Thursday, 7 March 2019
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, motion regarding the arrangements for the sitting of the House on Tuesday, 12 March, to be taken at the conclusion of the Order of Business, without debate; and No. 2, statements on the national children's hospital, to be taken at 1.30 p.m. and to conclude at 2.30 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes, time can be shared, and the Minister to be given not less than six minutes to reply to the debate.
I express concern and dismay at comments made by the Northern Irish Secretary of State, Karen Bradley, about killings by British soldiers and police officers during the Troubles. Her statements were provocative, especially in the wake of a decision on whether there will be criminal proceedings arising out of the Bloody Sunday incident and other incidents and shootings in Northern Ireland. Ms Bradley should keep in mind the victims and their families who will be very upset by her unhelpful remarks in this fragile time for the peace process, with Brexit looming. She should withdraw her comments and apologise, especially to the families of the victims.
I want to speak about the Tusla report on fostering services, especially those in Dublin South Central. This issue was raised by me and other colleagues in the Seanad two years ago when the previous report was published. There were also difficulties at that stage in Dublin South Central. The current review is scathing and states that child safeguarding in Dublin South Central have regressed over the past two years. The area includes many very disadvantaged and extremely disadvantaged households. The report also states that nine foster care households in which persons over 16 years of age were residing had not been Garda vetted. It seems like a post code lottery. A foster child living in Dublin 10, 12 or 20 and Dublin South Central in general will not get the proper care he or she deserves. Children in foster care are in the care of the State and essentially children of the State. It is a sad and damning indictment of the Government that it places vulnerable children at risk, depending on which area of the country they live in. The Minister should make a statement in the House on this issue and comment on the fact that nothing has been done since it was highlighted previously.
There have been recent shootings in west Dublin. This morning, a friend of mine who was dropping her child to a crèche in Blanchardstown found a burnt-out car outside when they arrived. This problem seems to be commonplace. The Garda does not seem to have a handle on the shootings that are taking place every second day in the city. It is time the Garda was given more resources to put more effort into intelligence work. It is not fair on people going about their daily business that shootings are becoming commonplace.My friend dropped her child off at a crèche. A few hours earlier a car used in a shooting was burned out. It is not right. The people of this city deserve a safer city. They also deserve to know that shootings such as this will not happen on their doorsteps.
Táim ag iarraidh labhairt ar feadh cúpla nóiméad mar gheall ar ghnólachtaí beaga agus meánmhéide - small and medium-sized enterprises, SMEs. The Leas-Chathaoirleach chaired the meeting of the Seanad Public Consultation Committee focused on SMEs. We hope to have a draft report ready for the committee's approval in the coming weeks. I am the rapporteur to the group and much work has been put into the report. We are looking forward to presenting it to the Seanad and, hopefully, the Lower House in time. I will focus on two or three of the main challenges that have arisen. Access to finance is a major issue, while geopolitical uncertainty is another key issue. One would not expect that to affect SMEs but it is a significant factor.
I was invited to Westminster on Tuesday as part of a group of 25 or 30 business people from all over Europe examining the impact Brexit may have. Brexit is not just an issue for Ireland but very much a European issue. During our visit, a Bill concerning Gibraltar was being debates on the floor of the House of Commons. I believe some 95% of the population of Gibraltar voted to remain in the European Union. This is now becoming a hot potato for the British Parliament and Government.
To focus again on Ireland, I note the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, speaking to the Institute of Taxation just over a week ago, flagged his intention to examine entrepreneurs' relief, which is a fraction of what it is in England. A key factor for us is ensuring that businesses can continue to evolve and there is movement and flow in the ownership of businesses. Owners need to move their businesses on to give new energy and life to their enterprises.
I strongly support the Minister looking favourably at this matter and setting the relief for SMEs in Ireland at a minimum at the same level as those in England to ensure entrepreneurs have access to reliefs and flexibility and people are encouraged to start a business. As the Leader knows, the skill sets required to start a business are totally different from those needed to grow a business. Those are not the same things, as I have learned. I have the scars from that process. A different leadership style is needed in growing and scaling a business. We need to give entrepreneurs who have the vision and creativity to start a business the ability to start bringing in those skill sets and not penalise them when they transfer or sell their businesses. I ask the Leader to consider inviting the Minister for Finance to the House to share with us his view and strategy on entrepreneurs' relief. The sooner that debate takes place, the better as it will give some degree of certainty and clarity to SMEs, particularly in light of the upcoming train crash that appears to be happening with Brexit.
The remarks of the British Secretary of State, Ms Karen Bradley, in the British House of Commons were disgraceful and deeply offensive to the families of those killed by the British Crown forces, publicly, formally and illegally, through collusion with loyalist death squads. The mentality demonstrated by the Secretary of State led to the killings happening because British Crown forces had impunity to kill at will with no consequences for their actions. It is clear from the remarks of Secretary of State Bradley that she is giving a licence to kill and impunity from prosecutions to those who killed and those who sent them out to kill.
Her remarks are a direct interference in the judicial process, coming as they do days before the decision on whether to prosecute British troops from the Parachute Regiment involved in the Bloody Sunday massacre. Her remarks also come after the courts handed down welcome decisions in the Pat Finucane and Pearse Jordan cases and after a decision was made to fund the legacy cases, something called for by relatives' organisations and the Lord Chief Justice in the North for years. The Secretary of State's remarks clearly show she has no sympathy for the relatives of those killed and no interest in assisting them to get the truth. She is more interested in protecting the killers. This is enormously upsetting for the families who have been waiting decades for inquests and the truth. It is appalling to see somebody in the position of Secretary of State come out and make those remarks.
I have just attended a presentation given by members of Border Communities against Brexit in the audiovisual room. I was really struck by their statement that the economic devastation that may result from Brexit might only be surpassed by the damage to the peace process. The group is calling a day of action on 30 March and for political parties, and others, to sign a declaration on Brexit. The devastation Brexit will bring was clearly outlined. In particular, a pharmacist spoke about the health implications in respect of shared services in the north west and the absence of any contingency plans. That is the case even with something as simple as the ambulances that cross the Border.
Ear, nose and throat, ENT, services serve counties Fermanagh, Tyrone, Sligo and Leitrim. How will that work after Brexit? Some 60% of medicines we get in this country travel through Britain. Clarification is also required on cross-Border cancer care for the Donegal Action for Cancer Care group. There also needs to be clarification on that issue. I know we have legislation coming through next week but these issues arise now in the ordinary lives of people. We need to hear from the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, in this House as to what these communities are to do post-Brexit, whether that is hard, soft or something else.
I raise the issue of defective developments all around the country. I have an eight-page document detailing housing estates and apartment complexes everywhere from County Louth to County Wicklow. They are in Swords, Sandyford, Spencer Dock, Belmayne, Kilmainham and Ratoath, and the list goes on. The residents of those estates have got much tea and sympathy. I am not laying the blame for these defective developments at the door of the Government. The system of self-certification that caused this problem was brought in by a previous Government. Developers were allowed to use their own employees to self-certify the completion of apartment blocks and housing estates. Real people with real families, however, have been left to face the fallout. The bills from contractors to put right things that should have been done properly in the first place vary from €20,000 to €60,000 and €70,000.
The argument being advanced by the Minster for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, is that the State cannot take on unlimited liabilities in respect of this issue. However, given that a Fianna Fáil Government brought in the system of self-certification, the State has to take some sort of responsibility. We cannot leave these hundreds, if not thousands, of families in this position. They already have large mortgages and now face having to pay out large sums to fix dangerous accommodation which they were told was fit to live in.
The previous Government was able to resolve similar problems when they arose. We were ready to bring forward solutions for residents. The Government needs to apply itself to finding a mechanism to assist families in these circumstances. I am putting the Leader on notice that if a solution is not brought forward regarding these issues, I will call on the Minister to come to this House and discuss the crisis these families are going through. I have met heartbroken families from the Beacon South Quarter in Sandyford who have been left with enormous bills. This has been discussed in the House but no solution has been advanced.There was talk of low-cost loans and going after developers but nothing has happened and families have been left with the bills and the worry. This can no longer continue. I am putting the Leader on notice that, if a solution is not brought forward shortly, I will propose an amendment to the Order of Business calling for the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government to attend the House to discuss this serious issue.
I also decry and deplore the comments made by Karen Bradley. I fail to see how she can ever regain the confidence of nationalists and families of those who suffered during the Troubles. Have we forgotten Bloody Sunday? Have we forgotten the Miami Showband and all the other issues? She needs to consider her position. We decried the actions of a Sinn Féin MP in this House and he later stood down, and we need the same response in this regard.
I wish to raise another issue of national importance, which is the fact that two out of every five of our children are now either obese or overweight. The greatest threat to health in the western world, and in the developing world, is not infection but non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke, heart attack and cancer, and obesity plays a major role in all of them. Last night, however, I heard that Fingal County Council has given planning permission to a 6,000 sq. ft fast-food restaurant with a drive-through facility. It is 50 m across the road from a crèche which is attended by 100 children and 300 m from a primary school with 400 young children. Myriad Government documents underpin policy relate to fighting obesity and I was particularly proud to launch Healthy Ireland. The local authority is ignoring them but it is not just Fingal - they all do it and it is a national issue.
The Ministers for Health and Housing, Planning and Local Government need to issue an edict to all local authorities advising them of Government policy and that these types of development are not appropriate. This is a small neighbourhood shopping centre and there were hundreds of objections from local residents in Skerries, and the Barnageeragh Cove area in particular, because of their concern. I hate to say it but it smacks of the tactics of the tobacco industry in the way the fast-food industry is trying to "get them young and keep them for life." It is a cradle-to-grave approach but we do not want such an approach and if we are going to be serious about a cross-Government coherent strategy to fight what is an epidemic, the Government needs to act accordingly. I hope the Leader will convey this message to the relevant Ministers and I hope they will take action. Otherwise, the issue will come back to this House and the Ministers in question will have to come in to explain themselves.
At a meeting of the Joint Committee on Rural and Community Development, Jim Connolly, a former bank official, called safe deposit vaults a "medieval lost and found". They are in all banks and the Bank of Ireland in Dublin has serious vaults.
The committee is looking into the issue and they are looking at the Dormant Accounts Act 2001 in this regard. It is proof positive that there is need for a wills Bill. Many of those deposit boxes are contained within a will which has never been found. The safe deposit box is now in the banks, lying dormant and never to be opened. It is about time we looked at the situation. I welcome the passage of the Registration of Wills Bill 2016, which was co-sponsored by Senator Catherine Ardagh, our leader in the House, as well as our deputy leader, Senator Clifford-Lee. It will now go to Dáil Éireann and I will work with our spokespersons and Members of the Dáil to make every effort to enact the Bill. I express my thanks to all the parties on the Government side who took a courageous decision to support a Bill that is in the public interest.
The efforts of the Law Society on this Bill over the past 14 years has been unacceptable. The Law Society is led by Ken Murphy, the director general, who is paid more than An Taoiseach and he protects solicitors who pay his wages.
I acknowledge the trip to Belfast on Tuesday by the Seanad Special Select Committee on the Withdrawal of the UK from the EU. The trip was ably chaired by Senator Joe O'Reilly, deputising for Senator Neale Richmond, and present were Senators Black, Paul Daly, Ó Donnghaile, Craughwell, and I. We met many businesses and other organisations such as the Northern Ireland Food and Drink Association, Manufacturing NI, the Ulster Farmers Union, Retail NI, the Freight Transport Association, the Federation of Small Businesses and the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium. We also met many civic groups such as the initiative for civic space, civic nationalism, Belfast City Council's Brexit committee, assistant chief constable of the PSNI, Mr. Tim Mairs, as well as academics and media folk.
It was a full and busy schedule but it highlighted the complexity of the situation at the moment, as well as the fears and concerns of all the people who will be impacted. It gave us an indication of the diversity of opinion and the risks of oversimplifying this problem. We talked about trade, human rights, policing, security, agriculture and freight and the issues were complicated, which meant we often struggled to get a grasp of what the right solution would be. A lot of knowledge was gained from the visit and credit must be given to all the secretarial staff who made it happen and who put the plans in place.
The most moving meeting we had was the final meeting of the day at Elizabeth House on the Holywood Road in Belfast with the Training for Women Network, TWN. The chief executive, Norma Shearer, and the chair, Patricia Lewsley-Mooney welcomed us and introduced us to a group of staff - women from both the loyalist and republican communities. These women had been directly involved in the conflict and directly impacted by the horrors of the Troubles and the atrocities that took place. They shared stories of the devastation to them, their families, their communities and their lives. At one stage we were speechless when one lady stood up and recounted, with tears streaming down her face, her horror as she was instructed to take her son to a punishment shooting. When Senator Craughwell asked her why on earth she would take her son to a shooting, she said it was because if she did not, there would have been a summary execution of her child. We were dumbfounded and astounded by this.They tried to relate to us the horrors of living in these communities, which were completely out of control, and trying to bring up their families in that situation. The important thing for us to note is that these women have had an impact on the lives of hundreds of other women. They have engaged women by bringing together women from completely diverse backgrounds and communities, training them and giving them space and support to lift their families out of the cycle of apathy, alienation and despair.
Leader, these women have given hope and inspiration to many people in diverse communities. I suggest that we invite them to Leinster House to tell their stories, share their experiences, and inform those who did not live through this and those who do not understand it just how sensitive everyone needs to be to the cultures, identities, pain and hurt, and to dealing with rebuilding. On Tuesday, these women told us, in their own words, that they were the glue that held the families and communities together during the Troubles. I have no doubt that they will be the glue that will connect the blocks in the rebuilding process. They need all of our support and assistance to ensure that their fantastic work is maintained and expanded.
I, too, agree with the view expressed by Senator Marshall that we need to treat a lot of the issues in Northern Ireland with sensitivity. The comments made by Karen Bradley in the House of Commons yesterday were insensitive, out of touch and caused hurt and offence. However, I recognise that she has said she will go back to the house and correct the record of the oral questions, which I welcome. When I consider what is happening in Westminster I realise that she is just listening to one voice. She is listening to the DUP and other MPs. A nationalist voice is missing from Westminster, that of the Sinn Féin MPs who are not taking up their seats. We lost three SDLP MPs as well. Mark Durkan, Alasdair McDonnell and Margaret Ritchie carried that moderate nationalist voice, which is missing. We must understand that without that voice comments will be made like those based on what Karen Bradley is listening to. She has caused a lot of hurt and pain to families but I acknowledge, and in politics we should acknowledge, that she has said she will correct the record of the house, which is welcome albeit late. Both here and in the Dáil we talk about British politicians not understanding Northern Ireland. A vast majority of politicians in this country have no clue what goes on in Northern Ireland and sometimes their statements cause hurt and offence. Maybe we must consider why this happens and be aware that in Westminster that nationalist voice, especially from Northern Ireland, is very much missing.
I find it remarkable that the lack of Sinn Féin presence in Westminster would be used to excuse the comments made by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland yesterday. Her comments were not due to her listening only to one voice. I contend that she is listening not only to the DUP but to the layers of establishment that exist in London. Her comments go right to the heart of that establishment.
I want to comment on the Eurovision song contest. Israel's continued abuse of international law damages the two-state solution. Added to that, Israel is using the Eurovision as a way to present its prettier face, and to whitewash and distract attention from war crimes. Two days after the Eurovision final last year Israeli forces killed 62 Palestinians in Gaza. Tomorrow, there will be a protest at RTÉ as the national broadcaster is set to announce Ireland's entry. There should be no entry from Ireland. Time and again the international community remains silent. The routine statements of concern must translate into sanction. Israel cannot be allowed to act with impunity when committing murder. The Irish Government has a role to play. It must take the lead and send the Israeli ambassador home. Ireland must also recognise the state of Palestine, as approved by the Dáil over five years ago. The passing of the Control of Economic Activity (Occupied Territories) Bill in the Seanad is a momentous step towards banning the import and the sale of goods, services and natural resources from Israeli settlements. On the issue of the Eurovision 2019, Palestinian artists have appealed for a boycott of the song contest. I appeal to all artists here in Ireland to do the same. Israel is an apartheid State and Eurovision 2019 whitewashes apartheid.
Senator Leyden may be leaving the Chamber at this minute but I must say that he is eminently qualified to be appointed as curator of all of the artefacts that are in the vaults of the banks. He would bring a breadth of experience to the role. It would be research in terms of the whole area of living wills.
I want to take up the point made by Senator Marshall and follow on from what was said by Senator Feighan. We have reached a point, particularly down here, where we need to get a full understanding of the North of Ireland, which we can only get from the people who have experienced same. I very much support Senator Marshall's suggestion that we invite people, particularly women, to come in here and inform us. When he was speaking I was reflecting on the women who came together and were awarded a prize. In all walks of life, women are the pragmatists and, in many cases, ultimately the voice of reason. The suggestion that Senator Marshall has put forward here could be a major conduit in terms of us getting a full understanding of what is happening in the North. I hope that the Leader and the Cathaoirleach will arrange a debate as quickly as possible to start a dialogue on how to reach a full understanding.
The statements made by the Secretary of State, Karen Bradley, should not have happened. It is something she will have to reflect on. I acknowledge that she will correct the record of the House the Commons but she will have to question whether that is enough. Last night, I watched a programme on one of the news stations that showed at best there is a dearth of knowledge or ignorance about what is happening in the North. The comments made by the Secretary of State were unfortunate at best. A Secretary of State must take all factors into account. Certainly, what Ms Bradley stated in the House of Commons yesterday was not reflective of the true situation.
To end on a positive note, we should arrange as quickly as possible a discussion here with women from the North, as suggested by Senator Marshall.
I ask the Leader to invite the Taoiseach to come to the House and explain the statement he made last night about my party not being wholehearted in its support for the Government's strategy on Brexit. Admittedly, the Taoiseach was talking to a convention of his Fine Gael Party. His remark was, at least, a very careless remark and, at worst, a remark that could destabilise his own Government. It is extraordinary that we have a Taoiseach who seems to be constantly going out of his way to destabilise his own Government. It is unprecedented. I ask the Leader to invite the Taoiseach here to explain his statement.
The House should be very grateful to Fiach Kelly of The Irish Timesfor lifting the lid on the interesting political pond life that is the extreme left-wing in Ireland. We have always known that there is a communist group in the country. They prefer not to call themselves communists. They do not openly called themselves Trotskyites but they are. Trotsky was responsible for the deaths of countless thousands and millions of people. He exulted in those deaths.His political philosophy has failed everywhere it has been tried. It is up to Sinn Féin to comment on what the paper related about it being a capitalist, petit bourgeoisparty. That is not for me to decide. Most people reading the papers that have been published were probably mostly amused and bewildered that such undergraduate thinking would obtain in Irish politics and be represented in the Lower House. At the same time, perhaps there is a legitimate fear that something untoward and subversive is happening.
The Trotskyite religion has no loyalty to any state or government. It is loyal only to that failure of a philosophy, the Communist International. It is quite chilling to read in the report that reference was made to "Kerensky being used as a gun-rest to shoot Kornilov". This type of thinking is worrying. Will the Leader ask the Minister for Justice and Equality to come to the House and advise us on whether there is a clear and present danger to the State from revolutionary Trotskyite groups? I am sure they are a greater danger to themselves than to anybody else but it would be reassuring to know our security forces are on the job with regard to what has been a revelation to most of us. Mind you, there has been stunning silence from the principal parties so far.
I am a former soldier who served in two armies. On Tuesday afternoon in Belfast, the horrors of the Troubles came back to me. I take grave exception to people talking about members of any security force being murderers. I accept that there were rogue groups who murdered people but I draw the attention of the House to Ranger Best, who was taken out of his house in Derry and brought to Donegal to be shot. Were the people who did that not equally as bad? There were also the loyalist terror groups that went around and killed at will. Were they not equally as bad? Raking over the past does nothing.
The people who served in the security forces and colluded must be brought to justice at some stage. All soldiers, regardless of where they served, carried with them authorisation cards that gave them the five instances in which they could open fire. I take grave exception to people who once supported murderers turning on other murderers and trying to make out in some way that what they did was worse. This country was torn apart, particularly the North of Ireland, by terrorist groups on all sides. There is a triangle and it is not just two sides; there were three sides. There were those in the security forces who colluded. We must remember that there were also those in the security forces on this side who colluded. Let us not all be running around the place claiming to be whiter than white and purer than pure. Ultimately, the woman we met on Tuesday evening had brought her child to a predetermined place to have his kneecaps shot off because he had transgressed a rule laid down by some unelected person. The same sort of terror goes on in these communities every day of the week. Many communities in Northern Ireland are not able to turn to the official Police Service of Northern Ireland to deal with issues. The women of Northern Ireland carry with them the trauma of what went on up there. Those who committed atrocities must answer for what they did but let us not try and pretend that it was a one-sided affair because it was not.
Yesterday, I met people from the South East Fermanagh Foundation. This group deals with survivors of the Troubles. One of the points made to me is that there are people in the Republic who were traumatised as a result of the Troubles but we have no dedicated service to look after them. They are told they must go to the HSE for psychological services but what do they get? They get put on a list whereby they will be dealt with at some stage. My colleague, Senator Marshall, might or might not agree with me but one of the things we have to do down here is take full ownership of the Good Friday Agreement. This means dealing with the issues that people who are living on this side of the Border have to deal with. We cannot be borrowing from services in the North of Ireland that are not funded. If we are going to use those organisations we must fund them. I am sorry but I am a little annoyed over this.
I reiterate that if security services were involved in incidents - Ballymurphy and Bloody Sunday come to mind - they must answer but the mother of Ranger Best and those who were murdered by the loyalist butchers are also entitled to answers. We need to be real about this.
I request a special debate on Northern Ireland. I second the proposition of Senator Marshall that we invite those women and others to the House.
The remarks made yesterday by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Karen Bradley, were totally crass and out of order-----
I do support it. I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach.
The Secretary of State's remarks were crass and inappropriate and should not have been made. I hope that, at a minimum, she retracts them and apologises in the House of Commons. It is almost like trying to throw petrol onto a fire that is partly extinguished and trying to reignite it. It is totally out of order.
I support Senator Marshall in the context of bringing the particular group of women to the House but I would also extend the invitation to other groups over a period. It would not be realistic to have them all at one time but I would like to think that, over a period, all of the groups we met could come before the House. I thank Senator Marshall for the kind remarks he made about my input to the all-day meeting in Belfast of our Brexit committee. We all thrive on affirmation.
No matter how Brexit goes, we will be left living on this island together as a community, North and South. This is why I want our debate on Northern Ireland to centre on how we can continue co-operation in the area of health. There is no reason not to have specialties in the various hospitals on the Border and interplay between them. There is no reason we could not have heightened co-operation in the area of education, such as exchange programmes. There is no reason we could not continue to co-operate on economic grounds, irrespective of what type of Brexit occurs. We must think about living beyond Brexit and the fact we will be here together afterwards.
I want to make a specific proposal that is relevant to the State and the Government. I propose that when people apply for a sports capital grant, CLÁR grant or various forms of community funding, one aspect of the application that should get points weighting for approval is evidence of interchange with Northern Ireland. There should be evidence that a sports club has played at least a couple of challenge matches against teams from Northern Ireland. There should be evidence that a community group has links to Northern Ireland. This would be an acutely heightened necessity in Border regions but why should it not extend throughout the island? I want the Leader to convey to the various Ministers, including Deputies Ring and Griffin, who are responsible for these grants, that we adjust the grants and make a link to Northern Ireland a prerequisite. If we do not build human interaction, mutual understanding and real interpersonal communication, any abstract discussion on unity will remain abstract.We must build relationships. There are two ways to do this, by initiative and by making it a prerequisite to get State funding.
I commend the contribution of my colleague, Senator O'Reilly, including the work he did in Belfast as part of that committee along with Senator Marshall and others. We have a responsibility to ensure that we develop, enhance and foster links with Northern Ireland and various communities there. I agree with Senator O'Reilly that the best way to do that is through sport, to create indelible links between GAA clubs and soccer clubs in the North and the South and other groups such as tourism groups. Maybe tourism facilities that are funded through the rural regeneration scheme and other grants should be required to run a special tourism promotional drive in the North, perhaps twinning with other facilities in the North. I recall the work that Clare tourism council did with the former Newry and Mourne District Council in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Those linkages were very important. Considering the challenges, uncharted waters and the stormy conditions that we undoubtedly will face, we need to develop links.
I was glad to note before I came in here that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Karen Bradley, has apologised profoundly for what she said. It will be welcomed by all sides of the House. What she said was totally inappropriate and not proper.
As part of our engagement with civil society, and the address by the president of the GAA in the House last month was a very beneficial engagement, we should invite the directors of the Abbey Theatre, which is our national theatre, to present to the House in a similar way. I think back to our former colleague, Fiach Mac Conghail, and the superb contributions he made to this House.
An engagement with the directors of the Abbey, based on some of the controversies recently about the use of Irish actors and so on, is something that this House should consider, in the absence of former Senator Mac Conghail who kept us informed about what was happening in the national theatre during his five years here. He organised a couple of field trips to various shows. It would be a very useful exercise of which Seanad Éireann would be the beneficiary.
The Leas-Chathaoirleach would be an excellent adjudicator in any performance that might take place.
I endorse the comments of my constituency colleague and good friend, Senator O'Reilly, regarding a debate on Northern Ireland. That should be a rolling debate. Senator Humphreys raised an important issue that affects ordinary people who took out a mortgage, bought a property that had been signed off on by various regulators, architects, etc. and now find themselves in serious difficulties and having to come up with money they do not have to remedy the difficulties. We should focus on the insurance companies that insure these building firms which built these buildings that turn out to be unsatisfactory. I always believed that we neglected the people of this country by not pursuing the insurance companies that insure the banks and the auditors who signed off on fraudulent banks in this country. They are the people who should have been pursued for the money that was outstanding.
On the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Karen Bradley, I accept what Senator Conway has said that she has apologised profoundly for her comments but it is not good enough. She is the Secretary of State responsible for the province that has been occupied, the Six Counties of this country, and the onus is on her to know the people and the situations she is dealing with in that territory. Considering that she did not know, and the fact she was unaware inquiries had been set up by her Government, some of which are ongoing and which she may have been prejudiced, it is time she resigned and gave the job to somebody who is capable of doing it.
All unlawful killing is wrong. I would go so far as to say that all killing is wrong, whether lawful in the eyes of some, but during guerilla warfare there is a particular onus on the supposed professional soldiers to follow orders. If they are following orders, it is the people who gave those orders who should be before the courts, not the ordinary soldiers.
I thank the 15 Members for their contributions. I commend Senator O'Reilly for the line of the morning, that we all thrive on affirmation. I join Senators Ardagh, Conway-Walsh, Reilly, Feighan, Warfield, Kieran O'Donnell, Craughwell, O'Reilly, Wilson and Conway in their condemnation of the remarks made by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, notwithstanding her apology this morning. As Senator Wilson said, all killing is wrong. This morning, in accepting her apology for her insensitive and inappropriate remarks, I believe she should reflect on her position. As Senator Reilly said, it is about building trust and about what former President McAleese said about building bridges with all communities. The comments in this House this morning have been in the main about reconciliation, building bridges and extending the hand of friendship, particularly in a post-Brexit era where, on this island, we need for all our traditions and beliefs to work together to ensure our island works together, north, south, east and west, green, white and orange. The visit by Senators O'Reilly, Marshall and Craughwell on Tuesday was an important one. Senators Marshall and O'Reilly spoke of inviting the women they met. However, as Senator Conway-Walsh said, it is also about listening to different voices in order that we can plan and not go back to the past but go to the future with confidence and hope. It is about belief. If we had stayed in the past, we would not be where we are today. We would not have the Good Friday Agreement, or the solidarity we have with the majority of people in the North who voted to remain. It is about ensuring there is justice and accountability on all sides of the violence in the North.
On Senator Feighan's contribution, all of us have an interest in, and a contribution to make on, the North.It is, as Senator Joe O'Reilly said, by engagement and human interaction that we can learn and build. I was struck by his contribution in terms of the CLÁR and the sports capital grant and equally by the fact that is about engagement, by the visits of last Tuesday and by the people Senator Conway-Walsh spoke about and by having them in Leinster House, the people's house. We are the representatives of the people. It is about listening to and engagement with people that we can do that. I would be very happy to have that debate on the North and to have the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney, come to the House after the St. Patrick's Day break. I thank Members for their positive contributions this morning.
The most important point from this morning's debate on the Order of Business is that we are open to working with and to engaging in dialogue to represent the people and to build a better Ireland. That is an Ireland where we are all equal and in which we can all aspire to be who we want to be.
Senator Ardagh raised an issue which Senator Devine raised the other morning, namely, Tusla. As I said then, and I will repeat it, the report was baffling and I will invite the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Zappone, to the House after St. Patrick's Day.
Gangland crime is a major source of worry to all Members and all communities. Senator Ardagh failed to recognise that this Government and the previous one reopened Templemore, the Garda training college and €1.8 billion has been given to An Garda Síochána to combat gangland crime and to look at ways to deter the criminal and the thug from continuing on this murderous spree.
Senator Ó Céidigh made a good contribution on small and medium enterprises and I would be very happy to have a debate following on from the report of the Seanad Public Consultation Committee. Competitiveness is important as are the points made by Senator Ó Céidigh in the context of Brexit. He must have listened to the Taoiseach's speech about tax, recognising entrepreneurship and enabling people to get up early and go to work. I am glad Senator Ó Céidigh is listening to the Taoiseach.
The good news Senator Craughwell is that unemployment is decreasing and there are more people at work now that at any time in the history of our State. Senator Craughwell was in Belfast when I made the point on the Order of Business about the increase in wages, but we will have a debate on that in due course.
I referred to Senator Conway-Walsh's comments and the important point is that in a post-Brexit era it is about listening to and working with Border communities.
Senator Humphreys spoke about the defective housing in housing estates. The Irish Times ran a series of articles on the matter. The worry for all of us, and the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government is not wrong, is that there is an open-ended liability if that is the line we follow. I agree with Senators Humphreys and Wilson that there is a need to go after those responsible. I have been in apartment complexes where one could put a car through the hole in the wall. In my city of Cork, one such apartment block was demolished. I am aware of Priory Hall. I agree with Members that we need to find a solution but it is a complex issue and has to be balanced by addressing the needs of the residents who bought apartments and houses in good faith and the responsibilities of the developer and the insurance companies. I will be happy to have the Minister come to the House to have a debate on the matter. We may not get a solution to it that might to the liking of Members but I will be happy to have a debate because I am aware that some councils have spent money on it.
I am open to finding solutions. What I said was that we might not find a solution during the debate but I am open to finding one because we need to recognise the hurt and the financial distress to homeowners in these cases.
Senator Reilly spoke about obesity and the decision to grant planning permission to a fast food outlet in Fingal, which is disturbing. We are trying to promote Healthy Ireland and to reduce the level of obesity. I note there was a report today that called for the removal of vending machines selling chocolate and sweets in hospitals. The same principle applies in terms of the proximity of such places to crèches and schools. This is a worry that should be addressed.
Senator Leydon in his interesting contribution spoke about the contents of the deposit boxes in the bank vaults. I do not know whether I agree with Senator Kieran O'Donnell's proposal. The point he made on bank vaults was that the banks have an opportunity to work with the families of those who own the properties and the documentation in the vaults. The Dormant Accounts Fund has proved very successful.
Senator Warfield raised an issue in respect of the Eurovision Song Contest. I note his contribution. There is a part of me that agrees with him, that Ireland should boycott the Eurovision but another part thinks we should not. I agree that Israel must not be allowed to use Eurovision as a propaganda weapon or tool or that any immoral or illegal behaviour cannot be condoned. It should be condemned outright. The Eurovision is not a political event and has never been used, apart from the voting perhaps, as a political activity but there are legitimate concerns being expressed by a variety of people on the hosting of the Eurovision by Israel. I am slow to boycott. If it was a sporting event, I would say the same thing, but I understand the points made and the right to legitimate protest is one that I welcome. I thank the Senator for raising the matter on the Order of Business.
Senator Ned O'Sullivan raised the issue of the Taoiseach's remarks last night. I was not in Clontarf Castle for the speech to which he referred. I think he should have said also that the Taoiseach recognised that the role played by Fianna Fáil in offering political stability was to be welcomed. The point made by the Taoiseach was that the Fianna Fáil spokesperson raised points about overselling the political declaration and that it might not work but it has worked. The political declaration, or the withdrawal agreement-----
Read it. The reality is that the Fianna Fáil Party has had an incoherent position since the beginning. The Taoiseach said also that the Fianna Fail leader is pretty good at wagging the finger the whole time. He is one of the best men I know for never being wrong about anything.
The point the article highlights is that the centre must always hold in politics. I agree with Senator Ned O'Sullivan's comments in that regard. The other point relates to the threat to themselves or to us. We should all condemn the people to whom the Senator refers who are protesting outside the homes of Government Ministers and other politicians. Such behaviour has no place in a democracy. These protestors should be condemned out of hand. The Taoiseach was right in this regard. We are fair game on one level. By all means people may come to our offices and meet us but they should not engage with our families or our staff. I make that point very strongly.
Senator Conway's contribution regarding civil society, the Abbey Theatre and any opportunity to address the Seanad in this regard is really a matter for the Committee on Procedure and Privileges. I would be happy to defer to the committee in respect of these matters.
I thank Senators in advance for their co-operation on the Brexit omnibus Bill, which is due to come before the House next week. We are due to sit earlier next Tuesday. I encourage all Senators to participate in the debate. It is the biggest and most important debate we will have in the context of the future of our country. I hope all Senators will participate in the Second Stage and Committee Stage debates.