Tuesday, 28 May 2019
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
The Order of Business for today, 28 May 2019, is No. a1, motion re Planning and Development Act 2000 (Exempted Development) (No. 2) Regulations 2019 - referral to committee, to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business, without debate; No. 1, Judicial Appointments Commission Bill 2017 - Committee Stage, resumed, to be taken at 4.45 p.m. and to adjourn at 7 p.m., if not previously concluded; and No. 2, Health Service Executive (Governance) Bill 2018 - Report Stage, amendments from Dáil Éireann, and Final Stage, to be taken at 7 p.m.
I convey my sympathies and those of the Fianna Fáil group to the families of Garda David Hearne and Garda John McCallion who passed away at the weekend. Garda Hearne was from Fethard-on-Sea in County Wexford, a village where I spent many of my holidays. He was a recipient of bravery awards for his work with the Coast Guard. He tragically passed away in a diving accident at the weekend. I convey my sympathies to his family and to the community in Fethard-on-Sea. It is a small fishing community which has, unfortunately, lost another one of its members. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.
Following the European and local elections, I wish to personally congratulate all the candidates around the country who were brave enough to put their names forward. I congratulate those who were elected and commiserate with those who were not elected. It takes a great deal, as we all know, to put one's name forward. Candidates put themselves on the line and leave themselves open to criticism. We should encourage people to put themselves forward for election. We should also encourage businesses to allow their staff to go forward for election. It is a really important part of our democracy and we are seeing a shortage of people putting themselves forward because of work commitments. Businesses should encourage staff to run for elections, especially local elections.
We all know the impact the turbulence of Brexit will have on small businesses, which are already facing extraordinary annual increases in rates, rents and insurance costs. Insurance costs are multiplying year on year and it is becoming a real struggle for many businesses to keep their doors open. We learned today that a play centre in Lucan which has been open for 25 years has had to cease half of its activities due to significant insurance increases. The Government has paid lip service to reducing insurance premiums. We have dallied with the Judicial Council Bill but we have not seen firm action by the Government to support small businesses that have to meet these overheads, which are set in stone. I would welcome a debate in the House on insurance premiums. Small businesses are crying out for the Government to intervene and do something because insurance costs are leaving them hamstrung.
As Cathaoirleach, I am a member of the bravery commission and I would like to be associated with Senator Ardagh's remarks about a very brave man who, tragically, lost his life in Wexford recently. It is hard to see someone who has won a bravery award lose his life in a diving accident.
I take this opportunity to reflect on the past four days of polls and elections, especially in the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland and the UK. Along with my fellow Senators, I wish to take the opportunity to congratulate all those candidates who were successful and commiserate with all those who were unsuccessful in either the council or European Parliament elections. We are in changing times and we are witnessing a seismic shift from the more recognised voting patterns from an intelligent electorate who have sent clear messages to all the parties.They do not want ambiguity, mixed messages or negativity and gloom; neither do they want to see entrenched positions being taken based on history and rhetoric. They want a clear manifesto and clearly defined objectives. They want positivity and solutions to problems. They want people who are prepared to take on local, national and international challenges by working with others for the greater good. Most of all, they want change. This was highlighted more than ever yesterday north of the Border when Naomi Long was elected as the first MEP who did not define herself as either a unionist or a nationalist. In a province where for decades we have focused on voting to keep people out of office based on party politics, rather than on voting to put people in, the tide may be turning. At the count yesterday Diana Dodds of the DUP was returned first, with Martina Anderson of Sinn Féin who had received the most first preferences and Naomi Long of the Alliance Party who had captured more votes than any other candidate taking the second and third seats. I congratulate all of them and it must be noted that they are all women.
It was a truly historic day and clear evidence that the electorate wanted clear representation for all, irrespective of cultural identity and not defined by historical identities. I listened with concern as unionist voters supporting Alliance Party candidates were described by one political leader as unionist with a small "u", implying that there were different ranks of unionism. I disagree with and take offence to this comment. Unionism is unionism and nationalism is nationalism, just as loyalism is loyalism and republicanism is republicanism. In 1959 Johnny Cash sang about "Forty Shades of Green". I suggest there have always been 40 shades of green. I also argue that there are 40 shades of orange, all with unique perspectives and points of difference, but unionism, nationalism, loyalism and republicanism have changed and are not as they were ten, 20, 50 or 100 years ago. They will change further. Politics needs to acknowledge and reflect this, rather than refer to old-style types and labels. If we need to take anything from what happened at the weekend, it is that the people of Ireland and the United Kingdom are ahead of their politicians. The new generation of voters will place higher demands on politicians and leaders to deliver on promises. As we conclude this round of elections, everybody has a responsibility to reflect on gains and losses, successes and failures and strive to work across both Houses of the Oireachtas to deliver security, peace and prosperity for all the people of Ireland, irrespective of their political affiliations or identity. People, parties and politics will change, but the business of government will go on and the important discussions on health, housing, education, agriculture, transport and climate will all endure.
I thank all of the Sinn Féin candidates who represented the party with great passion and integrity over the course of the election campaign and for the past five years and more. I thank each and every one of the 164,296 people who gave us their No. 1 vote in the local elections and indicated a preference for us. I also extend míle míle buíochas to the 323,029 people across the country who gave us their No. 1 vote in the European Parliament elections, as well as those who indicated a preference for us. I congratulate Martina Anderson on topping the poll in the North and also Naomi Long.
It was important to encourage people to vote in favour of the United Kingdom remaining in the European Union and candidates who wanted to remain in the Union. The voices of those in the North who wish to remain within the European Union have to be heard, but they are not being heard at Westminster. I have no doubt that Martina and Naomi will work very well together in the European Parliament and hope Diane Dodds will do likewise.
Five years ago there was a surge in Sinn Féin's level of support when it won an additional 105 council seats. It was always going to be a challenge for us to hold all of those seats. This time around the surge was in the level of support for the Green Party and we lost some valued councillors. I thank them for their hard work. I also thank their families for their sacrifices and their campaign teams.I congratulate those who won their seats. Many of them topped the poll in different areas. I commend those who form part of the Seanad teams here in Leinster House for their performances, including Senators Grace O'Sullivan and Alice-Mary Higgins. I hope I am not leaving anybody else out. I also commend Ms Grace McManus, who is part of my party's team, and Ms Geraldine Donohue, who is part of Senator Boyhan's team, who were both successful, as well as Senator McDowell's parliamentary assistant, Ms Samantha Long, and Mr. Séamus Mac Floinn, who just missed out on seats. It takes real courage and commitment to stand before the people one wishes to serve, so I wish all of them well in the future and thank them for standing up for what they believe in.
This is the Green Party's election, and I congratulate the party wholeheartedly. We must all work together to tackle this climate emergency, and Sinn Féin is committed to doing so in a way that incentivises the reduction of carbon emissions while protecting the least well-off in society and ensuring that big businesses and corporations pay their fair share.
For Sinn Féin, elections have come and gone over the past 100 years or so, but this one has been a particularly humbling experience, and one from which we will learn and grow. Sometimes the things that hurt the most teach the greatest lessons, and in a society where thousands of children are homeless and working families live hand to mouth, Sinn Féin and republican politics have never been needed more. Our activists are committed to change, and to standing up for those who need it most. We have a job to do and we will continue to use our mandate at all levels to pursue progressive change and, of course, a united Ireland.
Finally, we have to examine why so many people did not come out to vote. If we want to demonstrate our commitment to participatory democracy, we will provide the resources for active citizenship programmes throughout the State. I cannot understand why citizens who reach the age of 18 are not automatically registered to vote. Why are barriers put in place, such as sending young people to Garda stations, making them fill out forms and present them at local authorities, when there is no need for them whatsoever? Could the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government come into the House to have a full debate on how the barriers to voting and fully participating in democracy can be removed once and for all?
I do not know if I can follow that contribution from Senator Norris.
On a serious note, I would like join Senator Ardagh in sending condolences to the families of the gardaí who died. I had the pleasure of meeting with local gardaí in Kevin Street in Dublin 8 yesterday and working with them on street parties and community policing in the area. I commend the significant work that has been done by community gardaí around the country and ask that in due course we have a debate on the reforms that are under way within An Garda Síochána on foot of a number of different reports that have been provided. It would be useful for this House to review those reports and changing practices and speak more about the merits and values of community.
I also join others in congratulating all those who ran for every party in the local and European elections. On behalf of my own party, the Labour Party, I commend our 111 local election candidates and our three European election candidates in particular. Labour experienced a significant increase in councillors, with at least 56 and possibly 57 seats at local government level. Some 42% of our councillors are women, which is a matter of enormous pride. It is great that more than 200 women were elected as councillors, although the overall proportion of women councillors, which is projected to be approximately 23% following the finalisation of all counts which is still not enough but nonetheless it is an improvement on what went before.We need to ensure more is done to encourage and mentor women to run for election to ensure we will see more come through.
I offer particular commendation to the Green Party candidates for their performance. On the doorstep we all noted the importance of climate change as an issue and the major public support for more measures to tackle it. We need to have more debates on the issue, particularly radical measures such as the banning of single-use plastics which we are seeing happen in different institutions and entities and also at local level.
Senator Humphreys and I were looking at the figures for the low voter turnout. The turnout was below 50%, which is a real concern. I believe it is the first time we have seen a turnout below 50%. I agree with Senator Conway-Walsh that more needs to be done to ensure a higher turnout and, in particular, to make it easier to register. It was suggested to me on one doorstep during the campaign that those who organised the new citizenship ceremonies should have the necessary procedures in place to enable those who have just received Irish citizenship to register immediately to vote. Voter registration forms are handed out at University College Dublin and also at NUI graduation ceremonies.
That is the model that makes it easier to register to vote. It does not place unnecessary obstacles in the way of those who wish to register to vote but who, in many cases, simply have not got around to doing it by the necessary deadline. We need to make it easier and look at ways by which we can do so.
I refer to the Irish Family Planning Association which next week will celebrate 50 years in existence and of providing women with sexual and reproductive health facilities and campaigning for sexual and reproductive rights. As we marked the first anniversary of the successful repeal of the eighth amendment last weekend, it is fitting that next week we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Irish Family Planning Association.
On radio this morning the retired commandant Cathal Berry spoke eloquently about the Defence Forces and the plight in which its members found themselves. I have spoken about this topic every other week since I was elected to Seanad Éireann, but I could not say it as well as the retired commandant did this morning. He raised several issues, all of which I have raised previously and will do so again. One of them was administrators and civil servants making defence and security decisions and policies. He likened it to administrators going into an operating theatre in a HSE hospital and performing an operation. It is not right and does not work. The same should apply to the Defence Forces. Administrators should not be making military decisions when they do not have military experience.
Another issue raised was that of duty pay, another matter I raise in the House on a regular basis. Some of my friends are on duty for 24 hours at weekends in Custume Barracks in Athlone. Their gross pay is €2 per hour. After tax we are talking about a sum of €1 per hour which, as everybody knows, is not the minimum wage. It is outrageous and should not be allowed to continue.
The retired commandant also raised the issue of retention. Approximately €15 million has been spent on the advertising of careers in the Defence Forces. We should not be spending €15 million on advertising to recruit but to retain what we have, namely, very good experienced soldiers. It was indicated in the White Paper that we would keep numbers in the Defence Forces at 9,500. Currently, they are only at 8,900; therefore, that suggestion would help in that regard.
Another issue that concerns me greatly is that some soldiers are in receipt of family income supplement. I have said previously that any person who puts on the Irish uniform should never have to rely on the receipt of family income supplement.
It is just not right. Will the Leader ask the Minister of State at the Department of Defence to come to the House to discuss these issues? It has been said constantly that we are waiting for the pay commission to release its report, but that will not be enough.No matter what the report states, soldiers are still going to be the lowest-paid public servants. Therefore, we need a proper discussion on this. Retired sergeant major Noel O'Callaghan has held numerous parades and protests. He has called for respect and loyalty. He has been very respectful and loyal to his country. We should show the same to our soldiers. The Minister of State at the Department of Defence should come to the House and have that discussion.
I thank the Chair.
I agree with Senator McFadden's comments on the Army. There needs to be a realistic examination of soldiers' pay and conditions. We are losing so many. Senator Craughwell has raised this on many occasions. We should consider it. I suggest that the Minister of State at the Department of Defence be brought to the House very shortly to have a good debate on this issue. It is vital. I realise the economy is a factor but the soldiers are suffering all the time. We are losing troops.
I commend Senator Marshall. His contribution to the House today on the North and the setting up of the assembly was excellent. The matter is so serious. The North has the potential to have its own Ministers working, as was the case in the past. We appeal to those concerned to come together, form a power-sharing executive and get on with it.
I congratulate all the councillors who were elected. I commiserate with those who were not. In my area, Mr. Dominick Connolly was a casualty. He was an excellent councillor for a very long time. Unfortunately, he was just not elected. It is tough but he is taking it very well. I wish him well. Another day – lá eile – will come for all those who contested and were not successful. We all congratulate those who contested and were successful, as was said by the Leader of the Opposition, Senator Ardagh.
The Government should not be fearful of giving adequate remuneration to the councillors, who receive €16,700 minus PRSI and the universal social charge. The pressure on councillors is significant. Everyone in this House will realise councillors are inundated with requests for contributions, requests in respect of advertisements and congratulations on the opening of a new shop, and requests for donations to all the charities and social clubs. If they do not contribute, they will lose votes. One has to help to pay for it. What is occurring is just not realistic. Senators are also caught in these circumstances. I request that the Leader ask the Minister to come to the House and discuss again-----
He is a colleague of mine. Everyone who was a councillor and was elected to this House will agree it is about time we faced this issue. We should not be afraid, in facing this issue, that the electorate will somehow say councillors are not entitled to what I propose. They are doing a great job.
Only three female councillors were elected to Roscommon County Council this time. There were four on the last occasion. One of the councillors could not continue working because her job did not allow her to be on the council. We want more women in public life and we need to support them. With the remuneration concerned, it is very difficult for a woman, with her partner or otherwise, to pay for childcare and so on. It is just not an attractive proposition financially. I wish all the councillors well. I wish all the candidates in the European Parliament election well, whether they are successful or not. They made a great contribution to democracy by contesting the election.
It has been well and truly discussed at this stage. This morning, we turned on our radios and listened to Commandant Cathal Berry, one of Ireland's finest soldiers, a man who joined the cadets, became a ranger, took leave of absence over five years, became a medical doctor and eventually took over as the officer commanding at the Curragh medical college. That man left the Defence Forces because he loved them. He did not leave because he was disgruntled. He left because he loved them. I have met the man. He left because of pay and retention. We have been told time and again that the independent Public Sector Pay Commission will report on this. I want the Minister for Defence, an Taoiseach, Deputy Leo Varadkar, to come to this House and explain to us why the Defence Forces' submission was first sent to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform before it was passed to the Public Sector Pay Commission, which is independent. Why was it not sent directly to the submission. Why did that happen? Did the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform doctor the document that was sent to the commission? Why was it done? It was not done with any other submission.
We are told that the Department of Defence has it. Why do the Representative Association of Commissioned Officers, RACO, and the Permanent Defence Force Other Ranks Representative Association, PDFORRA, not have it? I understand that the representative bodies were sent for to be told what was in the commission's report, were promptly dismissed without being given a copy of the report, and do not know what is in it. I am blue in the face, as are Fine Gael Party members. Senator McFadden stands up in the House weekly and supports the Defence Forces, and she is well known for it in Athlone, as is Senator Leyden. This is outrageous. We need the Minister for Defence, an Taoiseach, Deputy Varadkar, to come to the House and answer.
Seeing as everyone has a spirit of bonhomie, I also congratulate all those who participated in the local elections. I did not come through that. I was a councillor at one stage. I also commend the count staff in the councils on the hours they put in. They were long hours over a period of three or four days. One count is ongoing in Longford while a recount is ongoing in Bandon in Cork. I compliment those people.
A number of Senators have asked for the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment to come to the House. One of the things I would like to ask him is that we have a designated strategic policy committee, SPC, at council level on either climate action or climate change. The Local Government Reform Act 2014 dealt with introducing an SPC for economic development and enterprise. It was done at the time because we were in an economic crisis and there was a role for local authorities with regard to job creation. Now we see the need for a change in our attitudes with regard to where we are going with regard to the climate. Perhaps we should ask the Minister to send a circular, as he did that time, to each local authority directing it to set up an SPC to cover climate action and climate change. It does not necessarily require a new director of services because the legislation allows for directors of services to cater for more than one SPC.That could be tied in with the environmental strategic policy committee that most local authorities now include. That will not be an additional cost for local authorities. Setting up something such as this is what is required. Will the Leader ask the relevant Minister to come before the House to deal with the issues that have been raised, including pay for local councillors, and show some leadership on this?
I join colleagues in congratulating those who were elected in the local elections. I wish them well for the next five years. It is important that we thank those who retired at the election, some who served only one term and others who served many terms. Many of them made a contribution over a long number of years and contributed not only to the local council but also to their local community. We must acknowledge their work and their contribution. I note those who ran at the local elections who were not successful, especially local councillors. It is a difficult thing for people to face when they lose out on an election. We should acknowledge their contribution and that of everyone who puts himself or herself forward in the democratic system.
Irish people have been watching contributions in the House of Commons and wonder how some of these people were ever elected. At least in the Irish system, if a voter's first preference is not elected, their vote goes on to No. 2, No. 3 or No. 4 and so on down the line. It is a far better system that we have, even if we might criticise it sometimes.
I also raise the issues of the Defence Forces and Army pay. These very much need to be tackled. As someone who has acted in a legal capacity for members of the Defence Forces over the years, I can recall when someone who worked as an ordinary member of the Defence Forces was able to buy a three-bedroom house. There is no way now that someone working in the Defence Forces can afford to buy a property on the income he or she earns. We need to examine this issue and to bring forward serious recommendations that will encourage people to stay on and encourage new people to join. We are in a position of full employment, where we compete to retain good people in the jobs market. We must ensure that we pay the appropriate remuneration for the work they are doing. It is something we need to conclude at the earliest date possible.
I also congratulate and commiserate with people after a momentous weekend at count centres throughout the country. I particularly congratulate the three women MEPs elected in the North. Perhaps the Taoiseach could send congratulations to Martina Anderson and Diane Dodds MEP.
He has not done so, no. He tweeted about Naomi Long but the other two are as important in the strange atmosphere of Brexit and what is going on in Britain.
I raise the issue of the Ombudsman for Children's annual report which was published this morning, especially as it relates to vulnerable children in society. The report strongly states that they are not benefiting from the economic upturn. The view of the ombudsman is that the use of words such as "inclusiveness" and "equality" are little more than lip service. There are two issues in particular. One is housing, with almost 4,000 children born into or reared and nurtured in family hubs, hotels or bed and breakfast accommodation.He expresses his deep concern for their growing up, and for their ability to socialise, be educated, grow up without anxiety and have stability.
He also referred to the lack of education for children with autism. The education system illegally allows them an hour's education a day. I raised this as a Commencement matter on 11 April, following the AsIAm survey on school exclusion and children with autism, entitled Invisible Children - Survey on School Absence and Withdrawal in Ireland's Autism Community. While I got some answers it was not enough. I ask for the relevant Minister of State to come to the House to explain his understanding of the contents of today's report by the ombudsman and his response to it.
Sorry, the local elections. I particularly mention the candidates who are assisting our group of ten Senators, two of whom were elected, Geraldine Donohue and James Geoghegan, and one of whom, my own Samantha Long, was not. I acknowledge their courage in standing and thank them for all they do to keep this House functioning so well. It is great to see people who participate in the affairs of Leinster House and are also willing to put their names forward, knowing, as they do, the risks of failure and success.
I add my voice to what Senator Marshall said about Northern Ireland. The flag beside you, a Chathaoirligh, the national tricolour, is a flag of green, white and orange. It is about time that we stopped talking in simply binary terms about demographics and who will be 51% and who will be 49%, when that no longer represents the reality or complexity of Northern Ireland society.
The Senator arranged a visit for a number of us to Belfast recently. We visited the mothballed assembly at Stormont. We received a briefing in a fine chamber, which was the original senate chamber of Northern Ireland. The thought occurred to us on that occasion that it would enhance the political process in Northern Ireland if there were a civic society, non-confrontational forum in the Northern Ireland parliamentary process as well as the highly numerical and highly polarised assembly elections operating as they do very much on the basis of headcounts of a green and orange kind.
I congratulate all of the people who were elected to represent Northern Ireland in the European Parliament for however long their term lasts. It is significant that two out of the three candidates supported remaining in the European Union. Naomi Long's success, to which reference was just made, symbolises that there is a middle ground in Northern Ireland. Not everybody is of one shade of orange or green, as Senator Marshall has said. In that context, in this State we should be much more generous to the orange tradition. We should acknowledge it. We have things like the Royal Dublin Society, the Royal Irish Academy, King's Inns and Trinity College. We have all sorts of institutions that have orange origins if one wants to put it in those terms.
I am endeavouring to come to a conclusion. I believe we need to extend a hand of real friendship and understanding to those people in Northern Ireland who are attempting to create a middle ground. We need to focus our political attention and efforts to supporting them.They are the people who, in the end, will bring about the reconciliation in Northern Ireland which is the fundamental purpose of the Good Friday Agreement.
We are all well versed on the considerable challenges facing shops on the main streets of towns and villages, including the bigger towns, due to online selling, multiple retailers and also the need to pay commercial rates, which online retailers do not have to pay. These problems remain. Unfortunately, we see too many of these shops closed on our main streets, and it is a depressing sight.
We have to hear the clarion call from multiple retailers and chain stores with the news earlier this week that six of these retailers - Topshop, Topman, Dorothy Perkins, Evans, Miss Selfridge and Wallis - are going to close stores here in Ireland, stores are closing in the United Kingdom and it is projected that 200 Boots stores in the UK will close. This is all on the high street, so it is not just a challenge to independent retailers. High street shops are under severe challenge and threat.
It is about time we took a serious look at the business models and the difference between different retailers. There are shops that have to keep a door open, pay staff, pay commercial rates and pay all the other costs associated with keeping open, and there are the people operating online. They are on different playing fields. The shops on our main streets cannot compete. I have particular sympathy for the small shops and independent retailers. The bigger shops and multiple retailers will look after themselves and will continue to sell online. We have to look at the business model, how we levy rates and also the public good and the desirability of maintaining these shops. We do not want to go into our town centres and be depressed looking at shut-up shops. If we want them, we have to make some policy changes, and it has to begin with commercial rates. It is worthy of a debate because this has been going on and on and it is only getting worse.
I want to mark the passage of the elections last weekend and, in particular, to congratulate the Green Party on a really significant result. Of course, my fingers are crossed that my colleague, Senator Grace O'Sullivan, might take a seat in Ireland South. I am disappointed to see Lynn Boylan gone from Europe because she did a great job, particularly on climate change. I am sad to see she has not been re-elected.
We know it is a really important moment in regard to how this country is going to change over the next decade. That is what this election shows. It is a very positive sign that so many people have sent this signal. They have stated very clearly they want action on climate change and they want it to be a priority. However, we should also remember that the results this weekend are just the electoral wing of a much bigger social shift. A huge network of activists and campaigners, both inside and outside the political parties, and, indeed, inside and outside Ireland, have pushed us to this point. We see the appetite for big, meaningful, radical change to address climate change and to make our country fairer, healthier and more sustainable in the process.
The results this weekend place a massive amount of trust in politicians, and we have to live up to that. We need to be bold in our action and resist any attempts to just greenwash or have business as usual. That is not an option. Our transition to a climate-friendly country must be rooted in principles of social and economic justice. The whole movement for a just transition is based on the belief that no one can be left behind and that we cannot let the most marginalised and disadvantaged bear the brunt of these changes as they are already disproportionately bearing the brunt of climate change. We need to see this as part of the bigger move to make our country fairer and more equal. I hope the Greens lead the way on this.
The Government said it has got the message from the public and I sincerely hope this is true. In the crucial months and years to come, actions will speak louder than words. I noted this morning that the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment has granted another offshore drilling licence, which should tell its own story. I call on the Government to listen to the experts, the scientists, the public and the activists. We need to do more and we really need to do it now.
I congratulate everyone who put their names forward for the local elections and the European elections. It takes great courage to put one's name before the public. I congratulate those who were successful and wish the best of luck to those who were not successful on this occasion.
I support the call for a debate on reform of the electoral register. We have heard many issues raised in recent weeks as to how difficult it is to get a vote. There are people who go on holidays they had booked before an election was called and they should be entitled to vote. It should be made easier for them to register to get a postal vote. It should also be made a lot easier for people not registered to vote to do so, besides having to go to the local Garda station. In some cases, people who are sick must go to the doctor. A lot of things can be done to make it much easier for many people to vote in elections. During the meetings of the Seanad reform committee, some of us raised the issue of extending the franchise to everyone in the Republic, Northern Ireland, America and Irish citizens all over the world. We can now see in the Ireland South constituency the logistics involved in having a large ballot paper. Twenty-three names were on the ballot paper in Ireland South. In the Seanad elections we could have a larger electorate than the 750,000 people in Ireland South.
We could have more than 1 million people voting on some panels and more than 40 candidates. One can imagine the logistical problems that would arise with the size of the ballot paper and the size and number of the counts. If we had an election of that sort now, the count would not be over until Christmas. Lessons can be learned from the elections last weekend, both for the electoral register and for reform of Seanad Éireann. I heard the Minister of State, Deputy Phelan, say it will be made perhaps a little more difficult for people to register to stand for the European Parliament, which may well reduce the number of people standing.
Before I call the Leader, I also wish to congratulate all those who stood for election in recent days who were successful and I empathise and sympathise with those who did not make it. It is very painful when one stands for any election and falls short, as I well know. I wish those involved a speedy recovery. As an example of the essence of democracy, in my electoral area there is a man, Mr. Finbarr Harrington, who was announced to have won by one vote, and a recount was called by a lady from the Social Democrats. In the first recount the one vote was reversed and now there is a second recount under way. The stress and strain that must be on all those families and their supporters is probably immense. I wish whomever wins that battle in my area well. Whoever loses will need a couple of weeks' holidays in the sun to recover. With those few words, I ask the Leader to respond.
I thank the 13 Members of the House for their contributions to the Order of Business.
I join Senator Ardagh in remembering and paying tribute to the families of the late David Hearne and John McCallion, who passed away tragically over the weekend. As the Cathaoirleach and Senator Ardagh said, Garda Hearne was involved in the National Bravery Awards. We sympathise most sincerely with the families of both members of An Garda Síochána.Ar dheis láimh Dé go raibh a n-anamacha dílse.
On behalf of the Government side, I join in Senators' congratulation of the candidates of all parties and none who contested and were successful or unsuccessful in the local and European elections. I wish those who were elected every success as they take up the mantle of elected office in representing their communities and local electoral areas, LEAs. Senator Craughwell can prepare to reply, but I remind those Senators who did not mention it in their contributions that this was the first time a Government increased its share of the vote in a mid-term election. The number of seats increased from 235 to 253.
If people like the Senator and Deputy Micheál Martin had not played politics with the future of Cork, it would have been successful. That is my main regret. Some people who were in favour of directly elected mayors and lord mayors chose to play narrow party political politics with the city of Cork instead of supporting its future. As Leader of the Opposition, Deputy Micheál Martin should hang his head in shame for the way he abdicated responsibility by not campaigning or asking the people of Cork to vote for the proposal, even though it was Fianna Fáil policy. That is the reality.
I commend the candidates' families on their commitment and support during the election.
Senator Ardagh discussed the issue of Brexit and SMEs around the country. I agree with her.
Senators Marshall, McDowell, Conway-Walsh and Devine referred to the European elections in the North of our country. We congratulate the three people who were elected and wish them well. As Senator McDowell mentioned, it is time that the binary terms be disposed of. Senator Marshall stated that the positive we must take is that the majority in the North were for remain. This is about positivity, and if there is one thing that we can learn from the local and European elections, it is that people want positivity. They want solutions, as Sinn Féin found out. They want to hear proposals, not protests or divisive condemnation. I commend Senator Marshall on his excellent contribution. The election of Ms Naomi Long sends a very positive message to the rest of the world. It was her historic election that the Taoiseach referred to in his tweet in congratulatory tones. We will have another debate on the future of our country and the North. Senator Marshall's point was about positivity and being solutions based.
An issue was raised by Senators Paddy Burke and Conway-Walsh and, inadvertently, the Cathaoirleach regarding barriers to voting. We should examine those, particularly where registration is concerned. We must also make voting easier for those who are abroad for work or holidays or who are incapacitated at home. There are early voting systems across the world, and I do not see why we cannot have the same. We should be able to make it easier to vote and I would be happy to have such a debate as part of the discussion that I hope to have soon on the electoral commission.
I am. Senator Bacik asked for a debate on the issues around the report on the reform of the Garda Síochána and I am happy for the Minister to come to the House on that. We all join in congratulating the Irish Family Planning Association on 50 years of service and thank it for its work.
It is an anniversary that should be commemorated and celebrated. Senators McFadden, Leyden, Craughwell and Burke raised the matter of the Defence Forces in the context of comments this morning from retired Commandant Cathal Berry. All of us agree with the need for the members of the Defence Forces to be treated fairly and that is why the Government set up the Public Service Pay Commission, and public servants under the national public service agreement are receiving pay restoration. It is important the public sector stability agreement is recognised as bringing pay increases from 6.2% to 7.4%, and we are restoring financial emergency measures in the public interest cuts for those earning under €70,000. An independent pay commission is examining the pay and conditions of the Defence Forces and the report will be published in the next few weeks.
Fair play to the Senator. He is a good man to come in here to speak. I know he was nominated by the nominating body on the labour panel and I appreciate that. The Minister of State will have the report and will publish it, as he has always done with reports.
I am not aware that he has it. To be fair, the Minister of State with responsibility for defence has come to this House on a regular basis. The remarks from retired Commandant Berry this morning noted the Minister of State's approachability and decency in his job. All of us recognise the value of our Defence Forces and that is why many Members on our side of the House, and Senator McFadden in particular, have advocated on behalf of the members of the Defence Forces. I come from Cork, which has a very fine tradition of members of the Defence Forces serving the people of Cork.
We have seen an increase in pay under the different public sector pay agreements and the restoration of pay relating to the financial emergency measures in the public interest legislation. The independent pay commission report is imminent and I can give a commitment, as I have always done with Senators Craughwell and McFadden when they raised this issue, that I will invite the Minister of State here. I will do so again and we can have a debate. We all understand and value members of our Defence Forces.
I congratulate Senator Leyden on his daughter's re-election and echo his comments on the North, as we have discussed. Senator Craughwell mentioned councillors' pay and supports and we are all ad idemthat there is a need for a real examination, which is being done now by Ms Sara Moorhead, who is carrying out an independent review. The report is imminent and the Minister has received the report. As Senator Leyden said, it is correct that bravery has been demonstrated by all of us in recognising again the role of the elected councillor. It is not because we are all Members of the Seanad and seeking votes from councillors but it is now becoming more of a full-time job. Senator Craughwell failed to recognise the measures taken to improve the supports given to councillors in his contribution. He can shrug if he wants.There have been changes and there will be more. I will not prolong the Order of Business by going through them all again. Changes have been made and we will have the debate again.
Senator Lawlor made a very positive contribution. I agree with him that, as part of the new local government structure, elected members should put in place a strategic policy committee or SPC for climate change and climate action. The Senator is right and we should advocate for such an SPC in every council. We have a Joint Committee on Climate Action in the Oireachtas and it would be fitting to have a climate action and climate change SPC at local authority level.
Senator Devine raised the report of the Ombudsman for Children. I will be happy to have the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs come to the House to discuss the matter. I cannot say more on the matter as I have not read the report.
Senator Mulherin mentioned the challenging times faced by retailers versus online selling and I am happy to invite the Minister to the House. It is worrying to see the closure of so many chain stores and businesses in large towns and cities. We will debate the matter.
Senator Black mentioned this journey. That is included as part of the whole issue of local authorities. Senator Paddy Burke also referenced these matters.