Wednesday, 13 February 2019
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) (Amendment) Bill 2018 - Second Stage, to be taken at 12.45 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed ten minutes each and those of all other Senators not to exceed six minutes each; No. 82, non-Government motion No. 11 re establishment of public inquiry into the death of Shane O'Farrell, to be taken at 3 p.m. and conclude at 4 p.m., with the time allocated to group spokespersons not to exceed six minutes each and all other Senators not to exceed three minutes each, the Minister to be given not less than six minutes and Senator David Norris to be given three minutes to reply to the debate; No. 2, statements on A Connected Island, An Ireland Free from Loneliness, report of the loneliness task force, to be taken at 4.30 p.m. and conclude at 5.45 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes each and those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes each and the Minister to be given not less than six minutes to reply to the debate; and No. 3, Private Members' business, Criminal Justice (Rehabilitative Periods) Bill 2018 – Second Stage, to be taken at 5.45 p.m., with time allocated for the debate not to exceed two minutes.
With the Cathaoirleach's indulgence, I welcome all of the transition year students who are working with Members this week. I welcome the students in the Visitors Gallery who include Cliona O'Rourke and Miss O'Connor. I hope their week will be a good one and their visit enjoyable.
I refer to the cervical smear scandal and the continuing fallout. We were all rocked last April when it emerged that Vicky Phelan had refused to sign the gagging order and lifted the lid on the scandal of the year. It is ongoing. With many others, I was shocked to hear that the interim director general of the HSE, Ms Anne O'Connor, had said she was concerned about the length of time it had taken to process cervical smear tests. There are 78,000 cervical smear tests outstanding, while there is a 27-week waiting time for the results to be received, which is completely unacceptable. There was an increase of 90,000 in the number of smears last year because of the scandal. It is good that women are having repeat smear tests which the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, offered without putting any thought into how they would be processed and the increased demands they would put on the service. We are concerned about this.
The issue of women's health has been pushed to the side for too long. This is concerning. Therefore, I would like the Minister for Health to come into the House to talk about the cervical smear scandal which is ongoing and from which many think we have moved on, but we have not. The women of Ireland are still very upset. Ms O'Connor mentioned that the HSE was developing a laboratory to check the results at the Coombe hospital. There is an initial €5 million capital allocation for the development of the laboratory. Will the Minister give a commitment that the €5 million for the project will not be taken and used to plug the gap in the health budget caused by the massive overruns on the national children's hospital project? It is important that the project go ahead.
We learned yesterday in the High Court that there were not enough judges to process all of the cases being taken by the women affected by the scandal. That is outrageous as time is of the essence for the women concerned, many of whom have terminal cancer. They are all seriously ill. It is outrageous, therefore, that the Government and its buddies in Sinn Féin are even entertaining the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, and his Judicial Appointments Commission Bill when there is a shortage of High Court judges.
This issue should be the focus of the Department of Justice and Equality, not that ridiculous Bill that is taking up so much time when we have women who are very ill and dying and cannot access justice in a timely manner. Justice delayed is justice denied. We cannot stand over justice being denied to the women affected by this outrageous scandal.
I take the opportunity to bring to the attention of the House the information received from the British Chambers of Commerce this morning. It represents 75,000 firms which employ over 6 million people. It is telling us that there has been a holding back of investment in business in the United Kingdom and a stockpiling of commodities and food. People are moving offices and relocating in fear of a no-deal Brexit. The chamber of commerce has asked 20 questions, to which it would like answers. It has asked about the implications for trade, borders, people, regulation and the digital economy of a no-deal crash-out.In terms of tariffs, it has asked the following. What tariffs will be applied? Will they be applied to the importation of goods from the UK and from Ireland?
What rules of origin will traders have to comply with? Will people still be able to fly people, produce and goods between the UK and the EU and vice versa?
In terms of borders and customs, do businesses need to register? How simple will the registration process be? Are there more requirements that they do not already know about? On the continuity of the EU free trade agreements, FTAs, will any of the trade agreements be rolled over? Will there be confirmation that they will be able to continue importing tariff-free goods from developing and least developed countries? On inspections, will there be new safety requirements and safety inspections? Where will these be held? Who will conduct them? In terms of declarations, what system will be used? What will it look like?
There was a specific reference to Ireland. What procedures will companies face when trading between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland? Will this be different from operating on any other UK border? Will business travel be subject to further administration, costs or visas? Will staff be able to move freely and work across the UK, Ireland and the EU? In terms of regulatory agencies, who will be the regulator and what will it look like? What form of dispute resolution and means of redress will be available to businesses after 29 March? We must also consider the digital implications and things like mobile roaming and customer data. As the Leader will agree, businesses across the UK have great concerns. I have no doubt that these questions are the same ones being asked by Irish businesses and firms. I am greatly concerned this morning that Northern Ireland businesses especially are not adequately prepared for this.
Interestingly, in terms of all of these rules and regulations that people and Brexiteers, primarily, keep citing as reasons that the UK should leave the EU, I wish to draw the attention of Senators to a piece of work commissioned by the House of Commons Library on how many UK laws were influenced by EU laws. The interesting statistic is that the library discovered that 4,514 laws out of 34,105 laws were influenced by EU laws in the UK. Of the EU laws that influenced UK lawa only 72 out of 34,105 were forced on the UK against its will. Certainly, this would dispel the notion that the UK was bound by or held back by European laws or bureaucracy.
In conclusion, I wish to refer to the current ongoing work that we are seeing on the island of Ireland with regard to Brexit and the potential of a no-deal crashout. It should be recognised that all of the work done by governments, civil services, businesses, industries and by these two Houses is not lost. I have no doubt that whatever the outcome in the next few weeks, Irish businesses will be stronger, fitter and more focused as a consequence of this good work.
I was shocked but not surprised to read at the weekend that the partners and spouses of people who receive the State contributory pension are now being forensically audited and means tested by the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection. In some cases, after means-testing, payments have been reduced or stopped altogether. The process in itself is really frightening for people. If any of us here was demanded to lay bare all of our financial transactions how would we feel? Are these people not entitled to a level of privacy to live out their lives? Such auditing is totally wrong. Many of these people will have an income that is well below the means test but they still have to go through the whole process and produce bank statements and everything else. There is something fundamentally wrong about that. Some people in receipt of pensions have been asked to keep receipts for up to four years in case an audit is carried out in the future. Also, there are people who are followed beyond the grave because when people die, Revenue and the State bodies come looking to see if people made a mistake and assess whether they counted everything. One must remember that some people do not enjoy good health. They may have dementia or other illnesses that do not allow them to read and communicate in the way that these Departments might want them to do so.
It has been mentioned that a saving of €15.7 million has been made already. It is also planned that 6,500 assessments will be carried out in the future. There are elderly people across this State who are really worried whether they will be part of the 6,500 assessments. We also have to remember that many of these people will be elderly women. They will be women whose spouses already get a contributory pension but then they are not entitled to any means themselves. This means that the relevant Departments have a figure in mind and know how much they want to recoup this year. It amazes me how Revenue and other State bodies can plan and execute with such accuracy the moneys they want to recoup from elderly people who have contributed so much throughout their lives, whether that be through childcare, care of the elderly, working outside or within the home or as community volunteers. The State bodies are forensic in how they go about assessments and inspections. Let us contrast that situation with the vast sums of taxpayers' money we have seen, say, in the overrun for the national children's hospital where figures have increased by millions. Let us also contrast that to the situation for thousands of people who have chronic and lifelong illnesses. Such people are subject to regular assessment and constant examination. I wonder where these Departments are coming from. Who instructs them to really antagonise these people? I am not saying that people should get something that they are not entitled to. Really, the fear around all of this is not right. The State proves itself well able to account for every cent and, indeed, it is willing to take back moneys in the case of these vulnerable individuals. If only a semblance of the same vigilance was present in the Department of Health and the Department of Finance then we might not be looking at a situation where so many projects are delayed or scrapped to cover the overruns and the other things while millions of euro is wasted. I ask the Government to consider this matter. I ask the Leader to arrange a debate that specifically deals with pensions. We must consider the contrast between how the millionaires and billionaires are treated in this country and then how ordinary citizens and elderly people are treated in terms of entitlements and taxation.
I welcome the fact that at least we are having a debate this afternoon at 3 o'clock. I welcome that the Leader has arranged this debate and there will be a Minister present. I was told previously that we could not have a Minister present because the Government had not made a decision but here we are and we now have a Minister. There is a lot of toing and froing going on.
I would like to refer to the Order of Business yesterday, a Chathaoirligh, because it seems to be quite a serious matter. I want to clarify this for the record. I started off by saying, "I propose an amendment, that item No. 11 of non-Government motions, regarding Shane O'Farrell, be taken at the end of..." and I was continuing to say "the Order of Business" but I was interrupted as somebody asked - and this is not on the "blacks" but it is on the film - "what is this about?" and I said that it was about the illegal death of Shane O'Farrell. The Cathaoirleach then came in and said "After item No. 2". This took me aback. I thought "item No. 2" is probably some Government motion to be taken without debate. That is the only circumstance in which I have seen this kind of thing happen before. I continued:"Yes, after item No. 2." Subsequently, and this is crucial, a page or two later on, Senator Buttimer, the Leader, says "Can I ask a question before it goes to a vote? When does Senator Norris propose to have the motion put tonight?" and I very clearly said "Immediately after the Order of Business.". So the whole question of item No. 2 came from the Chair. It did not come from me and it was not my intention and I clarified it, subsequently, that I wanted the motion taken immediately after the Order of Business. That is a fact. That is actually what happened yesterday. I did not-----
It was, I think, a genuine error and I do not know where it came out of. In everything I said I made it clear I wanted the motion to be taken "immediately after the Order of Business", and it is on the record where I said that before the vote was taken. I had not, ever, said I wanted it after No. 2. I simply parroted what the Chair said and it is inexplicable where that came from. I have never known it to happen before. When one proposes a change to the Order of Business it is to take something immediately after the Order of Business. I shall leave it at that.I think it was unfortunate. I am not blaming anybody. I think it was just a question of confusion. I regret very much that it happened. I look forward to this evening's debate, which will be attended by Mrs. Lucia O'Farrell. It behoves all of us to be here to show respect to this family and to take part in the proceedings.
Last Thursday, 7 February, when the Leas-Chathaoirleach was in the Chair, I spoke about the control of independent local radio. I said at the time that "Limerick FM and Clare FM have been bought by Kerry FM". In fact, Tipperary FM and Clare FM have been bought by Kerry FM. The matter was clarified later in the debate. I have looked at the blacks as well. Limerick FM is owned by the Wireless Group. The point I made to the Leader of the House last week was that it would be worthwhile to have a debate on the control of so-called local radio. When I had the concept of bringing forward an independent local radio Bill in the 1980s, I did not envisage that it would become a commodity and that Communicorp Media, which is owned by Denis O'Brien, if I can mention his name, would control 14.7% of the market through 98FM, Newstalk, Today FM, Spin 1038 and Spin South West. I hope he is not listening in because I do not intend to be sued. We have full privilege in this House, thanks be to God. The Wireless Group controls 17.6% of the market through Dublin's Q102, FM104, Cork's 96FM, C103, Limerick's Live 95FM and LMFM. The current maximum permitted ownership level is 25%.
The point I am making is that between Kerry FM and all the other organisations, we must ask whether independent local radio is independent any more. Is it becoming a commodity that is sold, resold and registered? I think the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland has questions to answer in this regard. I suggest that the Minister, Deputy Bruton, should come to the House for a debate. I would like to hear the views of Members of this House who have a great deal of experience of broadcasting, local radio and the benefits of local radio. I want to say categorically that our local radio station, Shannonside Northern Sound, which is owned by the Kerry group, is very fair and impartial. If it did not exist, most ordinary Deputies, Senators and councillors in the area would never get on the airwaves. We would not want to be relying on RTÉ. I see the same small clique every night on different RTÉ programmes and again on Saturday and Sunday. The people in this group are controlled by media PR people who get them on those programmes. It seems to me that the ordinary Deputy, Senator or councillor is excluded. As far as I am concerned, RTÉ does not represent the ordinary people. It represents an elite who have control of the airwaves. I hear Senator Craughwell on the airwaves regularly. He used to be on when he was going for President.
The Senator was certainly very popular when he was going for President. When he dropped his candidacy, he was not on very much thereafter. Local radio is important for democracy in this country. I want to see it maintained, controlled and supported by the licence fee.
Members may have misheard what I said about the Private Members' business. The debate is not to exceed two hours, rather than two minutes. Some people thought I said "two minutes". There are two hours for Private Members' business, which is the Criminal Justice (Rehabilitative Periods) Bill 2018.
I thank the Leader for organising the debate on the exceptionally sad case of Shane O'Farrell. The more one reads into it, the more one realises that there has been a terrible miscarriage of justice. I received correspondence from Mrs. O'Farrell this morning. She will be here with a number of other people. I hope as many people as possible can come to the House. I think it will be an interesting debate. A number of other parties will also be in the Chamber. I think it will be an important opportunity to stand in solidarity with a family that deserves justice. I thank the Leader for facilitating it. I thank the Minister for making himself available to come to the House for this important debate.
I do not intend to rehearse what other people have said about the children's hospital. As a matter of fact, I have said nothing about it in the Seanad. Perhaps at some time in the near future, we could have some sort of debate or statements on the National Development Finance Agency. A number of issues relating to the agency have come to my attention. I think we need a greater understanding of the agency's role and function in overseeing major Government contracts. I understand that a number of questions on this agency's involvement or lack of involvement in this project will be put to the Minister. It may have been prevented from being involved. I would welcome some sort of debate on that.
I would also welcome a debate on the €99 million in cuts that are now required. I hope the cutbacks that are being announced, which are temporary by nature, will not have any impact on the second phase of the National Rehabilitation Hospital project in Dún Laoghaire.
I ask as many Members as possible to come to the House for the debate on the Criminal Justice (Rehabilitative Periods) Bill 2018 if they are free to do so. This important legislation is before the House today. I know there has been a slight change in the order and timing of that debate.
Now that Britain is leaving Europe, we have an opportunity to address a major issue that has been around for recent years. I refer to public tenders for major projects like schools, roads, hospitals and nursing homes being given to companies outside the Twenty-six Counties. When politicians and people in local areas ask why tenders are being given to companies in the North or in Britain, we are told that under European legislation, the tenders have to be given in a way that satisfies European law. When the companies that are given these tenders come down, they do not leave anything in the local community. They do not give any local jobs. When €1 million was provided to do up St. Joseph's nursing home in Trim, which is in my constituency, a company from Northern Ireland came down to do the work. When I went up to speak to a few people who were working on the site, they had no problem telling me they were on social welfare in Northern Ireland and were coming down here to work for between £15 and £20 sterling - cash in hand - a day. How can that be fair to an Irish company that is looking to put in a tender for these projects? Such underhandedness is going on and we cannot check on it. As we move forward, Britain will leave Europe. I would like to see Departments giving more tenders to Irish companies, rather than British or foreign companies. We should look after our own first. I would like the Minister to come in so that we can discuss this issue as we move forward.
I draw the attention of colleagues to a great protest by primary students from a number of Educate Together schools which will take place outside Leinster House today. While this is entirely their own initiative, they are inspired by a Swedish schoolgirl, Greta Thunberg. They are being supported by their teachers and by members of the INTO as they call for action on climate change under the slogan "we can't wait". It is really great to see students and children who are so young engaging in such activism on such a pressing issue.
I join Senators Norris and Boyhan in thanking the Leader for organising today's debate on the case of Shane O'Farrell and specifically on a motion on that case. I look forward to contributing to the debate. It is important that we renew the debate on this matter, having debated it in June of last year.
I would like to get clarification on a matter that was raised in the Dáil yesterday by my party leader, Deputy Howlin. Now that we know something, at least, about the cost overruns, has the Attorney General considered whether the revised tender price for the children's hospital is compliant with EU procurement directives, particularly 2014/24/EU, which requires that a new tendering process be conducted if certain modifications to original plans are carried out, and specifically if the renewed price is to be increased by more than 50% of the value of the original contract?We know that has been exceeded so there is a real concern about the legality of the process now we know so much more about it. I ask the Leader to seek clarification on this. It has been raised in the Dáil but it is a very important matter.
I join others in supporting Senator Ruane's Bill on rehabilitation periods, which will be taken this evening. It is very important and it builds on the Government's framework from 2016, which was very welcome. For the first time we saw rehabilitation of offenders introduced in principle and a measure on expunging convictions from the record. Senator Ruane's Bill builds on that and makes the process much fairer, implementing a proportionality that is currently lacking from the process. I hope we can see support from all sides, especially the Government side, for the Bill.
I raise today the matter of medical requirements of our homeless population. We are all aware homelessness has reached unprecedented levels in this country, with more than 10,000 people homeless in Dublin alone. Homeless people, especially rough sleepers, suffer higher levels of infection and are at risk of developing severe medical conditions, including dental problems. I can give an example. A homeless man who recently began giving tours of the area in which he grew up has become a minor celebrity in his own right but he suffers from medical problems because of years of living on the streets. His new-found profession requires him to interact with the public and he does so quite eloquently. However, his medical card does not cover the dental issues he suffers. We need to see greater effort not only to solve the housing supply problem but also to help human beings who suffer because of homelessness. Will the Leader schedule a debate on the special health requirements of the special homeless population, whether they relate to physical or mental health?
I rise today to draw attention to the Apprenticeship Ireland website and app, which provide an opportunity for young people to engage with industry leaders in technology. Young people can go on a two-year apprenticeship programme in conjunction with many of the leading companies while being educated. There are many opportunities for in-house education and training, as well as on-site and off-site workshops, with leaders in technology. We have always said here that there are not enough apprenticeships but this initiative is new and inviting. There were 250 participants in 2018 and it is planned to increase that figure to more than 1,000 by 2020. It is something we must draw attention to and encourage people to look at. Sometimes third level education is not for everyone but this is a new way of looking at education and skills.
Yesterday my colleague, Senator McFadden, raised the campaign for homeless veterans of the Defence Forces. She never misses an opportunity to bring forward Defence Forces matters, which is very much appreciated by all veterans associations. There are some buildings belonging to the Department of Defence and the Defence Forces around Dublin. The Irish Defence Forces Veterans Association, of which I am a member, would be willing to take over and refurbish a building. The expertise is available at no cost to the State to make it a permanent home for veterans, both those who are homeless and those who are in need of medical care. All that is required is the goodwill of the Department of Defence, the Minister of State with responsibility for defence and the Government. I am sure Senator McFadden would work with me on that, although today is the first she has heard of it.
On a separate matter, the Leader, the Cathaoirleach and I visited Iran last year. It strikes me that as we come to a no-deal Brexit and the possibility of the United Kingdom crashing out of the European Union, we should explore new opportunities. I think I am safe in saying we were highly impressed with what we saw when we were in Iran. We saw a population of 80 million and a gateway to approximately 400 million people in that part of the world. As Ireland moves forward, opening new embassies to create new markets and new alliances, is it not time for us to rekindle what was a great relationship between Ireland and Iran and reopen the embassy? Will the Leader ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade to come to the Seanad to debate that issue? I am sure other Members could suggest other countries they would like to see included in such a debate. Ireland cannot now afford to miss out on any opportunity for expansion of our markets as we enter into the world of Brexit. I know the Leader is favourably disposed to the idea, unless I am mistaken. The Iranians are wonderful people. Will the Leader try to organise that debate?
I raise the matter of industrial action by hundreds of community employment supervisors that will take place next Monday. This relates to a pension claim that has been ongoing for well over a decade. I worked on it during my time as a SIPTU official. There is a Labour Court recommendation that clearly calls for a pension to be established for these hundreds of community employment workers. There will be protests and industrial action outside the Department of Employment and Social Protection next Monday, as well as outside Intreo offices in Letterkenny, Galway, Athlone, Cork and Waterford.
I hope the Leader agrees with my next point as a very sinister letter has been sent from the Department of Employment and Social Protection to the community employment management across the country. It has asked for the names of employees taking part in industrial action and it states that "funding of schemes will be reviewed having regard to the industrial action taken". What we have is a threat from the Department to punish those who will stand out for legitimate industrial action across those locations next Monday. That is outrageous, especially as the same Department always denies it has any responsibilities because it is not an employer. On one hand it is argued the Department is not the employer but on the other hand the Department is demanding the names of the people taking industrial action and threatening them and the schemes.
The Minister for Finance, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, contacted SIPTU and Fórsa and promised them a further meeting last September. The tragedy is that those unions have heard nothing since, almost six months on. I am calling for a debate on the matter and for the Minister to come to the Chamber. I am also clearly calling for support on the matter, as it is not acceptable for Ministers to renege on promises to meet our legitimate grievances. There is a Labour Court recommendation that has been outstanding for 11 years and it is certainly not acceptable for these workers to be threatened by the Department of Employment and Social Protection. I would like to hear a loud and clear condemnation of that threat from the Leader in his response today.
We all know well that beef is a vital part of the export sector of this country. Of the 1.7 million cattle presented for slaughter to factories, we only consume 10% and 90% is for export. The problem is that beef farmers are getting very poor prices at factories for their cattle, and the price is actually below the cost of production. This puts the beef industry and suckler farmers in a state of crisis, which has been ongoing for a number of months. Any reprieve that we normally see in the run-up to Christmas has not materialised so prices remain very depressed and on the floor.
A clearly identified solution is an increase in live exports. I commend the Minister and Bord Bia on the work they do in this regard. Between 2017 and 2018, live exports increased by 30% to 246,000 animals.Quite frankly, we need more. With the abolition of the milk quota system we have seen many more people getting into dairy and, consequently, we have many more dairy calves. There are approximately 40,000 additional calves to be dealt with. We need new markets and we need live exports. At the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine yesterday it was set out very starkly that there is a major obstacle in this regard. It is not about ships or export markets. There are customers for these animals but there is a major problem in respect of lairage, places to hold animals, in Cherbourg, which is where these animals are shipped to. According to regulations animals, and young animals and calves in particular, have to be rested after a significant journey. The capacity is not there. At the same time, we are trying to move animals out and give farmers a fairer price. It has to be noted that there have been significant increases in the Spanish, Italian, Dutch, Belgian and French markets. All of these are European markets which are highly regulated. We cannot meet the demand despite having the cattle. If the farmers cannot ship the cattle they have to continue to feed them and welfare issues arise.
I call for the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, the Minister, the farming organisations, and the exporters to get together and make some arrangements for the provision of additional lairage in or around Cherbourg so that the animals we are shipping over can be cared for properly and so that capacity can be increased. There is no point in us having ambition to grow exports, which is our ambition, if there is not capacity within the system. I ask that this be brought to the Minister's attention as a matter of urgency. I appeal to the different stakeholders to find a solution. It is beyond critical. I will be meeting the IFA shortly to discuss the whole crisis in the beef sector and I will take this issue up with the association directly.
I thank the 13 Members of the House for their contributions to the Order of Business. Senator Clifford-Lee raised the very important and sensitive issue of the CervicalCheck backlog. We are all concerned at this backlog. The most pertinent point the Senator made was that we welcome the fact that so many women have come forward for rechecks. I noted the remarks of the acting director general of the HSE at the Joint Committee on Health this morning. She said that the HSE is working to grow and develop laboratory capacity. It is important that anything the Government does is motivated by those women who are, in some cases, very seriously ill. It is also important to acknowledge in our commentary that the Minister sought a capacity plan to address the backlog from the HSE last year. That has not yet been received. The HSE and the Minister are engaged in decreasing the turnover time. It is a worry and a concern. We all know people who are waiting. I hope that this matter will be dealt with expeditiously by the HSE. It is also important to note that the HSE has limited ability. That is why we have to outsource and to go to outside agencies and laboratories. The HSE has also agreed to undertake additional recruitment, over time, to decrease the turnover time.
The Senator also indirectly referenced the remarks of Mr. Justice Kevin Cross regarding the number of judges. This Government has approved more than 40 judges since 2016. Senator Clifford-Lee, her colleagues and other colleagues in the House - to be fair to her, it is not so much Senator Clifford-Lee - by their obstructionist behaviour around the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill 2017-----
Some of the obstructionist behaviour on the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill in this House is appalling, as was some of the carry-on yesterday with regard to the issue to which Senator Norris referred. Members did not choose to reflect and listen and were going from A to B to C to D. I will not get into that debate today.
Senator Marshall raised the very important issue of Brexit. Professor Philip Lane gave a very good presentation in Dublin Castle today. A no-deal Brexit will disproportionately affect this country. There is no such thing as a good outcome to Brexit. That is why Government is trying to mitigate the potential impact on the Border and the north west of our country. It will, of course, affect small businesses and farms. I will be happy to have the Minister come to the House to give an update on Brexit. Today is a very important day in Westminster. I hope common sense prevails.
Senator Conway-Walsh raised the issue of social protection and means testing. Means testing has always taken place. The issues the Senator raised in that regard are best addressed through the submission of a Commencement matter. I do not have an answer for her on them.
Senator Leyden again made a contribution on the importance of local radio and its independence. I believe we all agree that, since its inception, local radio has brought about a terrific sense of community. It has brought people closer together, informed people and has made a vital contribution to our public and civic life and to people's lives, whether in the north, south, east or west. The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, BAI, is the overarching body which oversees and grants licences. It has made its decision, which is to be welcomed, but we will have that debate in due course.
To respond to Senator Boyhan, the O'Farrell case will be dealt with later on today and I will be happy to have a debate on the National Development Finance Agency. Senator Butler raised the issue of tendering with regard to Brexit. That is a matter for the Minister of State with special responsibility for public procurement. I would be happy to have him come to the House.
I join with Senator Bacik in congratulating the young students who are today, rather than protesting, highlighting the need for action around climate change. To all climate change deniers I would say that it is time to get real. They should look at the temperatures around the world, the snowstorms in parts of the world, the heat that has just been encountered in Australia, the wet weather and other indices which prove and show that climate change exists and is having a profound impact. We have another debate on climate change tomorrow. On the issue of the national children's hospital, I do not have the information regarding the Attorney General and cannot give it to the Senator.
Senator Swanick raised the issue of medical equipment for rough sleepers. I will be happy to have the Minister, Deputy Murphy, come to the House. I commend Senator Swanick on his initiative with regard to the report we will be debating later today. Senator Byrne raised the issue of apprenticeships and the importance of highlighting the need for people to take them up. I will be happy to have the Minister return to the House on that issue.
Senator Craughwell spoke on the Defence Forces. As he rightly said, Senator McFadden has championed that issue. There are lots of issues around the Defence Forces. We need to commend all involved in highlighting the issues around our veterans. I do not have the answer Senator Craughwell is looking for regarding the use of Defence Forces barracks and buildings, but I am sure he can table a Commencement matter for the Minister of State, Deputy Kehoe. All of us must recognise the importance of the Army and the Defence Forces and the work those men and women do. They are probably the lowest paid in the public service. We all agree that needs to be addressed.
On Iran, I would be very happy to have a debate in the House in that regard. It is important that we build relationships, expand our markets, and reach out to other countries. We had the benefit of visiting Tehran last year. It was a very informative and educational visit. We learned a great deal about the relationship the workers have with the West, as opposed to that of officialdom, and about the ways in which we can all learn from each other and build synergies and new alliances. We should not tip our cap towards Washington the whole time either, but that is a personal view.
Senator Gavan raised the very important issue of the community employment, CE, supervisors. I have made this point in the House before, but we all agree that community employment schemes are very important in our communities. We all want to see them enhanced and the men and women who participate in them move on to further employment. It is a wonderful scheme that has benefited our communities. There is a group of CE scheme workers who do tremendous work in my own GAA club in Bishopstown. Equally, the supervisors provide a tremendous service through their work. Senator Gavan also spoke mischievously about a sinister letter.I do not believe it is a sinister letter, to be fair, in what it is trying to do. From my understanding it is not about threatening people, as Senator Gavan alluded to. Rather it is about ensuring several things. First, from what I understand, it seeks to find out the number of people who will not be at work on Monday so that we can provide a certain level of service. Second, it is about ensuring that the effects of a legitimate demonstration or protest, like that of the nurses, are minimised with regard to the delivery of the services for the sake of the people who avail of the service. Third, the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Deputy Regina Doherty, has said on the public record that she has no intention of reducing any funding to schemes as a result of the action. Again, it is important that we have proper debate and commentary around what has been asked of people in a letter.
I will address the other point mentioned by Senator Gavan. We would all love to give people a pension. However, I am told the cost is €188 million per annum. My question to Senator Gavan is where he believes that money will come from.
That is what we have been told. Senator Gavan has his figures and I would be happy to have that debate.
Senator Mulherin raised the issue of beef and the challenges being faced by the beef industry in terms of the price and the depression in the market. The points she made around the issue of the ports and trying to enhance, support and develop our beef sector further merit further discussion. The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Creed, has done a great deal of work in his Department on this matter. This is about ensuring that we can support and work with those in our beef sector. As Senator Mulherin is no doubt aware, the Minister cannot get involved in the setting of prices. However, we can put in place other supports, as referenced by Senator Mulherin in her contribution.