Tuesday, 12 March 2019
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union (Consequential Provisions) Bill 2019 - Second Stage to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business with the contribution of group spokespersons not to exceed 12 minutes, time can be shared, and all other Senators not to exceed eight minutes, and No. 2, a motion on the proceedings of the Committee and Remaining Stages of the Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union (Consequential Provisions) Bill 2019 to be taken at the conclusion of No. 1, without debate.
Before I call Senator Ardagh I might ask the Leader to reflect on the issue of the Commencement matters. We had difficulties because of the Ministers who have travel engagements. I wonder whether it is superfluous to have Commencement matters for Wednesday and Thursday as Ministers may not be available as they have functions to fulfil. I ask the Leader to reflect on this before tomorrow.
It would be remiss of me not to mention Brexit. We are waiting with bated breath for the outcome of today's vote in Westminster. It is probably naive of us to hope that the new deal agreed last night will be passed in light of the legal opinion of the Attorney General. Obviously it is in our interest and in the interest of the country. I am grateful that all of the political parties are behind the Government in ensuring that our ultimate aim and purpose is that we do not have a no-deal Brexit and that we do not return to having a Border on the island. I wish the Government luck during the next week. I commend Dearbhail McDonald on her programme "Fertility Shock" that was broadcast last night. The Government has laid out an assisted human reproduction Bill but has not yet put it before this House or the Dáil. One in four couples in Ireland struggles with infertility and just after Christmas, the Government put aside a small fund of €1 million, which is a pittance in the scheme of things, to help couples who are in need of financial support on their fertility journey. As fertility treatment is a very costly process, the Government should bring forward the Bill and the Seanad is a good place to do so. We in Fianna Fáil would be delighted to support it and call for a debate on the matter. Dearbhail McDonald outlined her own personal journey. She said that not only does it affect people personally but it also has a societal impact whereby one has an aged society. She commented that in Japan, there are more adults in nappies than there are children. Fertility is something of which we all should be aware. Many women in their 20s and 30s are blissfully unaware of their declining fertility. A simple anti-Müllerian hormone, AMH, test or an antral follicle test can shed a lot of light on a woman's prospects for fertility at a later age. Whether or not the Bill is put forward, there should be a debate in this House on fertility and assisted human reproduction.
Last night, I attended a meeting of a community-led subgroup of a drugs task force for the whole of Dublin South-Central, from the canals to Crumlin. It was agreed anecdotally by many people who work in this area that there has been a citywide increase in the use of crack cocaine because it is cheaper and widely available. In Dublin South-Central alone, the Crumlin area has gone through eight Garda superintendents in the past three years. At present, no Garda superintendent has been appointed to oversee the Crumlin area. When will a Garda superintendent be appointed for the Crumlin area because there is a lacuna at the moment? Moreover, there are only seven youth workers for the Crumlin area when previously, there were as many as 20.
First, we seem to not invest in inner-city areas, which are the most deprived and need the most help. Second, we only react when there is an absolute crisis. We need to invest in our youth at the early stages. We need to ensure there are proper facilities, amenities and Garda resourcing. In addition, the cuts to community drugs task forces and community sector must be reversed.
There is a new phenomenon in Dublin, of which many people are aware, whereby gangs are arranging to meet online using Snapchat and other social media. Such activity is very hard to police but the Garda can tackle it if it is given the resources and there is a will to do so. Recently, 150 youths gathered in Dolphin's Barn and a few youths were assaulted there, about which the Garda said it could do nothing. Two years ago, however, there was a similar issue in another part of Dublin where the Garda examined CCTV footage after the event. As a result the Garda discovered who some of the youths were and actually went to their homes. We need to resource the Garda and ensure there is proper community policing. Most importantly, the Government should appoint a Garda superintendent for the Crumlin area.
When will the Government recognise there is more to Irish politics than political parties? The Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Phelan, has proposed an initiative to attract more women into local politics in which he is offering €100 per candidate to political parties. What about the fine Independent women who represent their local communities throughout the country? If this Government was serious about wanting women in politics, they would provide crèche facilities in local council areas and incentives for women to participate at reasonable hours of the day, not late into the night. They would provide incentives for women who are post maternity or post delivering a child where they would have additional supports to allow them to continue on. Politics is the only profession in which a woman, having delivered a child, cannot take maternity leave because her seat depends on her activity within the political area.While it is good to see the Minster of State, Deputy Phelan, providing funding to assist women, the notion that it apply only to political parties is repugnant in every way.
On a separate issue but again related to careers, research carried out by Amárach Research for the Representative Association of Commissioned Officers, RACO, shows that 79% of officers entering the Defence Forces see themselves departing in their 30s. It is no longer seen as a career but a stepping stone to one. This is to the detriment of the Defence Forces. If one allies it to the current initiative by the Minister of State to undertake continuous recruitment, we must ask where are we going. Do we not understand the only way to solve the problem in the Defence Forces is through retention? If we continue on this route, we will finish up with the Defence Forces - the Army, the Naval Service and the Air Corps - being staffed by very senior officers and NCOs and very junior officers, private soldiers, airmen and sailors. Those in the experienced middle ranks will have dissipated and left the Defence Forces forever. This week the Defence Forces have called out yet again on the issue of bomb disposal duties. We have to change the mood music in that regard and start to attract people to stay. The only way to do this is by giving them a living wage, something we are not doing. The Leader will refer me to the Public Service Pay Commission which is analysing salary entitlements in the Defence Forces, but we have to keep this issue on the agenda or there will be no one left in the Defence Forces at the rate things are going. Personnel are walking out of them. We are losing 80 officers a year, while enlisted men and women who have completed an apprenticeship in the Defence Forces are buying themselves out at a cost of up to €40,000. That cannot continue.
It is deeply regrettable that the nurses have not found a solution to their industrial dispute. Therefore, I fear the worst for the health service in the coming days and weeks.
We are awaiting the result of the vote this evening in the House of Commons at Westminster on the latest Brexit debacle. It is astounding to learn that the British Prime Minister never sought agreement or consulted the UK Attorney General before she went to the European Union for the latest round of attempts to secure agreement. We need to be very mindful that there will be no good Brexit for the island of Ireland and that the people of the North voted against it. They do not want it. Therefore, we must ensure there will be no return to a hard border on the island of Ireland and no undermining of the Good Friday Agreement. That has been our bottom line from day one. It is what Sinn Féin has sought to achieve. The backstop, as contained in the withdrawal agreement, is the only way to legally guarantee that outcome. Sinn Féin will seek confirmation from the Taoiseach in the Dáil today and this House that the withdrawal agreement and the backstop have not been diminished or diluted in any way. That is of huge importance to the whole island.
I highlight information we have gathered on the staffing of primary care centres and especially the number of centres throughout the State that do not have a GP. Let us take County Mayo as an example. There is no GP in the primary care centres in Ballinrobe and Claremorris. In the primary care centre in Castlebar there is only 0.06 of a physiotherapist, whatever that is supposed to mean. There are no psychologists in the centre in Ballinrobe. My point is that all of the investment in primary care centres is of no use whatsoever if we do not have the staff to serve the communities in which they are located. If there is a huge primary care centre and no GP, one might well ask what is the point in having it.The Minister for Health needs to consider how that feeds into the acute hospitals such as Mayo University Hospital in respect of numbers of people waiting on trolleys or in the emergency department at any given time, to ensure that the primary care centres are fully staffed, as they need to be. Mayo has 0.06 of a physiotherapist and hundreds of people, including children with disabilities, waiting for physiotherapy in the county and other counties. That is not acceptable. There needs to be investment in the personnel in primary care centres as well as investment in the infrastructure. I ask that the Minister come to the House after the St. Patrick's Day break to tell us his plans to fully staff have these centres. It is a serious problem where we do not have general GPs. Areas such as Bangor Erris in Mayo does not have a permanent GP service and this cannot be allowed to continue because people's lives and health are at risk where we do not have proper primary care GP services.
The reports from the UK about Brexit are worrying. There is no such thing as a good Brexit and the best negotiated agreement included a backstop and we need maintain its integrity. It is hugely disappointing that the debate will take place in the House of Commons over the coming hours and there will be nobody to speak for the thousands of people who voted in Northern Ireland against Brexit. It is disappointing that they have no voice in the House of Commons.
Last week, I raised the quality of building work in apartments and housing estates the length and breadth of the country. Residents in apartment blocks face repair bills of tens of thousands of euro because of fire safety, building quality and water ingress issues in their homes . Will the Leader arrange for the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government to come to the House to address these issues? It is a complicated situation but it is also distressing for the families that find themselves caught in it because, under Fianna Fáil, self-certification was allowed for these buildings during the boom. The Government cannot wash its hands of this issue. It needs to bring forward solutions for the thousands of families affected. Can the Leader say when the Minister will come to the House to speak on this important issue?
I pay a warm tribute to a near neighbour of mine in County Clare who tragically lost his life in the Ethiopian Airlines crash last Sunday morning. Michael "Mick" Ryan, was an official with the United Nations. He was a qualified engineer. He worked on the UN World Food Programme for the past few years. He worked extensively in Africa over the past decade or so. He had been in the most ravaging and terrible conditions that face humanity in this world. He worked in Ethiopia, Kenya and Afghanistan. He worked in Bangladesh with the Rohingya refugees, probably the most deprived people on our planet. Michael was a person who wanted to change the world and believed that one person can make a difference in helping change the world and shape our future in a better way for all of humanity. He practised what a lot of people preach. He put his life in danger by going into the worst possible scenarios.He worked on flood relief projects. He worked in areas where there were landslides. When he came home to Cork, where he was married and had two children, he gave advice on dealing with flood relief there. It is absolutely shocking for the people of Ennistymon and Lahinch that Michael has lost his life in such tragic circumstances. However, we and his family can be extremely proud of the enormous contribution he has made to this world. I would like to express my sympathies and the sympathies of the people of County Clare to his wife, his two young children, his mother, Christine, his sisters, Siobhán and Christine, his brother, Tiarnán, all his friends and family, the people he worked with in the UN, his friends and family in Clare and Cork and indeed the people he helped throughout the world who will mourn his loss.
I am sure we would all like to be associated with the Senator's comments on the very tragic circumstances of Mr. Ryan's demise. It just shows how we all are corks in the ocean. I offer my sympathy to his family on this very sad occasion.
I, too, would like to be associated with the comments of Senator Conway on Michael Ryan. It is an absolutely tragic loss for his wife and children and his mother, who spoke amazingly well yesterday on television and on the radio. She showed great composure in acknowledging the great work he had been doing. I know Lahinch and Ennistymon quite well. I had occasion yesterday to meet the Kenyan ambassador and pass on my sympathies. Kenya was the country with the largest loss of life from this tragic incident.
In respect of the airlines, I understand that Ryanair, which is our country's largest airline in terms of aircraft, will be taking delivery of this particular model, one next month, two in May and two in June and onwards. Ryanair has an order for 150 of them. I am certainly not trying to get into a row with Michael O'Leary or anyone else but, whatever the glitch, it does seem more than a coincidence that we have had two brand new aircraft of this model seemingly being lost in very similar circumstances just as they take off. Hopefully Boeing and the aviation world can get to grips with this. We have all flown on 737s over the years and they are a particularly safe aircraft generally. I ask that this be done.
In respect of Brexit, it does not look like this deal is going to pass. The European Research Group, ERG, members are saying they are not supporting it. It is not enough for them. The British Attorney General has said it improves it but not enough. Whatever concerns we might have had about the deal that was announced last night are probably not going to come to pass because it does not look like the deal is going to pass. I wish Sinn Féin luck in getting the Taoiseach into the Dáil. I think he is halfway to Washington at this stage. I would be surprised if he were able to come back just for Senator Conway-Walsh or any of her colleagues.
I am aware of some of them. We sit on a committee together. I said I wished her luck. I did not say she could not do it. We all hope Brexit pans out in the least worst fashion possible. Perhaps if this deal does not happen we will go for a second vote and it will all have been a bad dream. However, I am not sure we will get that far too soon, either.
On the issue Senator Humphreys raised about fire safety in apartment buildings, I would like to see a debate in this House about the merits or otherwise of a building regulator. So many units were built and planning permissions granted during the boom. Stuff happened, stuff was built. Architects were supposed to have been involved, as were quality surveyors. There should have been supervision. I thought there was supervision and now we are talking about percentages of-----
I am just asking for it now.I may not have been here in the past but I am here for the moment.
We should look at the merits of a building regulator and having somebody to examine commercial, residential and other units to ensure they are built to the specifications in their planning permissions. It is unfair on people who spent a significant amount of money to buy units only to discover significant safety defects. It is unbelievable that so many units were built that were not built to the expected specifications.
I will briefly mention two things arising from what Senator Horkan said. I had a rush-hour trip through the city centre in a taxi the other day and while I looked through the window I noticed many large buildings for student accommodation across the city. I am not against student accommodation as it is needed and it is very important. However, it seems strange that student accommodation, hotels and offices are the focus of the construction industry in our capital city while social and affordable housing, or any large-scale accommodation, is not being built. One can go back to the crash for the causes of this but the Government's policies can and do affect the pattern of the construction industry's activities. The time has come to take a look at why some buildings are being built and others are not. It cannot be to do with the overall state of the economy and must be to do with factors which are within our capacity to affect and to vary.
In the aftermath of the death of the Hawe family, in circumstances with which we are all acquainted, the question has arisen as to whether our succession law needs to be changed. As I understand it, certain people become unworthy to succeed if they commit an offence against, desert or are guilty of cruelty towards the deceased. That is perfectly good and sensible law, although it may have to be varied in light of recent events on the north side of Dublin, which I will not go into any further.
As things stand, the last man standing ends up being the next of kin. If that person is deceased, the question of whether or not he or she is unworthy to succeed is not taken into account. When one looks for next of kin or related people, one goes through a person who may have been the perpetrator of an offence and our law needs to be changed in those circumstances. It would be a good idea if the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, addressed this issue on one of his frequent trips to this House and if the Leader could make some time available for him to deal with the issue.
I have been raising issues in the beef industry in this House over the past few months. We are in a crisis and there are serious issues with cattle being killed and deflated prices which have knock-on effects, particularly in marts. I was in a mart yesterday where nearly 1,800 calves went through, some of which were sold for less than 50 cent, when they were making €110 last year. There is a particular issue with bull Friesian calves.There is a need for some joined-up thinking on the matter. There are ferry departure times and 14 or 15 independent exporters. In many ways, we need to ensure they will work together as one unit. An exporters' association needs to be put in place, particularly for those involved in the beef calf trade, to enable exporters to work together with the ferry companies and with one another to ensure we can get the product to the marketplace in France where there is a significant demand for veal and calves. While there is an issue with lairage, if exporters can work together, we can sort out these issues. There are 14 or 15 independent operators and the knock-on effect is that they will continue to make their profit margin. There is no exporter not making money. God only knows what money they are making. The only person being squeezed in this scenario is the dairy or beef farmer. Last year dairy calves were costing anything between €60 and €110. Yesterday 380 dairy bull calves were sold for less than 50 cent. This is the stuff of 1960. It is bizarre that we have such an issue nowadays. We need the exporters to work together. It suits them to have a state of flux in the industry because the more chaois there is in it, the more money they can make. We need the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine to engage and ensure an exporters' association will be put in place. If that was to happen, we could ensure we would move forward in the live trade and getting the vast number of Friesian bull calves off the island.
While I do not intend to take from the merits of the Senator's contribution, I am reminded of a story from the area of west Cork in which I live. In the early 1970s a farmer went to the market with two calves, but they were so bad he returned with six and without having sold them.
My party wants to be fully associated with the comments of Senator Conway on Michael Ryan.
On Brexit, my personal view is that the only solution is a general election in Britain. The level of incompetence displayed by the Tories brings the matter to a height beyond even our wildest imagination. Last weekend I travelled to Britain to speak at a conference on combating the far right. It was ironic that I did not have to travel to London to combat it because as I was leaving its supporters surrounded me at Shannon Airport where at least a couple of hundred US soldiers were on their way to war zones in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan. Deputy Clare Daly has recently asked questions in the Dáil of several Ministers and we have seen considerable leeway being give in aeroplanes carrying armaments. It is a shocking state of affairs. The Leader will be aware that I have been raising the matter for the best part of three years and that my request has been simple at all times, namely, that we have a specific debate on the use of Shannon Airport because it represents a shameful abuse of our neutrality. We cannot escape our role in the wars of aggression and horror, including in Yemen, which we actively support by allowing the US military to use Shannon Airport. It is time for the silence on the use of Shannon Airport to end. If one thinks it is right for us to support these horrific wars, one should stand up and say so. However, there is silence, which is not good enough. Therefore, I ask for a debate on the issue because it is time for the use of Shannon Airport to stop. Our civilian airport must be given back. I have been asking for a debate on the issue for a long time and ask the Leader to respect my request by scheduling a debate in order that we can discuss the topic and hear what everyone on all sides has to say about it.
I frequently speak about tourism and related issues in Athlone because, as everybody knows, I think it is the centre of the universe. However, on this occasion, I wish to speak about the decision made by Dublin Port to curtail the use of its facilities by cruise ships and liners because of Brexit. It is a massive blow to those involved in tourism nationwide. Dublin Port has told agents that there will be a reduced number of berth spaces up to 2021 and that after 2021 there will be no major turnarounds at the port.Cruise liners and the industry associated with them are worth approximately €50 million to the country and will be severely damaged. A turnaround liner is a liner which comes into Dublin Port, from which people come into Dublin, spend money, have overnight stays and eat out, then re-board the liner at Dublin Port. It is worth a lot to the country. If there are fewer berths at Dublin Port, there will be fewer ships. These ships will go elsewhere, through countries that will be delighted to take them. If we lose them, we will not get them back. I ask the Leader to request the Minister with responsibility for tourism to come into the House to give us an update on it. Perhaps he will keep an eye on his own portfolio and take his nose out of other portfolios. Perhaps he will fight for tourism in this country so that we can maintain the tourism that we have worked very hard to rebuild since coming into government in 2011. It is vital that he comes in to update the House.
Today, I would like to talk about gambling. It is estimated that we lose over €2 billion to gambling every year in this country but it is impossible to know how much we as a nation are losing. Many of us gamble and do not even know that we are doing it. Many events are tied into gambling and instant betting is acceptable on phones and laptops. There is no longer the stigma of being seen leaving the local gambling spot to stop people from being sucked in. Estimates are that a third of those gambling losses are from people with severe gambling problems, with 40,000 admitted gambling addicts who each lose approximately €18,000 annually. How many people truly know that they are addicted?
A year ago, the book entitled "Tony 10", written by the former An Post manager, Tony O'Reilly, revealed the horrendous consequences of gambling addiction. It did an incredible amount to raise awareness, which I always talk about. It is close to criminal that the Gambling Control Bill, first introduced by my party, Fianna Fáil, is still not enacted after six years. It is astonishing how easy it is to become addicted and those involved are often unaware of what is happening. We need more stories such as Tony's. He comes from Carlow which is why I know his story has changed lives. I have seen it with my own eyes in my home county.
We cannot leave the shadows that surround addiction unlit. We have to shine a light for people to see what is happening to them, their loved ones and their lives. Counselling and rehabilitation services provide care to those presenting with a gambling addiction but they have to present first. We need to raise awareness of what gambling is, what it does when it goes too far and what it has done to people's lives in this country. It starts here. I know that the Minister was in two weeks ago but when will the final report from the interdepartmental working group on gambling come back to the Seanad? This has been going on for too long. This gambling issue needs to be sorted and the Oireachtas owes it to the people of Ireland to pass this Bill.
I wish to express my absolute dismay and disappointment at the decision of the energy regulator with regard to the Mayo power plant at the Asahi site in Killala, County Mayo. It seems that its decision sounds the death-knell for the short-term delivery of a 45 MW high-efficiency, combined heat and power, biomass-fuelled power plant at this location. This is devastating for the area. The construction of the power plant would bring jobs and it is partially constructed, with €95 million spent out of €255 million for the project. There would also be jobs when it is operational. We will also lose out on an alternative source of income for farmers in a local economy. I concur with Senator Lombard about the suckler and beef farmer crisis. There is the potential to grow willow, which would be fed into this combined heat and power plant, and to create woodchips. There is planning permission for a data centre on this site. A selling point was that there could be a green energy power plant here, which is now being brought into question. There is national interest here in that, in 2020, we face fines for failing to meet our targets for renewable heat and electricity, and this perfectly fine project has been dealt a blow by the regulator.I have already taken this up with the Minister, Deputy Bruton, and I have spoken to the Chairman of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Hildegarde Naughton. I would like the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, to come to the House because this is a terrible body blow to north Mayo and the Mayo region in general. This was to have been a catalyst for us.
My beef with the regulator is as follows. This project was partially built and in 2016 owing to financial difficulty with one of the banks, the developer had to go into liquidation. A new developer has come on board. It has consents from all Government agencies involved as well as ESB Networks. Mayo County Council extended the planning permission and EPA approval was granted. The only problem has been with the regulator which previously certified this project at a rate of 100% and has now turned around and certified it at 18%. It is the same project, the same regulation and the same technology. Something stinks to high heaven here. I have been raising questions behind the scenes and on the record in this House and at the committee. The regulator has not outlined why it is now making a change to the certification which renders the project no longer commercially viable.
I would like the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, to come to the House because we are desperate for jobs, investment, etc. The matter also needs to be discussed in the context of regional development and how we are going to make jobs a reality for young people in the areas where they want to live. This is a real-time problem and I ask that this urgency be expressed to the Minister and that she be brought in as a matter of urgency to see if the project can be salvaged.
I thank the 13 Members of the House for their contributions. I join Senators Conway, Horkan and Gavan in offering sympathy to the family of the late Michael Ryan who was tragically killed over the weekend in the Ethiopian Airlines accident. His life has been taken tragically at such a young age. To his mother, Christine, his wife, Naoise, his two sons and their extended family I offer my deepest sympathies and those of the House. We thank him for his immense contribution and service to the enhancement of the lives of people in many parts of the world. As Senator Conway so eloquently said, it was about making life better for people and ensuring that their lives were enhanced.
It is important that today we remember the late Billy Fox, a former Fine Gael Senator from County Monaghan, who was so tragically killed 45 years ago on this day. His life was cut so short when he was shot and killed by the Provisional IRA. We remember him today as a former Member of this House.
I remind Senators that if the Order of Business is concluded at, say, 1.55 p.m., there will be no sos and we will go straight into the debate on the Brexit legislation. I just want to prepare people in case they think there will be a break. We will be straight into action once the Leader has concluded.
I hope I will not take that long.
Five Members of the House, Senators Ardagh, Conway-Walsh, Humphreys, Horkan and Gavan, raised the issue of Brexit. As we will have the debate later in the day, I would rather not add to that. I will just say that the advice of the UK Attorney General has been noted by everybody. He said that the legal risk remained but that what was agreed last night was an improvement. I hope our colleagues in Westminster will have the political courage to accept the deal to ensure we will not have a hard Brexit and that we will not have a hard border on this island. I certainly hope that can take place today. I am also cognisant that the withdrawal agreement has not been rewritten and that the backstop remains, albeit temporarily.
Senator Ardagh raised last night's programme on fertility. I commend Dearbhail McDonald on her bravery, courage and honesty in speaking on the issue. I would be happy for the Minister to come to the House to debate the matter post the break.On the issue of Garda resources, this Government reopened Templemore and increased resources to the Garda. Unfortunately, or fortunately if one prefers, the operational matter of the allocation of superintendents and chief superintendents is a matter for the Garda Commissioner, and the Crumlin Garda area is not a matter for me or the House to discuss.
Senator Craughwell raised the issue of the payment offer by the Minister of State, Deputy Phelan. The information I have for my learned friend and colleague is that the Minister of State has asked that the scheme be open to all candidates so they can avail of it. On the point the Senator made in regard to the Defence Forces, we had the debate with the Minister of State, Deputy Kehoe, in the past couple of weeks and we will have him back in the House soon. It is important that we recognise the importance of the work the members of the Defence Forces perform. We can sometimes get into a spiral of talking down our Defence Forces. Senator Craughwell pre-empted some of my reply to him. To be fair to him and Senator McFadden, who have repeatedly raised the matter in the House, the number of personnel in the Defence Forces stands at 94% of its planned strength, notwithstanding the issue of pay. I fully accept the point made by Senator Craughwell that there is a need to do more for the Defence Forces, and the Public Sector Pay Commission is sitting to deal with this. The number of personnel on family income supplement is approximately 1% of the Defence Forces strength, or 90 people, although I accept it is 90 too many. We must work to ensure the strength of the Defence Fores is maintained and, equally, that there is promotion and retention and people see the unique and demanding positions they fill are ones in which there can be a lifelong career. I will be happy to bring the Minister of State back to the House regarding the matter raised.
I agree that Senators Craughwell and McFadden have been champions of the Defence Forces in this House. We need to ensure there is pay restoration and pay reward for members of our Defence Forces.
Senator Conway-Walsh raised the issue of primary care. She is right that there is a need to conclude the talks between GPs and the Department of Health on the new GP scheme. We need doctors as part of primary care provision. This Government, as the Senator knows well, is committed to developing primary care models and the primary care service as part of the Sláintecare report, which is an all-party document. The important point is that funding for primary care has been increased by €50 million in 2019, which means additional resourcing will be available to deliver on the need for primary care facilities. I do not have the figures or the information regarding the facilities in Mayo to which the Senator referred but I would be happy to talk to her about that later. Perhaps a Commencement matter would be a way to get a more expeditious answer.
Senators Humphreys and Horkan raised the important issue of safety in apartments and houses post Priory Hall. Senator Humphreys is right that it is an issue that needs to be addressed. I have put in a request to the Minister, Deputy Murphy, to come to the House, although I have not had the opportunity to finalise the date. It is a distressing situation and families should not be in that position. I raised the point the last day in the context that while a blank cheque is not available, it is about finding a solution. The Government has made strides in different legislation and building codes. Senator Horkan made a point about the building regulator. We will not go back to Priory Hall and the anomalies that existed under his party's watch in government. The important point is that we cannot compromise on health and safety or building standards, nor should we. I would be happy for the Minister to come to the House in regard to the matters raised.
Senator Horkan also raised the important issue of airline safety, especially in regard to the Boeing 737 MAX aeroplane.There are experts in the field, such as the Federal Aviation Administration, FAA, in the United States, which has said that it can continue to be used, but I am concerned that we are compromising on safety in our aircraft. I hope the fleet will be more regularly inspected and monitored than hitherto. It is important to ensure there are high standards and that the safety of passengers and crew is uppermost in what we do, rather than just turning aircraft around and making profits. The point the Senator made is relevant. On the issue he raised regarding the building regulator, I will be happy to invite the Minister to the House to discuss the matter.
Senator McDowell raised housing and student accommodation. We all welcome the construction of student accommodation. It was a failure of the planning system that when many third level institutions were expanded, the provision of student accommodation in tandem with that was not included. The Government is aware of the ongoing challenges in the housing sector and, despite the headlines, it is making progress. Under Rebuilding Ireland, the Government is committed to building both social and private housing. Some 14,500 new homes were built in 2017, an increase of 50%. The budget for 2019 is €2.4 billion to support 27,000 housing support units, the creation of 10,000 new homes and taking people out of homelessness. It is a challenge we must get right and we are committed to doing that.
The succession issue which the Senator raised arising from the Hawe case requires a response from the Government. Between dealing with the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill, the Judicial Council Bill and other legislative measures in the justice area, I will invite the Minister to discuss that. The Senator made an important point regarding succession and, therefore, I am happy to invite the Minister for Justice and Equality to the House at the earliest opportunity.
Senators Lombard and Mulherin raised the important issue of our beef industry and the depressed cattle prices. The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Creed, was away last week working on opening new markets. I will invite him to the House after the St. Patrick's Day parade and the St. Patrick's Day trips across the world. I take this opportunity to wish all those who are travelling abroad, including you, a Chathaoirligh, every success with their missions. It is about selling and promoting Ireland, in the post-Brexit era, as a country with a modern business community that is very much open for business. I wish you, a Chathaoirligh, and all the Ministers well in that regard.
Senator Gavan raised the issue of the far right. I hope he read Deputy Paul Murphy's document last week. I am glad the Senator can smile but I am trying to picture one or two of his colleagues in that little cameo and where they fit in that jigsaw. I am amused sometimes by people. I appreciate the Senator's sincerity about the far right and the use of Shannon Airport. I would not call the soldiers of the US Army far right.
She made the point that the chief executive, Mr. O'Reilly, spoke about the increasing freight and the need to make space in a post-Brexit world. The points made by the Senator are applicable to Dublin Port and to Cobh. The towns and areas adjacent to them are very much dependent on tourism from cruise liners for a variety of reasons.I would be very disappointed if Dublin Port were to maintain that policy. I am happy to have the Minister come to the House to-----
No. He will be here on 4 April.
Senator Murnane O'Connor raised the issue of gambling. As she knows, we had a very good debate in the House on 27 February on that matter. I commend Senator Craughwell and his Independent colleagues on their Private Members' motion. Gambling legislation in this country needs to be modernised and better regulation needs to be put in place. The interdepartmental working group is due to report imminently on the matter. To be fair, the Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality, Deputy Stanton, is very much engaged on the matter. I hope that the working group's report will be published as soon as possible. As the Cathaoirleach pointed out earlier, today is the beginning of the Cheltenham festival. I am not sure who won the first race at 1.30 p.m.
I hope that people will gamble and bet sensibly this week. As the Senator said, problem gambling can have a very pernicious effect on families and I thank her for raising the issue.
Senator Mulherin raised the issue of the Asahi plant in County Mayo and the importance of same for job creation in the region. I am happy to invite the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation to the House to discuss the matter.