Thursday, 20 December 2018
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, motion regarding the arrangements for the joint sitting of the Houses of the Oireachtas on 21 January 2019, to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business, without debate; No. 2, motion regarding the terms of reference of the Seanad Special Select Committee on the Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 1, without debate; No. 3, Public Service Superannuation (Age of Retirement) Bill 2018 – Report Stage [Amendments from Dáil Éireann] and Final Stage, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 2; No. 4, Central Bank (National Claims Information Database) Bill 2018 - Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 3; No. 5, Finance (African Development (Bank and Fund) and Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2018 - Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 4; No. 6, Greyhound Racing Bill 2018 – Report Stage (resumed) and Final Stage, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 5 and to adjourn not later than 3 p.m., if not previously concluded; and No. 7, Judicial Appointments Commission Bill 2017 – Committee Stage (resumed), to be taken at 3 p.m. and to adjourn not later than 7 p.m., if not previously concluded.
I would like to raise two matters. The first relates to the National Treatment Purchase Fund, NTPF. This is a fantastic scheme, but there are pitfalls. One of the pitfalls I would like to bring to the attention of the House is the lack of aftercare and convalescence care. I have a constituent, whom I will call Bob for these purposes, who was attending a hospital in Dublin on an ongoing basis for an issue with his knee. After many years on a waiting list, Bob was offered an appointment to get his knee fixed in a private hospital in Dublin and he did so. Bob is in elderly man on a medical card who does not have much means. After he had the operation in the private hospital, Bob was immediately discharged with no aftercare and he went back to his original treating general hospital where he was told that he was no longer its patient and he was not on the list. This has left Bob in a situation where he is not under the care of any consultant, he has received no aftercare and no convalescence care, and he is in limbo in terms of where he can go for further treatment. The NTPF is a fantastic model, but the Government needs to consider the provision of aftercare. The HSE seems only to be moving a list. Once a person is off a list in a general hospital, the HSE is happy because it can report on that. No one goes back on a list but this leaves patients in limbo without the proper care and treatment they need.
The second issue I would like to raise is the homeless figures, which I have raised many times. Christmas is approaching and 4,000 children are living in emergency accommodation for the homeless. It is a damning indictment, not only on the Government but on all of us in this House, that we preside over a system where 4,000 children this Christmas have nowhere to call a home. These children will rightly become angry adults in the future. Much of the accommodation that we are making these children live in is substandard. It does not provide for them at all. The Government is doing a considerable disservice to the children of this country by not addressing this issue seriously. The Government has stated the country is booming and unemployment is at an all-time low, but yet, since I became a Member almost three years ago, the homeless figures have only increased. It is a damning indictment, not only on the Government but on all of us, that we sit here and keep saying it, but nothing happens. Coming up to Christmas, we should all think about this and bear in mind what lovely childhoods we all had and what safe, secure homes we all came from, but there are 4,000 children in the State who do not have that luxury.
I thank the staff of the House, as this is our final sitting day before Christmas. I thank the Leader of the House, the Cathaoirleach and the Seanad office and all my colleagues for a fantastic year in which we got a lot done. I am looking forward to next year and working with the Senators to get good legislation over the line.
I thank the staff of the Seanad and the staff of the Oireachtas for their work throughout the year and for the efforts they go to, particularly in the Seanad office, to facilitate our every request. I wish them and theirs a happy Christmas and a prosperous new year.
I thank the Leader for the courtesy he has shown throughout the year. We have not always agreed but the Leader has always been courteous and facilitated as best he could issues that have come before the House.
I thank the various cathaoirligh who have shown their independence despite Senator Lawlor's view of my independence in the Chair. I thank all those Senators who have been in the Chair and who have been fair to everyone. I wish-----
I think the Leader will agree that nobody is stopping the traffic on Kildare Street and demanding that this Bill is pushed through the House. Not even the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport is out screaming that it be passed today.
-----scrutinising the legislation, which is what we are paid to do. I ask that the Bill be withdrawn from the Order of Business. I hope I will have a seconder and support. I thank the Leas-Cathaoirleach for his time and for his even-handed management of this morning's sitting.
We have had lots of confidence and very little supply. That sums up what I have to say. There has been consistent support throughout the year for the bankers and bondholders with tax holidays and such. I am mindful, as Christmas approaches, of how many people are struggling to get by and pay their mortgages. There are no write-downs for them and they fear the bailiffs coming in January. We have to be mindful of those people. That is why I would have liked to see an end to this confidence and supply agreement so that people could have their say and these people, who are often voiceless in our communities, could say exactly what they want and see that there is a real alternative to what they are being put through.
I am distraught about the decisions being made in respect of planning permission. I just got notice that yet another planning permission has been refused by Mayo County Council. This is connected to the homeless and housing crisis. A couple I know are working five jobs, they two children and they were trying to build on their land. They have been refused permission repeatedly. Games of power and control are being played out and not only in local authorities that will not allow people to build houses on their land. We are not talking about big mansions but modest homes for people's children on their land. We have to look seriously at this matter in the new year.
I want to finish on a good note. I wish everybody a happy Christmas and new year. I thank all of the staff of the House for the wonderful work they have done throughout the year, and the Leas-Cathaoirleach and Cathaoirleach for the fairness they show in how they go about their business every day. I know the Leader gets agitated at times but we will allow for that. This will be his first Christmas as a married man. He has mellowed a little-----
I wish to propose an amendment to the Order of Business to the effect that No. 10 be taken before No. 1. I am introducing my second Private Member's Bill today, the Criminal Justice (Rehabilitative Periods) Bill 2018, which will provide for broader and fairer access to spent convictions and ensure that people with criminal convictions are given a fair chance to be rehabilitated and to move on with their lives. I will bring it forward for Second Stage debate early in the new year. I hope that it will receive cross-party support. I would be happy to go over any provisions of the Bill with interested colleagues in the meantime.
I want to talk about the homelessness crisis and the signal that we, as politicians, send to young people as we try to solve it. I have received an incredible letter from the justice and peace committee of Loreto College Wexford. These young women have collected over 500 signatures from fellow students on the letter, which addresses homelessness.
I will read it into the record. It states:
We are the Justice & Peace group from Loreto Secondary School Wexford. We are writing this letter to express our frustration at the current homelessness crisis in Ireland and the lack of action our government are taking to help end this crisis. Homelessness is a word I’m sure you have heard in Irish Media recently, as it is something so prominent in our nation today. However, little action has been taken by our government to combat this national emergency.
Imagine it was your own child or family without the security of a house. Imagine having no choice but to endure Ireland’s harsh winter on the streets. Imagine moving from one care centre to the next without a home to call your own. But imagining it is one thing. We can conjure up this image in or mind and feel sorry for those who must suffer through it, but it isn't until we experience it ourselves, that we are faced with the harsh reality of the issue. We have the power to change this.
We can raise money, we can build shelters or homes and even utilise the unoccupied buildings we already have. We can do so many things to help this crisis, yet we don’t. Why is this? Our government is paid to run our country, but they are pushing some of their people to the side. Our government is supposed to be here for all of its people, but where is it now when 9,572 of its people are homeless and are in desperate need of help? Where is it now when 3,800 of its children are without a home, this is excluding the hidden homeless? This is the same amount of people that are in the five main secondary schools in Wexford. As busy and hardworking students in a stressful time of our lives, we cannot possibly begin to imagine what it would be like to be without the comfort of a home to go to after school.
By failing to help these students, you are damaging Ireland’s future. They simply cannot study in cramped, uncomfortable conditions such as tiny hotel rooms. These students have so much to offer and you are denying them their chance to make Ireland a better place. Toddlers are experiencing delays in reaching development milestones, such as walking, because they are living in such inadequate conditions where infections such as chicken pox, ear infections and head lice are common.
No, only a few lines. It continues:
In a recent report on homelessness, three families surveyed said that they are waking their children up at half past five in the morning just to ensure access to a communal bathroom and allow enough time to get to school. This means that children are being sleep deprived and are unable to concentrate at school. In total, 2,245 new social homes were built last year which is 189 below the target of 2,434. Our nation is being mislead by these false promises.
The issue of homelessness in Ireland in his day and age is disgraceful, and we will no longer tolerate it. Our government’s lack of involvement is jeopardising the lives of the youth. Prosperity is not solely economical, but it lies in the happiness and wellbeing of the people. We are begging you to solve this crisis and show that homelessness is a problem all year round, not just at Christmas. We need action not just words, your people are calling.
Justice & Peace, Loreto Secondary School Wexford.
I join in expressing our thanks to the staff for the support they have given to all Senators in the House. I wish them a happy Christmas. I thank all the Senators who have chaired the Seanad over the year for their work. I thank the Leader for his courtesy during the year and I wish him a happy Christmas. As Senator Rose Conway-Walsh said, this is his first Christmas as a married man. I hope he has as many years of marriage as I have. I am coming up to my 39th year. Practice makes perfect. I wish the Leader the best of luck.
I raise a serious issue related to the Christmas period. Unfortunately, the number of road deaths on our roads over the Christmas period is frightful. Many relate to alcohol. The Labour Party in the Seanad supported the Government's recent road safety legislation, which was common sense and not anti-rural. Unfortunately, most of the lives lost on the roads are in rural Ireland. If the legislation saves one life, it will have been worthwhile. I hope to be in a position to support other proposals on road safety the Government may bring forward in the coming years. It is sad to note the number of people who die on our roads.
My only negative point relates to the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross. It is a case of "Do what I say, but not what I do". I was disappointed to see pictures in the Irish Independentthis morning of a car with its roof decked out with a box and a Christmas tree. This creates road safety dangers. The Minister has to practise what he preaches. Everyone in the House wants our roads to be safer so that they do not put lives in danger. What is the Minister doing in that regard? One motorist said he saw the car and pulled back further because he thought it was precarious and a danger to road safety. If he wants to be taken seriously on road safety, the Minister must lead from the front. He cannot simply preach but must live by example. I would be grateful if we could have a general debate on road safety in the new year and ask the Minister to come to the House to discuss practical measures to save lives on our roads over the coming year.
The Leader was not here during previous statements. I do not mean that in a negative sense. I know he was doing important business in Washington during the week in question. We heard statements on climate change. We had seven Ministers for five minutes, one after another. None stayed for the debate. One Minister of State replied to the debate for five minutes. Climate change will be one of the greatest challenges facing not only this country but the planet over the coming years. I thought that was a one-off or a reflection of how the Seanad was treated or, more important, how the issue was being treated. However, it was repeated the following week in the Dáil. We heard seven Ministers for five minutes and only one stayed for the debate and discussion. That was not the intention of the climate change legislation. I urge the Leader to arrange early in the new year for the seven Ministers to come back and be accountable for their targets and delivery as well as to properly engage.
We talk to young people about climate change but it is not only a matter for young people. It is an issue for all those who are worried about the climate we will leave our children and grandchildren. The response was in no way sufficient on the part of the Ministers and Ministers of State who came into this House and the Lower House. It is almost as if they talk the talk but will not walk the walk. I hope that will change in 2019. Certainly, the public is leading and politicians are following. We need to catch up and take action. I hope the new Minister will not only talk the talk but will actually take action in 2019 by starting to hit our targets. They are so important not only for Ireland but for the planet as a whole.
I second the amendment from Senator Craughwell.
Once again the acoustics in the House are not great so I did not hear what the Senator said, but I do not need to.
I welcome the application made to the greenways fund by Fingal County Council, Louth County Council and Meath County Council. My colleagues, Councillor O'Leary and Councillor Sharon Tolan, have been engaged with this. The application will link up Newgrange, a magnificent 5,200 year old Neolithic passage tomb, with the Boyne Valley, including Knowth and Dowth and other passage tombs. It will continue down through Oldbridge to the site of the Battle of the Boyne. It will go on to Mornington over to Bremore Castle in Balbriggan, which has the capacity to accommodate six times the number of people accommodated in Bunratty Castle for banquets. A total of 350,000 people pass through Bunratty Castle each year, so the potential is extraordinary. All of this is linked by rail to Newbridge House in Donabate. The proposed greenway passes though Ardgillan Castle and on to Skerries with its windmills and restaurants.
This is a no-brainer. It is a magnificent opportunity to create an irresistible tourism offering. Given my role as spokesman for the Government on business and enterprise, I see this as a critical undertaking in terms of Brexit-proofing our tourism industry. We know that we are not getting as many visitors from the UK. We know that the tourism industry will face challenges. This is a way of attracting an already established large group, namely, the substantial number of people aged between 60 and 80 years. They are healthy and have disposable wealth, are looking for offerings that can promote their health and want to enjoy safe walking and cycling. That is what this greenway would be. This proposed greenway is a wonderful opportunity for families from Dublin to engage. It is also a wonderful opportunity for the Dublin Airport Authority, which brought in 30 million visitors last year. The DAA could direct visitors to spend a half-day that is free before they head off down the country elsewhere. It is a no-brainer at many different levels.
Will the Leader have the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to the House come to the House as well as the Minister for Finance? I have called for this before and I reiterate that call now. I am demanding that we put at least €200 million into a national greenway grid over the coming five years. This will allow us to release the potential of our fantastic historical sites, beaches and greenways throughout the country. It will serve for the betterment not only of our tourism industry but also for the health and well-being of our people. Moreover, it will enable families to cycle in safety together.
I thank the Leader for that comment. I join the leader of the Opposition, Senator Ardagh, in wishing everyone a peaceful Christmas and thanking them for their work. That has all been said already. I appeal now for peace at Christmas and throughout the year. I appeal for peace in Strokestown in Roscommon, in particular, because violence begets violence. No issue will be resolved through violence. We are an advanced country and what happened in Strokestown goes to back to a very dark period.
We have to live in accordance with the laws of the land and with due respect for An Garda Síochána and the gardaí who have sacrificed their lives in our protection. Gardaí have courage and fairness and we must endorse them in this House today. We stand shoulder to shoulder with the members of An Garda Síochána. I appeal for a peaceful rally in Strokestown next Sunday, 23 December. I recognise the right of those participating in that rally to make their points known and to march on Sunday but I appeal for them to show respect for An Garda Síochána. The march should be peaceful and any case made should be made in accordance with the law of the land.
I join in the general expression of Christmas good wishes and thanks to the staff of the Seanad Office and to all of the staff of the Houses of the Oireachtas Service for the wonderful work they do for us in this establishment. On the Order of Business yesterday, Senator Colm Burke referred to a nameless Deputy - he was being very careful - who, in a committee session, queried the status and legitimacy of Members of this House. To observe the decorum of this House, I am not going to name that Deputy.
The words "People Before Profit", however, did come to mind. I used to think that People Before Profit was a secular party from Egypt and that "profit" was spelled "prophet". In any event, on this occasion the case was made that somehow Senators lacked a mandate. In my innocence, therefore, I looked at the Internet last night and discovered that the Deputy who made these remarks, who shall be nameless in the interests of observing decorum in this House, received 4,379 first preferences or 10% of the vote in her constituency.
If we are going to compare first preferences, all I want to say is that I look forward to the time when this House is reformed and many more of us will be in a position to dismiss remarks of that kind. On a more serious note, in respect of the person in question, there is a grinch associated with Christmas but it is not necessary to be a grinch the other 364 days of the year as well.
To echo what Senator Leyden said, and to be serious about this, I am hearing a report today that a member of our Judiciary is being held at gunpoint by a dissatisfied litigant. The courts of our country hand down orders on foot of the Constitution. They apply the law very fairly. We uphold the State and we must uphold the Judiciary. Nobody can dine àla cartein respect of loyalty to the Constitution.
If possession orders are made, they are, invariably, executed with the greatest courtesy and understanding afforded to the people affected by them. Multiple appointments are made and letters delivered but, in the end, the law must be upheld and nobody, whether possessing a baseball bat or a gun or anything else, is entitled to take the law into his or her own hands. There is only one law for all of us and nobody is above the law or beneath the law. Those people ambivalent about upholding the rule of law must take the blame when people go into judges' chambers, produce guns and take them captive.
We have to respect the Judiciary. We are surrounded here by gates, security, police etc. The Judiciary, in the main, are not. Judges operate with a presumption of respect from the people who come before them. There are not guards in every courtroom nor are massive security cordons thrown around them. Judges, men and women, stand up to administer the law under the Constitution. It is a sad day if we as a society dilute respect for the rule of law and leave people in circumstances where they are bludgeoned by baseball bats on the one hand or taken captive at gunpoint on the other. This is a sad day for our democracy.
At the outset, I wish all the staff of the House and all of my colleagues a very happy, peaceful and joyful Christmas. I endorse the words of Senator Leyden and Senator McDowell on the events in Roscommon and the pending rally there at the weekend. I have more than a minor connection with County Roscommon in the form of strong family ties. It is important we call publicly for peace and restraint in that situation. I also endorse the broad points being made by Senator McDowell about the separation of powers and our responsibilities in that area. I was a witness to the events in that committee which Senator McDowell referred to earlier. I will also not name the Deputy concerned. I support Senator McDowell's view that we do not need people to be a grinch for 365 days of the year.
The substantive point I raise today is pertinent to the season we are in. There is a real, active and live daily threat to our rural towns and retailers at the moment. I know the Leas-Chathaoirleach has a special interest in this area. Small retailers in our small towns are greatly threatened and damaged by online sales, the burden of rates and insurance and myriad other charges and regulations. It has become very difficult to sustain a small retail business in our towns and villages. That is why I appeal publicly and genuinely, and not in some bland sense because I am very serious about this, for people to make a real effort this year to support local retailers. I appeal to them to shop in those outlets and to bear in mind that those retailers are the very people who sustain our communities by supporting local good causes and whose rates payments keep services going in our counties.
If we as a society do not get actively involved in supporting our small retailers, they will close. They are already closing every day in each rural town in the country. It is a very serious matter and I notice it in small towns throughout Cavan and Monaghan. Many of the small shops are having closing down sales. That is happening because of online sales and the burden of rates, insurance and all of the other charges. I ask, in the House and through the media, for people to shop in these small outlets. I also ask our Leader to organise a special debate on this topic when we come back from recess in the new year. It is an urgent matter. We cannot let our communities die before our eyes.
Ba mhaith liom cur le beannachtaí an tséasúir d'achan duine. Guím Nollaig shona agus bliain úr faoi mhaise d'achan duine de na Seanadóirí agus do na baill foirne chomh maith. Imeacht suntasach a bhí i mBliain na Gaeilge i mbliana. Bhí Conradh na Gaeilge 125 bliain ar an fhód. Idir an Oireachtas féin, baill áirithe de, agus grúpaí agus eagraíochtaí ar nós Chonradh na Gaeilge, bhí imeachtaí fíormhaith, suntasach, agus spraíúil againn fud fad na tíre agus fud fad na cruinne. Bhí muid féin sa Seanad páirteach de sin nuair a bhí Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh os ár gcomhair chun ráiteas a dhéanamh ar an nGaeilge. Gabhaim buíochas leis an Seanadóir Ó Céidigh, leis an Cheannaire, agus leis an Chathaoirleach agus an Leas-Chathaoirleach as an méid sin Gaeilge a chur chun tosaigh san áit seo. Mholfainn do mo chomhghleacaithe anseo sa Seanad iarracht a dhéanamh an bhliain seo chugainn bliain Ghaeilge eile a bheith againn sa dóigh is go dtiocfadh linn cur le húsáid na Gaeilge sa Seanad agus san Oireachtas. Eadrainn féin is féidir linn smaoineamh ar dóigheanna ina féidir linn an dea-shampla a ghlacadh ó Chonradh na Gaeilge agus ó ghrúpaí Gaeilge fud fad na tíre agus cur le úsáid na Gaeilge anseo. Mar a dúirt achan duine eile, gabhaim buíochas leis an fhoireann ansin sa Seanad, leis an Cheannaire, agus le gach duine. Nollaig shona agus bliain úr faoi mhaise dúinn go léir.
I wish all of the staff and everybody a very happy Christmas.
I want to highlight the homelessness issue. It is a disgrace that there are 4,000 homeless children. I cannot even imagine what it is like for those families this Christmas. We all know that Christmas is a festive and happy time but it is especially a time for children. There are 4,000 children this year waking up God only knows where and not in their own homes. I know that the Minister is a good man. I know that probably all of those in Government have good hearts and souls. I ask them to open their hearts and souls and really look at this issue and make it a priority in the new year. We are a wealthy country and it should not be happening in this day and age. This is not the Dark Ages.
I second Senator Ruane's amendment in respect of her Bill.
I am extremely upset about an article in today's edition of The Irish Times. Cancer patients are being hounded by debt collecting agencies if their treatment bills are not paid within 47 days. It is a policy of the HSE to pass the debt on to debt collecting agencies. These agencies are threatening cancer patients with legal action if they do not pay within 47 days. This is disgusting. It is a very difficult time for a patient battling cancer and it is very cruel of anybody to harass a patient dealing with cancer. The bills involve are often for as little as €80.
I ask the Leader to call on the Minister for Health to come to the House as early as possible in January so that we can debate and discuss this and other issues like the services and supports that should be made available to cancer patients who have to travel to centres of excellence for treatment and may need support with childcare or financial support. It is vitally important to have that discussion. I also ask the Leader to ask the Minister to have words with the HSE and demand it stops doing this. What is happening is disgusting.
On a nicer note, I wish everybody a very happy Christmas. I thank the Seanad staff and the ushers for their support throughout the year. They are exceptionally good to us and I do not know how they put up with us half the time but they do.
I wish the Defence Forces, An Garda Síochána and the emergency services a happy and peaceful Christmas with their families. I hope there are no issues with which they have to deal. I thank them for their support and help throughout 2018. As Senator Leyden said, the members of An Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces need our support. They have always been there for us and we should be there for them. Nollaig shona daoibh go léir.
I and my party colleagues support Senator Craughwell's amendment to the Order of Business. Perhaps the Leader might not push the amendment to a vote, but if he does, so be it.
I thank all of my fellow Members and the staff. I wish everybody a happy Christmas and new year. I hope everybody gets the time to have a break, slow down a little bit and enjoy time with friends and family. I thank the Cathaoirleach and Leas-Cathaoirleach and everyone who has chaired sessions here. I thank all of the Seanad office team, particularly Mr. Martin Groves and Ms Bridget Doody. I wish them a happy Christmas and hope they get a well-deserved break. I look forward to working with everybody for the next year, at least, as we all try and do our best for the citizens of Ireland and pursue and progress valuable legislation through these Houses.
I join colleagues in wishing the Oireachtas staff and, more particularly, the Seanad staff all the best and thank them for all their assistance during the year. The Seanad staff have been exceptionally patient. I wish my colleagues and their families good tidings.
I note an update on the point that Senator McDowell raised about the man producing a firearm in a Smithfield courtroom. He has now been apprehended by An Garda Síochána and disarmed. This shows how important the members of An Garda Síochána are to us. They uphold law and order and provide stability. They are an unarmed force, which sends out a strong statement that the Irish people like to have a system which basically operates law and order. People cannot take the law into their own hands and that message has to go out loud and clear. I do not want to guess what would have happened in the family court if the gardaí were not there today. The judge and the staff were going about their business. People in the family court are in trying circumstances because anything to do with family law is difficult for everyone involved. I am glad that situation has concluded and that the gardaí on scene have apprehended the man. I pay tribute to An Garda Síochána and all areas of the rule of law and order which uphold a very good country in which to live.
I support Senator Humphreys' comments on climate change, but wish to elaborate. Brexit is happening. I note that Ms Amber Rudd, a UK Minister, has called for a second referendum. I support that call. I brought up that point a year ago and was laughed at. It is the only common-sense solution to this. We do not need Britain to leave the EU. I hope common sense prevails.
I wish the Leader well. It has been an eventful year for Senator Buttimer.
We need, as a Chamber, to set aside a day or two for a specific debate on climate change. We should bring in our own witnesses, Ministers included, and come up with a body of work on climate change. Climate change is now in the common lexicon and people are talking about it on a daily basis. That was not the case six months ago but it is now.
Following on from what Senator McDowell stated, the Seanad has a specific role to play. I was a Member of the Lower House and each House has a distinct role to play. The Seanad can play a role in terms of teasing out particular areas of national interest. Climate change is one of those areas. I would like to see the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, the Ministers and perhaps international bodies appear before us. We could look at the body of work already done and emerge with something that adds to it. David Attenborough was interviewed on a programme recently, and he was compelling. He said that the future of this planet is now in our hands. Ordinary people will take note of that. We as a Chamber can become exceptionally irrelevant in the context of a climate change debate. I would ask that we take two or three days in the new year to do a serious piece of work on climate change. It is now, outside of Brexit, the single biggest issue facing mankind. To finish-----
I come from the heart of the Golden Vale in Limerick. We are asking dairy farmers to increase their output, but at the same time we are asking them to reduce their emissions. We have to assist them in squaring that circle. This issue puts everything in context.
I agree with what Senator Kieran O'Donnell has said. It should also be pointed out that Irish agriculture is extremely sustainable and clean by international standards, which is a point that is not highlighted regularly enough.
Like many Senators, I am contacted frequently by people who are in need of life saving drugs. I welcome the availability of the Pembro drug to women undergoing treatment for cervical cancer. While it is not likely to be effective for all patients, the limited results available are very promising. The news that it is to be made available generally is to be welcomed. Considering other steps that could be taken in this area, it would be good to hear from the Minister in the new year as to whether there will be an effort by the HSE and the relevant regulatory bodies to assess the potential benefit of the drug in treating other forms of cancer, as has been done in the United States. I believe the HSE has trials ongoing which are seeking to determine the effectiveness of Pembro. It would be good to get an update on that. In the UK the drug has been used successfully on apparently incurable prostate cancer where the standard treatments had shown no effect. This is all potentially good news and it is important that we are at our best on this. The drug is expensive; I believe it costs just under €145,000 a year for a recommended course of at least two years. However, as is the case with many drugs, we expect and hope that the price will decrease over time as our pharmaceutical industry grows and adapts to patient needs. In that context I am aware that MSD Biotech is planning to open a new facility in Swords by 2021 which will hopefully be geared towards producing new lifesaving drugs such as these.
It is important that proper processes are followed to ensure these treatments are safe and can be used effectively. I was concerned by something I heard about the Pembro announcement.
I will conclude shortly; this will not be a Second Stage speech. I believe I heard Professor Michael Barry, the head of the National Centre for Pharmacoeconomics, say on "Morning Ireland" yesterday that the decision was made at ministerial level in what he hoped was a one-off process. He said that he would ideally like to see the drugs coming on-stream via the normal process. At the same time, I thought I heard the Taoiseach say, in response to a question in the Dáil yesterday, that Ministers do not have involvement in these things. I am open to correction on that, but I hope that this is not the manifestation of a culture of spin, or an example of where the PR around these issues leads to ministerial responses. We cannot have Government by PR. While I appreciate and support the result in this case, it is important that we maintain a consistency in the processes adopted for the review of these drugs and the decisions made about them. We have long experience of the taxpayer not getting value for money when projects are rushed, and we also have safety concerns to consider. It is something we have to reflect on on an ongoing basis.
I want to wish everyone a happy Christmas and a peaceful New Year. It has been a very positive year so far, and hopefully we can end it on a positive note.
My colleague, Senator Kieran O'Donnell, made an interesting point about climate change and where we are going with that. I am a member of the Joint Committee on Climate Action which will publish a report on that issue by the end of January. On the publication of that report the Seanad should get involved, because there will be several recommendations. The report will be very interesting. An awful lot of work has been done on the report, but much more has to be done in the next four weeks. We are at a crossroads. We have to take society and the community with us. The industrial and agricultural communities and the transport sector, as well as the general public, must buy into this. This is an interesting time in our evolution towards a decarbonised society by 2050, which will involve a lot of work and the education of people to change their habits.
Some Members of this House were quite annoyed about the length of the debate last night on the Local Government Bill 2018. For those of us who are very active in that space it was a very important debate, and I thank the House for its courtesy towards me and other Deputies from Cork who had to debate very important issues involving the largest boundary change seen in the history of the State. The outcome is a stepping stone towards where we have to go. Some people have different views on that; indeed, I have different views from the Leader on this issue. That is the nature of politics. I acknowledge again the courtesy extended by the House. Hopefully, the Bill will ensure that Cork can drive forward and that, with this local government structure, it can deliver for the people.
I want to wish everyone a happy Christmas and new year. The festive season is often a time when those who live and work abroad come home for visits. I am hearing from families that they wish these visits could become permanent. These families are worried about the barriers that seem to exist for those returning emigrants. While industry and many business sectors are crying out about a serious skills shortage, those abroad see fairs in foreign countries which offer free flights home so that they can take up work in Ireland. There are cars parked on the edge of motorways across the country while people travel to the capital to work because there are few opportunities locally. On the early morning Carlow to Dublin train, people are standing. Further stops in Kildare mean that many have standing room only all the way. We do not have infrastructure that would entice people to come home. We need these people to come home. We need their talents, their experience and their energy. While we are very good at rolling out the red carpet for tourists, I would welcome a debate on what we will do for our own people to bring them home, not just for Christmas but for good.
I read last week that Irish people returning home for Christmas have been warned to photograph their rental vehicles and scrutinise the terms and conditions of insurance cover because many were being charged for damage that was not caused by them, while others complained that basic items were not covered by the insurance on offer. The situation in the UK means that we face uncertain times, and it is hard to know what 2019 will hold. While I welcome the recent legislation introduced, which means drivers returning to or entering Ireland with a full but non-exchangeable driver licence will be able to take driver tests after six instead of 12 EDT lessons, we need legislation to make getting a mortgage easier by allowing earnings abroad to be used as testimony of good credit, by introducing fairness for renters by allowing a good record of rent paid abroad to count, and by streamlining pension entitlements, among many other changes.
This is the Christmas season, the season of goodwill. We also must address the issue of shopping locally. Shopping locally and supporting our communities is so important. It is important to keep our towns and villages alive. Rural Ireland has been massively affected by the recession, so I am asking everyone to shop local, support their own communities and to have a really good and happy Christmas and new year.
I also wish all my colleagues in the Oireachtas a peaceful Christmas and a prosperous new year as well as the hard working staff of the service who have done so much great work in the last year.
I have been a Member of the Seanad since 2002 and it has certainly changed. It is not the same type of divisional Seanad. Some six or seven years ago, Senator Craughwell was the first person in the history of a majority Government to have more Fine Gael people voting for him in a Seanad by-election than voting for their own candidate for certain reasons-----
-----and Senators Lawlor and Marshall were elected on a cross-party basis and this is positive. We work together in the Seanad in a positive manner and they have brought their own views to this House and there is much to be said for it.
Roscommon has certainly been in the news in the last two weeks. I live in Castlerea at the weekends and two weeks ago there was an incident there. Last weekend, hundreds of people marched about that incident between a garda and members of the public. I understand the details are before the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, GSOC, but I can say that there is huge anger and worry about this incident. I hope that GSOC will deal with it. On Strokestown, there is a protest march again next Sunday and I hope it will be peaceful. I believe it will be because the people in the area are peaceful people. Sometimes people come from elsewhere in the country to marches such as this and may want to use them for their own purposes.
I agree with Senator McDowell that An Garda Síochána is the sole legitimate guardian of peace in this State and it upholds the law. In the last few years since the recession, we had the water protests where people said "Shame on you" to An Garda Síochána but it is our force and it bore the brunt of that. I know that many gardaí were followed home and people told them they knew the address of their family and that is not good enough.
I thank Commissioner Drew Harris because he came to Roscommon yesterday and is looking at the two incidents. It is very positive that An Garda Síochána is taking time out to look at this because these two incidents need to be dealt with professionally and in a delicate way. The last two weeks in Roscommon have been difficult for the Garda, the people of Roscommon, the people who were evicted and the people who were attacked. At the end of the day, the rule of law has to hold and the Garda is the sole guardian of peace in this country.
I also want to speak about the incident that happened in Phoenix House earlier on today. I am glad to hear that the situation has ended. That is where the Circuit Family Court sits and as a practitioner in family law, I regularly attended Phoenix House and Dolphin House where the District Family Court is. I recall an incident three years ago where a judge was assaulted at around this time of year in Phoenix House. It really raises the question of the development of the combined new family law court at the Hammond Street site. We have been waiting for a number of years and every couple of months the Minister for Justice and Equality says he will give it the green light and it never happens and we are stuck here waiting for it to happen.
Family law is a very different type of law and tensions are particularly raised at this time of year. We are talking about families and people getting access and being denied access to their children and there are difficulties around grandparents and different arrangements. This situation happened in Phoenix House which it is not fit for purpose, nor is Dolphin House. Childcare matters are heard in the Bridewell court house and that is certainly not fit for purpose. We are waiting on this combined family law court in Hammond Street for a long number of years and it needs to happen now for the judges, the people using the Courts Service and the legal practitioners because we will continue to see incidents such as the one that happened today and the one three years ago in Dolphin House. It is simply not acceptable any longer for very important matters such as this, which affect the outcome of children's lives, to be decided in courtrooms that are not fit for purpose. All these proceedings happen in cameraand because of that people forget about the practitioners and the users of the Courts Service and the staff of the Courts Service who have to operate in these extremely difficult situations.
I would like the Minister for Justice and Equality to come to the House at some stage to have a debate on the development of the Hammond Street site. Given the incident today and the one three years ago in Dolphin House, we should really prioritise it and I would like to see it happen in early January.
I would like to be associated with what has been expressed by Members of the House in wishing the Leas-Chathaoirleach, the Cathaoirleach, the staff and the management of Leinster House a happy Christmas and a prosperous new year. I would also like to extend this to my colleagues in the House and wish them all a happy Christmas.
Not for the first time, I raise the issue of the Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology. There are serious problems with the institute that have serious ramifications for Galway, for the whole region and for the Mayo campus. I understand the Minister of State at the Department of Education and Skills, Deputy Mitchell O'Connor, is having a report carried out on what is happening at the Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology and I hope it will be published as soon as she gets it. I ask the Leader that we have a debate early in the new year on the issues in Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology because it has serious ramifications for the proposed technological university for the west. It will put the timeframe for this technological university back. There are problems with staff, management and governance and I hope that all those issues can be addressed. I appeal to the people involved to put their differences aside for the sake of the institute and the technological university that is proposed for the west.
I draw the attention of the Cathaoirleach to an issue that was reported on www.independent.ieof a Christmas sleigh that bears the name and the image of the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, wishing his constituents a happy Christmas. Issues have been raised by the Road Safety Authority as to whether it is safe or not. The Garda say that it is safe but we need a report on what is safe and what is not safe in how those Christmas sleighs are displayed. I appeal to the Minister because the sleigh displays the Mayo colours and I hope he will not bring the Mayo colours into disrepute. The people of Mayo would not wish for those colours to be used on the Christmas sleigh.
On behalf of the Civil Engagement Group, I join in thanking all of the staff in the Seanad who have accommodated us in having many late night sittings. We have had moments of contestation and co-operation in the Houses this year. I thank all those who supported my motion on Yemen last night. All sides in the Seanad making the conflict in Yemen an issue was important. For me, one of the most positive aspects of that co-operation has been the co-operation with others, including Senators McFadden and Bacik, in the Vótáil 100 committee to mark the centenary of women's suffrage. This year we have seen forward steps for women's equality in Ireland. What was important about Vótáil 100 and the commemoration year was that we did not only look a century back but we looked to our ambition for the future.
In that regard, I note I have some regret about the motion which will be taken today without debate in respect of a joint sitting to mark the centenary of the First Dáil on 21 January. I am glad to see that we will mark the declaration of independence, the message to the free nations and the democratic programme of the First Dáil.
I am disappointed to see that Seanad groups, including the Civil Engagement group and the Independent group, will not, as in some other joint sittings we have had, have an opportunity to contribute. Of course we will support the sitting. We will not seek to block it in any way.
I wish to emphasise that responsibility for deepening democracy, particularly at this moment, rests with both Houses and on all of us as Members of the Oireachtas. I hope we will deliver Seanad reform next year in order that we might deepen the democracy of this House. It is important that during the joint sitting, we recognise, as we did when we marked the centenary of women's suffrage, the challenges of the future and the threats to democracy that exist. We should recognise that all parts of the Oireachtas have a significant role to play in addressing the challenges relating to democracy and in fulfilling the programme of the First Dáil, which outlined that the first duty of the State is to children. My colleague has spoken about homelessness. We have heard from others across the House about our justice system. Many of the issues that have been raised on the Order of Business speak to the fact that we have unfinished work in terms of the programme of the First Dáil and in the context of our duty as legislators.
I look forward to working with everybody next year. I thank others for their co-operation this year. We will need to broaden our ambition for democracy and for the citizens of Ireland next year.
I wish to extend season's greetings to the staff and to all the Members. Senators Conway-Walsh, O'Reilly and Murnane O'Connor have all touched on issues relating to the development of rural Ireland, including the way our rural villages and towns are being treated. It would be appropriate for the Leader to consider inviting the Minister to the House to discuss the National Development Plan 2018-2027 and the national planning framework. Perhaps a date early in the new year would be ideal to talk to the Minister about Project Ireland 2040 and to discover the areas he intends to prioritise. I am sure the Senators who have spoken on the Order of Business would be keen to impress on the Minister the importance of investment in rural Ireland.
I join other Senators in wishing everybody who is associated with us, who works on our behalf or who assists or supports us all the very best for Christmas. We should reach our hearts out to those who will be having a difficult Christmas for any reason. Christmas can be a very difficult time for people who are under pressure. I wish everyone safety and as much happiness as they can possibly enjoy. I look forward to meeting everyone again in the new year.
I thank the 23 Senators who contributed to the final Order of Business of 2018.
Senator Ardagh spoke about the National Treatment Purchase Fund, primary care and step-down facilities. It is important to recognise that issues relating to the treatment of patients are of absolute importance. The Senator made some valid points, particularly with regard to waiting lists, which need to be validated in case people are applying to multiple facilities. It is important that there is timely and expeditious contact and engagement with GPs. It is important that we get our lists right. The National Treatment Purchase Fund has been a huge addition. As part of the Sláintecare reforms, the Government is committed to increasing capacity. Putting in place a health system that is fit for purpose and that has the patient at its centre is a priority for the Government. The winter plan announced by the HSE is about increasing capacity and identifying how we can have step-down facilities and access to care. We want elderly people to be looked after in their communities and their homes. I make the point that a hospital is not the place for an elderly patient. The place for an him or her is at home or in a step-down facility.
Senators Ardagh, Ruane and Black mentioned the homelessness figures. Senator Ruane read a powerful piece by young students from Loreto secondary school in Wexford. While it must be recognised that we face a challenge in the area of housing - we are not where we want to be - it is important on the final day of this session to recognise that in budget 2019, the Government announced its intention to invest €2 billion to be spent on housing programmes. It is not about spending money for its own sake; it is about spending money on behalf of the citizens of the Republic and ensuring that 26,000 families and individuals will be housed. Some of the remarks that have been made here and elsewhere need to be challenged. The State is investing money and supporting families. This is a priority for the Government. Those of us who work in the constituencies in which we live recognise the pain, trauma, suffering and unease of many families and young children, especially at this time of year. When one listens to some commentary, one does not hear that the Government has spent an additional €30 million on services for the homeless this year - bringing the total to €146 million - that it has provided an extra €60 million in capital funding for additional emergency accommodation or that last year, or that 4,700 people exited homelessness and moved into homes and 2,000 families exited hotels.
I understand the frustration and the heartache, but work is being done. I am not being political this morning because this matter is far too serious. There is work being done. We should give some credit to the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, and the officials in the Department and the city and county councils. The director of services in my city of Cork, Mr. Brian Geaney, is very passionate about and is committed to delivering for people who require housing. It is clear from the statistics that planning permissions have increased. This has not been mentioned. There have been increases in commencement notices and employment levels in the construction sector. Progress is being made with social housing.
No. As I stated at the outset, I accept that we are not where we want to be and where we should be. I understand that. One would think from listening to some of the commentary that the Government is doing nothing, but that is not the case. That is the point I am making. We are working to ensure that affordable housing is made available and that social housing is built. That is why €2.4 billion has been spent in the area of housing this year.
I will not be accepting Senator Craughwell's amendment to the Order of Business to the effect that No. 7 be withdrawn from the schedule for today.. There is one reason for my reluctance to accept it. I do not want to be the Christmas Grinch this afternoon. I do not want to spoil people's plans to go home early. The Upper House has an obligation to pass legislation. I know the Senator and some of the members of his technical group have vehemently opposed the very important Bill that we are due to consider again today. It is important for us to make progress with legislation. Compared with any other Bill, we have spent way more time-----
We are very indignant. A number of us on this side who are very passionate about the city and county of Cork took the opportunity during the debate on a Bill seeking to reform local government structures in Cork to speak passionately about it.
Senator Conway-Walsh came in with her list of Bs. Can I say to her, in the spirit of Christmas, that, for me, the B refers to better living standards for people under this Government? B is for building a better economy.
Senators Humphreys, Lombard and Kieran O'Donnell raised the important issue of climate change and I am happy to review and reflect upon the remarks made about the recent statements in the House on climate change. I would be happy to meet Senator Humphreys and the group leaders in the new year to discuss that issue.
I join with Senator Humphreys in appealing to all motorists on the road this year not to drink and drive. I ask that we ensure we have safe passage on our roads for motorists, pedestrians and cyclists. I appeal to everybody during the course of this Christmas season to drive with care and consideration and not to engage in drink driving.
With regard to the other transport matters, I am sure our fine Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, will take notice of the Senator's remarks on his car going around a particular part of the Minister's constituency.
There were enough bad stunts here this morning and last night to earn people a lot of penalty points.
With regard to Senator James Reilly and the greenway, we commend all those involved. We will have a debate on greenway tourism.
Senators Leyden, Feighan and other Members raised the issue of the events in Roscommon last weekend-----
As did Senator McDowell, gabh mo leithscéal. I do not want people to draw any inference or insinuate anything from my comments. On the Order of Business yesterday and on Tuesday, I made the point in respect of the events in Roscommon that we must always ensure the rule of law is upheld. We heard this morning about an incident at the family court where a judge was imprisoned in his chambers. We must always ensure that this behaviour is never supported and that we protect and preserve the integrity of the institutions of the State, whether it is the courts or the-----
I am sorry but I was not aware. That makes it even more alarming. On behalf of the Government, and as the Leader of the House, I support the independence of the Judiciary and Garda. There can only be one An Garda Síochána, one Army and one courts system. We should always remember that. Irrespective of whether we like, thuggery happened in the Roscommon incident. I reiterate my point that nobody wants people to be evicted or to lose their family property or home. There must be engagement by all sides. All of us condemn violence and thuggery and, as Senator Leyden has said, our gardaí are place in unhelpful and dangerous situations because of the work they do. We must always support them. I welcome the visit of the Garda Commissioner to Roscommon and thank him for what he has done.
Absolutely, also the officers of the court.
I agree with Senator McDowell that it is important to recognise that we are Members of the Upper House and we are democratically elected. Under our Constitution and rules of engagement, Members of the Seanad are required to be available to sit on the joint committees of the Houses. Senator McDowell secured 5,661 votes. I can tell the Deputy who mentioned it that I received 6,419, which is 11.5% of the vote in my constituency in the last election. Many Members here got more than I did.
Senator Joe O'Reilly raised the issue of small towns and businesses and he has been the champion of small towns. I will have the Minister for Rural and Community Development, Deputy Michael Ring, come to the House in the new year.
Cloisim an méid a bhí le rá ag an Seanadóir Ó Donnghaile mar gheall ar chúrsaí Gaeilge, go mórmhór Bliain na Gaeilge atá críochnaithe againn ach beidh sí ar ais arís le cúnamh Dé. Beidh díospóireacht faoin Ghaeilge leis an Aire Stáit nua sa bhliain úr.
Senator McFadden raised the issue of the HSE pursuing cancer patients. It is absolutely wrong that the HSE would chase and go after people at this time of the year, especially cancer patients who are in the course of treatment. I call on the HSE to desist from this practice. I am aware the HSE has this service outsourced to a debt collection agency, but for those with family members who have undergone cancer treatment, the last thing they want to do is engage with debt collectors. It is bad enough to have an illness and go through treatment without being chased and harassed in this manner. I hope the HSE will listen to what we have said today.
Senator Mullen raised the issue of the pembrolizumab drug. The Minster has made a decision on that and Professor Michael Barry has had a very successful role in national pharmacoeconomics. The processes involved are being fulfilled.
We will not go back over the Local Government Bill. Senator Murnane O'Connor spoke of the barriers faced by returning emigrants. The Government has made changes and will make more changes. It is important to welcome people back home too.
Senator Clifford-Lee also referred to the Courts Service and, to be fair, under this Government we have seen 31 courtrooms refurbished at a cost of €2.2 billion, with more to come.
Senator Paddy Burke raised the issue of the Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology. That is an important issue and we will have a debate on it in the new year.
The colours are a different matter.
We had raised Senator Alice-Mary Higgins' matter yesterday and I supported her, she may remember, at the Committee on Procedure and Privileges. I believe the events of 31 January were once-off. Members will know it is to commemorate the sitting of the first Dáil. It is important to allow that to go ahead. The point made by the Senator on the role of the Seanad is well made, and it is one we can reflect upon.
As the Leader of the Seanad, and on behalf of all Senators, I extend our best wishes to a very popular member of staff, Keith Langan, in the Dáil bar who is to marry his bride to be, Collette, next week. I wish them both well and hope they have many years of happiness. We all agree that Keith is one of the most popular members of staff here. He is a very courteous and professional young man and we wish him and his new wife every success in their years together.
I extend seasonal felicitations to everyone.
I wish all my colleagues a very happy and peaceful Christmas and thank them and their staff for their courtesy to me. I offer the group leaders and Whips in the House my thanks for their co-operation. Go mór mór, I thank the Government Whip for her patience and diligence. I thank the Office of the Cathaoirleach and the Cathaoirleach himself for their wonderful assistance. I thank the staff of the Seanad Office who do a tremendous job on our behalf, and wish them well. I thank the men and women who serve us in the Oireachtas, the ushers, catering staff and people who work in all parts of the House, especially the sound technicians and parliamentary reporters, and Jeremy who counts our votes as well. I thank them all for their good work during the year. It is my intention at the end of today's business, whether we adjourn at 3 p.m. or 7 p.m., to propose that we come back on Tuesday, 22 January 2019. Mar focal scor, guím Nollaig shona agus athbhlian faoi mhaise do chách.
Catherine Ardagh, Ivana Bacik, Frances Black, Lorraine Clifford Lee, Rose Conway Walsh, Gerard Craughwell, Mark Daly, Paul Daly, Aidan Davitt, Maire Devine, Joan Freeman, Paul Gavan, Gerry Horkan, Kevin Humphreys, Terry Leyden, Pádraig MacLochlainn, Michael McDowell, Jennifer Murnane O'Connor, Gerald Nash, Marie Louise O'Donnell, Niall Ó Donnghaile, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, Lynn Ruane, Fintan Warfield, Diarmuid Wilson.
Colm Burke, Paddy Burke, Jerry Buttimer, Maria Byrne, Martin Conway, Frank Feighan, Alice Mary Higgins, Anthony Lawlor, Tim Lombard, Gabrielle McFadden, Michelle Mulherin, Rónán Mullen, Kieran O'Donnell, John O'Mahony, Joe O'Reilly, James Reilly.