Wednesday, 13 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 - Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken at 12.45 p.m. in accordance with the arrangements agreed to in a motion of the House on 12 March 2019; and No. 2, motion for earlier signature of the Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union (Consequential Provisions) Bill 2019, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of No. 1.
I thank the Leader for outlining the Order of Business. We will be dealing with Brexit all day.
It is said a week is a long time in politics, but the past 24 hours have been very long and eventful in the politics of Brexit. The recently published suggestion that the British Government allow goods to move freely between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland but not between the Republic of Ireland and mainland Britain without tariffs is very challenging. When the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Creed, spoke on radio this morning, he said it would be an absolute disaster. The Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, said it would be absolutely disastrous. A no-deal Brexit is still a lose-lose proposition for all of us, including the United Kingdom which could not benefit from it in the slightest. It is important to recognise that 48% of our beef, 21% of our dairy produce, 46% of our cheddar cheese and almost 100% of our mushrooms are exported to the United Kingdom. The plan not to have tariffs on trade with the North but to have them on trade with mainland Britain would absolutely decimate the agrifood sector. The president of the IFA, Mr. Joe Healy, has mentioned how difficult it would be. We know and understand why the Minister, Deputy Creed; the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney; the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, and other members of Government are away. It is important that they fly the flag for Ireland across the globe, but the British Government's publication of tariffs has ramped up the situation in a very negative way. If there is a vote in the House of Commons to prevent a no-deal Brexit, I hope it will be passed. I would still prefer Article 50-----
I know, but it would reflect the will of Parliament. I hope the Government might at least consider this.
I will raise again a point I made yesterday. As I said, 24 hours is a long time in politics. I mentioned that I did not want to get into a row with Mr. Michael O'Leary and I still do not want to do so, but in the past 24 hours we have seen the European Union and Ireland and the United Kingdom individually ban for the moment the use of Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft. They are banned not only from landing at or taking off from airports in these jurisdictions but also from flying through their airspace. Approximately 350 Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft have been delivered, but orders have been placed for more than 5,000, including 135 for Ryanair, with the option to buy another 70. Ryanair is due to take delivery of the aircraft in April and May. It is important to recognise that Ryanair has an outstanding safety record, as does Aer Lingus. Ryanair has never been involved in an incident involving fatalities. It provides an absolutely fantastic service, but all of the people who use it regularly, including me, would probably prefer not to fly in these aircraft until the investigations have concluded. Whatever glitch in the software or other issue caused aircraft only a few months old to be involved in very similar incidents just after take-off needs to be reflected on. Mr. O'Leary has said he has not yet changed his plans, but it is important that he take on board the concerns of the entire world's aviation sector, particularly those involved in it in Europe, Asia and other areas which have banned the aircraft. For the continued safety and comfort of all of the passengers who fly with Ryanair, he might postpone taking delivery of the new aircraft until the problems have been clarified, explained and sorted out.
For once there is a positive story about the Defence Forces this morning. I compliment PDFORRA, the Department of Defence and the Minister of State on agreeing to withdraw the case in the High Court in respect of the working time directive and refer it for mediation.I hope that we see a positive outcome. Following the debate we had with the Minister of State some days ago, it is very positive that he has taken this step to try to reduce the cost to the State and ensure there is an amicable outcome to the working time directive issue.
I wish to place on record my gratitude to the Irish Defence Forces Veterans Association for organising the participation by veterans in the St. Patrick's Day events. The association has extended the hand of friendship to all veterans' organisations, including the United Nations organisation, the Organisation of National Ex-Service Personnel and veterans from other jurisdictions. It is very noble of the association to do that. I wish them well and hope to be there with them myself.
Finally, the Sea-Fisheries (Amendment) Bill has been scheduled for debate here tomorrow. I am sure a number of us have been approached by members of the fishing community in the north east and been asked to suspend any discussion of this Bill until two things happen. First, that there is full discussion and debate with them on their needs.
Second, discussion should be suspended until the outcome of Brexit is known. We do not want to sign ourselves up to something in fisheries that we may regret in a post-Brexit world. We saw what happened in Westminster last night. In many ways, my heart goes out to Prime Minister May. She really looked embattled in her own Parliament last night and it cannot be a comfortable place for anybody.
Brexit has thrown the whole lot of us, particularly the business people and agricultural community in this country, into a state of complete and utter disarray and panic because nobody knows where we are going. The Europeans and ourselves are very solid but we have gone as far as we are going to go. It appears as though the British cannot agree among themselves on anything but I wish them well as they struggle through this.
I second what the Senator said about the fisheries legislation. We need extensive consultation with the inshore fishermen before the Bill comes before us as otherwise, it will be rejected. We must listen to the inshore fishermen and their families.
Today, I want to talk about sodium valproate or Epilim, which is a medication used to treat epilepsy and bipolar disorder. The European Medicines Agency has restricted its use in women due to the increased risk of disabilities in children exposed to valproate in the womb. These disabilities are collectively known as foetal valproate syndrome and can include serious developmental disorders in between 30% and 40% of cases and congenital malformations in approximately 10% of cases. Data suggest that up to 1,250 children may have been born with valproate-related disabilities since the medication was licensed in Ireland in 1975.
Last year, the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health produced a report on foetal valproate syndrome and the HSE established the valproate response project group to address a range of issues such as prevention, risk minimisation, establishing incidence, diagnosis and supports for the families affected. On 22 March, a major conference on the consequences of sodium valproate or Epilim 50 years on will be held in Trinity College. I encourage all Senators and the media to attend because there is something to see here and something to hear.
The Minister for Health told me at a meeting of the joint committee that he would consider the need for an inquiry into foetal valproate syndrome as soon as the HSE's valproate response team completed its work. Therefore, we need to know when its work will be completed and when he expects to further consider the matter.
A redress scheme has been set up in France to compensate the families and individuals who have been affected by foetal valproate syndrome. It is urgent that we take a similar initiative here. The Minister must meet the foetal anticonvulsant syndrome, FACS, forum, to discuss accountability issues, as well as redress and I ask him to outline the following. How long has his Department known about the risks associated with the use of valproate in pregnancy? What actions were taken by the State to minimise these risks, in particular prior to 2014 when the European Medicines Agency implemented its first review of risk reduction measures? What is his response to the recent study published in the British Medical Journalthat concluded there was clear evidence as far back as 1990 that there were risks of congenital malformations in women exposed to valproate, and that the risks were beyond all doubt from 2005? Will he explain what is known about the prevalence of foetal valproate syndrome within the Irish population? What clinical trials were conducted on Epilim or sodium valproate in Ireland prior to its licensing in 1975? If no trials were conducted in the State, what clinical trial data were used as a basis for its approval?
Many questions remain to be answered about valproate and they must be answered. I ask the Leader to arrange for the Minister for Health to come into the House to discuss this matter. We have waited long enough for the report. In the meantime, I encourage everybody to attend the conference. I commend the mothers, some of whom will be in here this evening, who have campaigned long and hard about this matter. We have families where two or three children were born with disabilities because their mothers were allowed to take valproate when they were pregnant.
Last Sunday, I spoke at a meeting held on O'Connell Street to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Chinese invasion of Tibet. Under this the Chinese militarily absorbed a friendly neighbouring country into its regime.
I remember, in 1959, listening to the broadcast of the BBC as it followed the heroic trek by the Dalai Lama across the Himalayas to India. Thirty years ago I went on a semi-secret mission to Tibet for the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization, UNPO, to write a report on human rights. The first thing I noticed on landing in Lhasa was an enormous Chinese cement factory, which was really a small city belching out smoke. The second thing I recognised was that there were military camps all over the place with loudspeakers broadcasting Chinese propaganda. In addition, the road signs that warned of avalanches, broken roads and so on were all in the Chinese language and not in the Tibetan language. The Chinese obviously did not give a damn about the safety or the lives of the Tibetan people. In the Potala Palace, one of the monks secretly handed me a little piece of paper on which was written the words "We are not Chinese. We are Tibetan. We love the Dalai Lama". He was an immensely courageous man because he could have been executed for such an act.
What has happened in Tibet is a plantation and we, in this country, know the sorry history of plantations. Five hundred years later we are still dealing with the effective plantations in this country. Now, as a result of Chinese action, there are more Han Chinese in Tibet than there are Tibetans, which is a tragic, squalid and ghastly situation.
Frank Aiken, who was Minister for External Affairs, supported Tibet but he also even-handedly supported the inclusion of Red China in the United Nations. However, over the years, as a result of pressure from civil servants, the Irish policy has completed changed and been whittled away until now, we ignore Tibet completely. We have abandoned Tibet and recognise instead the "one China" policy. I am ashamed, as an Irishman, that we have done this because we done it for purely financial motives and it is a disgrace. It is also a disgrace that this violent change of policy was never referred to an Irish Parliament and I seek a debate on this issue.
I will make just one comment on Brexit. It seems extraordinary to me that the British would ramp up tariffs at this stage. This is an act of aggression and is a very aggressive position for Britain to take. They are basically talking about annihilating our beef industry. This is not the action of a friendly country and I take my hat off to the calm resolution of our Irish negotiators. We should be very firm on this matter. I wonder that if this should ever come about what steps the European Union will take to counter such action, because there must be countermeasures.I do not want a trade war, but if it is what they want, it is what they will get.
Yesterday, it was 30 years since the coming into existence of the worldwide web. It has fundamentally and radically changed the world. It has created a platform on which people can access information. It leads to equality of access and assists with equality of opportunity for all citizens. However, it has its downsides also. It provides a platform for hate speech and all sorts of other ugly and nasty things. Now that we are 30 years into the life of the worldwide web, it would be timely to have a debate on policing the Internet and how to do so in Ireland. Perhaps, when the House comes back after Easter, the Leader will explore the possibility of a debate on policing the worldwide web and how we can work with other jurisdictions in that regard.
Finally, I note that a lady who has worked with Senator Colm Burke and I for the last year and a half is leaving this week. I wish her all the best on behalf of Senator Burke and myself. She worked in the Oireachtas for the last year and a half, following in the footsteps of her great-grandfather, William F. O’Donnell, who was a Deputy in the 1940s, dying in office in 1947.
I welcome the announcement by the Minister of State at the Department of Defence, Deputy Kehoe, that he intends to proceed with a programme of rolling recruitment throughout the year. Numbers in the Defence Forces are in decline, which is a serious situation, and the main reason is pay and conditions. In his speech yesterday, the Minister of State used a staggering euphemism in saying he recognised that pay and conditions in the Defence Forces were "challenging". It is the understatement of the millennium. Hopefully, he will be able to address this issue through the independent Public Service Pay Commission to ensure we have realistic numbers coming back into our Defence Forces.
I have been listening to some adverse remarks about the fact that so many of our Ministers, including the Taoiseach, are abroad this week. It was highlighted by the fact that some Ministers had to return from abroad to be at the Cabinet meeting, with the Taoiseach himself having to come back from the airport. I disagree completely with these negative remarks. It is of absolute importance that the Cabinet and as many as possible of our high profile politicians in government are engaging and meeting with our Irish abroad.
That is both the documented and undocumented Irish as well as the wider diaspora. No other nation has such potential at its disposal in the wealth of talent we have in every corner of the globe. It is vital that we are seen to appreciate, acknowledge and cherish that fact. I am sure the Leader will join me in sending our good wishes from the House and all Members to our Irish-born and diaspora emigrant population, in particular as the great week of St. Patrick approaches.
I express my complete agreement with what Senator Ned O’Sullivan has just said. This mean-minded capacity on the part of some critics in Ireland to criticise Ireland availing of the St. Patrick’s Day festival internationally is counterproductive, self-harming in an extraordinary way and would achieve absolutely nothing except a diminution in the profile of Ireland internationally.
As Attorney General and as Minister, I went to very far corners of the earth on St. Patrick's Day. It was important that the functions we carried out in those states happened. It would be so easy on account of one emergency arising from Brexit to clear this item from the diaries of governments across the globe in such a manner that it would never appear again. It would be regarded as having been given up. Therefore, we should keep the momentum of the St. Patrick's Day festival and the high profile of Ireland going and should never abandon, dilute or listen to the critics who have very little to offer of a positive nature.
Last night, what happened in Westminster happened and we still have Committee Stage of the Brexit legislation to consider today. It is of interest to note that there are serious consequences for Irish agriculture in particular. Irish agriculture is a notable exception as an area not covered by the legislation for obvious and good reasons. I am not criticising that. However, this country needs to keep a steady nerve now. The same voices that would have all Ministers abandon St. Patrick’s Day are saying we should panic immediately and somehow get into a complete flurry about the consequences of a no-deal Brexit. We have to keep our nerve and be civil and all the rest of it rather than aggressive.
When the dust settles, as settle it will over three months, six months, 18 months or however long it takes, Britain will remain a close neighbour. Britain has been a great ally of this State. It has been good to us in the past and relations had improved dramatically between Dublin and London. It would be a terrible pity if the coldness which has quite obviously descended on Dublin-London relations were to persist indefinitely or if lasting damage were done. Although we can be very critical and I have been very critical myself of the small minority in the Conservative Party in England which has hijacked the party and, through that, their country towards exiting the European Union on the most damaging terms, we have to be careful in our language so that we can restore amicable relations with whoever the British people elect as their government and avoid doing lasting damage or leaving Anglo-Irish relations set back by these events.
I agree with Senators Ned O’Sullivan and McDowell about the St. Patrick’s Day trips, or visits to use the more appropriate term. One aspect that struck me when I took part as a local authority chairman from my own county was that it means a great deal to our diaspora. These are people we sometimes abandon. To give them a morale boost by meeting them and attending their festivals is important. I could not agree more with the Senators. I was very struck by the importance to people on the other side that the representatives of this country were out with them.
I take the second point Senator McDowell made on our relations with the UK. They are very important. I am very happy to be a member of the Council of Europe which will now be the only international forum at which the UK will be a full member alongside Ireland. We will be very conscious of working with the UK there and of maintaining good relations. We do so already, as Senator Gavan will be aware from his time on the council where we go out of our way to have bilateral meetings and social events with the UK delegation. We will continue to do so.
I ask the Leader specifically to ensure there is a strong focus in the House on the potential crisis facing Irish agriculture in the event of a no-deal Brexit.While I take on board Senator McDowell's point that we have to be steady and shrewd in our dealings with this, the proposed tariffs published this morning would be catastrophic, and were they to be actualised, they would create a real difficulty for Irish agriculture. We will need a very robust Common Agricultural Policy. I ask the Leader to be conscious of that, to demand that on our behalf, and to have debates around that. We will also need a package of assistance from the EU in either scenario, whether we have a crash-out Brexit or a Brexit at all. Even with a soft Brexit with currency fluctuations and trading difficulties, there will be considerable problems for Irish agriculture, and in a crash-out Brexit those problems will become much greater. In any scenario, Irish agriculture faces very difficult times ahead. It is challenged and will be very challenged. I ask the Leader to seek a very robust Common Agricultural Policy, support for Irish agriculture, and to seek for us to win the loyalty of Europe at this difficult time. It is important to keep cohesion in the Union and that the EU would back us up now.
I agree with Senator O'Reilly on the important role played by the Council of Europe. I pay particular tribute to our ambassador to the council and the team out there who, as Senator O'Reilly said, have worked very hard to build good relationships with our colleagues across parties in Britain. It will become much more important in the months ahead.
The topic I wish to raise relates to an important ESRI report on the minimum wage that seemed to have been missed by the media last week. The ESRI, the Government's own think-tank, reported last week that the 2016 increase in the minimum wage, an increase of 60 cent, which I believe is the biggest increase we have had, made no significant impact on household income, which is quite a telling statement. We are talking about the poorest workers in the State. The Government's think-tank has confirmed that an increase of 60 cent in the minimum wage made no difference in real terms to their living standards. At the heart of this issue is the need to recognise that we need to move to a living wage, and I call for a debate on this matter. Surely we should all be able to agree that those who work for a living deserve the right to earn a living. The reality is that a person on the minimum wage does not have enough money to get through the week.
There is also the added scandal of corporate welfare. Many employers benefit from paying really poor wages and then having those wages topped up by the State through family income supplements that cost us hundreds of millions of euro each year. Again, there would be largely a major saving for the State if we could move people to a living wage. This is not some abstract thought. These are actions that are happening in other countries and at local government level as well. We need a debate about this. If we can afford tax cuts, then surely to God we can afford to ensure that everyone earns a living wage in this country. It is Sinn Féin policy to make that move within the first year of becoming part of a future Government, but surely it is a point on which we should all be able to agree. If we can afford tax cuts for the wealthy, we can surely afford decent wages for working people.
Before I call the next speaker, I would like to welcome a group of retired UCD staff and their partners from the Maurice Kennedy Research Centre who are visiting Leinster House today as guests of Senator Gerry Horkan, the deputy leader of Fianna Fáil in the Seanad. You are very welcome. Whereas I never really graced the corridors of UCD in that I did my law degree in UCC, when Blackhall Place was being bought by the Law Society, we had no home to do our Law Society exams and UCD was very kind in facilitating me in my second and final law examinations while Blackhall Place was being done up. I owe it some gratitude and it looked after me well. You are all very welcome and enjoy your day. I call Senator Feighan.
I have had an interesting two days in Westminster and I attended the vote on the withdrawal agreement in the House of Commons last night. Senator McDowell was right in saying that what is now needed is bit of space, time and reflection. I attended an event called Champ, of which I am a patron, in Westminster yesterday. It has brought politicians together for the past 29 to 30 years in a space in Westminster. Whatever happens, we must work as hard as possible to ensure there are lines of co-operation, communications and friendships between the UK and the EU and between Ireland and the UK. Now more than ever that is what is needed.
Members will be aware that I am an advocate of Ireland having closer associations with the Commonwealth. I was a guest at the Commonwealth service in Westminster Abbey on Monday, and I reiterate that 32 of the 53 member countries are republics. It is a voluntary association of 53 independent sovereign states. It is the Commonwealth of Nations, not the British Commonwealth. Now more than ever we should get over our hang-ups and look at more associations. India, Pakistan and Cyprus are independent states and we can also look to Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Seventy percent of the people born on the island of Ireland residing overseas reside in Commonwealth countries. From legal, educational, sporting, cultural and political perspectives, we have major associations with them but we have a hang-up because we think of the Commonwealth as the British Commonwealth. While "God Save the Queen" was being sung, I looked at the people seated across from me, many of whom were from those nations I mentioned, and they were not singing "God Save the Queen" because the Queen is not their monarch. I wanted to outline that. We need to have a serious robust debate about that.
I will do so by saying that at the Champ event I met a member of from the Irish-British business community. I read Fionola Meredith's newspaper article this week on having a Border poll and asking if we really want a referendum on Irish unity. It was quite interesting what she wrote, that "Northern Ireland is radically dysfunctional, implacably divided and politically shipwrecked". We need to have a debate on a Border poll. One man said to me that perhaps it is time to look at having a Border poll and allowing an extension of 15 years for that. Calling for it now may not be the right thing to do but a 15-year window would provide space for unionism and nationalism and could calm people down, especially in the next few years. It was just an idea that was put forward.
I agree with my colleague, Senator McDowell, that it is time for cool heads. The publication this morning of the proposed tariffs etc. that may come into place as a result of a hard Brexit was more to send a wake-up call to the Brexiteers in the Conservative Party that this is what is facing Britain than what it would mean to people on this island. I hope we will have cool heads. I believe it will be sorted. It may take longer than anticipated but I believe it will be sorted to the satisfaction of most people. While I agree there is no such thing as a good Brexit, I believe we will get the best possible Brexit in the long run, but we will need to remain calm.
I join Senators Craughwell and Conway-Walsh in highlighting concern about the Sea-Fisheries (Amendment) Bill 2017. I am aware it is not scheduled for discussion today because it part of the business ordered for tomorrow. I highlight that there are concerns about that Bill progressing through this House at this time. It is, after all, a Seanad Bill. I do not want to see this House being used to rush through legislation mainly for the sake of optics.That is what I believe is happening in this regard because after it passes through this House, if it so passes, it must go to the Lower House, and there is no mention of it on the Dáil schedule for the coming weeks. What is the rush? We should take time to look rationally at what has been proposed in this legislation. I am putting the Leader on notice that we will not be agreeing to allow all Stages of this Bill go through this House tomorrow. I ask the Leader to use his good offices to speak with the Minister, Deputy Creed, and to the Government Chief Whip to ensure we are not put in the position of having to do that tomorrow. There is no need to rush this legislation, particularly at this time when we are awaiting for an outcome to Brexit.
I want to briefly add to and support the comments of colleagues, including Senator Wilson, who was the last Member to speak on the issue of the Sea-Fisheries (Amendment) Bill. This is a sensitive time in North-South relations. I believe it is the wrong time to be introducing this legislation, to be quite frank about it. This legislation was before these Houses two years ago and the Minister did not have the support to proceed at that time. The fact that he has not consulted at all in the intervening period with fishermen, either in the Republic or in the North, leaves a lot to be desired. The fact that the Taoiseach raised public comments about this Bill last week and the Minister appears to be bringing it in here just before St. Patrick's Day means that it is rushed legislation. That is wrong and there has been no consultation. It would lead to the widespread exploitation of our natural resources within the six-mile limit. That is something that needs to be discussed and managed very carefully and sensitively. This Bill does neither of those things. Consequently, this Bill should not come before this House until such time as proper consultation occurs with the fishing industry, particularly the inshore fishermen right along the coast. This impacts fishermen, in particular in areas like Dundalk and Donegal, and they have not been consulted at all. Their livelihoods are at stake. We are talking about hundreds of jobs here that potentially could be wiped out as a result of the introduction of this Bill. Any attempt to introduce this Bill tomorrow will be opposed from this side of the House during the Order of Business tomorrow.
I wish to raise today the new rules for learner drivers that were brought in at the start of the year. This has had a huge effect on young people in rural Ireland. To expect to have a qualified driver sitting beside a young person 24 hours of the day, going to and coming from work, is absolutely ridiculous. I have been speaking to employers, where young people are not able to get to work, and have basically given up their jobs. In England, there is a system where there are learner driver centres. One does a course for between 14 to 15 hours after which one is then given a permit that entitles a person to go on the road as a learner driver. We should look at that system here in Ireland. It would create employment. If there was one such centre in every county in Ireland to facilitate young people, it would be a huge help and would create employment in the area. The Minister has rushed this in and very little thought was put into it. In principle, I suppose it is a good idea but I saw a young person driving alone this morning with L-plates on display, while unaccompanied by a qualified driver. We should ask the Minister to come into the House and for consideration of this issue because of the enormous effect it is having on young people who are trying to get work in rural Ireland.
I first welcome to the House my friend, Mr. Patrick Hughes, who is in the Public Gallery today.
I wish to speak briefly on the waiting list issue. Ireland is spending more money than ever on healthcare but there is no correlation between accessibility to healthcare and the money spent. Our waiting lists have reached record levels. The Euro Health Consumer Index, EHCI, rates Ireland last when it comes to accessibility. The Government plans to stabilise the waiting lists for inpatient and outpatient appointments. Even reducing waiting times to a maximum of 18 months as planned, would still leave Ireland with the longest waiting lists in Europe. The waiting list for outpatient appointments is currently standing at 542,000 people at the end of February. The number of patients waiting for an inpatient procedure fell briefly at the end of 2018 to 70,000 people but has climbed back up to 71,200 people at the end of February. The number of patients waiting for more than three months for a procedure has grown by 4,000 since the start of this year. This is an astonishing rate of growth by anyone's standards. More than 26,000 patients had been waiting for six months for planned procedures in January 2019 while approximately 2,300 had been waiting for more than 18 months. More than 270,000 patients have been waiting for outpatient procedures for more than six months. As the EHCI explains, healthcare is basically a process industry. Smooth procedures with a minimum of pause and interruption are key to keeping the costs low. We are spending more on healthcare than ever before because the system is broken. Waiting lists do not save money; they cost money. Notwithstanding the fact that much debate these days is about Brexit, I ask the Leader to consider facilitating an urgent debate on the whole waiting list issue to come before the House in the near future.
Go raibh míle maith agat, a Chathaoirligh. We have every reason to be thinking these days, with the events of Brexit, about our vulnerabilities as a nation but also about our strengths. I agree with what my colleague, Senator McDowell, has said about the importance of Ministers travelling abroad in these days, representing Ireland and our interests and keeping them to the forefront.
Speaking of putting the best foot forward, I have been meaning to pay tribute - as I am sure all my colleagues would agree we should - to our colleague, Senator Ó Domhnaill, who in recent months has been putting the best foot forward, athletically speaking, with his sixth place at the world masters' championship in Spain in walking, and his bronze medal in the 30 km race at the national championships. He is indeed setting a new record for a competitor over 40 years of age. He is an example to us all. Ba chóir dúinn uilig níos ama a chaitheamh amuigh ag siúl, fiú mura bhfuilimid in ann siúl chomh tapaidh leis an Seanadóir.
Tá Seachtain na Gaeilge tagtha, a Chathaoirligh, agus smaoinimid ag an am seo faoi fhéiniúlacht na tíre. Maidir le hAmhrán na bhFiann, tá sé luaite go minic sna Tithe go gcaithfimid níos mó oibre a dhéanamh chun meas agus tuiscint a thaispeáint don amhrán seo. Léirigh suirbhé le déanaí sa journal.ienarbh eol do na daoine a ndearnadh suirbhé orthu ach 47% de na focail den amhrán náisiúnta. Léirigh suirbhé eile san iris go gceapann 83% daoine gur cóir go mbeadh sé éigeantach an t-amhrán náisiúnta a fhoghlaim i scoileanna. Ghlac thart ar 2,500 duine páirt sa suirbhé seo. It is very worrying that so few people know the words of our national anthem. This is something that should be a mandatory part of the curriculum in our schools, particularly in primary school. People talk a lot about the integrated curriculum-----
It invites the possibility of discussing the historical dimensions and the question as to whether it is militaristic in its language, whether that then subtracts from its wider important symbolism and whether it is possible to accommodate both.
This is a language lesson as well. This is a very serious point. We have been talking about God save the Queen. What would we think of a French person who did not know the words of La Marseillaise? We should cherish our national anthem more and encourage its teaching as part of the curriculum. One does not have to admire every aspect of the lyrics to take a deeper and broader view of its historical significance.Knowing it off by heart does not mean that one is proud of a militaristic tradition, as suggested by Senator Norris.
It is about seeing how language, music and song have the capacity to bring people together. Ceapaim féin gur chóir go mbeadh sé mar chuid den churaclam agus gur chóir don Rialtas gníomhú dá réir. Tá súil agam go mbeidh suirbhéanna amach anseo a léireoidh go mbeidh cur amach ar na focail ag i bhfad níos mó páistí ná mar atá faoi láthair.
On that point, the Senator will be glad to know that the Seanad Public Consultation Committee, chaired by the Leas-Chathaoirleach, has completed a report and its recommendation is that Amhrán na bhFiann be taught in all schools, as Gaeilge agus as Béarla. If that comes to pass it should alleviate the Senator's concerns.
I echo the comments of colleagues who have appealed to the Government not to proceed with the Sea-Fisheries (Amendment) Bill 2017 tomorrow. This legislation was stalled two years ago after very robust debate in this Chamber, but no effort was made to consult the fisheries organisations in the intervening two years. There has been no consultation, even though those organisations outlined their concerns to committees of these Houses. No effort was made in the past two years to consult them. They are now up in arms around the coast because of the disrespect being shown to them. There is no way that this House can stand over this tomorrow. I hope it does not come to this but, if necessary, I will push for a vote on the Order of Business tomorrow morning to stop this legislation moving forward pending consultation between the Minister, his officials and the fisheries representative groups. The Government must at least attempt to address the concerns of the fishing community. We need to show some respect for our fishing organisations when such controversial legislation is before the House. I call for common sense on this matter. A meeting was held yesterday at which these points were put to the Minister. Will the Leader ensure this does not have to be put to a vote tomorrow morning? I do not want to divide this House and I hope that common sense will prevail and respect will be shown to our fishing organisations.
I wish to raise a deeply disturbing issue, namely, the report from the prison visiting committee from 2017 relating to female prisoners at the Dóchas detention centre in Dublin in which allegations are made of inappropriate behaviour of male staff towards female prisoners, including withholding certain privileges and items to achieve something about which we can only speculate. This is a very serious issue and the visiting committee recommends that it be investigated by a body that is independent of the Prison Service. It must be ascertained whether these women, many of whom are very vulnerable, are being abused or taken advantage of while in the care of the State. Our history is littered with occasions of abuse of people in vulnerable positions, including women and children. To have this happen in our time is unacceptable. If there is even a hint of awareness of this, it is not acceptable. I am sure it is unacceptable to all Members of this House. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Justice and Equality to the House to report on this situation and to outline his intentions in terms of addressing what is a very serious concern in our Prison Service.
I thank the 16 Members of the House who contributed on the Order of Business today. The issues of Brexit and the vote in the House of Commons last night were raised by Senators Horkan, Craughwell, Norris, Ned O'Sullivan, McDowell, O'Reilly, Feighan, Wilson and Mullen. Many Senators also expressed concern about the consequences for our beef industry in the context of the tariff information that was published this morning by the British Government. Tariffs will have a negative impact and will not be helpful in any shape or form. We all agree with Senator Ned O'Sullivan that it is critical that the Government holds firm, remains calm and steady in its approach and continues to articulate and advocate for the Irish position. There is no good outcome from Brexit at all. It is important that we continue to reach out across the European Union to our friends and allies and to explain the significance of what has happened in Westminster. It is up to the British Government now to show us what it wants. We still do not know what it wants. Irrespective of the views of some, there is a need for political leadership from the British Parliament now. Do they want a hard Brexit? Do they want to crash out of the European Union?
We have spent an inordinate amount of time, as a Union, negotiating the withdrawal agreement. The British must now tell us what they want to do next. It is not up to us to inform the British of the way forward. A no-deal Brexit serves nobody. It does not serve the United Kingdom, Ireland or Europe. The House will be engaged today in debating and progressing the Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union (Consequential Provisions) Bill 2019. Mr. Michel Barnier this morning said that the withdrawal agreement is the only treaty available. As Senator Norris said, we want to avoid an at-war effect vis-à-visthe British because, as Senator McDowell said, they are our closest neighbours.
We must continue to develop our relationship for a variety of reasons. I hope that before we reach 29 March there will be a realisation by the UK that a deal is critical. I thank the House for supporting the Government in this.
Senator Horkan must have been on the hotline to the Irish Aviation Authority, IAA, yesterday. I commend him on his contribution and agree that we cannot compromise on passenger safety. While we do not want to be alarmist or sensationalist, there are genuine concerns with the Boeing 737 MAX aircraft. Its suspension by a number of countries around the world was not arbitrary. I hope that all airlines and aviation authorities will undertake a detailed analysis and thorough investigation of the aircraft. I know that its suspension has discommoded many passengers, which is regrettable but we cannot compromise on safety.
Senators Craughwell, Conway-Walsh, Wilson, Ó Domhnaill and Mac Lochlainn spoke about the Sea-Fisheries (Amendment) Bill 2017. While I do not want to strike a discordant note, the legislation is very important. I understand the sensitivities expressed by Members this morning but the Bill is not being rushed or pushed through for the sake of optics. Do we want to see a hard border for fishermen in our country? Is that what we are saying? We must remember that 29 March is coming and the clock has not stopped ticking. The Minister met some Members of the House to discuss this yesterday. This legislation is urgent.
It is time critical to avoid the accusation that some will make that we are putting up a hard border. I ask Members to reflect upon the position. We want to restore the rights of our northern neighbours in this Bill. That is what we are trying to do.
Senators Craughwell, Wilson and Ned O'Sullivan mentioned PDFORRA and the Defence Forces in their contributions. We have had a number of debates in the House and it was also raised yesterday in a different way. I very much welcome mediation. It is important that we have mediation.
I join with Senator Craughwell in commending and congratulating our retired veterans on their participation in the St. Patrick's Day parades across the country. They are an important part of the parade. They do Trojan work and are a strong advocate for members of the Defence Forces. I thank them for their service and their organisation in terms of the parade. It is very important that those men and women walk in uniform under that banner in the Cork parade. It is a wonderful sight and it serves as a wonderful testimony to their service and commitment. I commend them on that.
Senator Conway-Walsh raised the issue of sodium valproate. There has been a great deal of engagement between the European Medicines Agency and the Health Products Regulatory Authority regarding the drug she referenced. It is a source of great concern. I know significant effort has been put into labelling and advice given around the drug. It is a matter of concern. It is important that we continue to strengthen the warnings and to improve the educational aspects and information around the drug, especially for women who are pregnant. I would be happy were the Minister to come to the House to debate the matter. Perhaps Senator Conway-Walsh might be best placed to table it as a Commencement matter, where she might get a more expeditious answer.
I commend Senator Norris on his work for the Tibetan people. The point he made on the one-China policy - I am speaking in a personal capacity - is one on which I agree with him. I am sure the Government would have a different viewpoint. There is a need to have a look at our policy around our interaction not with China per se, but with Taiwan and other countries in that part of the world. It is equally important that we can have economic activity with countries like Taiwan.
It is important that we have that debate. I know that the previous Government and this Government have continued the one-China policy. I am sure Senator McDowell, when he was in Government, probably was a party to that one-China policy formulation. I am not quite sure. It is important that we look at the issue of China in the context of human rights and not just economic activity. I accept it is an important market that we must develop and grow but it cannot be at the cost of everything else either. That is just giving a personal view.
I will probably get chastised by the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade for saying that. It will not be the first time.
Senator Conway raised the issue of the web and the need for continued vigilance around it. I join with him in commending Marian O'Donnell, whose grandfather served in the House and wish her well in her career.
Senators Ned O'Sullivan, McDowell, O'Reilly and Mullen raised the issue of the trips abroad by Ministers. I think the points made by Senator McDowell are highly relevant. There is a sensationalist and mean-spirited approach to these trips by some sections of the media, who look at the cost factor and where the Ministers are going. If one was to have an analysis and reflection on the availability of access to the media, to markets, in respect of the promotional side, as well as the access it brings to Governments and to people of influence around the world on a particular day of the year, one could not quantify or pay for it.
We benefit in terms of advertising, access and media exposure. That is why the trips are very important. I have held the view and I said it in this House when I was here before that Minister should come back and present a report to the committees or to the Houses of the Oireachtas to show what actually happened.
Senator McDowell has been on those trips. They are far from a junket as he knows quite well.
Gabh mo leithscéal. I did not see that Senator Reilly was present. It is about advocating and showing the world that we are a modern, vibrant country, especially now in a post Brexit world.
I see Deputy Murphy O'Mahony and her visitors in the Gallery and I welcome them to the Chamber.
Another point is that it is an unrivalled marketing opportunity. Let us consider what will happen in Australia, Washington, Russia, Dubai, England, Argentina and in Europe. I wish the Cathaoirleach well in his travels, as he will be representing Ireland. It is the lighting up green of the world and it is the exposure it brings. I hope it will be a positive experience.
Senator Joe O'Reilly raised the issue of agriculture. I will be happy to have the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Creed come to the House, especially in light of the beef issue. There is a need for a renegotiation of the Common Agricultural Policy. Post Brexit, there will be a need for assistance to be given to the Irish people. Like Senators Gavan and O'Reilly noted, the Council of Europe is becoming very important. Senator Gavan raised the ESRI report and its importance. It is an interesting report and I think it is also important that the increase in the minimum wage has succeeded in reducing wage inequality. Perhaps the minimum wage might not be the effective tool in reducing the level of poverty. That is a conversation and debate we should have. A point that he did not make is that the increase in the minimum wage has led to a €30 per week benefit, which is a significant amount of money for those who have seen the increase. That is why I was very proud that this and the previous Government raised the minimum wage. I am all for a living wage but let us have that debate in the context of where we are now. I am happy to do that.
Senator Butler raised the issue of the driving licence and the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport will be in the House on 4 April -----
No, I could make a smart comment but I will not. The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross will come to the House on Thursday, 4 April.
Senator Swanick raised the very important issue of the waiting times for health services. As Members know, the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris has announced a new plan to reduce the number of people waiting for appointments with a scheduled care access plan in terms of setting targets that will be met on a reduction of the number of patients waiting for appointments and for inpatient services. The point made by Senator Swanick, which is worth reflecting on by all people, is that waiting times cost money and those who do not turn up for appointments are costing money as well.
Tá díomá orm nár léigh Seanadóir Mullen tuarascáil an fhochoiste Seanaid mar gheall ar an amhrán náisiúnta a luaigh an Cathaoirleach. Tá obair déanta ag an Seanadóir Mark Daly agus ag an Leas-Chathaoirleach, Seanadóir Coghlan, mar gheall ar an national anthem.The Cathaoirleach pre-empted my reply. Senator Mullen must not have read the report of the Seanad Public Consultation Committee, which had a good outcome relating to the need for and importance of our daltaí scoile ag foghlaim na focail san amhrán náisiúnta, being able to learn the words of the national anthem. I hope that we will see that happen across our schools.
Senator Reilly raised the issue of the Dóchas Centre in the context of the prison visiting committee report. I have not seen the report but any inappropriate behaviour must be condemned out of hand and cannot be condoned. I would be happy to have the Minister come to the House about the matter.
Since so many people have been welcomed to the House this morning, I wonder if Senators would indulge me in welcoming Richard Crotty, who is a pupil of Kilkenny College and who is shadowing me today as part of his education.