Seanad debates

Tuesday, 9 April 2019

2:30 pm

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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The Order of Business is No. 1, motion re Electoral (Supplement to the Register of Electors) Regulations 2019, to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business, without debate; No. 2, motion re the exercise by the State of the option or discretion under Protocols 19 and 21 annexed to the Treaty on the European Union and the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union - referral to committee, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 1, without debate; No. 3, Wildlife (Amendment) Bill 2016 - Committee Stage (resumed), to be taken at 4.45 p.m. and to adjourn at 6 p.m., if not previously concluded; No. 4, Thirty-eighth Amendment of the Constitution (Dissolution of Marriage) Bill 2016, changed from Thirty-fifth Amendment of the Constitution (Divorce) Bill 2016 - Second Stage, to be taken at 6 p.m. with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes; and No. 73, motion re Thirty-eighth Amendment of the Constitution (Dissolution of Marriage) Bill 2016, to be discussed in conjunction with the Second Stage debate but not to be taken until the Report and Final Stages of the Bill have concluded.

Photo of Catherine ArdaghCatherine Ardagh (Fianna Fail)
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I met a gentleman recently who described how he is fighting for access to the drug, Spinraza, for his 15 year old daughter who suffers from spinal muscular atrophy. She is now at a stage where she finds simple tasks like getting up, going to the bathroom or brushing her hair very difficult. Spinraza is available in 20 other countries and anecdotally we have learned that Ireland has been offered this drug at a very competitive price. The Department of Health says that it will cost €20 million over five years which is a very small amount given the benefits of this drug. Spinraza will not cure the young girl to whom I referred but it will massively improve her quality of life and €20 million is a small price to pay for such an improvement. I ask the Minister for Health to ensure that the HSE reaches a deal with the suppliers of Spinraza to ensure that children who need this drug have access to it.

The second issue I raise today relates to the recently published report from the National Cancer Registry Ireland. It found that cancer rates in Ireland could double over the next 25 years. While cancer detection has improved and people are living a lot longer, it is frightening to think that cancer rates could increase by 50% in the years ahead. As I said recently, almost every family in Ireland has been touched by cancer. It does not discriminate on the basis of wealth or skin colour. Unfortunately, it could hit any one of us and over the next few decades one in every two people in this country could be visited by cancer.

In 1996, Fianna Fáil introduced the first cancer strategy which was very successful. There have been superb improvements in clinical outcomes but increases in the number of people diagnosed with cancer have led to delays in accessing chemotherapy. In the past, when patients were diagnosed with cancer they started chemotherapy the very next day. My own father suffered from cancer for 15 years. He had several hundred blood transfusions and battled cancer successfully six times. Each time he was diagnosed, he began chemotherapy the following day.Other members of my family have also been visited by cancer. The waiting lists for chemotherapy, whether one is a public or private patient, mean that if one is diagnosed on a Monday, one may not be slotted in to start chemotherapy until three or four weeks later. From my experience, I have seen that the time it takes to access cancer treatments has increased massively. Whereas people used to get treatment the next day, they now wait a few weeks before being scheduled for chemotherapy. We have a cancer strategy for the period from 2017 to 2026, which is very welcome, but in light of these figures it is really important that we ensure there is enough capital investment in, and Government support for, that strategy. We are following this cancer strategy but we need to look at it again. We need to revisit the issue of cancer care in Ireland. We were once one of the best performers in this area but we are slipping. People should not have to wait for chemotherapy. The waiting lists for patients to be scheduled for chemotherapy should be much shorter than they are. The statistics with which we have been presented today demonstrate that this will become an even greater problem.

Photo of Michael McDowellMichael McDowell (Independent)
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I want to raise two matters today. One is the publication, in the name of the Leader on 27 March 2019, of a Bill from the Department of Justice and Equality in respect of gaming and lotteries. The bottom line of this Bill is that the Gaming and Lotteries Act 1956 is to be amended so as to take the right to decide whether to permit gaming casinos and amusement halls in their areas away from local authorities and transfer this power to other authorities. I want to be very clear on this issue. I am totally opposed to that principle.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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Hear, hear.

Photo of Michael McDowellMichael McDowell (Independent)
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Local authorities have few enough powers. One of them is to determine whether the people who live in the local authority area are to be subject to a rash of gaming machines appearing in that area. In addition, we do not need gaming machines. They add nothing to the sum total of happiness-----

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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Hear, hear.

Photo of Michael McDowellMichael McDowell (Independent)
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-----or to anything else. They are permitted in amusement arcades in places like Bray, Bundoran and the like because they were seen to be part of a culture of holiday entertainment. That is the business of those local authorities, but it is scandalous that it will now be open season for gaming machines in Dublin city. The experience of the British, particularly in respect of fixed-odds betting terminals, is that these machines visit total misery on people who become addicted to them. I see that a maximum bet of €10 on any occasion is proposed in the Bill. This is wrong. It will be a tax on the poor, the addicted and the vulnerable. It will be an expropriation of their money to enrich people who add nothing to the sum total of human happiness. I say that today in advance of any Second Stage consideration of this Bill, to which I am wholly opposed. It is a step in the wrong direction. For a Government that talks about local government reform to strip local government of this particular power is wholly wrong. Surely it should be up to the people of Killarney whether their town has gaming machines and amusement halls. It should be up to the people of Tralee to make the same kinds of decisions about their area. We are now going down the road of taking that power away from local authorities, which is wholly wrong.

The second issue I raise is that, as we conduct our affairs today, a general election is under way in Israel. In an effort to obtain the maximum number of seats, the Netanyahu administration - I would call it a regime - has pledged to annex Palestinian settlements and make them part of Israel's sovereign territory.Our Government was supine on the subject of the settlement goods legislation. This House showed some bravery on the subject. Contrived reasons about the imposition of charges on the Exchequer and the need for money messages were used to obstruct that legislation from going through Dáil Éireann. If we are going to be trampled all over in asserting our parliamentary view that the Israeli Government should not be permitted to extend its sovereignty over Palestinian territory and make what is de factode jurewith the assistance of the Trump regime in Washington, we need to start talking openly and candidly now. I have always believed in the right of Israel to exist. I am not afraid to say that my opposition to this pledge cannot be legitimately described as anti-Semitic in any way. It is not anti-Semitic, but is simply pro the human rights of everybody in the area, particularly the Palestinian people.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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The Palestinian people are Semites too.

Photo of Michael McDowellMichael McDowell (Independent)
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As the Senator has said, they are Semitic people as well. I want justice for these people. I do not want this international regime of bully boys from Brazil, Israel, America and Moscow to become legitimised because decent people do not speak out and houses of parliament in liberal democracies do not make their views known.

Photo of Rose Conway WalshRose Conway Walsh (Sinn Fein)
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Today there are 631 people on trolleys, which is the highest figure of the year. The Government has responded by reintroducing a moratorium on recruitment. It is absolutely crazy. Fianna Fáil did that. That is why we are in the situation we are in. All of those trolleys are lined up because we do not have enough front-line staff. We just do not have enough staff to physically open the beds. We do not have enough staff in accident and emergency units to do the treatments. In some hospitals, three or four nurses are trying to cover the work of seven nurses. Seven ambulances were lined up at Mayo University Hospital last week because not enough front-line staff were available to do the handover, treat the patients, get them into fully staffed beds and look after them in the way that any republic should do.

Instead of doing that, we are putting a moratorium on staff. In this case, it is not about extra funding - it is about the decision to hire managerial and administrative staff rather than front-line staff. One of the Senators here gave us the figures last year. We learned that 2,603 administrative staff and managerial staff, but just 54 extra nurses, had been employed by the HSE since 2014. It is a crazy situation. We have enough HSE communications, managerial and administrative personnel. We need front-line staff. That is what is going to reduce our trolley numbers and stop the ambulances lining up outside our hospitals. It is a crazy situation. We need another debate in here with the Minister for Health, particularly on the trolley numbers.

I want to raise what has been happening with ATMs, which is not confined to the-----

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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You should be the right one to know.

Photo of Rose Conway WalshRose Conway Walsh (Sinn Fein)
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I am sorry, but it is not a laughing matter.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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It is indeed.

Photo of Rose Conway WalshRose Conway Walsh (Sinn Fein)
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I will tell the Senator why it is not a laughing matter.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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Get your old digger out.

Photo of Rose Conway WalshRose Conway Walsh (Sinn Fein)
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It is not confined to the North or to anywhere else. The owners of two businesses with ATMs in my own community, which is a small community with not many businesses, woke up this morning to find that their premises had been smashed into and thousands of euro of damage had been done. Many small businesses are already struggling to survive because of the punitive rates and charges that are put upon them. Something has to be done. Obviously, we need extra gardaí.However, we also need the ATMs. I am afraid that the banks will use this as an excuse to remove ATMs from this rural area. Senator Norris does not know what it is like to have to travel 30 km or 40 km to the nearest ATM but those who live in rural areas do. Something must be done to prevent ATMs being removed. The banks have a responsibility to act-----

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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So do the paramilitaries.

Photo of Rose Conway WalshRose Conway Walsh (Sinn Fein)
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-----such as by ensuring there is anti-theft dye in the cash machines. Alternatively, more policing resources are needed. This issue is connected to that of the Garda being used to pick up the slack in the area of mental health and disability services which was discussed in the House last week. Children and young people with disabilities are being criminalised and left to be dealt with by the Garda rather than the issues being solved within the health services.

Photo of John DolanJohn Dolan (Independent)
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This week is National Arthritis Week. Yesterday, I met councillors in Castlebar, County Mayo, and I also met a young woman originally from Mayo who has arthritis. As a child, she was told that she had growing pains. During her teens, her diagnosis was changed to juvenile arthritis. Her story is a microcosm of the national situation. She went to Dublin to complete her studies. She had a good career and worked for herself but was unable to continue to so do because of her condition and related matters. She could not continue to live in Dublin while not working because of high rents and other matters. She is now back home in Mayo and very involved in the national organisation Arthritis Ireland. She and her colleagues have just returned from a conference in Prague organised by the European League Against Rheumatism.

I wish to focus on the area of musculoskeletal disorders, including arthritis, which are a leading cause of temporary unemployment. Some 14 million days are lost each year in Ireland due to absence and ill-health in the workforce. Approximately half of them are attributed to this group of disorders at a cost of €750 million annually and 7 million days in absenteeism. There is also a social cost. The young woman to whom I referred is very much the right side of 40 and is wondering how she will be able to work or contribute. She is doing magnificent work nationally and locally with Arthritis Ireland, which is fighting very hard to get extra rheumatology support in Mayo.

I wish to draw attention to this issue and to ask the Leader to request that the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, come to the House and update us on the comprehensive employment strategy for people with disabilities. It is a ten-year programme launched in October 2015. As we are now one third of the way through it, it would be timely for the House to be updated on it.

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Independent)
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I ask the Leader to facilitate a debate in the House after Easter on the best means of tackling sexual harassment issues, particularly sexual harassment in the workplace. I raise this because, as all Members will be aware having been emailed about it, a survey initiated by the women's caucus is being carried out to discover the extent to which harassment is an issue in the Houses of the Oireachtas workplace. It is the first time that such a survey has been carried out in the Oireachtas and it is very important that we get a wide range of participants and significant buy-in to the survey.

I also call for a debate on this issue because several initiatives have recently been taken on it. In another forum I welcomed the announcement last Friday by the Minister of State, Deputy Mitchell O'Connor, that she is putting €400,000 towards funding for supports to deal with sexual harassment in higher education institutions. This builds on work being done by the National Women's Council of Ireland, NWCI, which obtained significant funding from the EU to look comparatively at sexual harassment in academia across five EU member states.In March of this year it launched a very useful toolkit called #itstopsnow, which gives information and guidelines to third level institutions on how best to deal with sexual harassment, being mindful of the need for fair procedures in workplaces and of the fact that sexual harassment can take different guises in a workplace especially when that workplace compromises staff and students.

In Trinity College last night we were delighted to host a very eminent speaker, Dr. Celeste Kidd from the University of California, Berkeley, and one of Timemagazine's silence breakers and people of the year in 2017. She spoke out about sexual harassment on the campus at the University of Rochester - where she worked in 2017 - and as a result changed a good deal of practices at that university. Dr. Kidd has become a real leader in speaking out, especially for women in science and scientific research. I was proud to also speak at the meeting Dr. Kidd spoke at last night, which was hosted by Women in Research Ireland. We discussed different means, mechanisms and strategies that can be used in higher education to tackle sexual harassment. Clearly, this is an issue that goes beyond colleges. I ask the Leader if we could have a debate on this issue at some point after Easter.

I welcome that today we will debate the Thirty-eighth Amendment of the Constitution (Dissolution of Marriage) Bill 2016. I am aware we will have the chance to debate the Bill later this evening but I am sorry we will not debate more extensive constitutional amendments to Article 41. I would have liked to see Members debate a change in the waiting time in the lead up to a divorce and a debate on a change to the definition of "family" so that we no longer define family as that based on marriage only. I would also like to see us deleting the provisions relating to women and mothers that use such loaded and sexist language, and instead to see a gender neutral language used in the Constitution. I am sorry we will not have that more extensive reform before us this evening but I welcome the Bill we have.

I agree with previous speakers on the issue of the Israeli elections and on the need for parliaments around the world to speak out where we see abuses of power and abuses of human rights occurring. All of us have noted with alarm Prime Minister Netanyahu's comments about settlements, given that his Government already had such an appalling record of building settlements and the demolition and moving on of Palestinians, and given that this House has spoken so clearly in supporting Senator Black's Control of Economic Activities (Occupied Territories) Bill. The context and the speeches around the Israeli election really show even more clearly the need for that legislation to be adopted and embraced by the Government.

Photo of Maura HopkinsMaura Hopkins (Fine Gael)
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I wish to raise the issue of school transport for our local schools. I have been in contact with a number of school principals and staff across Roscommon and Galway whose schools are at risk of either losing a teacher or potentially closing due to decreasing pupil numbers. From a number of examples I have in mind there is a significant imbalance across a number of schools. Many of our schools are at full capacity and in need of expansion while just a few kilometres away other schools - many in rural areas - are at risk of closure. I ask the Leader to have a debate in the Seanad on school transport, especially for rural areas. There is a need for greater flexibility so we can use existing school resources to support our smaller rural schools and relieve pressure on those schools that are at full capacity.

I attended a meeting last week with the school principal, school staff and parents at the Woodbrook national school just outside Carrick-on-Shannon in County Roscommon. This school faces the problem of the lack of transport options. Parents locally have committed to sending their children to the school but they need transport options to make it feasible. It is a reality today that both parents work full time. Families need access to pre-school services and after-school services and, therefore, need a more flexible transport system to allow them to support their local rural schools. Would it be possible to facilitate a debate on this very important issue in the near future?

Photo of Jennifer Murnane O'ConnorJennifer Murnane O'Connor (Fianna Fail)
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Last week the Government decided to postpone its decision on exactly what it is going to do with the local property tax, which was first introduced in 2013. While many have questioned the motives of the postponement, I wish to raise a couple of alarming developments that are arising because nothing has been done about them. While there will be no increase in the tax in the coming year, and first-time buyers remain exempt from the tax, those who bought in 2013 will be liable from this December. Property tax is a massive issue. Recently, good honest people came into my office who, because house prices had gone up, were afraid their house insurance would not cover them properly if their homes were undervalued. Accordingly, they declared their houses to be worth more and Revenue now wants to back-tax them for being honest. This is unacceptable. Homeowners did not mean to increase their liability so it is unfair to ask them to pony up the back tax if their houses were never undervalued before this year. There is a system to appeal against a liability when the price of a house has gone down but not when it has gone up. More than 13,280 corrections to valuations have been made to Revenue, including 700 made last year. This was done by honest people who are now all liable for back tax. Were they unfairly penalised for coming forward? Maybe some had incorrectly valued their property initially and are now looking to sell it. What about those who have seen new value added to their homes? All values are going up.

My second point concerns people who, because of their means, could defer payment of the tax. The deferrals will continue but the income thresholds were recommended to increase to €18,000 for a single owner and €30,000 for a couple, up from €15,000 and €25,000, respectively. By keeping the threshold low, however, this Government is going to penalise fixed-income pensioners whose weekly payment has increased. Since last week, a pensioner couple will earn €25,800 and cannot now defer their payment.

Both these issues seem so mean in our current climate and they are very unfair. People are coming into my clinics with real concerns about them so I call on the Minister to come to the House to discuss these issues with me and Senators.

Photo of Billy LawlessBilly Lawless (Independent)
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I am totally opposed to the Bill to amend the Act dealing with amusement trades, especially sections 12 and 13 of the new Bill. Gambling is a blight on this country. It is a blight on our young people and this is only the thin end of the wedge. I have no problem whatsoever with local authorities having the power to grant amusement licences in their own areas as they know the conditions in those areas. We have a national lottery and we know that the funds from that go to good causes but I am totally opposed to a regulatory body taking over the regulation of licences. We have seen what has happened to our sportsmen in recent years and the terrible cases of addiction to online gambling, although I know we are not talking about online gambling in this case. Some of them have run up debts of €60,000, €80,000 or €90,000 and now we are going to make it easier for more types of gambling to be allowed in our community.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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Hear, hear.

Photo of Gabrielle McFaddenGabrielle McFadden (Fine Gael)
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The report of National Cancer Registry Ireland came out this morning. While the figures are, in some respects, very frightening for what we can expect in the future, it has to be said that things have improved and survival rates are improving all the time. Prevention is better than cure and people should always focus on that initially. The Irish Cancer Society said that, as a result of the report, it is now very important to look to the future and that the Government invests in cancer services so that people are diagnosed early and treated quickly.

I met a person who was to have surgery today but it was cancelled yesterday at the last minute.This lady faces an arduous road for the next period of between six and 12 months. She psyched herself up and made arrangements for her four children to be cared for during the surgery and so on, but now it has been postponed. She is distraught. As well as the physical hardships that people face when they are being treated for cancer, the patient must undergo emotional and psychological hardship and trauma. This must also be considered, given that it is about not just beds and consultants but also people's feelings and emotions.

Perhaps the Minister could come to the House in order that we can have a debate on the future and planning. We speak about Project Ireland 2040 and planning for the future, but we should include in the plan cancer services for the future. Will the Leader invite the Minister for such a debate?

Photo of Fintan WarfieldFintan Warfield (Sinn Fein)
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Sunday marked the 25th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, a 100-day period from 7 April to 15 July 1994, when approximately 800,000 Tutsi, or one tenth of the country's population, were killed. A further 2 million people were displaced and became refugees, exiled in Burundi, Tanzania and what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo. This is a time for learning from these horrific events of the past and a time to remember those who were killed, maimed, physically or sexually assaulted, and displaced.

We should reflect on how xenophobia played a large role and how disparaging comments from Hutu extremists referring to the Tutsi as "cockroaches" influenced many in joining the genocidal efforts. Comments that refer to people of different races, nationalities and backgrounds as less than human or less than equal remain common today and are still uttered by world leaders who wish to stoke fear and spread hate for political gain. The former President, Mary Robinson, was one of the first Heads of State to visit Rwanda after the genocide. I welcome the statement of the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney, on Sunday and add my voice to his message from the people that we send our solidarity to the survivors, their children and all Rwandans. I have asked the Office of the Cathaoirleach and the Leader that we have a moment of reflection in silence at the end of the Order of Business to mark the 25th anniversary of this horrific tragedy.

Photo of Michael McDowellMichael McDowell (Independent)
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On a point of order, I inform the Leader that I mistook the terms of his Bill. I confused it with a letter from a group of lobbyists and I was wrong. The Leader's Bill is much better than what has been proposed.

Photo of Frances BlackFrances Black (Independent)
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I echo the comments of Senators McDowell and Bacik on the Israeli election today. There is no doubt that they both are fully correct and it is vital that we enact the Control of Economic Activity (Occupied Territories) Bill 2018. We will all watch the results of the Israeli election this evening. No matter what happens or who wins, it is vital that the international community stands up and says enough is enough. We cannot accept these promises to annex Palestine. It is utterly wrong and illegal and amounts to a war crime. I thank the Senators for their comments today.

On behalf of the Seanad Civil Engagement group, and I imagine on behalf of the wider Chamber, I express my sincere condolences to the family and friends of Sally O'Neill, who sadly passed away in Guatemala this week. Listening to the testimony on the radio and throughout the country today, one can clearly see that she was an incredible woman who embodied the values of Trócaire as a courageous, passionate advocate for human rights, dignity and social justice all over the world. She dedicated her life to improving the lives of others, working alongside poor or marginalised communities, particularly in Central America.Even in Dublin, the staff in my office were speaking this morning about her role highlighting human rights abuses in El Salvador in the 1980s alongside President Higgins, who was a Deputy at the time, and some of Trócaire's current, brilliant staff who are passionate advocates for human rights. They spoke about how she took them under her wing when they first started with the organisation. She gave them the self-belief and confidence to pursue years of human rights work. I want to recognise this wonderful woman in the House. She had a remarkable, generous and inspirational life and I express my sincere condolences to her family, friends and all of her colleagues at Trócaire.

Photo of James ReillyJames Reilly (Fine Gael)
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Very often, I call for action on issues which are a cause of stress and distress to people. On occasion, however, it is useful to stand up to welcome developments which will improve people's lives. I refer specifically to the new arrangements the Minister for Health has made with doctors to allow many more services, including chronic illness care, to be provided in general practice settings. The arrangements will cover things like diabetes, asthma and chronic obstructive airways disease, cardiovascular disease and heart failure, which is increasingly common as many of us, fortunately, are living into older years. Something I have felt very strongly about will now be possible in general practice. This involves the 8,000 patients in the general medical services, GMS, scheme with haemochromatosis, an iron metabolism disorder which requires them to have a pint of blood taken off at frequent intervals to protect their health. Until now, this has been done in hospitals but it is well capable of being done in GP surgeries. Indeed, some GPs have been doing it. If one was a private patient, one could get it done, but as a GMS or uninsured patient, one could not. This welcome news for 8,000 people speaks to the many other things that could be done in primary care but which are currently taking place in hospitals at great inconvenience for patients who must travel long distances. It is also a cause of pressure on hospital services.

I welcome this deal and use the opportunity to call for further diagnostic services in general practice. I see my colleague, Senator Gabrielle McFadden, is here and note that Athlone primary care centre has access to diagnostics in the form of X-ray, which is working extremely well. It is also in Castlebar. I would like to see the facility also put in place in Balbriggan primary care centre given the explosion in population in the wider area it serves. It would allow GPs like me to diagnose and treat our patients in the community, never having to send them to hospital at all. It would be much more convenient for patients and provide great job satisfaction for doctors. I welcome this contract also in so far as it will stem the flow of younger doctors from the country and encourage older doctors to stay in practice for longer. It will mean more services and more doctors to deliver them for more of our people.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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I support Senator Murnane O'Connor on the subject of property tax except that she does not go far enough. She should set as an objective getting rid of it altogether for the next election. I tell her the party that puts that down as a goal will form the next Government. This is a disgusting tax.

Photo of Jennifer Murnane O'ConnorJennifer Murnane O'Connor (Fianna Fail)
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Hear, hear.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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It dates back to the 19th century and is a form of rack-renting whereby unscrupulous landlords used to put up the rent every time an unfortunate tenant had the temerity to improve a property. That is exactly what is happening now. It relates to nothing other than the utter greed of the landlord, in this case the State. I give my own example. I bought a house-----

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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A mansion.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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-----in an area of dereliction in inner city Dublin in 1978 for €25,000. It was in ruins. I did the State's job by restoring it. I spent hundreds of thousands of euro and hundreds of hours to restore the entire street. What is the reward? One is fined for doing it. It is a disgrace. It is back to the 19th century and the Leader should shut up and take notice of it.

I raise also the question of school secretaries. These people are completely neglected.I heard one of them on the wireless today explaining she was on €12,000.

Photo of James ReillyJames Reilly (Fine Gael)
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Does the Senator not realise that there is a functioning system-----

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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Do I hear somebody tweeting? A bird has got in. Put her out through the skylight.

School secretaries are on €12,000 a year which is absolutely nothing but they love their job. They are an essential and crucial part of a school, organising timetables and payments. However, they are completely and utterly neglected. Bringing them into the public service would cost a maximum of €4 million out of a budget of €10 billion. For goodness sake, can we not do the decent thing and bring these hard-working people in out of the cold? In the summer, they have to go on the dole. Is that not a lovely way to treat our secretaries who keep our schools going? I am appealing to the Government to bring them in. It will only cost €4 million, a sum that would get lost in a hole in one’s tooth.

Photo of Robbie GallagherRobbie Gallagher (Fianna Fail)
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I am glad to report to Senator Norris that I am a member of the Oireachtas education committee. The school secretaries will give a presentation to the committee this afternoon to which I am looking forward.

I support the call for additional resources for local domestic violence services in counties Cavan and Monaghan. Currently, both counties are served by Tearmann Domestic Abuse Service. I acknowledge the great work it does on behalf of unfortunate individuals who find themselves in need of help in such circumstances. Tusla is in the process of reviewing domestic violence services across the country. Based on information I have received from Tearmann and others, there is a need for a dedicated refuge for people who find themselves in such a difficult and stressful domestic situation. There is also clearly a need for increased resources in this particular area. Last year, for example, the service supported 260 people, mostly women but some men. It is important to remember that this support also involved over 400 children. We all know that domestic violence and marriage breakdown are traumatic for those involved, particularly children. Will the Leader ask the Minister to expedite the review and ensure that additional resources are made available to those who find themselves in such difficult, dangerous and traumatic circumstances? Will he also ask the Minister to ensure that a proper refuge is available to those who need it in counties Cavan and Monaghan?

Photo of Frank FeighanFrank Feighan (Fine Gael)
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I normally would not comment on the Garda or the PSNI. However, I am concerned about the recent theft of ATMs. Last week, as I was driving back from a function, I passed a garage on the Feeny Road in Dungiven from which another ATM had been stolen. This is the eighth theft of an ATM in Northern Ireland and there have been many more in Cavan and Monaghan. What is happening? Do the banks put tracker devices on these ATMs? The robberies are a significant inconvenience to staff and customers, as well as putting fear into communities. I cannot understand how a digger can be brought up a street in a small village on a Saturday night, rip apart a cash machine in a garage and nobody seems to know anything about it. I am not a detective. However, in this day and age, do these cash machines not have tracking devices attached to them? As Bertie Ahern rightly stated, it is not the boy scouts who are doing this. It is believed that dissident republicans are responsible. This is a worrying trend. If it were to happen in every town and village, there would be no cash machines left at all. More worrying, these robberies are funding an organisation which wants to bring terror and mayhem to this country once more.While I have huge respect for the law enforcement services on either side of the Border, I am concerned that nobody seems to be getting to the bottom of this crime that people seem to be having a laugh at now. It is certainly not a laughing matter.

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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I raise the topic of illegal dumping which seems prevalent at the moment, perhaps because local elections are upcoming and people are out and about more often. It occurs in urban areas but particularly in rural areas. I keep seeing photographs on Facebook of local election candidates and sitting councillors who have been canvassing somewhere and there are 50 black bags in a field which have sometimes been set on fire. I do not know whether an industry is involved and people are collecting this waste from houses and dumping it, or whether it involves people disposing of their private waste. I call on the Leader to ask the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Richard Bruton, to come and discuss this topic in this House as a matter of urgency.

Illegal dumping seems to be rampant across the country. I know there is an issue of people dumping in urban areas. Sometimes people move out of houses and 100 black bags and various other items are discovered in the back garden. I often see bags that are full of cans, bottles and paper, all of which can be recycled for free. It may be that the civic centres and recycling facilities to which people can bring such items are a long way away but education is probably needed. Maybe waste collectors are very expensive and that is an issue.

We need to survey households to see where their waste is going. Many people responsibly dispose of their rubbish through a door-to-door collector or go to civic recycling facilities. My former local authority, Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council, which covers the area in which I live, is winning awards for having good recycling centres. I am sure most local authorities have very good recycling centres but there will be a residual amount of waste that is not recyclable. We need to try to reduce that as much as possible by examining what packaging is permitted to be recycled and what is not because illegal dumping is a scourge right across the landscape. I saw a Tidy Towns clean-up in Ballybrack in Dublin which, very easily and quickly, produced hundreds of bags and that is a relatively urban area where waste collection is available.

I ask the Leader to facilitate a debate on the waste market as soon as possible. I am not giving out about waste collectors which do their job well, by and large. There are certainly people who are not using these services and are not disposing of their waste responsibly by other means. We need to look at what can be done about that. The practice of people throwing sofas, electronic equipment and black bags into hedges during the night must not be allowed to continue. The rest of us ultimately have to pay to have it cleaned up.

Photo of Terry LeydenTerry Leyden (Fianna Fail)
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I may not be allowed to discuss the draft Order Paper but I ask the Leader for clarification. I presume the motion regarding the Electoral (Supplement to the Register of Electors) Regulations 2019 is before the House now. Is that not on the Order Paper today? It is referred to on the Order Paper as No. 1.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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It is a motion without debate.

Photo of Terry LeydenTerry Leyden (Fianna Fail)
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I do not want a debate but I want clarification. It is a useful and good statutory instrument. I would like the Leader to clarify because I read the instrument-----

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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What does Senator Leyden want me to clarify?

Photo of Terry LeydenTerry Leyden (Fianna Fail)
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I am saying that, until now, to get on the supplementary register, one had to register at a Garda station. I presume we will pass this motion unanimously. There was a danger and a problem that law-abiding citizens who wanted to be on the register were deterred by having to go to a Garda station to be identified by a garda who would confirm their registration. It made some people nervous because, believe it or not, some people are nervous about going to a Garda station. Many of us do not do so regularly and it is the last thing people want to do. I thought the requirement to attend at a Garda station was over the top for something as legitimate as registering to vote. I commend the Minister on his intelligence in bringing this proposal to the House.

The regulation makes reference to areas where the authority has in place electronic means to identify the person. I hope all local authorities have such a system in place because otherwise it would be self-defeating.I would like the Leader to get an opportunity to read or clarify it. The explanatory note is very clear and I would like the Leader to agree with me that this is his reading of the document.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Fine Gael)
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I support Dublin Chamber of Commerce and ISME regarding putting pressure on Dublin Port to change its decision not to allow cruise ships into Dublin Port. It sends out a bad message for the country. A total of 172 cruise ships visited Dublin Port last year and because of Brexit planning, it is intended to change that and no cruise ship will be allowed into the port. When the cruise ships arrive, they do not put any pressure on Dublin hotels, bed and breakfasts or Airbnb. They put no pressure on accommodation in the city but are a major boost to the economy. The Government should liaise with Dublin Port to see what can be done because the cruise ship industry is a growing market. As a matter of urgency, the Government should liaise with the port to see how it can be facilitated so that the cruise ships continue to visit Dublin.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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I thank the 18 Members for their contributions to the Order of Business. I join Senator Warfield and all of us in the House in remembering the genocide in Rwanda 25 years ago. It is important and proper that we in this House reflect upon and pay tribute to the Rwandan people on the 25th anniversary. The words of the president are ones we should take note of when he speaks of them being a family once again. The events of 25 years ago were horrific and brutal. Like the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, we should all commend the bravery and resilience of the Rwandan people and stand with them. At the end of the Order of Business, it is appropriate that we should stand for a minute's reflection and pay tribute to, and remember, those who died in an awful event.

Senator Ardagh raised the issue of Spinraza. The information I have is that the HSE wrote to the company informing it of its proposal to refuse reimbursement of Spinraza at the price offered by the company but allowing for an opportunity for the company to come back to the HSE with a different price option. As Members will be aware, the Health (Pricing and Supply of Medical Goods) Act 2013 allows for 28 days during which a company may come back to the Department or the HSE. My information is that the HSE has received a revised submission. The HSE drugs group is now considering that price and will make a recommendation. I do not have more up to date information than that but drugs companies have an obligation to come back to the HSE with reasonable prices so that we can ensure people are able to avail of medicines.

Senators McFadden and Ardagh raised the report from National Cancer Registry Ireland. According to the report, one in two of us will develop cancer in the coming years. As Senator McFadden rightly said, outcomes have improved and people are surviving longer and have better access to treatment and medicines but it is important that we invest in cancer care and services, the national cancer strategy is updated and resources put in place to ensure the strategy is fit for purpose. Last Friday, I visited Cork ARC Cancer Support House to look at its proposal for the new development, which involves a suite of rooms and treatment centres and would provide people with an opportunity to meet. I commend the work of Professor Seamus O'Reilly and the staff in Cork ARC Cancer Support House.It is important that we invest in our cancer strategy so that we can tackle the scourge of cancer that has for a generation blighted our communities. As Senator Ardagh rightly said, there are many in this House who have family members who died as a result of cancer and other family members who have suffered from the disease and may be on the road to recovery, in remission or now cancer free. This is an issue on which we must maintain vigilance.

Senators McDowell, Lawless and Bacik raised the issue of the gaming legislation that is coming before the House, probably next week.

Photo of Michael McDowellMichael McDowell (Independent)
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I am on the Leader's side on that. It is the lobbyists I am against.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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The Senator made a point regarding local authorities having powers in this area removed from them. I do not believe the position will change.

Photo of Michael McDowellMichael McDowell (Independent)
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I got that wrong. I misread the industry lobby.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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If it is to be changed, I accept the Senator's point that the legislation should be looked at again. He is correct that there is no value to society in having gaming machines or these dens of iniquity where people gather. He is also correct that it is the most vulnerable and those who can least afford it who end up going in to these places. I fully subscribe to the point made by Senators McDowell and Lawless that gambling is a scourge on many families from which no community is immune. I support Senator McDowell's view that it does not add anything to society to have places where gaming machines are operated.

In the context of any legislation, it is important that we do not remove power from local authorities. Continuing to strip them of power is not the way forward. We should be sensible in the way in which we invest in local government from the point of view of giving elected members powers and an opportunity to have real meaningful roles in areas such as this.

Senators McDowell, Black and Bacik raised the issue of the Israeli election and the annexation of Palestinian settlements. Senator McDowell will be glad to hear I agree with him. None of us in this House is anti-Semitic or anti-Israel. From the point of view of what is being proposed here, it is a free and democratic election. Like Senator McDowell, I do not take my lead on Israel or Palestine from President Trump but it is important that we have a sensible debate. In fairness, the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade have taken a strong line on Israel and Palestine. I am not sure the Bill to which the Senator refers is a good one but it was passed in this House. It is important that the Israeli people have their vote today. It is equally important that the world community upholds human rights. Like the Senators, I believe in the rights of Israel but I also believe the Palestinian people have a fundamental right that we must all try to honour as well.

Senator Conway-Walsh raised the issue of trolleys in hospitals, which are a source of concern. We have seen HSE investment in initiatives to target waiting times in emergency departments. The Senator also referred to staff recruitment. It is important to recognise that the Government has in recent years provided capacity to recruit more doctors and nurses to work in the health system. Since 2015, the number of medical and dental staff has increased by 1,132 or 12%, the number of nurses has increased by 2,291 or 6.4% and the number of health and social care professionals has increased by 1,918 or 13%. The number of health service staff in management and administration increased by 2,340 or 14% in the same period. I agree with Senator Conway-Walsh that there is a need for more investment in front-line services and I share Senator Reilly's view that a greater emphasis on primary care is needed. The Government, as Senator Reilly noted, has agreed a new GP contract which will make general practice a much more attractive career and allow for treatment at the first point of care. I thank all those involved in the contractual discussions that have taken place.

HSE recruitment needs to be targeted at specific areas. This year, we have the highest health budget in the history of the State. I am sure some Senators watched the "Reeling in the Years" programme the other night in which an infamous Minister for Health, Deputy Micheál Martin, was shown presiding over the highest ever trolley watch figures. The health system was in a morass and the subject of ongoing commentary under the then Minister.Senators should watch that episode of "Reeling in the Years" shown last weekend. It is a bit like déjà vu.

Photo of Jennifer Murnane O'ConnorJennifer Murnane O'Connor (Fianna Fail)
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We declared an emergency then. The Government should be declaring an emergency now.

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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The Leader is keeping a very close watch on his constituency colleague.

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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Deputy Murnane O'Connor is totally out of order again.

Photo of Jennifer Murnane O'ConnorJennifer Murnane O'Connor (Fianna Fail)
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It is the truth.

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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The Leader to respond without interruption.

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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The Leader is goading his audience.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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The declaration of an emergency or otherwise has led to the highest ever health budget of €16 billion. Those who watch "Reeling in the Years" know what happened the year after 2003. Deputy Micheál Martin ran out of health never to go back. That Government let poor Mary Harney there for almost a generation.

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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Take it up somewhere else.

Photo of Jennifer Murnane O'ConnorJennifer Murnane O'Connor (Fianna Fail)
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What is the Leader's obsession with Deputy Micheál Martin?

Photo of Michael McDowellMichael McDowell (Independent)
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This is Cork South-Central politics.

Photo of Jennifer Murnane O'ConnorJennifer Murnane O'Connor (Fianna Fail)
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This is local politics at its best.

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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We do not want any school romantics in here.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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As Senator McDowell knows full well-----

Photo of Jennifer Murnane O'ConnorJennifer Murnane O'Connor (Fianna Fail)
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Deputy Martin is still the Deputy for Cork South-Central.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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As Senator McDowell knows full well, the Fianna Fáil Party-----

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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I ask the Leader not to encourage people.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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As the Leas-Chathaoirleach knows and as Senator McDowell can testify, the Fianna Fáil Party ran out of health and never returned. It left poor Mary Harney stranded there.

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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Mary Harney wanted the job. She was very good in it.

Photo of Jennifer Murnane O'ConnorJennifer Murnane O'Connor (Fianna Fail)
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What about the Taoiseach? He was in health and ran from it.

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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Will you all dún do bhéal. Senators are rambling as ever.

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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The Leader likes goading his audience.

Photo of Jennifer Murnane O'ConnorJennifer Murnane O'Connor (Fianna Fail)
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He has to be joking.

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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The Leader to respond, without interruption.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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Senators Conway Walsh-----

Photo of Terry LeydenTerry Leyden (Fianna Fail)
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We look forward to the programme and-----

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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Senators Conway Walsh and Feighan raised the issue of ATMs being robbed and it is a source of huge concern.

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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We raised that last week.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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As I was going to say, and I thank my colleague and friend, Senator Horkan, for his help, it was raised on the Order of Business by a number of Senators last week. The PSNI and the Garda Síochána are working very hard to try to ensure the criminals are apprehended. This is not a victimless crime. It has a profound impact on the quality of life of people living on both sides of the Border and it is important that anybody with information should provide it to the PSNI or the Garda. It is equally important that we stand up to dissident paramilitaries who, if they are involved, should be brought to task regarding the matter.

Senator Dolan raised the important matter of National Arthritis Week and the need for the Minister of State with responsibility for disabilities to come to the House to discuss employment and the strategic targeting of people's abilities. It is important that the strategy is implemented and that the numbers allocated are followed up on and adhered to. It is important that we give people with a disability an opportunity to work and reach their potential in the workforce. I am happy to have this debate in the coming weeks.

Senator Bacik raised the issue of sexual harassment in the workplace and asked for a debate on this important issue. I am happy to do so. This evening, we will have a debate on the divorce Bill and subsequently we can have that debate.

Senator Hopkins raised the very important matter of providing a flexible school transportation system so we can offer support, in particular to families in rural communities with small schools. This is a very worthwhile suggestion. Some schools are dealing with declining numbers while others are exploding and it is important that we have this debate so we can allow choice to be given to families and parents and allow for flexible transport options to access preschool or after-school services. In many cases today, both parents are working. I would be happy to have this debate in the coming weeks.

Senators Murnane O'Connor and Norris raised the issue of the local property tax. I am not sure whether there was a meeting of minds between them. If Senators Murnane O'Connor and Norris have an alternative to the local property tax then let us hear it. We remember what happened in 1977 when Jack Lynch got rid of rates.

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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It is Cork South-Central again.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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Senators cannot come in and be populist and expect no one to pay for anything. Something has to be paid to run the country.

Photo of Terry LeydenTerry Leyden (Fianna Fail)
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What about water charges?

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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We know what Fianna Fáil did with water charges. It also ran away from that. It has become the populist party. I know it is competing with Sinn Féin to be populist but-----

Photo of Jennifer Murnane O'ConnorJennifer Murnane O'Connor (Fianna Fail)
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Ah, Leader.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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-----there is only a certain amount of money the State can provide. To be fair, any sensible and thoughtful person would recognise that we need to have money coming into the coffers of the Exchequer to pay for the services, hospitals and gardaí that Senators come in here every day to speak about.Let us be fair. Fianna Fáil cannot be all things to all people. Look where that got it in 2010. That is the bottom line.

Photo of Jennifer Murnane O'ConnorJennifer Murnane O'Connor (Fianna Fail)
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Give me a violin.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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Senator Lawless made a good contribution regarding the amendment to the licensing of gaming legislation. We will have that discussion again, as this issue needs a great deal of debate. I hope that, through the Bill, we can get people's attention. This is a current topic. Whether in the form of loot boxes, online gambling or gaming arcades, it has become a blight on our society.

On behalf of everyone in the House, I join Senator Black in paying tribute to the late Sally O'Neill, who was tragically killed in recent days, and in commending her on her work with Trócaire and the way in which she advocated for and promoted human rights and social justice around the world. We remember her and thank her for her service. We send our sympathies to her family.

Senator Reilly referred to the new GP contract. The Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, was in Athlone with Senator McFadden. We all agree that it is through primary care that we will bring about a revolution in our healthcare system. I look forward to the debate on that matter in the coming weeks.

I wonder whether Senator Norris received grants from the Irish Georgian Society or anyone else in order to renovate his house. He got great notoriety out of being on television and winning Ireland's best house or renovated house.

Photo of Jennifer Murnane O'ConnorJennifer Murnane O'Connor (Fianna Fail)
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Home of the year.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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We congratulate him on that.

Senators Gallagher and Norris raised the important matter of school secretaries. The education committee is debating the issue today. Fórsa is running a good campaign on the role of school secretaries. A regularisation of their position is necessary. That some schools can do A, B and C while others can do X, Y and Z is anomalous and must change. The job of school secretary is one of the most important roles in any school community. In that context, we would support any change that betters the lives of school secretaries.

Senator Gallagher also discussed domestic violence and the need for extra resources. As a more expeditious way of getting a reply, I suggest that he table a Commencement matter on the subject.

Senator Horkan pointed to the need for a debate on illegal dumping. I would be happy to arrange that in the coming weeks. I agree that the suppliers of goods across the entire retail sector must reduce the amount of packaging of which people are obliged to dispose. I would be happy to have that debate as part of the ongoing discussion on waste and recycling.

From my reading of the regulations on the supplementary electoral register to which Senator Leyden referred, this means a change. That is positive. It is important from all of our perspectives that people register and vote. As such, it is important that it be made easier for them to register. My interpretation of the regulations is similar to the Senator's in that people will be able to register online.

Photo of Terry LeydenTerry Leyden (Fianna Fail)
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It is a step in the right direction.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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Yes. I commend the Minister of State, Deputy Phelan, in that regard.

Senator Paddy Burke referred to Dublin Port Company's decision to reduce the number of cruise liners coming to Dublin. This is a regressive move and I ask the company to revisit its decision. The cruise liner industry is both lucrative and an important means of attracting people to Dublin, Cobh and, perhaps, Belfast. I hope that, following on from the contributions of the Senator and others in the House, this move will be revised by the company. It sends the wrong message and does not help to promote our tourism strategy, which is about attracting people to Ireland.

In accordance with Senator Warfield's proposal and with the Leas-Cheann Comhairle's permission, it would be appropriate for us to stand and remember the Rwandan people today.

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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On that proposal, we will stand for a moment of silent reflection.

Members rose.

Order of Business agreed to.