates than there are places to fill. I fought several council elections in my time, seven in all, and had to fight for my nomination each time although I was probably regarded as a good candidate.
There is a reason for this. First, there is the lack of an adequate recompense regime for local councillors because it is now a full-time job. People are afraid to say that because of the media. No more than Senator Craughwell, I am not afraid of the media. I have been here for almost 12 years and my take-home pay is significantly less than when I was first elected. The expense regime has also been reduced. I am not complaining about myself but people at local level who want to give service to their community as councillors should be adequately recompensed.
The media thrive on headlines. No doubt Senator Craughwell and possibly myself will get a good going over for this tomorrow. I have seen some of the best politicians in this country highly blackguarded by the media for trivial, small things. I have seen possibly the most effective politician my county has produced since Daniel O'Connell, namely, John O'Donoghue, driven out of politics by that kind of scurrilous reporting.
We cannot afford to lose people like that from politics. We as politicians should not be afraid. I congratulate the junior Ministers who sought redress because of the rising costs of hotels in Dublin, with which we are all familiar.
I thank the Senators who raised matters on the Order of Business. I also congratulate my colleague and pal, Senator Feighan, and Elaine with whom I am very friendly. I am delighted for them. It is lovely to have positive news and it is a lovely time of year for such an event. We all wish them well.
Senator Horkan raised the Threshold report published this morning. It highlights the ongoing problem of which we are all very aware.The Government recognises the role Threshold plays in supporting tenants and providing training, on-call and other services. It provides an important service. It cannot be said enough that where landlords intend to terminate a tenancy on the basis of intending to sell the property, they must do that in accordance with the law. The sale must be within three months of the termination and the landlord must sign a statutory declaration to that effect. If that is not being adhered to, we must find a way to ensure it is. It is as simple as that. Senator Humphreys has raised this matter many times and I feel his frustration. I am told the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, will introduce the residential tenancies (amendment) Bill to Cabinet next week, but I can understand why the Senator might be sceptical because I feel like I have been told many times that it is happening. Many of these issues will be addressed, however, and we might wish to have a discussion on that in January when the opportunity arises.
Three or four Senators raised the issue of Brexit and many of the points resonate, not least the points made by Senators McDowell's and Feighan about how the UK is our closest neighbour and has been a fantastic ally. I do not agree that point has not been said enough because I have heard it said frequently in many debates and we all recognise it. The Government has always wanted a good result for the UK but the best result for us and the UK would be another referendum, if people in the UK see sense. There was so much misinformation communicated during the referendum that people should feel aggrieved about the national debate that took place. It was hijacked by a few prominent Brexiteers who scurrilously pushed out fake news. A deliberative democratic process, where there is proper discussion, is needed. The people in the UK gained much insight into the matter over the course of the whole fiasco. Senator Gallagher made the point that people can change their minds, but there seems to be some sort of feeling that people should never change their minds and that they should remain firmly fixed in a view. That is not an intelligent way to approach life, however, and sometimes situations or circumstances change, as Senator Gallagher noted. The democratic process should be allowed to take account of that and we all hope there will be another referendum in the UK.
Senator Horkan mentioned the Committee on Budgetary Oversight, and I do not see any reason why we would not have a debate on that in the new year.
Senator Boyhan raised the climate action discussion that took place yesterday. We have spoken to the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Bruton, and he is available to appear before the House this evening from 7.30 p.m. until 9 p.m. I suspect, however, that will not quite satisfy Senators and there will need to be a more meaningful discussion on climate change. I have been promised we can have a lengthy debate on climate change in January with a proper question-and-answer session with the Minister. If that pleases Senators, I will suggest it as a response.
Senator Boyhan also mentioned the electoral commission and deletions from the register. That process happens most years but it should be raised as a Commencement matter if the Senator has major concerns in that area.
Senator Conway-Walsh raised the issue of autism. We are all glad to see a proper strategy on autism for the first time and it would be good to have a debate on autism in the House. She also raised the issue of fuel poverty, which is in particular focus at this time of the year. It links with the climate change debate in many ways. I was a proponent of carbon tax simply from an environmental point of view, but a carbon tax will have a seriously negative impact for people who already find it difficult to cope. There needs to be an intricate conversation about the issue. The Joint Committee on Climate Action sits regularly, and its plan it to produce a comprehensive report on particular actions the Government - not just the current Government but any Government - should take over a number of years. As with other strategies that have been created for the health sector, there needs to be a long-term plan for action because it is too serious an issue for there not to be. I am talking about climate change in response to the point about fuel poverty but fuel poverty is important-----
Yes, it is an immediate issue that affects people. I doubt we will have the opportunity to have that debate before Christmas, but I will suggest it. At the leaders' meeting the other day, the agenda was intensely busy. I will not promise anything but I will suggest that we could have even a short debate on the issue before Christmas.
Senator Humphreys also raised climate action, which I have addressed, and I hope he is amenable to there being a much fuller and more lengthy debate in January. I agree with his comments on height strategy. I feel strongly about the fact that we have sprawled as a city and we should look to build in the city centre proper accommodation in which it is feasible to live in the long term. It should not be a matter of just throwing up many two-bedroom apartments to accommodate people. Families should be among those living in the city centre, and height strategy is intrinsically linked to that aim. A debate on planning in the context of a few different issues that were raised would be useful for the House in the new year. Senator Maria Byrne raised a related issue would be covered by such a debate.
Senator Leyden raised the Oireachtas channel. I agree it is a pity that "Oireachtas Report" is no longer broadcast although one needs to be some sort of an insomniac to be interested in politics in this country, because one must stay up until 11 p.m. or 11.30 p.m. for some programmes and that is too late.
I also agree with the point that was raised about the television licence. We need to consider radically how we approach the licence and its structure. The system is such that lads and ladies call around to people's houses to see whether they have a television or whether they are present before pursuing them through the courts over their television licence. There are much easier ways to address the payment of these fees and broaden the potential for other stations to cash in, literally. People do not necessarily watch many of these television programmes on their televisions nowadays but rather on hand-held devices. An innovation could be that the fee could be collected through the Internet providers, but that is politically difficult because it could be seen as a broadband fee. We nonetheless need to examine the issue of the television licence, which is the fundamental point that I took from Senator's Leyden's contribution.
On Senator Craughwell's point, one must always be careful with what one says about pay and conditions. We have denigrated the profession to some degree over the years, in the sense that we behave in a way that other businesses would not behave. There are simple ways in which we play up to the public image. None of us enters politics for money.
I am a solicitor by trade and could earn much more money outside of this House if my focus was not where it is. We might all look back and regret it, but we must be here because we have a desire for public service. We do not expect to make a great deal of money but a certain degree of fairness is required and the Senator is right in many of his comments.It is a discussion that is probably best had in private for the reason that one does not necessarily need the negativity that could come one's way because one makes certain comments in this area.
One gets over it.
Senator Kieran O'Donnell raised the issue of climate change also and suggested a public consultation. That would be a practical suggestion but for the fact that we have a climate change committee. It is something we could consider as an action following on from that. Some Senators are members of that committee. It may not be an appropriate time for a public consultation but it is certainly a good idea because the more we can do when it comes to climate change, the better.
Senator Norris also raised pay and conditions and Brexit, both of which I have covered.
Senator Lombard raised a particular issue in his area with regard to An Bord Pleanála. We need to be careful that the democracy that has always been a feature of our planning process remains. The very idea that a plastics factory is opening somewhere in Ireland makes me see red. I know plastic is still being used extensively throughout the world but we need to look to ban single-use plastic. I do not know the type of plant this is but a discussion on An Bord Pleanála, with the Minister present, could be very useful to have in the new year.
Senator Swanick raised an issue I have taken an interest in. There are people in Mayo who are affected by it who live near my parents. The technical review is ongoing. It is due on 11 December. We would want families to have the decision soon because uncertainty is very stressful. I hope the right decision will be made for them but a fundamental point is the need to examine the system whereby these drugs are procured. I have not had much direct involvement in respect of many of these drugs that are purchased by the State but it seems to me that on many occasions the companies play the system for maximum gain. That is what pharmaceutical companies will do. That is small comfort for families because they do not want to hear about money when they are talking about their child's muscular problems and their difficulty getting through the day when there is an existing drug. It is very difficult for them if other countries provide that to patients and we do not. My view is that we have to provide it but, apparently, the cost benefit is challenging. I do not know anything about the current process but we could have a better system to deal with these drugs. I agree with the Senator that a decision is needed and should be forthcoming on 11 December.
Senator Mulherin raised a particular issue but as the Cathaoirleach said, tabling a Commencement matter might be the best way to get a satisfactory and detailed answer. One of the last points the Senator made was on the balance between wildlife and human beings. The habitats and birds directives are very important, as is the environment, but a fair balance must be achieved in that respect. I understand the habitats and birds directives are matters for the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Madigan,but a debate on that issue would be useful.
I think I addressed the Brexit issue raised by Senator McDowell. As he said, the UK is our closest neighbour. The situation is very fractious and I suppose the less said by Irish politicians that could in any way make it more difficult for Mrs. May, the better. I would hope it will play out in a way that we will see another referendum.
Senator Feighan backed up the comments on the UK being our closest neighbours. The Senator has been very involved with the Brexit issue and I commend him on his work.
With regard to charities collecting online, one of the first issues I raised as a Senator was the chuggers who almost ambush people on the street. I have an issue with those so it is great that one is able to contribute to charities online. I often see a particular individual collecting after matches, in pubs and so on who is clearly not collecting for a particular charity. When people have taken a few drinks they often throw money in a bucket without necessarily knowing where that money will end up.
I have already addressed the comments Senator Gallagher made on Brexit, which were insightful. Prices for suckler cows is an issue the Senator knows more about than I do but if the Minister, Deputy Creed, agreed to come into the House in the new year, many Members would like to contribute in a debate on the future of farming. Senator Kieran O'Donnell's suggestion of public consultation in this House is something we might choose to do in the medium term. I refer to the area of farming, the way climate change interacts with farming, the pricing and all the other issues the Senator mentioned.
Senator Mullen has left the Chamber but the issue he raised is one I feel passionate about. I am sick hearing comments about people who do not subscribe entirely to the teachings of the Catholic Church but who identify as Catholic all their life, like myself. The Catholic Church has made itself an unwelcome place for anyone who does not subscribe fully to its teachings. However, there are those of us who are just keen to do what we believe is the right thing in life for us. That does not mean we are any less of a person. We just want to do what we believe is right.
I do not want to go to a church to collect money, but it speaks to the wider issue. I recall the incident Senator O'Sullivan raised, and it is just not on. There are extreme individuals but as the Senator said, the fact that two thirds of the population voted means that a large percentage of Catholics voted that way. It means also that we are a beautiful democratic people. We look at the reality people are faced with in life and we make changes that will make their lives more safe. It makes me very angry when I hear that type of comment. It is as though we are lesser because our view does not fit with the Catholic Church, but the Catholic Church does not fit with many people nowadays. It needs to look into its own heart in terms of how it would welcome people in and make those who are slightly alienated from its teachings feel like going to mass at Christmas time, for example.
Senator Mullen also raised the issue of the office block on Thomas Street. It strikes me as an issue that may be suitable for a Commencement debate.
I agree with the Senator's comments about Georgian Dublin, in particular the area around Fitzwilliam Street. What happened there was a travesty. I will speak to the Minister about that particular issue. I do not know much about it but it is certainly something that would be suitable for a Commencement debate.
As always, I support much of what Senator Ned O'Sullivan said on the issue he raised.
On the local elections, the Senator is right. Even in this area of Dublin 2, very good Fine Gael councillors have decided not to run in the next local elections. They are professional people. Being a councillor is supposed to be a part-time job, but how does one define "part-time"? It is an intense and very busy part-time job.We need to look at whether we want it to continue as a part-time job or to make it a full-time job and pay people properly. It is not feasible for people who could have a very-----
Yes. I was speaking to a councillor from Tipperary yesterday whose colleague has come off social media completely because he has been so harassed and harangued on social media. We have all experienced it. Unfortunately, it is just a regrettable part of the job now. There is a wider discussion to be had about how we have chosen to interact as a society, in particular online, and what has become normalised to a great extent. We often see it from politicians as well. I do not know where it will end but Senator Ned O'Sullivan's points about local elections are very well made. It is a difficult career at the best of times and it needs to be in some way attractive to get good candidates to remain in the job. That concludes the response to the Order of Business.
Rather than oppose the Order of Business, I seek clarity from the Cathaoirleach or the Deputy Leader on the proposals concerning the debate on climate change. I asked for the legislation to be honoured not only by the letter but by the spirit of it. The legislation was passed in 2015, which means we take a whole-of-Government response. What happened yesterday evening was a disgrace. I ask that each Minister come back in and engage in a proper debate, as outlined under the 2015 Act. That is the only approach that is acceptable to this House. I do not want to oppose the Order of Business but that is what I am looking for the Deputy Leader to do.
I will come back in briefly in order to be helpful. The only assurance I have for January is that the Minister for Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Bruton, is available. As the lead Minister, it might make sense for him to come to the House rather than have a number of Ministers present. I am just talking off the top of my head.
Rather than have Ministers waiting for one another, we could allow each of them to come on a weekly or fortnightly basis to interact with us for seven weeks. Perhaps it is novel to have all the Ministers here but I felt it was a forum did not make a lot of sense.
I believe it would make sense to have the Minister for Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Bruton, come to the House in January and then to follow up with a different Minister every week or second week on the sectoral issues, as suggested by Senator Humphreys.
What mechanism is open to Seanad Members in regard to the enforcement of the 2015 Act? Is it open to us to make an official complaint to you, a Chathaoirligh, or to a committee of this House on what happened here yesterday evening?
I cannot comment on the enforcement of the Act but I am sure the Deputy Leader can follow that up. To avoid a vote, the Deputy Leader has suggested a full debate as early as possible in January and she has committed to that.
Could I suggest that when the Leader is back next week, a meeting of the party leaders could discuss a proposal that would work? A schedule would be required for a workable proposal. I do not think anyone in here is trying to have a bad debate on climate change. It was not anyone's intention. We tried something. It did not work. We can try a different approach. I think the leaders could meet to agree what would work best.
No, it is a combined effort. I am trying to get agreement. Before we move to the Finance Bill, I welcome a visitor to the Gallery, Councillor Mattie Ryan, who is the first citizen of Tipperary. He and his friends are very welcome. I am not sure whether the correct term is mayor of Tipperary or chairman of Tipperary County Council, which used to be two councils. He is most welcome, as is Deputy Jackie Cahill. I hope he and his friends have a pleasant day in Leinster House. Is the Order of Business agreed? Agreed.