Tuesday, 18 December 2018
Order of Business (Resumed)
As the Cathaoirleach mentioned earlier, the hours put in last week on the abortion legislation and the judicial appointments Bill were phenomenal, and I wish the staff a happy Christmas and a prosperous new year too.
I wish to raise an issue I have been raising constantly, namely, the payouts associated with soft tissue injuries and the legacy this has left on every one of us here. Only at the weekend there was an article in The Sunday Timesaccording to which, typically, the legal profession blocked a potential Bill from coming before the Dáil and Seanad which would regulate the amount of moneys being paid out in this regard. The Bar of Ireland and the Law Society of Ireland both blocked the chair of the Personal Injuries Commission, Nicholas Kearns, from potentially bringing forward legislation that might be useful in saving each and every one of us money. The Insurance Ireland representative quoted was very much in favour of this type of legislation being brought forward. Perhaps the onus is on us to bring forward Private Members' legislation that would allow for regulation of the payouts being made, which are four and a half times more than in the UK, and the bulk of that goes to the legal profession.
It is, and I have just spent three and a half hours at the dentist so I am a little all over the place.
I wish to express my absolute outrage at the evictions in Roscommon. It is disgusting that an elderly trio of siblings were kicked out of their home in the run-up to Christmas. The vulture funds should be run out of this country without any excuse. We should get rid of them. What is the Government doing to protect Irish people in their homes? I have to laugh at Sinn Féin bleating about this. If Sinn Féin had supported my Bill, this kind of thing would have been obviated, but however. That is politics, I suppose.
I wish to ask about the involvement of the police. The unfortunate members of An Garda Síochána were stuck in the middle of this thing. It is appalling when people are brought in from a foreign country to throw Irish people out of their homes. I wonder if the Taoiseach is aware that "eviction" is a dirty word in Ireland. I have no time whatever for the leaders of 1916, but they would be turning in their graves at the idea that eviction is commonplace in this alleged Republic. I feel very strongly about this.
I agree with Senator Boyhan's comments about vegetable farmers. It is appalling to think they are asked to accept 20 cent per kilo for carrots and potatoes. How on earth can they possibly make a living? They cannot. The number of vegetable farmers in Dublin - and throughout the country, I think - has halved in the past five years. It is a real crisis, and once again it is the multinational supermarkets that are doing this. They ought to be called to account.
No doubt everyone in this House will at this point have heard about the theft of an ATM from outside the Bank of Ireland premises in Ballybay, County Monaghan. It is the only on-street ATM available to the public in Ballybay.In the run-up to Christmas, the main street was closed off for a considerable period and it was not possible for local people to access the many shops, restaurants and bars that the town has to offer.
In many ways, this could have been a complete disaster for a small rural town like Ballybay, but I am glad to report a positive news story today, in that Ballybay is fighting back. Last night, the local chamber of commerce held an emergency meeting at which it decided that this Christmas was not going to be disastrous for it and that it would do something about the situation. The chamber met staff from the local Bank of Ireland branch, which I am glad to report has, to accommodate local traders and shoppers, decided to open its branch doors on Saturday and Sunday of this week. I compliment the local bank staff on doing that.
The chamber also decided to hold a number of events to kick-start the town's Christmas. It has arranged everything from a carol service to music on the streets to promote the local town and encourage people to shop locally over Christmas. We can refer to CCTV and more gardaí for the town, and we will do so in the new year, but what could have been a disaster for a small rural town has ended up being a good news story. I compliment the people of Ballybay on their good community spirit.
I will take this opportunity to encourage people throughout the country to shop local where possible. It is the local business that sponsors the local football or athletic club and puts its hand in its pocket all year around. This is the time of year where the customers have an opportunity to thank the local shop, bar or restaurant by putting their hands in their pockets and shopping locally. I encourage as many people as possible to keep that in mind over the Christmas period.
My colleague, Senator Norris, just referred to the Roscommon incident. There is no escaping the fact that land and its ownership run through the heart of what it is to be Irish. However, I sometimes think that we get the emotional side of the argument without getting the full facts. Clearly, there is high emotion across Roscommon and the west over what has happened. Many Senators will have sailed close to the wind with family debt at some stage as their lives changed. In my case, it was when my business failed. There is a requirement on all of us to engage with those who loaned us money. I have no idea why that family was being evicted other than there was an unpaid debt, which was put through the courts and on which the courts made a ruling. The method by which the family was evicted was outrageous. That people can come down from wherever dressed in black uniforms without identification marks, in some cases in vehicles that have no visible registration or tax discs, is not acceptable.
It is equally not acceptable for a shower of thugs to enter a property afterwards and beat up security officers who are working for the minimum wage. I have stood as a security officer in some of the most precarious places, places where I was scared stiff, for an entire night on my own. It is grossly unfair of any shower of thugs to beat up eight men.
First, we need regulation of such operators. Second, we need the full details. Third, I will call on the Leader to ask the Minister for Justice and Equality to look at Facebook because the name and address of the county sheriff in Roscommon has been published on it today. The county sheriff is doing a job, the same as anyone else. None of this is going to put that family back in its home.
At the end of the day, those who work for the State are entitled to the protection of the State. In future, before we all get tied up in emotion, let us have the full story published, not just the bits that suit our particular cause. I feel desperately sorry for that family - I really do - but, by God, I feel equally as sorry for the security officers who were in hospital over the weekend. The thugs on both sides - the ones who evicted the family and the ones who beat up the security officers - should be behind bars.
I support Senator Ó Ríordáin's call for a debate on women and sport, an issue about which I am very passionate and have a keen interest in. I congratulate the ladies' hockey team who won the best team award in the RTÉ sports awards on Saturday night. It was a great tribute to their contribution representing Ireland, for which they won silver medals. They have set a high standard for many other teams. I am involved in a local school from which one of the students has been selected to play basketball for Ireland. The team has a lot of competitions coming up. It is time we had a debate on women's participation in and contribution to sport.
Shannon Foynes Port Company has been awarded EU transport corridor status today. It is one of nine ports across Europe awarded this status. It was awarded this status because it is a very deep port. This is a Brexit present in that if Brexit proceeds it will pose many issues for UK ports. This award is very positive for the Shannon Estuary and the Shannon Foynes Port Company. The company's development plan out to 2041 provides for the additional physical infrastructure and innovative digital technology. This designation today will lead to delivery of that plan and job creation. It is a good news story, which I welcome.
I agree with previous speakers' comments regarding the outrageous increase in costs for the national children's hospital. Another outrage is the damaging effects of this construction on the communities of Dublin 8, where I come from, in terms of air pollution, infrastructural damage to homes and traffic noise and the fact that this work which was supposed to be completed in a decade is being pushed out to 15 years.
The nurses unions have voted overwhelmingly for industrial action and strike. Today, the INMO is considering an all-out strike following a 95% ballot in favour of it. Yesterday, the PNA announced 95% support for a strike. Nurses are not known for their militancy but it seems it takes strike action to get things done. Nurses are at the coalface. This is about staff retention and recruitment, and the nurses' response to the public pay commission report of last September, which utterly failed to address the serious staff shortages.
On Friday my colleague, Deputy O'Reilly, received a response to a parliamentary question from the HSE which stated that there have been 11,000 acknowledged assaults on HSE staff over the last decade, 70% of which were on nurses. This is a perform storm. The winter plan, it appears, is year long. The most concentrated period of need is January to March and every day in our accident and emergency departments is a winter day. I ask the Leader to find out from the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, what action he proposes to take and if he will engage and provide meaningful solutions to this winter of discontent. Nurses are speaking with one voice and calling for the proper staffing of hospitals in order that they can do their job.
Today is International Migrants Day. It is important that we record the day. I ask that the Leader provide for a debate in the new year on the issue of migrants. The Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons has issued a statement recognising how much more there is to be done on the issue of migrants, which references the 3.5 million refugees from Syria and the over 2,000 deaths in the Mediterranean this year.The committee referred to the fact that behind these figures are individual human fates, men women and children compelled to leave their homes who depend on humanitarian support, whose human rights must be respected and who must be allowed to contribute to our common future. To my shock and horror, at that committee meeting members of the Fidesz fascist party stood up and objected to this wording. They objected to use of the terms "human rights" and "common future". Thankfully, there were enough votes to defeat them and prevent what they wanted to do in terms of changing the statement.
I do not raise this matter in order to score points. These people are absolutely scary. Yesterday they passed a law compelling workers to work 400 hours overtime for which they will have to wait three years to be paid. They have issued statements on LGBT rights that are offensive. Fidesz is a fascist party and, unfortunately, Fine Gael is sitting with its members in the European Parliament. In the 1930s fascism flourished because people did not stand up and say what needed to be said and call out the horrific policies for what they were. I am calling on Fine Gael to act here. In fairness, I have spoken to Senator Joe O'Reilly, who has been very helpful with regard to this issue. However, I cannot accept that Fine Gael members would sit with these fascists, who are busy inflicting horrific policies on their own people and on migrants, and not call them out and call for their expulsion from the European People's Party. That is what we need to hear and see today. I ask the Leader to engage on this issue seriously because we cannot stay silent in the face of the Fidesz fascist party.
I call on the Leader, who may be expecting a very good Christmas, given that Senator Devine referred to him as a Minister on two occasions, to respond. Maybe there will be something special in his Christmas stocking this year.
I do not think I will be following in the footsteps of the late Senator James Dooge, but perhaps we should all aspire to that.
I join the Cathaoirleach in thanking Ms Bridget Doody and all the Seanad staff for their sincere professionalism in what was a very trying and long week last week. I also welcome back our esteemed Clerk and friend, Mr. Martin Groves, and offer him the sincere sympathy of all in the House on the very sad passing of his brother, Tony. I know that Martin appreciates that we stood last week for a minute's silence in his brother's honour. I thank Martin for his continued service and for coming back to the House today. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.
I also join the Cathaoirleach in welcoming our esteemed guests to the House, Mr. Bruce Knotts and his husband Isaac Humphrey who are here today as guests of Senator Wilson. It is important, in the context of the contribution of Senator Gavan, that the work Mr. Knotts has done around the world in promoting diversity, equality and in fighting homophobia is commended. He is also involved in the biggest global challenge of our generation, that of climate change, which speaks volume about him. As a member of this House and of the LGBT community, I welcome them both and thank them for being here. I hope they are not led astray by Senator Wilson. I offer them a sincere céad míle fáilte.
Senators Horkan, Conway-Walsh, Norris and Craughwell raised the incident in Strokestown, County Roscommon, at the weekend. The horrific nature of the incident has captured the public imagination. Local gardaí have described it as criminal damage and assault. While I am not familiar with all the circumstances, nobody wants to see anyone evicted from his or her family home or property. It is important to recognise that there is a process involved in an eviction that must be followed. The eviction took place on foot of a court order. Engagement is critical in all such circumstances. Every effort must be made to ensure that people do not lose their family home.As Members will be aware, prior to last weekend the Government had convened an interdepartmental group which will report to the Minister for Justice and Equality early next year. The purpose of that group is to examine the administrative and legislative resources and other matters required to provide for the regulating and licensing of private security personnel assisting in enforcing court orders. It is important that we do that. Our language and behaviour is also important and critical. We are very fortunate that we have a very strong and very fair Garda Síochána in our country. We must support it at all times. There are wrongs on all sides of the incident that happened at the weekend. I condemn utterly the barbaric nature of the events. Equally it is important that we understand the full facts of the situation before us. Engagement by both sides, particularly the lending institutions, is critical.
I will be happy to have the Minister come to the House to have a debate on the whole wider issue in due course. As I said, none of us wants to see people evicted. All parties involved have obligations and responsibilities. It is important that reasonable voices are heard rather than just the loudest or the voices of the baying mob. It is about everybody being heard.
I assume the Minister for Justice and Equality would be the relevant Minister. That is what I would envisage. I will revert back to Senator Horkan in due course. The Senator, along with Senators Conway-Walsh and Devine, also made reference to the issue of the national children's hospital. Any of us who is fair and who has been involved in this issue must be concerned about the rising costs. I was involved as Chair of the Joint Committee on Health and Children for five years. An explanation is needed. I am talking off the top of my head now but, even allowing for some type of construction inflation, the level of increase is way beyond what would be envisaged, notwithstanding the contribution of Senator Devine regarding the local issue. Before the last general election I was on the Joint Committee on Health and Children and we went on a site visit. There are local concerns, as Senator Devine has said. I know that she, and other Members from her constituency area, such as the Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne, have articulated and voiced those concerns and have met with local residents. I have been part of groups that have met with local residents in the past.
We all want to see a national children's hospital constructed. We need it. Our country requires it. In saying that, however, it is also important to say that this could potentially have an impact on other capital projects and that is very unfair. I believe Senator Conway-Walsh was indirectly accusing me through her implication regarding Sinn Féin economics. The important point is that the Government signed off on a project of €1 billion in April 2017. We are very much committed to it. It is important that we understand and hear what the Minister had to say in Cabinet today. I was not in Cabinet, so I am not familiar with the up-to-date situation. We will have that debate in due course.
I thank Senator Devine. The issue Senator Craughwell raised around St. Vincent's Hospital was discussed on the Order of Business last week. I referenced the contribution of Dr. Rhona Mahony on the Marian Finucane programme. That is the best reference point. Again we can debate that issue as part of the overarching debate on health in the new year.
Senator Craughwell also mentioned the issue of Brexit, which is ongoing. It has certainly been heightened by the decision of the Tory Party last week to hold a vote of no confidence in the Prime Minister and the decision by the leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, to place a motion of no confidence in the Prime Minister before the House of Commons. The important point is that the Taoiseach, the Minister of State with responsibility for European affairs, Deputy McEntee, and the Tánaiste are very much aware of the need to up our preparations for a hard Brexit. We are still not giving up on a deal being achieved. Our deal took two years to negotiate. By "our deal" I mean the deal between the European Union and the British Government. The Taoiseach met with Prime Minister May in Brussels last week, as the Senator knows. They had a very good conversation.Ireland's perspective has not changed. The deal that has been put forward is the only deal on the table. While many people will disagree on its composition, we all agree the best deal is on the table. As Senators will be aware, the Tánaiste has been in charge of the preparations for the Government's contingency planning across all Departments. The Government is preparing for all eventualities. The Cabinet has mandated that all Departments will give full priority to their plans for a no-deal Brexit or a disorderly Brexit, if that were to happen. It is important to recognise that we have seen some public demonstrations of contingency planning such as the hiring of customs officials. The Government is committed to being ready. There is no such thing as a good Brexit. It is not good, and those are the fundamentals of that.
Senators Boyhan and Norris raised the issue of vegetable production. I will be happy to invite the Minister of State with responsibility for horticulture, Deputy Doyle, to come to the House in the new year.
I congratulate all involved in the successful opening of the beds in the National Rehabilitation Hospital, as mentioned by Senator Boyhan.
I will certainly consider the request that Senator Boyhan has made today on the Order of Business regarding the Order Paper or the scheduling of events.
I remind the House - I will say this again during the week - that there is very non-acrimonious co-operation by all sides, by and large, when the business of the House is being scheduled. As I have outlined on the Order of Business today, the putting of times might mean we would not necessarily run into each other. I will consider the request. Since I became Leader of the House, I have been all in favour of making the House a better House in terms of how we do our business and allowing all sides to be heard. I have a job to do as Leader. There are others who want to be Leader. Perhaps there are others who want to take over the running of the country. That is their prerogative.
Senator Ó Ríordáin referred to the confidence and supply agreement. I welcome the fact that he is alarmed that there will be no election this year or next year. In light of the uncertainty around Brexit, all of us are pleased that the country will continue to have a Government in place without the threat of an election. This will allow us to bring Ireland forward. Incomes are up, unemployment is at an all-time low, and there has been a decrease in the poverty and deprivation index for the fourth year in a row. We have challenges to face in health and housing. I hope we will see progress in that regard over the next 12 months.
I join Senators Ó Ríordáin and Byrne in hoping that the 2020 women in sport targets will be met. We all welcome the fact that high levels of participation and interest in women's sport, and attendances at women's sporting events, have been achieved. Women's sport in Ireland has reached an all-time high. I commend our hockey team on its victory in the RTÉ sports star awards at the weekend. Many fine individual female sports stars have become role models as part of our sporting galaxy of stars.
I take the point made by Senator Conway-Walsh regarding auditing. Believe it or not, I share her views on the CMA recommendations. We need to hold auditing firms to account. It cannot be just one or two firms that are held to account; everybody must be held to account. There are people who signed off on accounts even though they should not have done so. It is important to highlight this issue.
Senator Lawlor spoke about the payouts associated with soft tissue injuries. The Minister of State, Deputy D'Arcy, has done considerable work on that. I would be happy for him to come to the House in the new year.
I commend the people of Ballybay, who have shown their community spirit and their spirit of entrepreneurship to ensure the town is open for business this Christmas, as mentioned by Senator Gallagher.
I join Senator Byrne in welcoming the decision to award EU transport corridor status to Shannon Foynes Port Company. I congratulate those involved.I welcome that the Shannon Foynes Port Company has been awarded EU transport corridor status today. It is one of nine ports across Europe awarded this status. Senator Byrne has been a champion of Shannon Foynes Port in this House and has raised issues for it on a number of occasions. I thank the Senator for that.
With regard to Senator Devine, we had better put our swords back in their scabbards for a minute. The issue of nurses' pay has come to the fore again through the decision of a number of unions to engage in industrial action. I certainly hope this can be avoided. I made the point earlier that engagement is the way forward. All of us recognise that we have recruited more nurses, we have restored the financial emergency measures in the public interest, FEMPI, cuts and that there is a need for all of us to work together. The Department of Health will meet the oversight committee this week to further engage. I certainly hope that industrial action can be avoided. It does not help any situation and I do not see how nurses going on strike can benefit the health system. I understand that they have a democratic right to engage in industrial action but I hope that all sides will engage properly and meaningfully in order that we can avoid that at all costs.
Senator Gavan spoke of today being International Migrants Day. I have given an answer to the Senator before on the issues he has raised. I am a person who does not stand up for what the Senator has described here today. There is a duty on all of us, at national and at European level, to ensure that our parties are part of groupings that promote human rights at all times.