Wednesday, 8 May 2019
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
The Order of Business today is No. 1, motion regarding the amendment of the orders of reference of the Special Joint Committee on Climate Action, to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business, without debate; No. 2, motion regarding the special meeting of joint committees for engagement on challenges for the European Union on the occasion of Europe Day, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 1, without debate; No. 3, motion regarding the arrangements for the sitting of the House on Thursday, 9 May 2019, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 2, without debate; No. 4, Parental Leave (Amendment) Bill 2017 – Report and Final Stages, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 3; No. 5, Wildlife (Amendment) Bill 2016 – Committee Stage (resumed), to be taken on the conclusion of No. 4 and to adjourn not later than 7.30 p.m. if not previously concluded; and No. 6, Private Members' Business, Free Education (Prohibition of Fees and Charges) Bill 2018 – Second Stage, to be taken at 7.30 p.m., with the time allocated to this debate not to exceed two hours.
With the Cathaoirleach's indulgence, at the beginning of our recommencing today I ask that we remember and pay tribute to our former colleague and friend, the late Senator Feargal Quinn. We will be paying tribute to him at a later stage but I want to remember him today as we reconvene after our Easter recess.
I join in the sympathies to the family of Feargal Quinn on my behalf and on behalf of the Fianna Fáil group.
Today, I raise the issue of the crisis we see in home care throughout the country, not only by paid carers but by unpaid carers. We see huge discrepancies between various local authorities in the allocation of home adaptation grants.Some local authorities spend up to €22 million while others only spend a fraction of that. It is what we call a postcode lottery, but this should be done nationally and there should not be such discrepancies. Some 3,000 people are being left without funding because it is a postcode lottery. Outside Leinster House earlier, we met many people who are in receipt of home care and respite services and are crying out for more funding. There are long waiting lists for home help hours nationally. Local authorities and HSE offices are not funded adequately. Will the House consider the Nursing Home Support Scheme (Amendment) Bill 2016, introduced by my colleague, Deputy O'Dea, which allows for home care to be provided in the home under the fair deal scheme? Most people want to stay in their own homes as they approach the end of their lives. It is important that the Government fund home care services properly.
We still have 10,000 people on the housing waiting list, comprising more than 6,000 adults and more than 3,000 children. Nearly 70% of homeless people are in our capital city. We have seen little progress under Rebuilding Ireland. In my constituency, a small community allotment garden in a park was taken back under the control of Dublin City Council on the basis that it would immediately become the site of rapid-build housing. There has been no such housing provided there to date. St. Michael's Estate is also in my constituency of Dublin South-Central. We were promised a rent-to-buy scheme, but it has not happened. The Government scrapped affordable housing schemes in 2011 and no realistic affordable housing projects have come to fruition. It is a disgrace, as housing is the No. 1 issue affecting people. I welcome the various housing bodies' establishment of an affordable housing campaign. I wish them well and hope that all Senators will join them.
On broadband, a document was published before Leaders' Questions in the Dáil and this led to the suspension of proceedings in the Lower House. The Seanad needs to have a proper debate on the roll-out of the national broadband plan.
I have raised an issue close to my heart on numerous occasions, namely, the Department of Justice and Equality and the processing of Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service, INIS, applications for citizenship, stamp 4, stamp 2 and family reunification. There are major delays, sometimes of almost two years. It is not acceptable that people who are legally entitled to be in this country are waiting so long. I call on the Minister for Justice and Equality to examine the delays in processing INIS applications.
I wish to raise a matter which I raised a few weeks ago and which is not going to go away. If we look around society generally or even just the Seanad, we are all ageing. Some of us are ageing very well, but our elders need to be looked after in their homes and communities or in voluntary private or public nursing homes. There is a complete lack of adequate nursing home care for our elders. This is a major concern in every town, village and county. In recent weeks, I have been liaising with many of the relevant bodies. There are many problems relating to this matter. There are, however, three main problems, the first of which is Garda vetting. If vetting followed the person and not the institution, young healthcare assistants who are obliged to move around would not have to go through three, four, five, six or seven vettings. Some of them can be out of work awaiting vetting for four to six weeks. Were they given the power to find their own clearances, we might be able to hold onto them in work fulfilling needs for much longer.
The second problem relates to critical skills. This labour force does not fall under the critical skills category. Therefore, it is often impossible for them to enter this country. Conversely, people doing bone work in agriculture can enter the country under the critical skills category.It is extremely important that, as a valued society, we make a distinction between animals in abattoirs and elders in homes. The areas of critical skills, payscales and progression must be examined such that the role of health care assistant to our elders or disabled persons, be it in the community or nursing homes, becomes an attractive career. Currently, a person in receipt of social welfare payments or a pension is precluded by Revenue from working in this area. There are many people in our towns and villages who would like to give of their time but because they are in receipt of a small pension or social welfare payment, they are precluded from doing so. These people should be permitted to work in the community for up to 15 hours per week with no effect on their payments. They should be free to do work for whatever fee the elderly person wants to pay for the service without the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection or the Revenue Commissioners taking a cut. If we allowed people in our communities to give back to those communities rather than penalise them for doing so, we would find in this country people at the health care assistant level and other levels as well. We are not thinking creatively about these issues. We are penalising for the sake of it and not allowing people to do a job that they would love to do if they did not face losing part of their pension or social welfare payment.
We are legislators in this House. I would like the Ministers for Health and Employment Affairs and Social Protection to come to the House for a debate on this issue. We could change the position very easily by way of an amendment to the vetting legislation and by addressing the issue of healthcare assistant critical skills. We need to be creative. I ask that the Ministers forgo knocking on the doors of Ireland in the local election campaign and come to the House for that debate.
Yesterday, we had the PR event on the national broadband plan. I stated previously that rural Ireland would not be fooled by this pre-elections stunt. People in rural Ireland know that, with the local elections imminent, they will get rural broadband without even knowing the details of the plan. Meanwhile, the Minister for Rural and Community Development, Deputy Ring, is going around opening footpaths.
We all welcomed the establishment of the portfolio of Minister for Rural and Community Development to ensure that rural issues were addressed. What we have is a Minister who announces every LEADER grant. It is not necessary for a Minister to announce every initiative. The LEADER programme was administered for years without any oversight by a Minister for Rural and Community Development. Where is the vision? Issues such as the national broadband plan, broadband service provision, providing the climate for jobs and enterprise and maximising the fibre cable connecting America with the west coast are the issues on which the Minister should be focused, not the opening of new footpaths. What he is doing is astounding and I hope people will see through it in a couple of weeks' time.
We are all aware of the need for rural broadband and we all want to see it delivered. It should be delivered because the lost opportunities around not having it delivered are enormous. We were told yesterday that the worst option is the only option. The Government then turned on the spin. This Government will be known as the Government of spin and bluster. Just over an hour ago, documentation from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform was released which shows that under the current model, many other projects will be delayed or never happen because of the overspend. People in rural Ireland want to know what is going on. The letter from the Secretary General, Mr. Robert Watt, states that this represents a major subsidy from the taxpayer for private benefits. He goes on to say that he believes there are unprecedented risks to the Exchequer posed by this proposed project.The Government has pursued a procurement model that will see the taxpayer subsidise a private consortium with no experience in the sector to the tune of €3 billion. That State will not even own the infrastructure at the end of the contract. I call on the Minister to come to the House to answer questions on this.
I also note with regret that this year's Ballina Salmon Festival has been cancelled after running for 65 years. Recent rises in insurance costs pushed it over the edge this year. Many festivals and events are under pressure because of unpredictable and inexcusable increases in insurance costs. It means they are no longer viable. The Alliance for Insurance Reform has identified the lack of action from the Government in setting up a Garda insurance fraud unit and a lack of urgency in passing legislation that is needed to tackle insurance cartels. People are fed up of the Government talking about insurance and costs. The Ballina Salmon Festival was important not only to Ballina but the whole of Mayo and the west of Ireland. It is absolutely criminal that the festival cannot go ahead this year because of the costs.
They did. I call on the Minister with responsibility for rural affairs and other Ministers to get their act together and sort out insurance problems so that festivals and really good volunteer work done around the country can be capitalised upon.
I seek help on amendments to be made to legislation. We had a number of complicated Bills here recently referring to other legislation in many circumstances. These are very complex matters. I contacted the Bills Office and asked for help. In the past it used to give such help but I was told it can absolutely not do it now. The law office in the Oireachtas is supposed to help us with legislation but it cannot do it either, as it only gives legal advice on the preparation of legislation. Having discussed the matter, we have the suggestion of appointing somebody to give assistance to Members in both the Dáil and Seanad with amendments. It would be very useful.
He is probably from somewhere like Cork.
I agree completely with my colleague from Sinn Féin. The business with broadband has been appalling. The worst aspect of it is that the taxpayer will pay €3 billion to provide the infrastructure while at the end the taxpayer - having paid for the infrastructure - will not get it. It will go to the private company. This is sheer and unadulterated madness. What are we at?
I will certainly take great pleasure in ignoring the Leader. I heard a kind of gnat buzzing on my right-hand side but it has now gone through the window. It is utterly shocking that the taxpayer should pay €3 billion for infrastructure that it will then not even own. It will be owned by a private company. I rest my case as I am dumbfounded by this.
A little over two weeks ago I attended the funeral service of Ms Lyra McKee, the young lady whose life was taken in Creggan. At the service I experienced the most powerful 80 seconds of my past ten years when Fr. Martin Magill asked why, in God's name, did it take the death of a 29-year-old woman with her life in front of her to get to this point. He sent a challenge, especially to the two main parties in Northern Ireland, Sinn Féin and the Democratic Unionist Party, to get together and get the institutions at Stormont up and running. The interruption in power-sharing has gone on for more than two years. In memory of that very brave young journalist, something should be done. I know the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade is up there as well.I hope the two parties can get together, along with the other members of the council, and that we can get the Stormont Executive up and running. This interregnum has gone on for far too long. I accept that there have been difficulties on both sides but I hope that, in memory of Lyra McKee, sense will prevail.
The €3 billion for the roll-out of broadband has been discussed. I very much welcome the decision in this regard on behalf of those who live in rural Ireland. For far too long, people have been stating that rural Ireland is dead and buried. One cannot get a house now in most towns and villages because of the number of people who are moving to rural Ireland. Broadband infrastructure is badly needed. It has been stated that if somebody is in a house in Mayo or Roscommon, he or she will not be taking up an office in Dublin or spending time commuting here. This balance to the regional divide that has happened over the past 20 years is very welcome. A man stated on Midwest Radio earlier today that this year people spent €44 million on Easter eggs in one month. The amount for broadband is just two months' worth of Easter eggs for the next 30 years, but people are complaining about it. Let us get things in order here. The economy is going extremely well. While we do not like losing or spending money, this infrastructure is badly needed by those in rural Ireland. I will not stand by and listen to populist politicians who shout that rural Ireland is dead and buried and yet give out that we are not delivering. This Government has delivered €3 billion. In five, ten or 20 years' time, we will see this infrastructure, which will be like that relating to the electrification of the west.
I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Bruton, to come before the House as soon as possible to explain the rationale behind the tentative decision relating to broadband roll-out. It is only a decision in principle. No contract has been signed and none will be signed during the lifetime of this Government. The matter to which I refer represents the death knell for this Government. I am of the view that this is a scandal. Granahan McCourt Capital is a US company. It does not own 1 m of fibre optic cable, one pole or a single duct. The Secretary General of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, Mr. Robert Watt, has given a stark warning to the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, and the Government. The reason for him doing so is unprecedented. The ESB and EirGrid provide a service to every house in Ireland via poles, ducting and meters and yet they withdrew from the broadband tendering process because something stinks. There is something underhanded about this entire operation. SIRO, the joint venture involving Vodafone and the ESB-----
-----announced that it would no longer remain in the process. The Irish Independentreported on 27 September 2018 that ESB chief Pat Doherty described the withdrawal as a "difficult" decision saying that "It was made on the basis that Siro was unable to make a business case for continued participation in the process". Vodafone Ireland also withdrew. That was all on the basis of a €500 million contract. Now, however, the contract is worth €3 billion. There is a stark difference between the two. The difference is that we have Irish people who are qualified. I worked with ESB International in Malaysia when it provided services there and in similar countries. The company is the best in the world. Its poles are already in place. If Mr. McCourt is to rely on those poles, it should be borne in mind that people are withdrawing their services right, left and centre. Land lines are being withdrawn and the poles are deteriorating and are not being replaced. As a former Minister of State with responsibility for post and telegraphs who was involved in the modernisation of the postal and telecommunications services, I am in a position to state that we are not afraid to spend the money - we spent €1 billion in the 1980s on this - but we must get the results. That is the point. What is happening is the basis for a major scandal.More will come out in the next few weeks and months. Bringing it out before the European and local elections is a further political escapade by an inexperienced Minister who has no business experience, past or present, to be in this portfolio. Business experience is needed-----
Two weeks ago I had the honour of being invited to Finner Camp in County Donegal for the stand down parade of Sergeant Major John O'Connor, at which I listened to him recount his experience in his rescue in Lebanon 40 years ago. He had just arrived in Lebanon and was severely wounded. While lying dying on the ground, the now retired Sergeant Major Dick O'Hanlon and Corporal Martin Fahy, under mortar and rifle fire from the enemy, travelled 400 m to collect Sergeant Major O'Connor and bring him back to a bunker, from where, under fire, they brought him to a medical treatment unit. Has anybody heard of a medal being awarded to the now retired Sergeant Major O'Hanlon and Corporal Fahy or any of the others who were there? There has not been a word, nothing. If these men had done it while serving with the British Army, they would have received the Victoria Cross. If they had done it while serving with the US Army, they would have received the Medal of Honor. We are a begrudging, mean nation in the way we treat members of the Defence Forces. The Leader has supported the men of Jadotville, from where the commander, Commandant Pat Quinlan, brought 155 men home alive after a battle against 3,000. He has not so much as found his name on a citation. He was entitled to the highest military honours, as were the 168 others who served in the Congo. Last weekend in Cork there was a march to call for respect and loyalty. I thank my colleague Senator Colm Burke for turning up at the march, as did many county councillors and many members of the Fianna Fáil Party. I appreciate that it was a difficult time for people to turn up at such events, but they did turn up to send their good wishes. I know that the Leader has expressed his support for the Defence Forces many times, but at the end of the day, there is more to showing respect than money. We owe it to those who have been neglected and forgotten to carry out a review of every act of valour since Irish troops first went on UN peacekeeping missions in the late 1950s. Not only that, we need to respect those who lost their lives during the Troubles. It is a small matter for most of us, but it is a big matter for their families. I ask the Leader for his support in this quest to right the wrongs of the past. It is never ever too late to do so. The Ceann Comhairle said in the Dáil that the neglect of members of the Defence Forces was up there with the Magdalen laundries and other such instances of abuse. In this instance we are talking about acts of valour.
I remind Members that those who speak for their groups have three minutes. I hate those Members who think they are leaders and want to take four minutes. Because of this some day I will suspend the sitting for half an hour. I ask Members to, please, respect the Chair and adhere to the times allocated to the various groups.
All we have at the moment is negative coverage. Last Wednesday in Cork the Taoiseach opened a new primary care centre. It is 62,000 sq. ft. in size and the largest in the country. There are 12 general practitioners, GPs, physiotherapists, mental health teams and dieticians in this brand new centre, but not one square inch of coverage was given to it by any of the media outlets, even though there was a big media contingent in the city. Whether people like it, things are happening.Mr. Justice Cross referred to screening in a particular case last week and decided, in the context of the judgment handed down, that the appropriate test to apply is that there should be absolute confidence in the results laboratories provide. This raises the possibility of long-term problems for screening programmes. Will laboratories and the relevant supports for services now seek indemnities from the State before they take on this work? We should have a debate on the future of screening. Screening does not involve a diagnostic test, but rather an investigation into whether there are issues that have to be dealt with. It does not provide not an absolute and definitive prognosis. There are now major concerns about this matter within the medical profession. For example, is it now the case that a surgeon deciding to carry out a heart operation might be required to be definitely of the view that there is no risk to the patient on whom he or she is operating? Medical practitioners must address this issue as a result of the judgment in question. I am not criticising the judgment, I am merely pointing out that it has set a new legal precedent which should be examined. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, to the House to discuss the issue in order to ensure that screening programmes continue.
I propose an amendment to the Order of Business: that the debate on the Wildlife (Amendment) Bill 2016 should not proceed past 6 p.m. and that Private Members' time commence upon the adjournment of that Bill. I believe the Bill has been given adequate time.
A journalist, Ms Sarah Jane Murphy, has highlighted the issue of anti-social behaviour on the DART. This matter has been raised on numerous occasions in the House. The Labour Party has made a practical suggestion in respect of it and our spokesperson, Senator Humphreys, has been quite vocal about the need for a dedicated transport police or a division of An Garda Síochána to be used help protect commuters who use the DART. There is a fear that this much needed transport system will be undermined by reports of anti-social behaviour. I often hear about anti social behaviour at the stations in Bayside, Clongriffin and Howth Junction, which are all in my part of the world. The removal of staff from the stations, ticket machines being broken and glass panelling being cracked are just some of the issues that have arisen. I would appreciate a debate on that issue with the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, and the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross.
When those in Fianna Fáil use words such as "scandal" and "underhand", as was the case following the announcement of the broadband scheme yesterday, it is really the worst of politics. I want to quote into the record of the House the comments of the economist, David McWilliams, who tweeted, "One bidder, astronomical cost, [Department of Finance] against it, yet State forks out €3 billion weeks before an election and will give asset back to consortium who [paid] to build it. This is children's hospital territory. Fianna Fáil gotta to [sic] pull the plug!". If Fianna Fáil was in government and acting in this way, Fine Gael would be the first party to cry foul. Just before an election, an announcement has been made regarding a contract relating to rural Ireland and worth €3 billion.Fine Gael may not, for ideological reasons, realise that the real killer for people is that €3 billion of State funding is going into an entity which will then be handed over in its entirety to a private operator. If Fine Gael had the guts, it would not have stood over a situation where the Minister of State, Deputy Pat Breen, was organising and attending dinners with Mr. David McCourt, together with the former Minister, Deputy Denis Naughten. The Minister of State got away with that scot free. Any other Minister of State involved in such a scenario would have resigned on the day it was discovered. Fianna Fáil let it go because it is more interested in retaining its arrangement with the Government until it has improved its poll ratings. For that party's Members to stand up now and talk about scandal and underhandedness is way out of line.
I welcome the announcement regarding the national broadband plan. I can imagine the scenario here today if, instead of giving it the go ahead, the Government had announced yesterday that it was to be pulled. Senator Conway-Walsh mentioned the Minister for Rural and Community Development, who is well able to defend himself. I recall that the Senator was keen to claim some credit recently for the €27 million investment in a new swimming pool complex at the Sacred Heart Hospital in Castlebar. It is all fair territory.
I take this opportunity to pay tribute to Eugene McGee, the Offaly football manager who dethroned the Kerry team seeking the five in a row. He was a brilliant businessman, newspaper editor, family man and community activist. Although we were bitter rivals when we played football at university, I got to know him over the years. I have no idea about his politics but he epitomised everything that was good about rural life and the GAA. He contributed hugely to his community, to counties Offaly and Longford, and to his country. I send my deepest sympathies to his wife, Marian, and family. His passing so suddenly after his son's wedding made his loss doubly traumatic. He will be sadly missed.
We all agree that everybody should have access to decent broadband. At this stage, broadband is as essential as electricity to people in every part of the country. However, it is important that we get value for the money being spent. If one divides the number of households potentially gaining access, some of which will not take it up, by the cost involved, it is a very significant figure per household. Effectively, we seem to be subsidising a private operator which ultimately will take ownership of the entire service. If we were doing it this way, colleagues in Fine Gael would be complaining about it. Will the Leader arrange for the Minister to come to the House for a comprehensive debate while, as yet, nothing has been signed? We all support the provision of broadband for all areas but the technology is changing all the time and this may not be the most cost effective way of doing it. To go from a projected cost of €500 million not so long ago to €3 billion is an enormous jump.
I am aware of a secondary school in south Dublin whose insurance bill has increased from €27,000 to €34,000 this year, even though no incidents or claims were submitted. I support the calls by Senator Conway-Walsh and others for the Minister to return to the House to explain what reforms he is undertaking for the insurance industry. The issues have been discussed to some extent at the finance committee, but the need for clarification remains. We regularly see claims being paid out in very substantial amounts by the courts, and we are all paying for that. The Minister needs to articulate what he is doing and what he has failed to do or been unable to do. I do not doubt his willingness to try but there is a problem with the insurance sector in this country, with our claims culture and with the size of payouts.It needs to be debated in this House and I ask the Leader to organise such a debate urgently.
I wish to highlight the forthcoming strike action by community employment, CE, supervisors involving approximately 1,250 people around the country next Monday, with a further four days proposed. I am very concerned about the impact on the various community and social services that are provided in the communities which have the benefit of community employment schemes, such as care of the elderly, meals on wheels, Tidy Towns, disability services and a range of other services that are the oil in the machine that makes our communities better places to live in. The idea that such services will not be provided because of a lack of availability of CE supervisors cannot be taken lightly and has to be addressed.
The case made by CE supervisors is based on a Labour Court recommendation that was made over ten years ago and it cannot be ignored, even though it was a recommendation and is not legally binding. Consideration has already been given to the claim the supervisors have relating to pension rights but there is also an issue with the fact that when the CE schemes were established, and people moved from FÁS-SOLAS to the Department of Social Protection, there was supposed to be an element of benchmarking of people who remained in the system with those who came under the employment of various CE companies. The CE companies are run by volunteers throughout the country which facilitate the schemes in partnership with the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection. As I understand it, this group has seen no increases in wages in ten years but they have a serious case and there needs to be a serious discussion about it. It is up to the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Donohoe, and his officials to see what compromise can be reached over these legitimate complaints, recognising the reality that many of the terms and conditions of these people are set by the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection even though they are not in the employment of the Department. There needs to be a balance between this and the financial constraints on the public purse but these people cannot be ignored. There needs to be engagement and I encourage the Leader to communicate this to the Minister.
There will be tributes to our late friend, Senator Feargal Quinn, at a later date and they will be well deserved. All of us who had the privilege of serving alongside Feargal miss him greatly. He was a model of civility and reasonableness around here.
Another great person died yesterday, aged 90. I refer to one of the few truly great people of the 20th and 21st century, Jean Vanier, the founder of the L'Arche communities. He served in the Second World War and later came to work with and serve people with disabilities in a truly exemplary way. There are 147 L'Arche centres in 35 countries where people with and without disabilities live together as equals, with a further 1,800 faith and light support groups for people with special needs and their families and friends across 80 nations. Vanier said living with the disabled helped him to appreciate two truths. First, people with learning difficulties have a great deal to contribute, Second, by living in the community with people, with and without learning disabilities, we open ourselves up to being challenged and to grow. What a marvellous man and what a marvellous contribution he made to the world.
I welcome the broadband development as it is very important and long overdue. I wonder, though, why we cannot be told the actual financial input of the consortium. We know it will be small enough but I do not understand why we always get claims of commercial sensitivity in these cases. Once the taxpayer is putting money into something, all relevant information should be put on the table unless there is a very compelling reason not to do so.
Indeed. Finally, I would have put in a Commencement matter tomorrow if Commencement matters were allowed. We are just back after a relatively long break and I do not want an early finish tomorrow. There should be an Order of Business and Commencement matters should be facilitated.When was that decided or when was it decided to propose that we would not have Commencement matters or an Order of Business tomorrow? I gather that is the subject of a motion later on. I ask that we have Commencement debates tomorrow. We are long enough out of the House. It is time to get back to business and there should be time for all relevant business tomorrow.
I begin by mentioning the late Senator Feargal Quinn. While I did not serve with him in the Seanad, I knew Senator Quinn and he was an absolute gentleman, a great businessman and a man who always respected his employees.
I support Senator Ó Ríordáin's practical and sensible proposal on changing the times for this evening's business.
I will genuinely try not to be party political in mentioning the case of a 92 year old woman who spent four days on a trolley in University Hospital Limerick, UHL, on the weekend before last. I was contacted on the Monday, the fourth day, by a member of the woman's family and asked if I could intervene. I tried to intervene by ringing the hospital and asking to speak to someone in management. After being put on hold for five minutes, I was told I would have to speak to the communications office. Ironically, when I asked to be put through to that office, I found it could not be contacted. I then tried its direct line and after an hour, I managed to leave a message. The hospital contacted me two hours later to say that was not the way to proceed and I should send an email instead. That was the message I got back three hours after I first tried to raise the issue of this poor 92 year old woman who had been on a trolley in the hospital for four days. As I have said a number of times, there is something fundamentally wrong with the management of UHL. Everybody knows this. I have tried to say that in a way that is not adversarial but the people of Limerick deserve so much better treatment. The idea that anyone, but above all a seriously ill 92 year old woman, would be left on a trolley for four days surely offends all of us. Matters continue to get worse at UHL and we need a political intervention from the Minister. I am calling for such an intervention and a debate on the matter.
Senator Gavan has beaten me to it as I was about to second Senator Ó Ríordáin's amendment. I support the Senator's practical proposal to amend the Order of Business by adjourning Committee Stage of the Wildlife (Amendment) Bill 2016 at 6 p.m. to enable more colleagues to participate in the debate on our very important Private Members' Bill. I also commend Senator Ó Ríordáin on introducing this Bill, which I understand the Government is not opposing. If passed, it would do away with the hidden costs of so-called free education that have crept in for many parents. I speak as somebody who has had personal experience of being charged admission fees, enrolment fees and so on. It is an important Bill because these costs create real hardship for many people and undermine the principle of free education.
This morning, Senator Ardagh, Senator Devine and I had the pleasure of attending the opening by the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy McHugh, of a new school building on the site of the Griffith Barracks multidenominational school in Dublin 8. It took the parents, board of management and friends and supporters of the school 19 years to get this wonderful new building in place but it is great to see. There was a large community turnout this morning for the opening, which is a positive good news story. Senator Ó Ríordáin's Bill, if passed, would send out a positive message to parents and school communities and would not preclude genuinely voluntary contributions under particular conditions.
I join others in paying tribute to our dear friend and colleague, Senator Feargal Quinn. This is the first time we have had an opportunity to do so in the Seanad. I would like to say what a gentleman he was and what a pleasure it always was to work with him.
I am proud to be involved in a conference in Trinity College Dublin this weekend, which is being run by a coalition of different organisations supporting survivors of institutional abuse in memory of Ms Christine Buckley. It is a very important and significant event at which we will mark the anniversary of the State's apology to survivors of abuse in industrial schools and other institutions. It is a timely way to remember the many survivors and the injustice done to them by the State and others.
I join Senators who have paid tribute to Senator Feargal Quinn. I knew him well and as a matter of fact I worked in one of his stores as a student. He was a true gentleman and a very kind man.I was particularly privileged and delighted when he agreed to endorse me and sign the nomination paper allowing me to contest the Seanad election. It was a very kind, generous offer made by him. At the time, he was very ill in hospital. He asked to see me and I went to see him. He signed the nomination paper and duly got it here. On a personal level, I will always be grateful for the opportunity he gave me.
On 13 September 2018 the Government issued a press release and launched a campaign to establish the Land Development Agency which was to have a budget of €1.25 billion and to build 150,000 new homes. Today we are still waiting for a draft of the primary legislation required to give this organisation the muscle and teeth to face the many challenges it will face in land acquisition. There will be difficulties as the agency proceeds to do its work. It has a mandate from and been established by the Government. It is important that we enact the legislation to give it force, power and teeth to get on with meeting the major challenge and job at hand. At some stage, when possible, will the Leader find out from the office of the Minister the likely date for publication of either a draft scheme or the Bill? It is important legislation which is needed. At the time of the launch the Minister said it was essential that the legislation be progressed to give the agency the teeth and power required. Any information or assistance the Leader can give the House on the matter would be appreciated.
I, too, wish to be associated with the remarks on and tributes paid to our former colleague Feargal Quinn. I was glad to have been at his funeral mass last Saturday week. I am sure appropriate tributes will be paid to him here in due course, as is appropriate.
I endorse what my colleague Senator O'Mahony said about the late, great Eugene McGee. Those interested in sport, particularly the GAA, will never forget the third Sunday in September 1982. It was an extraordinary event, for which Mr. McGee is primarily remembered, but I am sure Senator O'Mahony has other memories, including those he might wish to forget, but that is for another day.
As I said in announcing the Order of Business, it is important today, as we reconvene, that we pay tribute to and remember the late Feargal Quinn, to whom we will have tributes in due course. I again offer sympathy to his family on his very sad passing.
It is also important that we remember Lyra McKee who was tragically killed in the North. I hope her death is a reminder to all of us that we must never go back to the days of old.
As the Cathaoirleach and Senator O'Mahony have done, I pay tribute to Eugene McGee who was not just a GAA manager but also a person who was very insightful in his commentary on rural Ireland and political affairs and the world of journalism. He was innovative in his thinking.
We should also remember the people who were killed in Sri Lanka since we last met. We do so mindful of the fact that we are privileged to be here.
As Senator Mullen said, we are back from our laethanta saoire. It is as a consequence that I remind the House that the Seanad Committee on Procedure and Privileges received a request to use the Chamber for Europe Day tomorrow, to which request other members of the committee and I acquiesced. The decision was made by the committee. It is my intention to conduct business tomorrow.
On the amendment proposed by Senator Ó Ríordáin, to be fair to Members of the House who are not here, the Minister for Education and Skills is taking oral questions in the Dáil and will not be available until 7.30 p.m. As the House knows, the Government is not opposing the Private Members' Bill. With regard to what Members who have legislation being taken prior to the Private Members' Bill have intimated and in the understanding it is a matter for the House to accept or reject the business of the House proposed, I hope we can accept my proposal on the Order of Business.I am not trying in any way to be unhelpful to anybody. The Minister will not be available until 7.30 p.m. Other Senators have tabled amendments to the Wildlife (Amendment) Bill 2016. They have indicated to me - and to other Senators through their groups, I am sure - their availability or otherwise. I will not curtail the debate on the Private Members' business. It remains the intention that two hours will be allocated, as is normal. I cannot accept the Senator's amendment on the basis that the Minister is not available, but I nonetheless assure the Senator the Government will not oppose the Bill at this Stage.
There was a visiting delegation from Shanghai, accompanied by Séamus Hennessy, who is a friend of Senator Maria Byrne. I had intended to welcome them but they have left the Chamber.
Senator Ardagh raised the important issue of home care packages, while Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell spoke about older people and the need to provide support for them. This week, Jim Power wrote an interesting article in the Irish Independenton the cost of care for older people, which amounts to €4.5 billion. The care of older people needs to be addressed. I fully agree with the sentiments expressed by Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell and commend her on the publication this week of Irish Working Lives.As we live longer and as our population grows older, we all seek better types of care and facilities, and the Senator is correct that we need to be more creative in that regard. I am happy to hold that debate in due course.
The issue of housing was raised by Senator Ardagh. The Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, will appear before the House next week to take part in a debate on housing, which I will be happy to join.
Senators Ardagh, Leyden, Conway-Walsh, O'Mahony, Feighan, Ó Ríordáin, Horkan and Mullen raised the matter of broadband. Much of the focus has been on the correspondence from Mr. Robert Watt, the Secretary General at the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. Those who argue against the plan did not consider, or chose not to refer to, the correspondence from the Secretary General of the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Mr. Mark Griffin. He has spoken with optimism about the bidder achieving savings and about how in ten years, all those who seek broadband will have access to higher-speed broadband and its benefits. It beggars belief to listen to the likes of Senator Norris, yet again, and others with a populist agenda. Are they really saying they do not want people to have access to broadband? Are they against the plan for broadband?
Are they saying they want there to be a digital divide in our country? As sure as day follows night, Senator Conway-Walsh, of whom I am fond, will tell the House the country is falling down, that we do not have access to broadband, that there are no jobs in rural Ireland, that people are running away to the capital and that we cannot have that. It is all about County Mayo. The Minister for Rural and Community Development, Deputy Ring, is doing a great job in County Mayo, as the Senator will be aware. As Senator O'Mahony said, Senator Conway-Walsh, too, likes to attend the opening of envelopes. I saw her at the weekend in her County Mayo jersey cheering on the boys in green and red and they had a great win. The Minister is delivering for rural Ireland, as the Senator knows quite well. She just wishes she was in government with the Minister.
The Senator referred to a lack of vision. Is it not wonderful that the Minister and other members of the Government have a vision for rural Ireland to be connected, where there is no digital divide but where there are jobs and an Internet speed that will allow people to be taught remotely, to work from home and to do school projects. If one watched the "Six One News" last night, one will have seen the people whom the Senator represents welcoming the plan and bemoaning that they cannot do their homework-----
-----and lamenting that they cannot have high-speed connectivity. The good news is that the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment will appear before the House on Thursday, 16 May for the debate on the broadband plan. All those who ride on the horse of populism can attend the debate and then tell the people they were in favour of broadband in Dublin but against it elsewhere.
Senator Ó Ríordáin is not on stage at the Abbey now. We know his Trumpian call will be put to good use, but I ask him to cast his mind back to his good colleagues in the Labour Party who were in government. He should go back and listen to the clip from "Morning Ireland" this morning.
"If in doubt, leave them out" was formerly the great clarion call of Senator Leyden's party leader but we should go back to the days of Mary O'Rourke and the sale of Telecom Éireann. However, we will not as it is the first day back.
Senator Craughwell raised the need to remember acts of valour and I concur with him. Unfortunately, I could not make it to the march last Saturday as my niece and goddaughter was making her first holy communion. It was one of those rare occasions when I put family first.
Senator McFadden has been a champion in the House and an advocate in that regard. Senator Colm Burke was present. It is important that the acts of valour Senator Craughwell raised are taken seriously. The appropriateness of that should be addressed with the Minister of State with responsibility for defence, Deputy Kehoe. We will have that debate either by way of a Commencement matter or otherwise in the House. Perhaps Senator Craughwell and I can speak about how to progress that.
Senator Colm Burke referred to the primary care facility which was opened in Cork last week. It is a fantastic, state-of-the-art, model facility which the Senator was right to praise. I commend the Senator and others on their work to ensure the facility was established. I pay tribute to and thank Tony McNamara who has intimated his intention to retire from public service as CEO of Cork University Hospital. I thank him for his 27 plus years of service to the health service and wish him well in his new career. Senator Burke raised the very interesting judgment of Mr. Justice Cross in the Morrissey case and the questions he posed on future screening. It is a matter on which we need to have a debate and conversation. Health and medicine are not exact sciences and it is right to raise the issue.
Senator Ó Ríordáin referred also to dedicated transport policing. Senators Horkan and Conway-Walsh referred to insurance and the need to have the Minister come to the House to discuss it. I would be happy to have those debates in the House in due course.
Senator Mulherin referred to the impending strike by community employment supervisors. The Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Deputy Regina Doherty, has been in discussions with community employment supervisors' representatives. Those involved held a protest outside Leinster House before the Easter recess and it is a matter we need to see resolved. We all recognise the importance and benefits of community employment schemes for local communities and I would be happy to have a debate on the matter.
I overlooked Senator Mullen's tribute to Jean Vanier for his huge work to give people with intellectual disability hope, home and life and joy. I join the Senator in expressing gratitude for Mr. Vanier's well-lived life.
Senator Gavan referred to a lady in Limerick. I do not have the information to which he referred but my comment is simple. Any person of that age should not have to spend four or 48 hours on a trolley, let alone four days. It is an issue to which the Senator continually refers. As he knows, the Government is committed to addressing the issue in University Hospital Limerick and we have seen a new build sanctioned and commenced. I hope the matter can be addressed urgently.
I commend Senator Bacik on attending the conference she referred to. I do not have the answer on the Land Development Agency which Senator Boyhan sought but I will take the matter up with the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy.
I welcome the members of the campaign to save Fermoy weir who are in the Public Gallery with Deputy Kevin O'Keeffe. They appeared before the Committee on Public Petitions today and I hope they had a very good hearing there.I hope Senator Ó Ríordáin understands I cannot accept his proposed amendment to the Order of Business because the logistics do not make it possible. If the House agrees, the business tomorrow will be the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill 2017.
Catherine Ardagh, Ivana Bacik, Frances Black, Victor Boyhan, Lorraine Clifford Lee, Rose Conway Walsh, Gerard Craughwell, Paul Daly, Aidan Davitt, Maire Devine, Paul Gavan, Alice Mary Higgins, Gerry Horkan, Kevin Humphreys, Pádraig MacLochlainn, Niall Ó Donnghaile, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, Lynn Ruane, Fintan Warfield.
Colm Burke, Paddy Burke, Jerry Buttimer, Maria Byrne, Paul Coghlan, Martin Conway, Frank Feighan, Maura Hopkins, Anthony Lawlor, Tim Lombard, Gabrielle McFadden, Catherine Noone, Kieran O'Donnell, John O'Mahony, Joe O'Reilly, Neale Richmond.
Catherine Ardagh, Ivana Bacik, Frances Black, Lorraine Clifford Lee, Rose Conway Walsh, Gerard Craughwell, Mark Daly, Paul Daly, Aidan Davitt, Maire Devine, Paul Gavan, Alice Mary Higgins, Gerry Horkan, Kevin Humphreys, Pádraig MacLochlainn, Denis O'Donovan, Niall Ó Donnghaile, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, Lynn Ruane, Fintan Warfield.
Colm Burke, Paddy Burke, Jerry Buttimer, Maria Byrne, Paudie Coffey, Paul Coghlan, Martin Conway, Frank Feighan, Maura Hopkins, Anthony Lawlor, Tim Lombard, Gabrielle McFadden, Michelle Mulherin, Rónán Mullen, Catherine Noone, Kieran O'Donnell, John O'Mahony, Joe O'Reilly, Neale Richmond.