Thursday, 6 December 2018
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No.a1, motion re the arrangements for the sitting of the House on Tuesday, 11 December, to be taken on conclusion of the Order of Business without debate; No. 1, motion re opt-in under protocol to a measure in the area of the asylum migration and integration fund, AMIF, back from committee to be taken on conclusion of No. a1, without debate; No. 2, Social Welfare, Pensions and Civil Registration Bill 2018 – Second Stage, to be taken at 12.45 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and all other Senators not to exceed five minutes; No. 2a, Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Bill 2018 - Second Stage, to be taken on conclusion of No. 2 with contributions of spokespersons not to exceed 12 minutes and all other Senators not to exceed eight minutes.
I welcome An Bord Pleanála's decision of 16 November confirming that the Player Wills site on the South Circular Road will remain on the vacant sites register. This site is valued at €100 million. The annual vacant site levy is 7% and this will be ring-fenced for local regeneration projects and is payable to Dublin City Council. I hope this decision will ensure that the site is developed expediently and that there will be proper planning, housing and amenities in this area, which needs attention from the Government. I look forward to seeing the plans and seeing movement on the site.
I have raised the issue of cyber and telephone scams on unsuspecting members of the public. The Revenue Commissioners have warned about a scam that involves an unsolicited call from people purporting to work for the Revenue demanding immediate payment of tax bills and being told that a criminal case will be taken against them if they do not pay their putative tax bill immediately. I understand that no one has fallen victim to the scam yet but it is likely that somebody could, and people should realise that they should not give credit card or personal details over the phone, especially in response to an unsolicited caller.
Cybercrime is a major issue, which is starting to affect more and more businesses, particularly in respect of malware and ransomware. According to Europol's fifth annual Iinternet organised crime threat assessment, ransomware was the greatest malware threat in 2018. Ransomware lockdowns can result in outages, financial loss and reputational damage. Large companies and public organisations were attacked by ransomware last year. Their systems were encrypted and locked down. Now this ransomware is not only affecting desktop computers and servers but is starting to attack people's phones. It is something that people need to be aware of to ensure that all their software is updated and they have all their security settings on. If it is ignored, it goes away but it can be upsetting for people to receive, especially the ransomware-type emails because they feel vulnerable if they receive them. I would like people to make sure that all their security systems, particularly on their phones, are updated and that they ignore any ransomware-type messages that they receive by email.
Looking forward to the debate on the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Bill 2018 that is scheduled to begin later, I would like to indicate that this is a civilised House where there is usually a fair and reasonable discussion of all issues.It is a House in which personal remarks are not normally entertained or made.
I know that there will be amendments in this debate, probably from both a pro-life and a pro-choice perspective. This is a revising Chamber and when we get to the Second Stage, nobody should be bulldozed out of the way. People on either side of the argument are entitled to make their points. We should also make adequate time available to deal with this legislation in order that nobody will feel that he or she is being shouted down or rushed off the points he or she is making simply because those points are unpopular or will delay what others want to happen. We have 13 days in which to complete our deliberations on this legislation and, if we make amendments - I do not know if we will - send it back to the Dáil for its further consideration by the Dáil. That will mean it can be dealt with before the end of this calendar year, which seems to be a priority for some people.
Nobody in this House is morally superior or inferior to anybody else.
I express hope on behalf of the Independent group in general that the debate will proceed on that basis. There is no need for ad hominemarguments to be made one way or the other and there is no need for anger or rancour to enter into this. Although deeply held moral convictions both ways are probably an issue, that does not mean they have to be shoved down other Senators' throats.
I appeal to the House not to consider the legislation in a manner which is unseemly or uncivilised or which, in view of the fact that the Dáil has already deliberated upon the Bill, ignores our duty to consider it carefully, listen to all points of view on it and examine whether it is in a proper form to be passed. We should not be deflected from that by preconceived notions as to where we stand on the issue one way or the other.
I agree with the Senator on the points he has just made. I would add that in terms of being a civilised House and how we treat each other, there will be people watching who will not be here to advocate for themselves. When we talk about not having any personalised attacks, therefore, Senators need to be very aware that people watching will be greatly affected by the comments that are made. When we make contributions, we should always think of those outside of this Chamber and not just insult each other. Our contributions will have a massive impact on those watching proceedings. I watched much of the debate in the Dáil and I know that friends of mine who are familiar with fatal foetal abnormality and other issues had to turn off because they could not watch any more. We need to be able to stand up for them when they are being personally attacked, and not only each other.
I wish to propose an amendment to the motion for the arrangements for the sitting of the House to the effect that, in addition to the change regarding Tuesday's sitting arrangements, the Seanad shall meet at 11 a.m. on Monday, 10 December 2018 and that Standing Orders 29 and 30 shall stand suspended.
We will obviously be taking Second Stage of the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Bill 2018 this afternoon. We need to complete our deliberations on this important legislation for Irish women and return it to the Dáil before the Christmas recess in order to prevent an undue delays. I propose that we take Committee Stage on Monday as well as on Tuesday. There is a pressing need to have this Bill passed in order to allow for services to start in January. However, we also want to ensure that we have a chance to properly debate any concerns we may have regarding its provisions. Monday sittings are not unusual. We had one before the summer in respect of the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill due to the Government's desire to see that legislation progressed quickly. Such a move can easily be justified in the context of the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Bill 2018. There is a chance that we could run out of time by the end of next week. I propose, therefore, that we make arrangements now to ensure that the latter does not happen. I propose that there be no Commencement debate on Monday and that the entire day be dedicated to the Committee Stage debate on the Bill, which is of significant public interest. I know the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, is supportive of such a scheduling change because he said so in his briefing yesterday. I hope to get agreement from this House on this but I look forward to the response from the Deputy Leader.
Yes, we can agree to that. Business would have to be ordered by the Deputy Leader but it would not be the full Order of Business with questions and answers. The Senator has made it quite clear that it is anticipated that Second Stage of the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Bill 2018 will be completed today.
I will change the subject for the moment. I commend the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality, which, under the chairmanship of Deputy Ó Caoláin, launched its latest report this morning. Deputy Ferris and I were present at the launch. The committee has done a wonderful job on this. The report is on Article 41.2 of the Constitution and the effort to remove or replace it. The committee has come up with two recommendations which offer really good options that could be taken. This is an opportunity for us to examine the role of carers in the home and to give to them their rightful place and enshrine this in the Constitution. It would be really useful for the Minister to come before the Seanad to discuss this report in order that everybody can contribute to the debate. I also encourage wider society to get involved in this debate because it is an opportunity for us to enshrine the socio-economic rights of people who care for others in the home in a concrete way. I hope the Acting Leader can facilitate such a debate.
Yesterday, we heard from a number of people who work in various part of the health service. It was a useful presentation and it gave us an insight into what it is like for people working within the health system and trying to cope with the demands they are meeting every day, be it a shortage of staff or a lack of equipment. What emerged from the presentation is the lack of capacity there to meet demand.
A particular issue about which I am extremely concerned is the need to draw attention to the fact that acute psychiatric patients and people in need of mental health supports and treatment are, quite rightly, presenting at accident and emergency departments. If somebody with an acute psychiatric condition or with mental health challenges is forced to wait for hours in an accident and emergency department, it can give rise to a very difficult situations for the staff there.That is something that needs to be examined. People in such circumstances need to be seen. I am extremely worried about the number of people who present in accident and emergency departments, who after waiting there for hours leave without any treatment at all. Other people have to wait for long periods also. There are thousands of incidents around this country where people present at accident and emergency departments and difficulties arise. Injuries have resulted from people not getting the timely treatment and care they need. The staff in accident and emergency departments are not in a position to deliver that without having the proper resources to do so. I would like the Minister to come to the House to specifically address the issue of how to deal with people presenting in accident and emergency departments with acute psychiatric conditions, and how the situation can be improved in order to avoid injuries and worse.
I welcome that the Dáil voted through the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Bill 2018 last night and that it will be coming to the House this afternoon. At the forefront of my mind in debating the Bill is the responsibility we have to the citizens that voted overwhelmingly in the referendum that the legislation should go through and that we should deal with it in a timely manner so as to ensure women can get the healthcare to which they are rightly entitled from January on. I would have liked the Bill to have come here much sooner and I will be aiming to ensure we can provide that health service to women from 1 January.
On numerous occasions I have raised the development of 3,500 units in Poolbeg west. We are now coming up against a time restraint. Back in September, An Bord Pleanála said it needed additional information from Dublin City Council by 28 January 2019. Dublin City Council provided the information to An Bord Pleanála on 27 November, nearly two months ahead of schedule. The closing date for submissions on the Poolbeg west development is 2 January. This is a time-sensitive issue. We have always argued in this House that the housing crisis can only be dealt with on a supply basis. I call on the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, to come to the House because if the matter is not addressed urgently by him, those who are on the housing list and who so badly need housing will lose 550 units. That is unacceptable. I have raised the matter for three years and very little action has been taken. I give some praise to the former Minister, Deputy Coveney, who was proactive in regard to the development. He visited the site on many occasions and was part of the agreement on the financial undertaking for the additional 550 units. However, nothing has happened since.
If An Bord Pleanála makes a decision on the issue we will get 350 units, because that is all the current legislation allows for. An Bord Pleanála has no other option than to make a decision on that basis. In all conscience, I cannot allow a situation whereby the 550 units would not go ahead. They are to be part of the affordable rental scheme and possibly the rent-to-buy scheme. A wide range of people in different sectors and socio-economic classes would have an opportunity to live in the heart of the city. Inaction on this issue is not acceptable but we have had nothing but that. There was a solemn undertaking from the previous Minister, Deputy Coveney, that 550 units would be delivered. The situation is time sensitive. The matter must be discussed in this House before 2 January. Otherwise, we face losing 550 units, which would be an outrage. The developer does not have to provide the 550 units. The receiver could supply the land and approved housing bodies could build the units. I want to ensure the 550 units are delivered for the citizens of this city. The inaction of the Government on the issue is totally unacceptable.
I have no difficulty with the proposal to sit on Monday but I suggest that the starting time should be 2 p.m. or 2.30 p.m. because we could then also sit at 10.30 a.m. on Tuesday morning. I do not know what the Leader is considering but I suggest that as an option for him to consider.
I have been looking back over recent years at the way this country has developed. On the one hand we have a significant number of American companies here that have produced many jobs. The corporation tax that has been paid in the past 12 months is a substantial contributor to the budget. Likewise, Irish companies are making a significant contribution in America. I understand that Irish companies employ more people in America than American companies employ in Ireland. I was struck by our level of contact with the structures in the US. When I was in the European Parliament we had a joint committee of the European Parliament and the US Congress and I think it might be worth establishing a contact with the structures in the United States. The Seanad should build a relationship with Senators in the US. In the forum to which I referred a group of us met once every six months either in Washington or Brussels. Such an idea should be considered in view of the substantial contacts between the countries, the reliance of American companies in Ireland and vice versain the American market. I urge you a Chathaoirligh, together with the Leader and the leaders of all the groups in the House, to give serious consideration to this proposal.
I was just going to explain it. I advise the Members of the proposed legislation, namely, the Children's Digital Safety Bill 2018, which seeks to fill a gap in regulations as regards access to unsafe online material, in particular content containing an encouragement and incitement to suicide and the encouragement of prolonged nutritional deprivation that would have the effect of exposing a child to risk to death or endangering health.
The reason I am so concerned about this is that although the good news is that we have seen a decrease in suicide among many of the cohorts of people in Ireland there has been an increase in young female teenage suicides. That is because they can, whether by accident or deliberately, have access to methods on how to take their life or how to starve themselves. That is causing me great concern. It is something the House should be addressing and legislating for.
I support Senator Freeman. It is appalling that websites that tell people how to commit suicide should exist. Recently, there was a case before the courts where a man murdered his wife, having contacted a site called, How to Murder Your Wife, where he got precise instructions. It is outrageous that such things should be allowed on the Internet.
I also wish to mention the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Bill which is coming before the House. It is an extremely important Bill. It is a very sensitive subject and I hope there will be what Senator Mullen ironically called "a respectful debate". The issue is very complex.It would be a mistake to rush into it and I think the Government is making a mistake in this respect. It is not appropriate to lay this burden on general practitioners. I see no reason we should not have clinics for this as it is in clinics that this should be delivered. Perhaps I should leave my comments on this issue for the debate.
I recently visited a young doctor who voted "Yes" in the abortion referendum. He told me something that I had thought was a myth. He said there was a considerable amount of regret among women who have abortions. I thought it was a scare tactic but apparently it is not.
I agree with Senator Conway-Walsh on hospital staff. We need to look at other ways of addressing the issue. Sometimes it is not about throwing money at a problem - it is about pooling resources. Everybody knows the good news story about the emergency department at Roscommon County Hospital, which is part of the Saolta group. Senator James Reilly was probably one of the best health Ministers this country has had. He had a very difficult time when there was no money but he got all the various hospitals to come together. Roscommon County Hospital now works with University Hospital Galway and the hospitals in Castlebar, Sligo Ballinasloe and Letterkenny. In the past week there has been a new blood science project and a new laboratory in the hospital, where patients get results much more quickly because of the hospitals working together. A radiographer won a prize in the past two or three weeks in Roscommon County Hospital and, in a survey, 92% of people thought the hospital was either good or very good. However, we do not hear that.
The results are down to the staff and everyone else working together. In the past few years, all the major parties have come together to work on the ten-year plan for health. I hope health will not be a political football, which it once was. There were people who had nothing to do with health but shouted and roared about it but they are missing now. When people work together we get a good result. The only problem in Roscommon County Hospital now is that it is so busy there is not enough car parking. It will be addressed but it is a serious problem. People who were giving out about other things five years ago are now giving out about car parking.
I dtosach báire, tá súil agam go dtabharfaidh chuile dhuine tacaíocht don Bhille atá ag mo chomhleacaí, an Seanadóir Freeman atá fíorthábhachtach go deo. It is really important that the people control social media rather than social media controlling the people so I strongly support the Senator in bringing forward this Bill.
The inspiration GAA clubs can give to those of us who come from rural Ireland is very important, whether in the shape of the young women or the young men who play for them, agus sa chás seo, tá club i nGaoth Dobhair, agus déanaim comhghairdeas leo, a bhuaigh craobh Uladh i bpeil sinsear Dé Domhnaigh seo caite don chéad uair riamh. Notwithstanding the emigration which there has been from Gweedore, they won the Ulster football final for the first time ever. I mo bhaile beag féin, Baile an Droichid I call it, nó an Spidéal, bhuaigh siad an craobh Connachta i mbliana freisin coicís ó shin agus déanaim comhghairdeas le chlubanna beaga mar sin atá mar lárchroí pobail tuaithe na tíre seo.
I have been contacted by a number of people in the south Connemara Gaeltacht who are concerned about the foreshore lease application by the Marine Institute to construct an electricity generating station in Galway Bay, to which there have been over 500 objectors. The facility will provide access to the Smartbay observatory, allowing scientists to conduct research into the marine environment. There are serious concerns locally about this and I ask the Leader to bring it to the attention of the Minister of State, Deputy English, and ask him to come into this House to give us a briefing on the situation.
Senator Colm Burke made some comments about business. I am a rapporteur for a SME White Paper and policy document which we are creating. We might consider whether we could create an SME committee of Senators to look at how we can develop the SME community and support it.
I offer Sinn Féin's support to the proposal that we sit on Monday afternoon as it would allow Senators to travel from their respective areas. I welcome the passing of the legislation in the Dáil last night and I hope we can have a respectful debate. We should not forget that, since the decisive vote on 25 May, more than 1,600 people have travelled overseas for an abortion, and 550 have imported safe but illegal abortion pills. The reality of the eighth amendment continues and hopefully we can make improvements to the Bill next week.
Senator Ardagh mentioned the Player Wills site in her area and said she was pleased with the plans for the site. She also raised the issue of unsolicited calling. We have all experienced seeing somebody from Somalia ringing us on our phones, trying to get money out of us. The emails to which she referred are of great concern. When I was a solicitor, I remember an older person coming in and presenting me with an email that was obviously a scam, though it was not obvious to that person. There are people who are not used to dealing with emails and who are vulnerable as a result. It is a valid point to raise and it is an issue we should discuss in the new year.
I agree with Senator McDowell that this is a civilised House and there is plenty of scope for us to have a fair and respectful debate this afternoon and next week. I do not think for one second that we should bulldoze the legislation through the House or that we should simply rubber stamp things. Nor do I subscribe to the view that some people are morally inferior to others in this House. I referred to this point on the Order of Business yesterday and I suggested that some people just think they are better than others.
Senator Ruane and others raised the possibility of sitting on Monday. The Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Bill 2018 will be discussed today and next week. I have no difficulty with sitting on Monday but it would have to be Monday afternoon. It would require the Cathaoirleach to allow it because the deadline for submitting Committee Stage amendments is tomorrow and we would have to allow the Bills Office to at least have Monday morning to get the amendments to us for Monday. I think 11.30 a.m. is a bit early for rural Senators, as well as for the Bills Office. I am agreeable to sit on Monday and Tuesday for Committee Stage but we may need a break between Committee Stage and Report Stage.
The amendments would have to be circulated by the close of business tomorrow evening because Monday is too late. I have no problem with it but any amendments must be submitted before the close of business tomorrow evening, and ideally today. Senators would need to be told this as I would not want to sit at 2 p.m. or 2.30 p.m. on Monday to find people saying they did not have enough notice.
Indeed, if we are shortening the time before we commence Committee Stage, I would imagine we have to shorten the time for submitting amendments. They should ideally be submitted today. I will make sure an email about that goes out this afternoon.
On a point of order, this is not really fair to some people. One person in particular comes to mind, although I do not share his views. Is it fair to simply tell that person, who I presume has some amendments to put down though I emphasise that I will probably not support them, that he now only has a few hours to submit them?
-----that many of the amendments will be pretty similar to those submitted in the Dáil. This is the Order of Business for the Seanad. People are required to be here or to at least be tuned in. We are ordering the business of the House. We can only be expected to hold people's hands to a certain degree.
At the end of the day, there is a fine balance between us wanting to allow enough time for the debate and allowing enough time to submit amendments. That is the balance I am trying to strike in suggesting Monday afternoon. That allows both Members and the Bills Office some time. We will extend the time by as much as we can today, but there are many hours left today to get amendments submitted. I take the Senator's point, but we have to get this business done.
Senator Conway-Walsh raised the issue of the report of the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality. I have not had a chance to read it but I have heard Deputy Ó Caoláin talking about it on the radio this morning. My opinion differs from that of the committee. I do not believe that we are well served as women by the entire debate on the removal of a clause which implies that a woman's place is in the home from the Constitution being focused on carers as if women and carers are synonymous. I would have thought that the patriarchal society that led to that provision being in the Constitution in the first place is what needs to be discussed, along with the importance of a woman's role in life more generally. The report is what it is.
Psychological issues in accident and emergency departments are a major issue. I am also aware of that issue. There are issues with regard to psychiatric services and access to them. A debate in the mental health area in the new year would be useful. I am sure a variety of Senators would like to contribute to such a debate. I will ask that the Minister make himself available for such a debate in the new year.
Senator Humphreys raised an issue local to his area relating to Poolbeg. That might be a good issue to raise in a Commencement debate.
It has been had. Maybe the Senator needs to review having another Commencement debate. That is the way to get a specific response from the Minister in a short period of time. That is the facility that exists here. I will communicate his frustrations to the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy.
It is a valid concern. Senator Colm Burke suggested that we sit a little later on Monday if we are sitting. I would agree with that. His suggestion about more connectivity between politicians in America and politicians in Ireland is something that would never be anything other than positive for Ireland. I agree with that.
I have no difficulty accepting Senator Freeman's amendment. I support the Bill. I commend her on tabling it. Senator Norris concurred with Senator Freeman's amendment. He also mentioned the Bill coming up today. His comments are really suitable for the actual debate.
Senator Feighan mentioned Roscommon University Hospital. In fairness to him, he has been a champion for that hospital and has gone through a lot on a personal and local level because of that particular issue. Car parking at hospitals is an issue. I did some work on it a couple of years ago. It is something at which the Minister has looked. I am satisfied that work is going on in the HSE to address car parking fees and the availability of car parking. It can be very difficult for families to afford astronomical car parking fees when somebody is very ill and in hospital for an extended period of time.
Senator Ó Céidigh also supported the Children's Digital Protection Bill 2018. His comments in respect of GAA clubs were also well made, especially with regard to small clubs such as those he mentioned. I am not familiar with the specific issue in Galway he raised but it strikes me as something which would be suitable to submit as a Commencement debate in order to get a specific answer, as long as the Senator has not raised it in the last six months.
Senator Warfield is also supportive of the Bill being debated on Monday. It seems we have consensus in the House to order our business for Monday. That concludes the Order of Business.