Tuesday, 18 December 2018
Order of Business
The Order of Business today is No. 1, Consumer Protection (Regulation of Credit Servicing Firms) Bill 2018 - Committee and Remaining Stages, beginning at 2.45 p.m.; No. 2, Finance (African Development (Bank and Fund) and Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2018 - Second Stage, to be taken on conclusion of No. 1, with time allocated to group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and all other Senators not to exceed five minutes; No. 3, Social Welfare, Pensions and Civil Registration Bill 2018 - Report and Final Stages, to be taken on conclusion of No. 2; No. 4, Irish Film Board (Amendment) Bill 2018 - all Stages, to be taken on conclusion of No. 3, with the time allocated to group spokespersons on Second Stage not to exceed eight minutes, with all other Senators not to exceed five minutes, and the Minister to be given no less than five minutes to reply, with Committee and Remaining Stages to be taken immediately thereafter; No. 5, Criminal Law (Extraterritorial Jurisdiction) Bill 2018 - Order for Second Stage and Second Stage, to be taken on conclusion of No. 4 and to adjourn after one and a half hour if not previously concluded, with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and all other Senators not to exceed five minutes; and No. 6, Local Government Bill 2018 - Second Stage, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 5 with the time allocated to group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and all other Senators not to exceed five minutes.
I thank the Leader for outlining a particularly busy day and week for all of us. I will speak on Nos. 1, 2, 3 and 4 and also on the Order of Business. I thank the Leader for outlining the Order of Business.
I will raise a number of points this afternoon. The first is a very sensitive issue but it cannot go unmentioned. I refer to what happened in Strokestown. Strokestown is an area I know a bit better than people might think because my grandmother was from and grew up in Strokestown although she has long since passed away. Strokestown was formerly known for having one of the widest streets in Europe despite the fact it is in a relatively small country town.
I appreciate that much of what happened in the past week to ten days is not familiar to all of us and I am sure there are details that are being kept confidential. The evictions that happened last Tuesday and the scuffles and so on that happened are very distressing. I do not think anyone can condone violence towards people. We need to be very vigilant. There are many people facing similar circumstances. If they are evicted we end up having to rehouse them. The State needs to look at a mechanism whereby if people are in difficulty the State takes over the property and leaves people there and manages the business in some way or other. We could end up having all these properties being taken over with similar levels of unrest. It is not good that people are losing their family homes. Much of the story was in the paper this morning. There were very significant debts and an issue going on a long time. Perhaps people were not engaging the way we hope they would. The State and the Government needs to take the issue into account.
It is just over 18 months since the Minister told us the expected cost of the children's hospital was €1 billion and that, perhaps more importantly, it would be delivered on time. We now know that neither is the case. It was reported last week in The Irish Timesand in further reporting today that the projected cost of the national children's hospital is now €1.4 billion. That is more than twice the €650 million estimate that was used when planning permission was given only two years ago, which looks to be a projected cost increase of almost €1 million a day. The suggestion is the hospital will now be the most expensive hospital ever constructed in the world. What are we getting for this €1.4 million? Will the sum climb higher again? None of us can have faith that a figure that was €650 million, then €1 billion and now €1.4 billion will not rise further. We need to know that taxpayers and citizens will ultimately get a good service and value for money. The Minister needs to come into the House sooner rather than later and let us know what is happening.
On another health-related matter, it is reported the Minister, Deputy Harris, is expected to seek Cabinet approval for the first phase of construction of the National Maternity Hospital to proceed on the site of St. Vincent's Hospital in Dublin, but the legal agreement between the Department of Health, the National Maternity Hospital and St. Vincent's Hospital on the final contract is not expected until the new year. Since the announcement of that hospital there has been nothing but controversy and little progress on the site. We need to be very guarded and mind taxpayers' investment in hospital facilities. I know the Minister was very busy in the House last week on a particularly important issue for many people on both sides but these are very significant infrastructural projects with very significant cost overruns and if I was a member of the Government or a governing arrangement, Opposition people would certainly be challenging me on the figures. It is important.
On Brexit, will the Leader outline the Government's plans in the event of a likely no-deal scenario?
I will share some good news. Since 2007, I have been campaigning for the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Dún Laoghaire.Despite significant correspondence to the Minister we were making no progress. I am delighted to say that with like-minded Independents and party Members - I particularly acknowledge the work of some Fine Gael Senators and Deputies - we have been successful. Needless to say we have not heard this news from the Minister, but I contacted the hospital last week to confirm that a new consultant's hours have been extended. They are not very good at telling the good news, but the consultant who had ceased to be there has been re-engaged with additional hours and the seven beds have been reopened, which is marvellous news.
I thank people who have been indulgent with me for many months. All that is at stake is the six remaining beds in that hospital. I appeal to Senators who have worked quietly behind the scenes to continue with their parties' health spokespersons to try to lobby to get the additional six beds open, as they should be.
I do not know if anybody listened to "Morning Ireland". Our vegetable production has dropped by 50%-----
-----in the past three years and we have below-cost selling of fresh produce. I appeal to people inside this House and beyond to demand high-quality Irish homegrown vegetables because when the suppliers are put under pressure it will happen. I ask the Leader for a debate in the new year with the Minister of State with responsibility for horticulture to discuss Irish vegetable production.
I know the Leader comes in here and reads out the daily Order of Business and time slots. I know that is rough and is a moveable feast. I respect that and know it is not an easy job. Would it be possible to get ten or 20 hard copies of what he reads out left in the Chamber as it would help us? I do not want to ask the Leader to stand up and call the list out again. It is a busy station here. It would be helpful for the smooth running of the House and for the smooth running of our diaries. I am aware that such a document exists and is given to the Cathaoirleach and to the Seanad Office. Ministers are aware of it and it is only right that we too should be aware of it. I want to be flexible and reasonable. I hope the Leader will agree to that very reasonable and simple request.
I ask for the Minister for Health to come to the House to explain the €100 million overrun on the national children's hospital. Day after day and week after week I stand here being told that Sinn Féin is not on top of economic issues and asking what would happen if Sinn Féin were running the economy. However, a project like this overrunning by €100 million is absolutely unacceptable and we need transparency on it. That €100 million will be taken from other vital services within the health service and it cannot be allowed to happen. I ask that the Minister come to the House at the very first opportunity. This time last year we were told that the national children's hospital would be brought in on time and on budget. Something has gone disastrously wrong here and somebody must be held accountable for it.
The appalling scenes of eviction in Roscommon in recent days have highlighted the need for urgent regulation of private security firms. I welcome the Bill tabled by my colleague, Deputy Ó Laoghaire, to regulate private security firms. We witnessed scenes of people coming in to evict an elderly couple from their home, regardless of the individual circumstances. We do not know who these people were or where they came from. They had no identification whatsoever. This cannot be allowed to continue. It is a disgrace and was unjustified. It brought to mind scenes from our past of people being thrown on to the side of the road. Those scenes have touched a raw nerve, certainly with people living in rural areas. I commend the community on coming together and standing against this type of behaviour. I want the Minister for Justice and Equality to come to the House.I want to ask him to explain to us how An Garda Síochána could stand by and let a situation like this develop. We need to know what is impeding it from intervening in such situations. I welcome the Bill, which will go some way to addressing this and providing accountability with regard to private security firms, which seem to be running riot around this country and seem to be running riot at the behest of the banks, which have treated the citizens of this country, and continue to treat them, appallingly.
I welcome the British Competition and Markets Authority, CMA, recommendations around the auditing of the big firms in order to separate audit from consulting services. This is something I have asked to be done through our finance committee. I raised it before because of the auditing firm that had given a clean bill of health to Carillion and to others. The cost of what has happened to smaller businesses within the State due to Carillion has to be addressed and one of the ways of addressing it is to hold the auditing firms to account. These are the same auditing firms which told us the banks had a clean bill of health before the last crash. Something needs to be done. I ask the Minister for Finance to come to the House in the new year specifically to discuss that issue.
I genuinely want to ask the Leader for a debate with anybody in government who can justify the new confidence and supply agreement. It reminds me of when a mother used to come home having left her child to tidy up the house. Nothing would have been cleaned up and she would ask, "What have you been doing for the last number of hours?" We have had high level negotiations between two crack teams from Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil for six weeks-----
Is it not unbelievable that the two main parties in the Oireachtas could have six weeks of negotiations and not come up with a single sheet of paper with a single word written on it? If they had a single sheet of paper with the word "homelessness" written on it, at least we could have an argument over and back as to the importance of that word or what they are going to do about it. However, they literally came up with nothing. We are being governed on the basis of nothing. We had an agreement that went up to the budget last year. Water was the most important issue two and a half years ago and it took up the vast bulk of that agreement. Now, we have a crisis of homelessness and, after six weeks of negotiations, not even a sheet of paper emerges. It is unbelievable. Somebody from the Government should come in here to account for it.
On a more positive note, I would like to debate in this House the nature of female participation in sport by girls and women. Anybody who observed the RTÉ sports awards at the weekend will see that massive advances are being made in female participation in sport, which is to be remarked upon and encouraged. There is a campaign, 20x20, which is seeking a 20% increase in funding, a 20% increase in participation and a 20% increase in coverage of women's sport by the year 2020. It would be a good idea to have the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport in the House to discuss the issue and the 20x20 campaign, and to see what politics can do to help that agenda for female participation in sport by girls and women.