Thursday, 24 January 2019
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
The Order of Business is Nos. 1, motion for earlier signature of the Local Government Bill 2018, to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business; and No. 2, statements on progress in relation to climate action, to be taken at 12.45 p.m, with the time allocated to group spokespersons not to exceed ten minutes and all other Senators not to exceed six minutes.
The Government's policy of being reactive rather than proactive has come home to roost again. The lack of foresight in ensuring more resources and more laboratories were available to read cervical screening tests after free tests were offered to women has caused even more anxiety among women. The Taoiseach made a statement at the time that plaintiffs in these medical negligence cases would not have to pursue their cases in court. We now know this statement to be untrue and a knee-jerk comment by the Taoiseach made in the wake of the cervical scandal controversy.
The CervicalCheck programme has been hugely successful and has saved many lives but we need to be very proactive now. We need to consider the Scally report and ensure its recommendations are implemented. These cover open disclosure and quickly introducing the simpler HPV testing system. We need to encourage women to continue to get cervical screening tests and do so in a positive manner. We must be pragmatic and ensure sufficient resources are in place if we promise any further services to women.
On a second matter, the waiting lists for primary care psychology appointments, more than 6,500 children are waiting for a first appointment according to Dr. Shari McDaid, the director of Mental Health Forum in Ireland. We are celebrating the 14th year of A Vision for Change, the programme for mental health services in this country. It is a very ambitious document and many of the policies set out in it have been successfully introduced. Unfortunately, however, many have not been implemented. Dr. Shari McDaid, in an interview on "Morning Ireland" this morning, described A Vision for Change as a car without wheels. She explained that to put wheels on the car we need a cost implementation plan, we need to know where we want to be in the future and how much it would cost and we need to put that into action and stand by the budget. In the past, Governments have not stood by mental health budgets and there have been serious deficits in them. We have raised this issue when discussing the child and adolescent mental health services, CAMHS, and the closing of Cherry Orchard Hospital. This week, 500 psychiatric nurses went on strike, which means nurses are being taken from the system and there are fewer services for children.
Yesterday, we introduced a Private Members' Bill providing for investment in teachers to ensure they have more expertise in first aid and are able to identify children experiencing anxiety issues. As the old proverb goes, mol an óige agus tiocfaidh sí. Cáin na n-óg agus críonfaidh siad. We must invest in children because investing in adults is that little bit too late.
The Cathaoirleach spoke yesterday about providing guidance regarding the Order of Business and he was dead right and spot on. I reflected on that and all Senators will have received correspondence from the Cathaoirleach's office on the matter. I will make a suggestion to the Deputy Leader. The Cathaoirleach, in his letter, makes the valid point that Members may support, oppose or seek to amend the Order of Business. That is our function on the Order of Business in the Seanad.We are at somewhat of a disadvantage because the Leader has a copy of the Order of Business. I accept that it is his business. The top desk and the Cathaoirleach will have a copy of the Order of Business, but we are being asked to consider, accept, reject or amend it but we do not have sight of a copy. I do not expect there would be a problem in that regard but it would be helpful if we had a copy. I did speak to the Leader on the matter before Christmas and he was generally receptive to the idea. Could the Deputy Leader raise the matter with the Leader of making available a handful of hard copies of the Order of Business? The Leader brings a draft Order of Business to the House, not the accepted Order of Business until we discuss it. It would be helpful to all involved if we could have a few hard copies of it when the Leader comes to the House each morning.
On a daily basis in my office I receive complaints from people who have great difficulty in getting the carer's allowance. I am told reliably that it takes between 16 and 26 weeks for people to get their carer's allowance application processed. The average time for the fair deal process is eight weeks.
We meet people who are waiting months for home care packages. I spoke to an 82 year old man who minds his 82 year old wife and they were waiting for a home care package. He was told it would be easier and quicker to get her into an old people's home. That is not very nice to hear when one is trying to care for one's spouse and support him or her. I would appreciate it if we could we have the relevant Minister with responsibility for the carer's allowance and home care packages to come to the House and specifically deal with those two issues at some time in the future.
As it stands, there will be a nurses' strike in less than a week, the second strike in the 100-year history of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation, INMO. The Government has stuck to the line that to accept the pay claim would breach the public sector pay agreement. The agreement has been breached already as far as nursing is concerned. When I talk about nursing I am cognisant of the fact that nurses are supported by a valuable team of care workers who also have to be recognised for the valuable service they give within all the health institutions. As it stands, the Government employs up to 1,000 agency nurses per day, with many being paid up to 20% more than HSE nurses. The salary for Deputies was increased in the budget, increasing to more than €98,000 per year. The public sector pay agreement was to end the two-tier pay scale which affects 10,000 nurses. Problems with conditions at work and retention will not be addressed by refusing to engage with nurses. We all saw the photo of the young nurses on the steps of the Sydney Opera House. They asked the Government to simply give them a reason to come home. That is another issue. Nurses return to this country and their qualifications and experience abroad are not recognised within the system so they end up starting again on a much lower point on the pay scale than they were on for many years.
I am also deeply concerned that even more elective procedures and surgeries must be postponed. The current health care system is not acceptable. Citizens continue to die prematurely because of the failure of this State to provide timely diagnosis and treatment. That is a fact and it is wrong. I want the Minister for Finance to come into the House and at the very least explain why the Government will not even engage with the nursing unions. We all accept that pay claims and industrial disputes happen but the public have an expectation that the Government will do its best, through negotiation and mediation, to ensure that vital services are not impacted. I call again on the Government to engage with the nurses to provide the dynamic to effect positive change and make a career in nursing attractive to current and future nurses, and to ensure that nurses and other health care staff are working within institutions and an environment that is safe, not the high-risk environment they are forced to work in every day.
I wish to raise dementia and Alzheimer's disease. I raised the issue on many occasions prior to Christmas. An all-party working group on dementia and Alzheimer's disease is operating in this House. We had one ask for the HSE National Service Plan 2019, namely, for eight advisers to help citizens who are suffering from this terrible disease to access the proper services. We were led to believe on many occasions that the request would be acceded to. Some advisers are operating around the country and they are doing an excellent job. The benchmarking of the service that is being provided has shown it to be excellent. It has helped many citizens who are suffering from the disease and their families by working with them and providing training to ensure that the person suffering from the disease can stay at home for much longer and can get the proper supports. Unfortunately, there has been no increase under the HSE service plan. I ask the Deputy Leader to ensure that the Minister for Health comes into this House as soon as he is available to discuss the HSE service plan and supports for people with dementia and Alzheimer's disease. It is a crying shame that more than 50,000 citizens have been left with a poor service. One simple measure could make a major difference not only to them but to their extended families.
In July 2017, 18 months ago, this House unanimously passed a Bill on autism and demanding a national strategy. There were no dissenting voices. Eighteen months later, the Bill has not moved so much as an inch towards Dáil Éireann. In the meantime, 60,000 families with children with autism mark this passing with anxiety and worry. A year in the life of any child is critical, but a year in the life of a child with autism is even more so because it is difficult to catch up on the missed opportunities. The early interventions that they should be having, which they are not having, will impact on them much later in life. We know that if children with autism get early intervention they can do very well. They can remain independent and stay out of institutions, go to school, be part of their communities and contribute to society in a major way. Why has this Bill has not gone to Dáil Éireann? I request that the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, come into this House and explain why a Bill, which received unanimous support and which had the online support of 77,000 people by means of a petition, now lies dormant with no further action. It is not good enough to produce reports on the state of children with autism and still not respect the wishes of this democratic House regarding the needs of those children and their families. I hope the Deputy Leader will get the Minister in here. I know he has a lot of other problems on this mind, but he needs to come to the House and tell us why this Bill is not proceeding. To be honest, parents would much prefer to see the Bill being debated in the Dáil and obviate the need for him to come in here at all.
I compliment the Ceann Comhairle, the Cathaoirleach, Clerk of the Dáil, Clerk of the Seanad, the staff of the Dáil and Seanad, the Office of Public Works, and the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission on the event to mark the 100th anniversary of the First Dáil on 21 January 1919, which was commemorated on the same day in 2019 in the Round Room of the Mansion House and which was a marvellous success. It was a fitting tribute to the men and women who established the First Dáil. I salute their courage, commitment and bravery. They were subject to arrest for sedition against the Crown and the Government of the United Kingdom, yet they went there openly and were prepared to form the First Dáil.The Government of Great Britain may have learned a lesson from its actions in 1916 but I do not think it ever accepted the ability of those men and women to establish a new state following years of oppression.
The excellent graphics at Monday's event, the wonderful presentations by all concerned, including our Cathaoirleach, and all the material available in the Mansion House should be put in place in this room when the Seanad returns to its original home in Leinster House. This is an excellent room and it could be used to commemorate the first 100 years of the Dáil and, in the future, please God, the Seanad. The graphics and audiovisual presentation in the corridor here are second to none. They are of the highest standard and an example of the ability of Irish people to create displays of this type. I do not think anyone who was present at Monday's event would be anything other than impressed by the audiovisual presentation. All that material should be retained for students who come to visit Leinster House. There are plenty of display walls here. The area in the coffee dock and the material in the corridor and throughout the House should all be retained carefully and put on display again here. It was well done indeed. If there is any duplication, I suggest that the relevant material be retained in the Round Room of the Mansion House as another location where people might appreciate the work. Through the Committee on Procedure and Privileges, the Cathaoirleach, the Clerk to the Seanad and the Leader should table that as a proposal or a recommendation from Seanad Éireann to the Government, the Office of Public Works and the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission.
I echo Senator Leyden's kind remarks. Perhaps he would go further and recommend that we stay here altogether and use the old Seanad Chamber for such noble purposes. However, that may be a matter for discuss on another day.
Monday's events were very good. It is tempting for us, looking across the water at the chaos our friends in Britain are experiencing as a result of Brexit, to run away with ourselves, start to feel condescending and clap ourselves on the back for how well we do things. Anybody who listened to Jimmy Sheehan, the founder of the Blackrock Clinic, discussing the new national children's hospital on radio this morning or who was present at yesterday's meeting of the Joint Committee on Health would come to the conclusion that this project has been an unmitigated disaster from the outset and that it reflects badly on the entire political class. I felt sorry for the representatives from the HSE and the Department of Health officials who tried to defend a bad situation at yesterday's meeting. However, I was obliged to wonder at the righteous tone of politicians who seem to have forgotten that the political class got us into this mess. In that context, every member of Cabinet received a dossier from the Connolly for Kids group before the final decisions were taken. Some 60,000 signatures were presented to the former Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, who reluctantly accepted them. A detailed submission was made to An Bord Pleanála and oral submissions were heard. The point was made all along that the risk of spiralling costs, which look likely to go over €2 billion, was not the only issue. This matter cannot be spun in the way that is being attempted, namely, to the effect that the project will cost a fortune but that we will have the best hospital in the world, particularly when there are problems that money cannot solve because of the choice of location, the fact that the largest search and rescue helicopters cannot land there, parking issues, the fact that there is no co-location with a maternity hospital and a lack of room for expansion. All of these problems relating to the fact that a greenfield site was not chosen. As Dr. Sheehan stated this morning, it is difficult to know whether anything can be done now.
I listened to Senator Humphreys refer to the fact that the HSE service plan does not make provision for the dementia advisory services that a re needed. I know something about the challenges in getting the services needed to care for persons with dementia. The scandalous waste of money in this project is not an indictment of the HSE or the Department of Health in the first instance but of the political parties. The Government and Deputy Michéal Martin were unhelpful. Deputy McGuinness was the only person in Fianna Fáil who paid any attention to the Connolly for Kids group. Sinn Féin was less than useless and yet one of its members spoke in the righteous tones to which I referred earlier at yesterday's meeting. There are questions to be answered about the political parties and, yet again, the unacceptable waste of public money, bad decision-making and group-think that has marked this matter from beginning to end.
Before Christmas, in Trim, County Meath, a person who lived alone died. This individual had no immediate family. The local community raised €6,000 and the community welfare officer gave €3,000. The community got together and the spirit displayed was reported on by The Irish Times, The Starand all the major newspapers. Various articles detailed how the community gathered to help bury the lady in question. She was a great community person. Her name was Margaret Lang. Seeing the community bond gives great hope for the future and I thank the community of Trim.
I want to address the good work that the Kevin Bell Repatriation Trust does to repatriate people to Ireland because of tragedies or sudden death. Last year, the trust repatriated over 100 people. This organisation is funded entirely by voluntary donations and charity. I ask that the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection to come before the House to discuss this matter and indicate whether it might be possible to provide funding for the trust on a yearly basis. Airlines charge ridiculous rip-off prices of anywhere between €20,000 and €40,000 to transport bodies back to this country. That is a disgrace. We should examine this matter in order to discover whether it might be possible to legislate and get the airlines to see sense in the context of what they charge at times when people are desperate and vulnerable. Airlines are ripping people off. Coffins are kept with passengers' luggage on aeroplanes but at a cost of between €20,000 and €40,000. I ask that Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection come to the Seanad to discuss providing the Kevin Bell Repatriation Trust - a fabulous organisation - with a yearly funding allocation.
Young people in our towns and cities are looking for sustainable places in which to dance, staggered opening hours and closing times and public transport home. On a number of other nights this week, a campaign group, Give Us The Night, is holding meetings regarding the recent closures of clubs in Dublin. Hangar, which was located in St. Andrew's Lane, closed last year and District 8 and the Wright Venue are due to close at the end of the month. No new nightclubs have opened in Dublin in the past ten years.There were about 350 people at the public meeting. They included nightclub operators and promoters and people who create the culture of the night such as DJs, staff, students and club-goers. The vitality of night-life culture is caught up in this perfect storm of gentrification, planning and licensing. Dublin and all other Irish cities seem to be going in entirely the opposite direction to our European neighbours. Britain has made moves towards retaining and advancing night-life options. It has established a night-time mayor. It values its night-time economy at around €66 billion per year.
The commonly-recognised timeframe in this sector is about 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. but in Dublin we are all out on the street at the same time between 2 o'clock and 3 o'clock in the morning. Our discussions on a directly-elected mayor should include a night mayor.
I am calling for the Minister for Justice and Equality to come to the House to discuss licensing and how we can rethink this system and have a mature conversation - we have started on the wrong foot - about how we can rethink the system and not restrict our night life. We need to recognise its contribution towards the culture of the island.
An issue that has arisen recently and which was brought into focus at a demonstration this morning on Dawson Street is that of trainee pharmacists. Since 2015, trainee pharmacists in Ireland are required to complete a five-year integrated Master's programme with one of the three accredited pharmacy schools - UCC, Trinity College or the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, RCSI. The new format involves two unpaid work placements of four and eight months in years 4 and 5, respectively. In addition to this unpaid work, the fees for the fifth year have increased from €3,000 to €7,500 in UCC, to €8,500 in TCD and to €9,000 in RCSI. As a result, each pharmacy student is looking at a cost of approximately €25,000 over the course of the degree.
These students, whose skills will be badly needed by our country upon their graduation, are facing a long course combined with unpaid work and, in many cases, seven days a week of combined study and work to make ends meet and complete their courses.
I want to ask the Government if this is acceptable. The Higher Education Authority has refused to fund the fifth year of the pharmacy programme leaving colleges to foot the Bill. The colleges have inevitably passed it on to students. It is paramount that we act now to remove the blanket ban on payments to students to prevent pharmacy courses becoming elitist. To this end, students from UCC, TCD and the RCSI are calling on the Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland to remove the blanket ban immediately. That is what they were doing this morning. I support them at a time when we need medical professionals and support from pharmacists. We need the students to get the support to get their Master's without experiencing poverty or difficulty in pursuing it.
I was not going to mention the pharmacy issue but it is an important one and a debate in the House on it is pertinent.
I will raise an issue the Cathaoirleach is very much aware of, particularly in our part of the world, namely, the crisis in the beef industry. The weekly kill has gone from over 40,000 head of cattle before Christmas to 36,000 last week. We have a significant crisis of over-supply and dropping prices and we have Brexit around the corner which could have a major impact on our beef industry.
It is an issue of confidence for the industry. The beef forum has to be activated. It must meet in the next few weeks to discuss how we deal with supply. There will be a large kill in the next number of weeks. We need to find markets for it. The Food Wise 2025 policy was put in place ten years ago but there are no markets now. It is becoming a significant issue for the number of cattle going through the system. The real issue is farmers are being squeezed and prices are being cut. They are 20% below the UK average. It is having an enormous effect on rural Ireland and industry, which is dwindling away because confidence in the market is slipping away.
The beef forum needs to be reactivated as a priority. It would be helpful if the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine could come to the House to discuss these issues regarding the beef industry and Brexit. An amazing statistic is that 75% of the beef that entered the UK market last November was Irish beef. The UK market is our main destination for beef. If there was to be a slowdown in that supply chain or, God forbid, if we had a hard Brexit, the industry would be affected more than any other industry in the country. The debate would be helpful. I hope we can have it soon because time is passing. The debate needs to happen. It would be appropriate for the Minister to come to the House next week.
I propose an amendment to the Order of Business that No. 20, which is leave to publish the national anthem Bill, be taken before No. 1.
We approach the 110th anniversary of the composition of "The Soldier's Song" which was later translated into "Amhrán na bhFiann". As a key symbol of our State, it is worthy of protection and respect. Other key symbols such as the flag are provided for in Article 7 of the Constitution. The Taoiseach's Department has guidelines and protocols around its use and what should and should not happen with regard to the national flag. With regard to our harp, we are the only nation on earth that has a single musical instrument as its national emblem. That is because of our culture and musical heritage. It is protected by patent law placed upon it by the State.
The reason the Seanad carried out a public consultation is the national anthem fell out of copyright protection in 2013. There was public consultation held in the Seanad Chamber and as a result the House has been responsible for the production, in collaboration with the deaf community, of the first ever official Irish Sign Language version of the national anthem. It was a student from Bishopstown community school, Alain Newstead, who identified the fact that until now there has been no version.
On the 100th anniversary of Dáil Éireann's beginnings we should protect our national anthem and give it formal recognition. Through the public consultation, we discovered the State never formally adopted the Irish language version of the national anthem. It is something that has to be rectified. As we are all aware, the national anthem has been used in advertising and the legislation would put in place a process whereby if somebody wanted to use it, he or she would have to apply to the Department of Finance, as previously required under the copyright legislation. I ask for the leave of the House to publish the Bill and debate the issue.
The public consultation, as a result of the work of this House, means for the first time ever we have protocols for the use of our national anthem. Heretofore that was not the case. There was no one set of protocols for our national anthem. That has now been rectified as a result of everybody in the House and the public consultation process we undertook. The next step is to formally recognise the national anthem and give it the protection that is its due.
Recently, the issue of rural transport has been in the news, as well as drink driving and many other aspects. A lot of has been done with the rural transport initiative. The Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Jim Daly, and Deputy Robert Troy have hit upon a unique idea of an Uber-style rural taxi service or, as the Minister of State called it, a "Ruxi". In Dublin, we have excellent taxis and they are good value. In London, I have shared an Uber taxi with another person and I shall explain how it works. A 30-minute journey in an Uber taxi costs between €5 to €7, there is a pool of Uber taxis, customers are given an estimated price, two people can share a taxi, and customers must pay their fare using an App so no money exchanges hands.
An Uber taxi, which is a privately owned car, can transport ten or 15 people as part of the one journey thereby giving value for money. Uber taxis are the way forward. I understand why the taxi drivers in Dublin would oppose an Uber-type taxi, whereby private car drivers rent space in their vehicles. Uber taxis are a solution for the transport woes in rural communities. Uber taxis are now available all over the world and they are available in hundreds of cities in Europe and North America. The availability of Uber taxis is a way to solve our transport problems.
On 19 January, I attended a course in self-driving cars that took place at the Institute of Technology, Sligo. The availability of self-driving cars will mean nobody would have to worry about drink driving because these cars can transport a person from A to B. I compliment the institute on its fascinating work with the University of Applied Sciences in Kempten, Germany. The institute of technology has an innovative approach to online learning because almost half of its 6,000 students now study online. I believe that self-driving cars are the way forward and it is nice to see that a small town located on the west coast of Ireland is at the forefront of such modern technology. In years to come people will be able to throw away their breathalysers because we will have self-driving cars. In the meantime, Uber is the way forward. I do not know why the initiative does not exist in this country because it would be one way to address the taxi shortage, particularly in rural areas. In addition, the initiative makes great sense and is great value.
Senator Feighan has mentioned a good and innovative idea. However, the time that people leave pubs in County Westmeath must differ from the time that people in County Roscommon do so.
Like Senator Reilly, I ask the Deputy Leader to invite the Minister for Health to the House. However, my issue slightly differs from the noble issue raised by Senator Reilly. The Taoiseach referred to this yesterday. My general concern is about capital projects being kicked into touch and how the HSE has messed up on the back of the children's hospital debacle. I wish to refer, in particular, to the hospital staff and the community of Mullingar who have raised just short of €1 million in their community to fund a new MRI machine in Mullingar. As part of that initiative, the HSE had given a guarantee and pledged that it would build a sufficient building to house the new MRI scanner in the existing Midlands Regional Hospital in Mullingar. Unfortunately, we have been told that the project has been kicked into touch and the finances will not be available until 2022 at the earliest.
I am concerned, particularly when a community has gone to such trouble to raise €1 million for a piece of hardware, that the smaller end of this deal will not happen due to mismanagement of which we are all aware. Now would be an opportune time to bring the Minister to the House and let him discuss the projects that will or will not be in trouble.
I second the amendment to the Order of Business proposed by Senator Mark Daly.
The European Cervical Cancer Prevention Week will commence on 28 January so the announcement that up 6,000 women in this country will have their smear tests reread is ironic. This is a worrying time for the women involved. I know that they are due to receive their letters within the next ten days but we have had so much to do with CervicalCheck over the past 12 months. I know that my own constituent, Vicky Phelan, was the lady who originally sounded alarm bells about CervicalCheck. I know it has been said that the smear tests will be read as a matter of priority but I was frightened to read that it took up to 22 weeks for some tests to be read. That is quite a long time to wait because the norm is between four to six weeks. Twenty-two weeks is a long time for a woman to wait for her results.
I support my colleagues in terms of what was said about pharmacists, which is an issue that concerns the Minister for Health. In the past I raised the issue of pharmaceutical assistants here and, unfortunately, the issue still has not been resolved. Perhaps we could invite the Minister for Health to the House to update us on the smear test issue, the pharmacists and pharmaceutical assistant positions.
I want to take the opportunity to reflect on a meeting of the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality that took place yesterday morning. On that occasion we heard from a range of human rights and legal organisations from the North. They are very eminent and respected figures. They gave a very stark and sobering series of contributions to members of the committee and, by extension, all Members of the Oireachtas as to the real crisis, as they deemed it, regarding the challenge posed by Brexit to rights and equality. The delegations also referred to the real legislative and legal deficit, regardless of Brexit, that exists from a failure by Governments to fully implement the Good Friday Agreement. They say that Brexit just peels off the cover that exposes the absence of legislative protections, safeguards and entitlements for Irish EU citizens who reside in the North.
In terms of a further platform, I encourage the Seanad to explore ways that allow us to act as a driver of the bulwark that is necessary to ensure that the Government remains steadfast about rights because the Government can do so. The very senior legal academics who attended the committee meeting yesterday encouraged the Government to act entirely within the confines of the Good Friday Agreement and unilaterally legislate for the rights of people who reside in the North. At present, it appears that the only right that any of us have is to obtain a passport. We need to offset the dangers, threats and jeopardy posed by Brexit being forced upon us but within the context of everything else that is going on.
I appreciated the statements and updates that the Taoiseach made the other night. He has been in here and engaged very regularly on this issue. I do not have a specific ask of the Deputy Leader or the Government today. However, I encourage Members to read the transcript of the committee proceedings and reflect on the stark warnings that were given. I have asked the Chair of the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality to convene a joint sitting with the Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement to look at the real threat posed by Brexit and how we can act as a platform for drawing attention to it, and encourage the Governments to fix the issue.
I am impressed by the concern expressed about Brexit by my colleague, Senator Ó Donnghaile. In view of his party's inactivity in respect of participating in the decision-making process in the House of Commons, I do not think people can come into this House and outline the failure of this Government. Over the past two and half years we have done everything possible to make sure that our influence is taken on board in making sure that there will not be a hard border and encouraging the UK to reach an agreement on the withdrawal process.It is disappointing that our colleagues from Sinn Féin will not participate in the decision-making process in the UK. That must be taken into account.
Legislation relating to the boundary extension in Cork was finally passed in the Dáil yesterday and it is welcome. The extension will kick in whereby Ballincollig, Blarney and Glanmire are coming into the city. It is also important that information is made available to people about the changes that are occurring because there is a lot of misinformation out there about where exactly the boundary line is. New voting registers will be published within the next ten days and it is important that the relevant information is conveyed to people, perhaps by way of public advertising, particularly to those who are on the boundary lines between the city and county. The Minister of State, Deputy Phelan, and the Department should make sure that the two local authorities and the Department get that information out there at the earliest possible date. Local elections are not that far away and it is important that people know exactly where their new voting station is because people will be changing voting stations. They should not have to look around for that information on the day of the election. We should get that information out at a very early date.
I have been listening to reports from Davos. I have checked with several of my colleagues and none of them seems to have heard of any major discussions on climate change. I do not know if such discussions have occurred, perhaps they have and they have not been reported, or perhaps I just missed them. It seems astonishing that the first and most important matter is Brexit, as far as representatives in Davos are concerned. This is an extraordinary meeting of business leaders and politicians and one would imagine, if they were taking it seriously, that there would be something about climate change. I understand that the local villagers in Davos have protested at the number of enormous, gas-guzzling limousines in which these people, who are supposed to be concerned about the environment, are turning up.
I thank the Senator. They are also arriving in private jets and private aeroplanes. There is a huge amount of hypocrisy and it is about time that world leaders woke up. It will not really affect me because I am far too old. I will not see the planet crash and burn but other people will.
There have been occasions recently where drones have been tracking lorry drivers and oil delivery trucks in the Kerry region. I ask the Leader to, at some stage, bring the relevant Minister before the House, whether that is the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport or someone with responsibility for aviation or whatever. We need to discuss controlling drones. Drones were tracking those oil lorries and householders found that, after the delivery, their oil tank was emptied. It is an invasion of privacy and aids criminals. I would like the Leader, or the Deputy Leader, to bring the relevant Minister before the House. Every drone should probably have a licence, or maybe one should need a licence to operate a drone before one can buy it. We need regulation in this area because it is too bad that drones can track lorries delivering oil and that people can find, the next day, that their tank is emptied of that delivery of expensive oil at considerable cost and inconvenience to the householders involved. I would like a debate on this issue.
These gadgets closed down Heathrow Airport and also recently caused consternation in Newark Airport, the second biggest airport in New York. It is amazing how little yokes like that can cause such problems, apart from the matter of empty oil tanks.
I thank the Senators who raised issues on the Order of Business.
Senator Ardagh raised the issue of CervicalCheck and, indeed, we are all concerned to hear that women are having to be retested because of delays. I heard a doctor on the radio this morning and it is important that the word goes out from those in positions of leadership that CervicalCheck has saved an enormous amount of lives and that, despite the issues that are there and which will be overcome in the near future, it is important not to scaremonger, although that might be too strong a word. We should be factual in how we speak about CervicalCheck because to do otherwise instils fear in women. It would obviously be a good idea for the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, to come to the House to discuss the issue of CervicalCheck and let us know of any progress with the implementation of the recommendations of the Scally report.
I have no problem with the suggestion Senator Boyhan made about copies of the Order of Business. I am not in favour of all the paper we use and I would have thought an email would be sufficient. I have no difficulty with that and I will speak to the Leader about it.
Senator Conway-Walsh raised the issue of nurses pay and nurses are very hard working. The Minister for Finance has made a lot of sense any time I have heard him speak about this issue. We have agreed a pay deal with the entire public service and it is hard to see where the money is going to come from to pay more. There is a significant increase of about €3,000 for nurses in the pay deal. There are definitely issues in nurses' conditions that need to be addressed. The Senator mentioned the word "engagement" and that is key and there is engagement. Engagement is the only way forward and we all hope that any potential strikes could be averted.
Senator Humphreys raised the issue of dementia and Alzheimer's disease. I suggest that is another issue that the Minister for Health might like to update the House about.
Senator Reilly spoke passionately about the Autism Spectrum Disorder Bill and I do not see any reason that should not be before the Dáil. I will follow that up and find out the reason for that delay.
Senator Leyden complimented the 100th anniversary celebrations of Dáil Éireann and we all agree with him. His idea to have a permanent home for the exhibition is a good one which I support.
Senator Mullen raised the issue of the children's hospital. It is an issue we are all concerned about and the Taoiseach and the Minister have expressed their serious concerns. An independent body has been put in place to review these major cost increases and it would be a good idea for that to be discussed in this House in the near future.
Senator Butler raised the issue of repatriation of Irish citizens, the Kevin Bell Repatriation Trust and a case in his local area. I agree with the Senator about airlines because it seems that, when people are at a vulnerable point, airlines really slap on the charges. I understand it is a business and they have to make money. However, when there are difficult circumstances for people which, in the context of how many people fly, cannot be that common, airlines should be more supportive of individuals.
Senator Warfield raised the issue of nightlife in Dublin. I cannot say I was aware that many nightclubs are closing. I would not have thought we have any difficulty when it comes to knowing how to party in this city but the Senator raises an interesting point. Having acted as a lawyer over the years, I know how unnecessarily complex the whole licensing area is.It is an issue that we should debate. It would be interesting to discuss how we want to go forward as a society when it comes to our nightlife. I have seen many initiatives lately. I believe a bar that is opening on Capel Street in the near future will sell non-alcoholic beer only. There are ways for us to party and have fun without necessarily loading ourselves-----
Yes. Will those who own businesses want to keep them open while selling the odd drink? It is a difficult one to get a balance on. I hear where the Senator is coming from. We could have a very interesting debate on licensing in this House.
Senator Grace O'Sullivan raised the issue of trainee pharmacists. It would be a good subject for a Commencement debate. That would allow the Senator to get a full answer from the Minister. Nobody would want trainee pharmacists to be in any way impoverished or to have difficulty in this area. Clearly, this issue needs to be addressed.
Senator Lombard spoke about farming. It would be a good idea to have a debate with the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, particularly in the context of Brexit. He is a regular visitor to this House. I do not think we can discuss enough the fears that exist because of the ongoing issue of Brexit.
I can accept Senator Mark Daly's amendment to the Order of Business. Senator Feighan mentioned Uber in the context of rural transport. Uber exists in this country, but the charges are not as cheap as in other countries because our taxis are regulated. If one gets a taxi on Uber, it costs the same as it would cost to get a taxi any other way. It certainly offers a potential solution. The area of hackney and taxi licences is a complex one. I would see certain red lights flashing when it comes to the reaction of taxi drivers in this city. It would certainly be a good idea in rural areas.
Senator Davitt made the constructive suggestion that the Minister for Health should give us an idea of the projects that may be affected by the cost of the national children's hospital, which is obviously the biggest concern in any conversation about the hospital. The Minister might not want to go into detail on the matter.
Senator Byrne raised the issue of CervicalCheck. The irony that this is an awareness week for cervical cancer is not lost on any of us. As women, we are very keen for this matter to be resolved in the near future to the satisfaction of the women of Ireland.
Senator Ó Donnghaile told us that the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality heard from individuals from the North yesterday. It was a very constructive thing to happen, especially in the context of Brexit. The comments on the matter made by my colleague, Senator Colm Burke, were well made.
Senator Colm Burke's suggestion that information needs to be made available to those who will be affected by the boundary extension is a constructive one. It is something that should happen. A Commencement debate may be required to draw the Minister's attention fully to the suggestion. I can raise it with him too.
Senator Norris spoke about climate change in the context of the Davos meeting. I know that in his comments in Davos today, the Taoiseach specifically highlighted the importance of Europe having a united front on climate change.
Senator Paddy Burke is dead right when he says that regulation is needed with regard to drones. It is beyond unsatisfactory that issues of concern have arisen in this country and at a major airport in a neighbouring country. We definitely need to think about legislating in this area, which should be brought to the attention of the Minister.