Thursday, 7 February 2019
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
I would like to dedicate the Order of Business today to education. We all know the maxim "mol an óige agus tiocfaidh sí, cáin an óige agus críonfaidh sí". In Ballyfermot, there are three schools merging into one. I thank the Dominicans, the De La Salle Brothers and the Sisters of Charity for their 60-year contribution to education in Ballyfermot. They have made serious strides and progression rates to third level education have increased by up to 50%. We are in changing times and there is a shift towards co-education schools. Ballyfermot is a settled area. Three schools will merge into one and this school will require investment, including in gym, science and technology facilities. I ask the Leader to convey to the Minister for Education and Skills the need for continuity of service. The lands are available and only require capital investment.
The second issue I raise is also related to a secondary school. It is in a different part of Dublin, namely, the Harold's Cross area, in Dublin 6W. The Department of Education and Skills has excluded Dublin 12 from the patronage survey of this school and children from the Dublin 12 area will be excluded from accessing the school. An Educate Together group comprising parents in the Dublin 8 and 12 areas has met and has a great deal of public support. There is an urgent need for a co-educational non-denominational school in this area. The committee of this school has found it very difficult to get a meeting with the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy McHugh. I ask the Leader to request the Minister to meet the committee of the Educate Together school.
My final point is on a good news story. I congratulate the Assumption secondary school in Walkinstown which topped the Sunday Independentschool league table and was named the most improved school in the country. This is an all-girls school in Walkinstown and 100% of the students last year went on to third level education. That is a major step and I congratulate the principal, Siobháin Hoey, her staff and all the girls in the school. It is wonderful to see what can be achieved with good parents and teachers in a good school. The school is in a DEIS area, so it is something to be examined.
I will raise one issue. This morning at 10 a.m., the Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government launched its report examining the potential impacts of Brexit on Ireland's housing market. I acknowledge the enormous amount of work done by Deputy Maria Bailey, the Chairman of the committee on which all political groups in the House are represented. It is an important report and I urge people to pick up a copy today. I believe copies are being printed. The report was launched in the audiovisual room at which there was a very good attendance. There was also a good deal of media interest in it.
I will focus on one of the key points, namely, the issue of encouraging skilled crafts people to return to this country. One of the main issues highlighted in the report, which became very clear from the contributions of stakeholders and others who came before the committee, was the shortage of skilled workers in the economy. Another problem is that some people who wish to return are unable to do so because renting accommodation is so difficult.
We need to attract skilled workers, be they plasterers, plumbers, electricians, engineers or architects, to this country to put their shoulder to the wheel as we implement Rebuilding Ireland and address the housing crisis, including the lack of social and affordable homes, and problems in the construction sector. That is one of the report's 14 strong recommendations.
The other side of that is how we can crank up apprenticeships and what many of us would have known as the vocational education model. This is a very good model as it allows young people aged 16 or 17 who are interested to start apprenticeships and develop skills. How can we support young men and women who want to take on a trade and feed into what will be a major challenge in terms of Rebuilding Ireland and building homes for people. All of that is addressed in one of the 14 key recommendations in this report. The Leader has expressed views on this issue previously. As we get Brexit ready, perhaps this would be an opportune time to debate the report in the House. There are many facets to Brexit and it will present challenges for agriculture, forestry, the construction sector and so on. In the coming weeks., we might debate aspects of these challenges, including this report.
I will begin by referring briefly to the nurses' dispute about which much has been said. I will make three brief points. The first is that it is clear this dispute has been handled incredibly badly by the Government to date.
Ingrid Miley said on radio this morning that the Government's declaration that it was prepared to talk about everything except pay was a tinderbox.It is incredibly foolhardy advice from whoever is giving it to the Minister. There is a route map to a solution which has been spelled out by ICTU and the significance of ICTU saying that seems to have been completely missed by the Government parties as to how this issue can be dealt within the existing agreement.
The last point I will make on the nurses' dispute, and which needs to be recognised, is that if it is allowed to go into next week, it will never be forgiven and never be forgotten. To close down our health service for three days next week is entirely up to the response of the Government. It has very little time to get this right.
I wish to refer to Catalonia. Next Tuesday, after having been in arbitrary pre-trial detention for more than 14 months, nine Catalan political prisoners, including six former members of the Catalan Government, the former Speaker of Parliament and two civil society leaders, are facing a long trial before the Spanish Supreme Court. They face the grave charges of rebellion, disobedience and embezzlement of public funds. I ask for a debate on Catalonia because of the importance of what is going on there.
Their crime was to have organised or supported a referendum on self-determination, in line with the democratic mandate given to them by the Catalan people. They now risk a prison sentence of up to 25 years, since the crime of rebellion, which involves a "violent and public uprising" according to Spanish law, is one of the most serious crimes in the Spanish criminal code. Yet the undeniable truth is that they did not use or incite any violence, as accepted by the German court which turned down the extradition of former Catalan President, Carles Puigdemont. Indeed, the only violence came from the brutal and shameful police response that left more than 1,000 injured voters. Police officers beating peaceful people trying to cast their ballot is an image we never again want to see in Europe.
Together with members of the EU-Catalonia dialogue platform in the European Parliament, I regret the repressive and judicial response of the Spanish authorities to a conflict that is political in nature. I reject the false narrative behind the accusations and I denounce the fact that this trial is a political trial. Dialogue and negotiation, not imprisonment and criminal prosecution, should have been the instruments through which Catalonia's legitimate and democratic right to self-determination ought to have been channelled. This political trial is not only an internal Spanish affair, it has a clear European dimension since it clashes with the fundamental values of democracy, freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and the right to political participation. Even the right to a fair trial is at stake, since the political prisoners have denounced numerous irregularities during the pre-trial phase. For instance, most of their appeals against their pre-trial imprisonment brought before the Spanish constitutional court are pending, thereby blocking their access to the European Court of Human Rights.
We should all be watching this political trial closely. Catalans have a legitimate right to democratically decide their own political future and Madrid and Brussels need politicians with the courage to settle political conflicts not with criminal charges but with the tools of democracy. This trial will not contribute to a reasonable solution to the historical tensions between Catalonia and the institutions of Spain. The Irish Government should not be silent on this issue and instead should work to ensure that a political and democratic solution may be reached.
Last week during the Order of Business I drew attention to two reports, namely, the report on the inquest into the Carrickmines fire and the report of the Council of Europe’s European Committee of Social Rights. Both reports relate to gross inadequacies in Traveller accommodation and the dangers posed to people living in these circumstances and to Government breaches in relation to European obligations and norms.
I ask the Leader of the House to confirm, which he committed to do, that he has invited the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government to come to the House to make statements on Traveller accommodation, to give an update on the Government’s response to the Carrickmines inquest report and to the European Committee of Social Rights report and on the progress of the review of Traveller accommodation and the Housing (Traveller Accommodation) Act that is currently under way. I ask the Leader to confirm when the Minister will come to the House.
I rise to congratulate Donald Tusk on telling the truth about the situation in Europe. He is 100% right when he speculates about the particular place in hell reserved for those idiotic Brexiteers who launched this without any plan. It is rather interesting to hear the squeaks of protest from the British Parliament. What a laugh. Who do they think they are fooling? They can dish it out but they cannot take it. A Government Minister said that Ireland should be visited with another famine to starve us out of the backstop. How is that for insensitivity? The shrinking violets of the Palace of Westminster take some taking.
It is wonderful to hear a refreshing dose of the truth from Donald Tusk. I sincerely hope that those people who have landed Europe into this catastrophic situation go to hell. The unfortunate thing is that I have not believed in hell since I was a small child. It is absolute rubbish to think that an all-wise, all-merciful ,all-good and all-seeing God would visit an eternity of torment on poor little fragile human beings. It is absolute nonsense. I wish there was a hell, especially created-----
I hope that God will create a special hell for the Brexiteers. It is interesting that the dishonest people who spoke in the House of Commons ended the sentence with the word "Brexiteers" and did not complete the sentence. The sentence is only sensible when it is completed. The word "Brexiteers" is followed by the words "who launched it without a plan". That is the active thing. Of course, they should be condemned. Donald Tusk was perfectly right. Well done, Donald.
I agree with my colleague, Senator Norris. There have been many sane voices in Westminster, however. I am thinking of Dominic Grieve, Keir Starmer and many more. It is unfortunate that over the last two or three years, we have heard from people like Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg who do not represent the British people. I hope that this has been a dose of reality from Donald Tusk, and Senator Norris is right.
In the Catholic Church, as Senator Norris may know, we have purgatory.
I have always had great admiration for the SDLP. In the last few months, there has been talk of a merger with Fianna Fáil. I hope that will be good for the SDLP. It has been a very democratic nationalist party. There are mixed views as to its merger with Fianna Fáil. There are many people in the SDLP who have more in common with the Irish Labour Party and, indeed, a few have things in common with Fine Gael. The reason I mention this is that next Saturday will be a momentous day because Young Fine Gael in Queen's University in Belfast is holding its first meeting. I will be there along with many of my colleagues. Fine Gael is the party of equality of opportunity, enterprise and reward, security, integrity, and hope. This is a wonderful opportunity for Fine Gael. The Taoiseach rightly said that we come as neighbours, not as invaders. We act in a way that is right for the island of Ireland and I am looking forward to that inaugural event which is being organised by Jude Perry, son of former Deputy John Perry of Sligo. Times are changing on our island, and between the two islands.
Today I am wearing my Commonwealth tie.
Some 70% of people from the island of Ireland residing overseas reside in Commonwealth countries.
Brexit has brought about divisions but once we get over this very difficult time, relationships on the island of Ireland, between the two islands and, of course, with Europe, because we are proud and active Europeans, will be in a different space. I hope we can work together to achieve all the goals we set out to achieve.
For clarification, the links and the co-operation between Fianna Fáil and the SDLP do not constitute not a merger. A merger is such as what happened between Cumann na nGaedheal and the Blueshirts. What we are doing is not a merger.
I ask the Leader to schedule a debate on the future of independent local radio. My credentials are good in this regard because in the 1980s I brought forward the first Bill to provide for independent local radio. I opened the Shannonside radio services when I was a Minister of State.
Local radio cannot be local radio if it is owned by one entity. Other companies, such as Communicorp, have also bought up radio stations but that was not the original concept. Local radio was supposed to be local radio.
The Leas-Chathaoirleach might be interested in a suggestion I wish to make. I request that part of the licence fee given to, and squandered by, RTÉ should be dedicated to real local radio to provide services for local people. My local station, Shannonside Northern Sound, provides an excellent service, which is not what we get from RTÉ. If I had to rely on RTÉ to get onto a radio station, I would never be heard. It is only Shannonside which provides that to me.
The Leas-Chathaoirleach is neither uninterested nor disinterested in what Senator Leyden has just said. No doubt he will give a very good account of himself in due course if the debate takes place. I pay tribute to local radio, including Radio Kerry, which does so much good work. It does cover issues in a way that mainstream Dublin-based media fail to do.
In a schoolroom setting, different children have different needs and our education system strives to tailor teaching to the needs of children as well as possible. I am chair of a school board of management in east Galway and I am aware of the issues that can arise. Children with Down's syndrome are loved and cherished by their families, school friends and teachers and they have particular needs that we have to ensure are addressed. Last week, Down Syndrome Ireland gave an interesting presentation to Oireachtas Members about educational resources for children with Down's syndrome. It provided detail on the latest research into new educational approaches which can allow Down's syndrome children to get the education they need within streamlined classrooms alongside their friends and peers. Down Syndrome Ireland and their friends are looking for the Government to adequately resource and roll out a national training programme for teachers in mainstream schools. They outlined a number of teaching approaches, including the use of specialised materials, varying the pace of lessons and learning, creating classroom groups according to the abilities of the various students and lessons that are differentiated based on the needs of the students involved.
The July provision scheme, operated by the Department of Education and Skills, provides for an extension of the school year for children with a severe or profound learning disability or autism, either in the school or in the home. We can all understand how an excessively long summer holiday can impact on the ability of children with particular needs to retain what they have learned but the vast majority of children with Down's syndrome do not qualify for the scheme at present. They all should qualify because that would allow them to have additional structure on their education and help them keep up with their friends and peers.
Individual education plans outline the specific learning goals to be achieved by a student with special needs and can be achieved through resourcing and teaching methods to create a better learning environment. According to Down Syndrome Ireland, the ASTI and the TUI have advised their members to stop providing these plans due to inadequate resourcing, which is a very worrying development. I ask the Leader to agree that these are issues which deserve support from this House and from Government and I ask him to facilitate an early debate on this very important area.
Nurses and midwives will be joined in industrial action next week by psychiatric nurses, which will bring the total to 50,000 nurses. Some 500 paramedics from the ambulance service are also coming out next week so it is looking like a spring of discontent. The psychiatric nurses are members of my union and the issues are pay, terms and conditions and the mental health budget. Last year, the entire mental health budget was spent on agencies so there was nothing left of the much-trumpeted increase. Can the Leader confirm when the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, will come to this House to answer to Members? As Senator Gavan stated, the window between now and next week is fairly small but hopefully the Minister will accept the invitation to sit down for talks without the insulting preconditions he has been offering up to this point. We do not know how this is going to unfold but hopefully the parties will sit down together respectfully.
I stand in support of the nurses who are out picketing today. I stood in the rain and cold on Tuesday with nurses in Waterford and listened to their stories about how unfairly they feel they are being treated. I saw members of the community coming with flasks of tea and coffee and all kinds of provisions to support them. They stated that nurses cared for them and they wanted to pay them back. I also want the Minister to come to the House. The nurses in Waterford do not want to be out on a picket but there have been decades of failure on the part of the Government to support them.
It is time the Minister accounted for it. Why are the Ministers, Deputies Harris and Donohoe, not sitting down with the unions and communicating with them and seeing what the problem is? There is no dialogue happening. The only dialogue we hear is in media accounts of what is happening.
I saw the nurses on strike in Waterford but I went into the strike committee centre in the hospital and saw how they were co-ordinating to make sure the wards were supported. Nurses were being taken from the picket when there was demand for them. They are caring and willing but at their wits' end. It is unfair that our nurses are out on the picket lines in this cold weather. The Government is at fault, not the nurses.
A nurse from Waterford, Breda Jones, said this is their Rosa Parks moment and they are standing up. They should have been standing up ages ago. I ask the Government Members to take their heads out of the clouds, get down to earth, and speak to the IMO, the nurses and the people who are supporting them. The situation is atrocious.
A 2017 ESRI reported concluded that: "Two decades of rapid population growth, a decade of cutbacks in public provision of care and a consequent build-up of unmet need and demand for care [will require] additional expenditure, capital investment and expanded staffing and will have major implications for capacity planning, workforce planning and training." Bearing in mind the rainy day fund and money being wasted by the Government, would it, for God's sake, support our nurses because they need care?
I have a question for the Leader. There is a one billion plus company called HID Global which has a base in Inverin in Connemara with more than 100 employees. It announced yesterday that it is moving to the far side of Galway city. As the Minister knows, 100 jobs in rural Ireland are critically important. This is a big hit to the Cois Fharraige area. The vast majority of those employees are native Irish speakers and we have a plean Gaeilge asking people to speak Irish more frequently. I have repeatedly stood up in this House to say not to ask people to speak more Irish but instead give them a chance to work in their locality. It is about jobs. More Irish is being spoken in Dorchester Avenue in Boston than there is in Lettermore or Carraroe. HID Global is a world leader in IT technology. I do not know why it is moving into Galway city. There is a huge unemployment rate in rural Ireland and in the Cois Fharraige area. Was there an offer from the IDA for the company to move to Galway city?
I am a huge supporter of Údarás na Gaeltachta. It works tirelessly to try to get, and to keep, employment in the Gaeltacht regions of rural Ireland. It is a dangerous precedent that a company is moving from an Údarás area in rural Ireland to the far side of Galway city. I ask the Leader to ask the Minister of State, Deputy Kyne, to come to the House to make a statement and to debate this. I am pleading with the Government not to let rural Ireland die because it is dying. We are all on the one team. We need to support businesses and employment in rural Ireland. The last thing we want is to lose a substantial company like this one to the east side of Galway city.
I thank Down Syndrome Ireland for its informative event in the audio-visual room last week. I agree with one of the previous speakers about the July provision. It is something I have raised here in a Commencement debate. Children with Down Syndrome are not accepted under the July provision. For those who do not know, the July provision is an opportunity to go to school in the month of July to get extra support. It is certainly something these children and their families rely on. During that Commencement debate, I was informed that a review was ongoing in the Department. Children with Down's syndrome do not come under the remit of the July provision, yet children with autism do. It is a shame they do not come under its remit. We need the Minister to come to the House to discuss this matter as soon as possible because many families rely on the July provision. Down Syndrome Ireland was very clear in its message to that effect last week.
It was announced yesterday that the first world tag rugby event will be held in the University of Limerick. That is a collaboration between the Shannon Region Conference & Sports Bureau, the University of Limerick, Fáilte Ireland and Limerick City and County Councils. It will be held in 2021 and will bring in more than 3,000 participants. This is certainly something to be welcomed in the mid west because a number of people will travel from the southern hemisphere in advance. It will be a great tourism boost and there is plenty of time to prepare for it. I congratulate all involved in delivering this project.
I am looking forward to our discussion on the Qualifications and Quality Assurance (Education and Training) (Amendment) Bill after the Order of Business today. The sixth anniversary of the amalgamation of 33 vocational education committees, VECs, into 16 education and training boards, ETBs, will be on 1 July this year. We were told at the time of that amalgamation by then Minister for Education and Skills, Ruairí Quinn, that this would save more than €2 million annually. I would like the Minister for Education and Skills to come into this House at an early date and, approaching the sixth anniversary of the amalgamation, outline to us exactly what savings have been made.
I am conscious that these education and training boards are doing an excellent job in providing education, training and apprenticeship training throughout the length and breadth of the Twenty-six Counties. However, it appears that an emphasis on appointing directors to particular areas seems to be creeping in.
I am very proud to be an employee of the Cavan-Monaghan ETB, albeit I have been on a leave of absence for the past six years or so, but I am aware that we could be creeping towards the establishment of another HSE. The emphasis appears to be on the appointment of directors, deputy directors and heads where there were never any before and where there was never a need for them. Cavan VEC had seven people and a chief executive officer who administered the entire scheme. A multiple of that number of people now administer the scheme. The emphasis should be on teachers, pupils, schools, services and facilities, not on administration.
That is the point I am making and why I want the Minister for Education and Skills to come into the House.We are all aware of the mistakes made by the HSE. All this week, my colleagues have been referring to the nurses. The emphasis on health should be on doctors, nurses, beds, facilities and hospitals, not administration.
I do not want to see this happening in the education and training sector. It is time we received an update from the Minister on the savings that have been made and the progress that has been made in providing facilities and staff.
As we all know, language is emotive and powerful and no more so than the comments made by Donald Tusk yesterday. Let us not forget that this inflammatory language has been used before and also reference was made to the comments by Ms Priti Patel, MP, to the effect that there will be food shortages in Ireland. Ms Patel's comments were completely derogatory and derisory. To put the matter in context, this is all borne out of frustration on the part of both the EU 27 and the UK. I do not believe it is anything more sinister than that. We need to be careful that the quotation is seen in context. We saw evidence yesterday where the quotation in question was taken out of context and not in its entirety. That actually changes the quotation significantly. The blame game, finger pointing and colourful language does not add to this debate. We are in a situation where every man, woman and child in the land is an expert on Brexit. That is dangerous.
Today marks a significant milestone. It is 50 days until 29 March. There will be 32 sitting days in that period. Time is rapidly running out. Prime Minister May was in Belfast on two days this week and some cynics would be forgiven for wondering what she achieved or what was the purpose of her visit. However, there were a number of significant points. Mrs. May stated, "The need for change is to the backstop is the key issue and not the need to get rid of the backstop.". She also explicitly stated, "The UK stands by her commitment in the joint report that there will be no hard border, including any physical infrastructure or related checks or controls." She further stated, "neither will I compromise on my promise to protect Northern Ireland's integral place in the UK."
Technology can deliver at some point, but that point is not now. Yesterday, we learned from the British tabloids of a solution put forward by Fujitsu to deal with the Border conundrum whereby a web portal linked to a mobile app, supplemented by GPS and artificial intelligence and using geo-fencing technology - potentially using number plate recognition - could identify vehicles, traders, tourist traffic and redirect anything of concern to a customs depot. Could surveillance on the Border and on approved roads and redirection to customs depots could work or would it be a totally regressive step after 20 years of seamless frictionless trade across this island. The Prime Minister's comments are certainly reassuring but it is possible to square this circle? Is it the case that any agreement reached can be all things to all people? This is the time for cool heads and strong leadership. Tensions between the UK and Ireland are emerging because we all know that the retention of trade links and a strong healthy relationship are critically important. After two years of negotiations during which everyone involved contributed to delivering solutions to problems, the deal on the table is arguably as good as it gets. All must work together to reflect, review and assess where matters stand. Decisions in the next few weeks will have an impact for years to come. Strong leadership is often about listening to others and an ability to recognise that one may have got it wrong. Democracy dictates that one has the freedom to change one's mind. I am of the view that some people may have done so. I urge Mrs. May to respect the vote, respect the people and let them support Government by validating the referendum result. Is Brexit really what they want and is it really the right thing to do? I am not sure that it is. When he meets Prime Minister May tomorrow, I ask that the Taoiseach respectfully remind her that if any doubt exists about leaving the EU, then it is her duty to demonstrate strong leadership, to reconsider and to establish - two years on - whether this is still the right things for the UK to do.
I raise the issue of the proposed new local authority boundaries in Cork. The boundaries in question were finalised via legislation passed by the Oireachtas in recent weeks. One of the provisions in that legislation stipulates that plebiscites in respect of directly-elected mayors for Cork, Galway, Limerick and Waterford be held. I think that is a positive step, but the information required for that debate is going to be key over the next 16 weeks. In that time, there will be a robust debate on whether directly-elected mayors will be good for these cities and whether they constitute a positive development for society and democracy. The lack of a commission inform the public is something we need to discuss. A referendum commission must be appointed in order people might be given information about both sides of the argument.
I put it to the Leader that we need to have a debate on such information might be provided. He is very much aware of the issues on the ground. I am of the view that we need to start discussing the spread of false information and that we need to start informing the public. When they vote on 14 May, they will voting on very significant issues. Not only will they be voting in the European elections, they will also be deciding whether the cities to which I refer will have directly-elected mayors. A referendum commission could provide people with the relevant information in this regard in order to empower them and allow them to form opinions.
I dtús báire, cuirim fíorfháilte go dtí an Teach roimh an Uasal John O'Sullivan agus roimh na banaltraí. In welcoming the nurses - a number of Senators mentioned this issue - we must be careful in the context of the rhetoric we use. Senator Marshall spoke about the use of language. It is important to recognise a number of points. First, there is a need for dialogue and engagement. The Government is committed to reaching a resolution on the issue. The Workplace Relations Commission is the forum at which a resolution can be found. I am endeavouring to have the Minister come to the House. As Members will appreciate, he appeared before the Joint Committee on Health and in the Dáil yesterday and this morning. It will be difficult to get him to come to the Seanad today but we will endeavour to have him before us early next week.
Is Senator Gavan, as a trade unionist, really saying that there be a free-for-all in respect of public sector pay?
The Senator repeatedly fails to recognise that we have employed 3,800 more nurses and that pay restoration is continuing for public servants across the board. We are paying €1.5 billion per month in the form of public sector pay. That is €17 billion per year. If one was to accept Senator Gavan's argument and that of his party, we would be spending in excess of that. We cannot have a free-for-all. As a trade unionist, Senator Gavan knows full well that we have public sector pay deal and that, collectively and individually, we must respect, appreciate and value that deal.
I will not. With respect, what the Senator, as a trade unionist, will have to do is look at what the Public Sector Pay Commission had to say in respect of the €20 million relating to the cost of recognition of qualifications and allowances-----
Are those who have been commenting on public sector pay really saying that there should be a free-for-all?Senator Grace O'Sullivan's party was in government and understands what collective bargaining is. Does Senator Gavan want us to go back and have individual unions negotiating? Does he want to go back to the days of benchmarking and what happened with that?
When I come to another part of the Order of Business, the Leas-Chathaoirleach will stand with me. It is important that the Order of Business reflects the facts. Whatever else we do, let us engage in facts, not populism and scaremongering. Let us be clear about that. Senator Gavan and other speakers did not say there has been an increase in pay for public servants.
I thank the Senator.
Senator Ardagh mentioned an education campus in her area. I congratulate and thank all involved in the provision of education. I am alarmed that the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy McHugh, is not available for a meeting. He is very accessible and approachable and has met deputations and delegations.
I wonder who made the request and if it reached the Minister. He is available and willing to meet and I suggest the Senator Ardagh submit a Commencement matter on the issue.
Senator Boyhan raised the report of the Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government. I thank Deputy Maria Bailey who chaired the committee which produced the report. We would be happy to have a debate on it in the House. Senator Boyhan also raised the issue of apprenticeships. The Government has allocated €8 million to support 2,300 additional apprenticeships in 13 different areas through the institutes of technology. Funding for this area was increased by 24% in the most recent budget and now stands at €122 million. The Government's aim is to have an extra 9,000 apprenticeships on the books by 2020. It is important that we promote apprenticeships. We have a strong ethos of third level education. We must now rebuild our apprenticeship programme.
In response to Senator Kelleher, I asked the Minister to come to the House. We had a debate on housing last week and this week. I asked the Minister to come to the House to address Traveller accommodation.
Senators Norris, Feighan and Marshall referred to Brexit. It is important to reiterate our stance that Ireland, with the European Union, is committed to reaching a deal regarding Brexit. That deal was negotiated and I commend the Taoiseach, Tánaiste and Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, on their role in this regard. Senator Marshall's contribution is very relevant. We need to be careful. We all welcome the Prime Minister's visit to the North and her comments on the Border, the Good Friday Agreement and the integrity of people in the North. It is important that we are careful because language is critical. We will endeavour to have the Tánaiste or the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, back in the House in the coming weeks.
I join with Senator Feighan in commending those involved with Young Fine Gael and Jude Perry with regard to their endeavours in Queen's University Belfast next weekend.
I know the Leas-Chathaoirleach is impartial but I wish to correct the record of the House for Senator Leyden. Tipp FM and Clare FM are being purchased by Radio Kerry. As the Senator knows, those stations are being acquired under the rules and remit of the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, which must give permission for the sale of radio stations.
Senators Mullen and Byrne raised the issue of direct provision. I would be happy to have the Minister come to the House to discuss this important matter, which needs clarity. To be fair to both Senators, especially Senator Maria Byrne who has raised it previously, it is a source of concern for parents and school communities.
I do not have an answer to Senator Ó Céidigh's question on why a company has moved. It is important that we have a discussion on job retention in Gaeltacht areas. Bhí an Seanadóir ag caint mar gheall ar Chonamara ach go mórmhór i ngach áit sa Ghaeltacht. It is important that we have people ag obair agus ag caint Gaeilge sa Ghaeltacht. Iarrfaidh mé ar an Aire Stáit, an Teachta Kyne, teacht isteach go dtí an Teach.
I join Senator Maria Byrne in congratulating those involved in the first world tag rugby event in the University of Limerick.
I could not agree more with Senator Wilson's comments on education and training boards, ETBs, and the need for recruitment. It is imperative in our education system, especially given the conversation we had about apprenticeships, that the ETBs, which were formerly known as vocational education committees, recruit front-line youth workers and teachers and provide services and facilities. We should have a debate on that. The Minister of State, Deputy Halligan, will be in the House next week and we may be able to dovetail that issue into the debate.
Senator Lombard raised the issue of directly elected mayors of Cork. The point he made is very valid. There is a need for an information campaign, but also a need, if it is successful, for clear, defined roles for directly elected mayors of cities. As Senator Lombard said, that is important, and I believe we should support our local authorities to have that role.