Tuesday, 11 June 2019
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
A Chathaoirligh, I will reply to your opening remarks at the conclusion of the Order of Business. The Order of Business is No. 1, the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill 2017 - Committee Stage (resumed), to be taken at 4.45 p.m. and to adjourn at 6.45 p.m. if not previously concluded, and the Gaming and Lotteries (Amendment) Bill 2019 - Report and Final Stages, to be taken at 6.45 p.m. and adjourn no later than 7.45 p.m. if not previously concluded.
I thank the Leader for outlining the Order of Business for today. I note the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill is back again.
I wish to raise an important report published by the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council. The words do not come from Fianna Fáil or the Opposition but from the Government's body, which points out that there are very significant challenges ahead. It states that while growth is good, between €3 billion and €6 billion of our €10 billion in corporation tax is quite vulnerable. Of course, there is still the risk of a no-deal Brexit, which is certainly not off the table but very possible based on what is happening in the United Kingdom. We have seen many spending Estimates massively ignored. There was an additional €645 million in supplementary funding for the Department of Health last year and overspends on capital projects such as the national children's hospital and broadband are happening far too often.
The council has pointed out that the Government is very vulnerable to slippage in corporation tax. The digital taxation agenda, which is worldwide at this stage in terms of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, OECD, and what is being discussed, has the potential to damage our corporation tax receipts. Members should not misunderstand me - the more corporation tax we get, the better. It is positive that there is so much foreign direct investment in this country, but let us not underestimate its vulnerability. Thankfully, the estimates of corporation tax in all previous years up to recently have underestimated what we got. We got more. However, what goes up probably ends up going down. I believe we must have a debate about our fiscal policy, our spending, the Estimates and that vulnerability. In previous years people quite rightly criticised an over-reliance on stamp duty, but any drop in the corporation tax being paid by the top ten companies which pay half of the corporation tax would be very difficult.
Second, I welcome the start of Men's Health Week, which began yesterday and runs until Father's Day next Sunday. The purpose of the week is to highlight awareness of preventable health problems for men of all ages. On average, men die four years younger than women and they have higher death rates than women in respect of all the leading causes of death. Their smoking, drinking, obesity and suicide rates are much higher. In Ireland, 75% of suicides are by men. We must encourage men to look after their health and to take cognisance of what is happening.
Finally, it is almost 30 years since smoky coal was banned in Dublin and other urban centres, but despite the green agenda and all our talk about climate change the Minister is still refusing to introduce a nationwide ban. He is basically giving way to lobbyists who say it cannot be done. If people in cities are entitled to clean air, people in the rest of the country are equally entitled to it.I ask that the Minister come to the House to tell us why he is not introducing a ban. He should introduce a ban on smoky coal across the State as soon as possible. Everybody deserves to have clean air, not just the people in the cities.
I call for a debate on the housing assistance payment, HAP, scheme. Over the weekend we heard of the terrible stigma attached to this scheme where low-income families, especially single mothers, are finding it extremely difficult to secure rental housing due to the stigma attached to the housing assistance payment. The private rental market is not equipped to deal with the volume of renters, who are disproportionately low income earners in comparison with homeowners. In many cases landlords do not want to deal with HAP while in other cases landlords simply do not know how. The burden then falls on social housing provision, which we all know to be sorely lacking. Due to chronic undersupply many people who should qualify for social housing are ranked instead as non-priority. The problem HAP was introduced to solve persists. The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, IHREC, has said as much in what should have been a call to action in 2015 when it reported on the inadequate provision of housing leading to family homelessness. To its and to our dismay, the IHREC has again reiterated its position. Under the European Social Charter it is the State's responsibility to provide for the right of the family to social, legal and economic protection. The European Committee of Social Rights, ECSR, has constantly interpreted the right to economic, legal and social protection of family life, covered in Article 16 of the charter, as guaranteeing the right to adequate housing for families. It is, therefore, the State's responsibility to provide adequate housing for families, but clearly the State is failing. According to the IHREC newly released Comments on Ireland’s 16th National Report on the implementation of the European Social Charter "...the State’s failure to take sufficient and timely measures to ensure the social housing provided to families is of an adequate standard is a violation of Article 16." One could not have it put any clearer than that. The commission's report further states: "The decision to withdraw from building social housing and to instead provide rent supplement for private renters has made low income households extremely vulnerable to shocks in the housing market."
Fine Gael is failing the most vulnerable in our society. Working people across the island face discrimination of many varieties on a regular basis. We should not tolerate this but the Government does little to act on one of the most prevalent human rights deficits or abuses in the State, which is centred in this city. There are few forms of discrimination more heinous than the blight of homelessness, which is discrimination in the area of human rights based on income. Housing is a human right but the State continues to send out the message that this applies only if a person can pay for it. Human rights are not to be bought and sold, nor attached to income thresholds. Rather, it is our duty in these Houses to ensure that those rights are upheld. Every day that passes without the right to a home being enshrined in our Constitution, our collective shame grows in proportion to the number of families and children who live on our streets and in emergency accommodation. Current solutions are nothing but a bandage over this wound in our national pride. Government targets are not being met, and even if they were they are not high enough. This is evidence of a Government that does not cherish all the children of the nation equally.
Over the last weeks we heard the Government asking older people to downsize from their homes and perhaps move to smaller homes in villages, retirement spaces or to spaces in voluntary private and public nursing homes. I raised this issue previously and asked about the possibility of bringing the Minister for Health to this House. I want to discuss healthcare assistants because we need them. Some 6,000 people in Ireland do not have homecare help. There are 1,800 vacancies for healthcare assistants in Ireland yet to be filled. I would like the Minister to come to the House to tell me what he would like to do about the situation, how he would like to improve conditions for current healthcare assistants and how he might like to find solutions within communities for healthcare assistants within people's homes and within nursing homes.People in villages and towns all over this country would be very happy to give up hours of their lives to provide home care and deal with the elderly if their pensions or social welfare benefits were not minimised or subjected to penalties as a result. Addressing that could be one part of many parts of a creative solution to this problem. As I have said previously, we should consider opening up the area of critical skills to healthcare assistants from abroad when we do not have enough in our own country. We should, however, start with creative solutions in our own country, of which there are many. We are not encouraging enough creative solutions, nor are we encouraging people in towns and villages who want to give help and aid to people they know who need help, whether it is acute care or just a few hours of their time each day. People are afraid to do so because if they were to be paid for it, they would be penalised as they may have a small pension or social welfare entitlement. We need to seriously think about this issue because it is very serious. It is even more serious when one considers that we have 800 people in acute hospitals who cannot go home because there is nobody to care for them.
Members can talk all they like about housing, downsizing, taking people out of houses, minimising the size of houses and building villages. That is all very well but it will not work unless we have services in place. I am blue in the face from saying this and I know what I am talking about having watched a parent for three years with home care help who is now in a nursing home. We better start attending to this issue because I am looking around and we are not getting younger. Maybe the Members of the next Seanad will all be under 40 but this one is not.
How we are ageing in Ireland is a serious problem. Our frail and feeble elders must be able to age with dignity, either in their own homes or in nursing homes but with care. I ask that the Minister be brought to the House to discuss this. I am sick of Ministers communicating on Twitter and various other social media when I rarely hear them speak here or see them in the corridors or anywhere else.
I raise the issue of litter. The north side of Dublin city has been described in a recent survey as the second worst littered area of 50 in the entire country. This all goes back to the lamentable privatisation of the bin collection services. These people are like the Mafia bombing each other's trucks all over the place. They are registered on the Isle of Man and nobody knows what their profits are or what they do with them. We are forced to buy thin plastic bags which the seagulls instantly rip into shreds and spread the rubbish around all over the place.
I also raise the issue of crime. We had a terrible stabbing yesterday on O'Connell Street. I would like to put that in the context of the Government's decision, under pressure from the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, to reopen the Garda station in Stepaside, an area with falling crime statistics. In the north inner city, Fitzgibbon Street Garda station has been closed or maybe there is one garda working in an adjoining office. It is disgraceful that while the most deprived area of the city and the area with the highest crime rate does not have a proper Garda station, whereas Stepaside, a well heeled area in the Dublin mountains, is having a Garda station reopened at a cost of €1.5 million. It is a classic example of the Minister's stroke politics.
I want to briefly raise the issue of Spinraza.Many Members of this House have raised the necessity for Spinraza to be provided to children with a very rare genetic disease, spinal muscular atrophy. I am happy to say that today the Health Service Executive, HSE, leadership team has approved the drug. I was quietly confident that it would be approved but I think until it was delivered the families deeply affected by the disease did not believe it would be. I commend the Minister for Health on his fortitude in insisting on, and pushing for, that drug to be provided. There are only 25 children in the country affected by this disease. The drug is very expensive and there was a health technology assessment. We should approach such assessments on an EU basis because with economies of scale we would have more negotiating power with drug companies as a bloc. The way it currently operates is, in my view, unsatisfactory.
It has come to my attention recently that bottle banks which had been on private land in two locations in north Dublin were suddenly taken away and that they are no longer provided in this area of Kilbarrack and that one may be taken away in Killester. It is not on that it should happen without there being an obvious place for people to go with their material for recycling. There should be a national approach and a policy whereby these are provided in locations where they cannot just be taken away overnight. Everyone is talking about the environment now with good reason but with actions such as this we are shooting ourselves in the foot. It is a simple thing where people are in the habit of recycling and it is ridiculous for that opportunity to be taken away from them.
I received a letter on parole board reviews from Councillor Suzanne Doyle and several other members of Kildare County Council, and I am sure Members on the other side of the House have also received some literature on this matter. As far as I am aware there is a review going on. Ray Quinn, who has campaigned on this for several years, has come up with a couple of very logical proposals in respect of minimum jail sentences for crimes such as murder, and for parole boards to seek advice and input from local gardaí, on the use of electronic tagging and on appointing a victims' representative on the parole board. These are logical and practical amendments that could be made to the Bill, if it comes to this House. Will the Leader find out when this proposed legislation will come here, or ask the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, to address the House on the review that is going on because this needs to be addressed?
The HSE has raised health alarms about uncontrolled pumping of sewage into Dublin Bay in the past few days. The alarms were to stop children playing on the sand on the beaches north and south of Dublin Bay. It is an absolute scandal. There is a plant in Ringsend that is operating at 20% over its capabilities and capacity. There are what are called in the words of Irish Water controlled and uncontrolled releases. Rainwater or grey water goes into the sewage treatment plant in Poolbeg, which serves 40% of the country's wastewater, then solids rise in water tanks and are deliberately released because the tanks cannot cope with the capacity.We are addressing housing, planning and economic prosperity as part of the bigger plan to invest and encourage growth in Dublin and other locations. As a result, we have to address this matter. The best Irish Water can do is indicate that it is working on increasing the capacity in its sewerage plant but that we cannot expect anything to be completed by 2023.
We have a serious problem. We are actively discharging sewage into Dublin Bay. From Merrion Strand through Booterstown, Blackrock, Dún Laoghaire, Dalkey, Killiney and out as far as Shankill, we have had contaminated our coastal waters. This is a health issue that impacts on the constituency of the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy. I ask that he come before the House and indicate how we can address it in the short term. We have a major capacity problem at Ringsend that is giving rise to a serious health concern for people.
I ask the Leader to obtain clarification from the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection regarding a particular matter. I was recently approached by a person who received an award from the redress board and who is on a means-tested social welfare payment. The person was informed that their case would be reassessed as a result of the award from the board. That is absolutely crazy. Those who have received money from the redress board may have worked in the Magdalen laundries, or may have been abused or exploited in other ways, and are dependent on the social welfare payments to which they are entitled. I shudder to think that people's entitlements might be taken away because of money they received in respect of exploitation that took place many years ago. The position must be clarified and the matter corrected if that to which I refer proves to be the case. The person who made representations to me about it was told by health board officials that it was the case. I would like to get clarification as soon as possible.
I join others in congratulating our colleague, Senator Grace O'Sullivan, on her election to the European Parliament. I commend our colleagues, Senator Gavan and Nash, who hosted a briefing earlier in the audiovisual, AV, room on the National Minimum Wage (Protection of Employee Tips) Bill 2017. Senator Gavan will be bringing the Bill before the House tomorrow for Report Stage. This is a very important Private Members' Bill which the Labour Party, as well as my colleague, Senator Norris, will be delighted to support. It will give protection to employees and ensure that the tips customers think they are paying to waiting staff will actually go to them. I cannot understand why the Government would oppose the Bill. There have been indications that it will not be supported by Government, which is unfortunate. Many of us, myself included, have worked in the service industry and all of us are well aware that there is an ongoing practice whereby so-called service charges are not paid to employees but are kept or withheld by employers. We need to ensure that there is regulation in this area. I will be surprised if the Government continues to oppose the Bill.
I ask the Leader for a debate on women's health in light of the revelations that are emerging on foot of the publication of second Scally report earlier today. My colleague in the Dáil, Deputy Kelly, has pointed out that the report is producing more questions than answers in many ways. It appears that a laboratory in Manchester which was not accredited was analysing smear tests from women in Ireland. A good deal of material is emerging. In light of those disclosures and in view of what is happening with the national maternity hospital and the ongoing issues with ethical governance there, it would be useful to have a debate in due course.
This past weekend I had the privilege and pleasure to attend the Union Cup, Europe's largest LGBT-inclusive rugby tournament. It took place at DCU and attracted nearly 50 men's and women's teams from 15 European countries.It was hosted by the Emerald Warriors and was a fantastic occasion. It did great credit to the voluntary committee which put it on and I acknowledge the support it received from Leinster Rugby and the IRFU. It raises a question about inclusivity in sport, however, and whether that pertains to the migrant community, older people, younger people, men, women, LGBT brothers and sisters or those living with disabilities. It was an issue that came up on the doorsteps in the local elections, when people asked about inclusivity in sport as part of local recreation strategies. I call on the Leader to invite the Minister, Deputy Ross, or the Minister of State, Deputy Griffin, to the House to talk about a national strategy for inclusivity in sport. They should take the example of the brilliant Union Cup and the excellent voluntary effort of the Emerald Warriors to spread it out across the country.
I wish to raise the issue of the district hospital network, specifically with regard to Belmullet hospital. On Friday, 31 May the HSE announced that all temporary staff would not have their contracts renewed and that all agency staff would be let go with immediate effect. This came as a bolt from the blue for the staff, the community and the GPs, including myself. If staff numbers are diminished it would lead to a direct degradation of the hospital. It has been fiercely opposed by the community and I commend Senator Conway-Walsh for facilitating a public meeting last night, at which there was a massive turnout. I have spoken on many occasions in this House, on the Order of Business or in Commencement debates with the Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly, about the district hospital network. These hospitals play a vital role in preventing admissions to, and facilitating discharges from, acute hospitals and this is especially important in the case of the hospital to which I refer, which is over 50 miles away from Castlebar.
The district hospital network should not be seen as a relic of a bygone era as, with appropriate investment, its hospitals can facilitate respite care. GPs and public health nurses can admit patients to these hospitals and some of them even have palliative care beds. They get people off trolleys in acute hospitals because patients can be referred back to the district hospital. They are a vital cog in the delivery of a modern health system and I would be grateful if the Leader would arrange for the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Jim Daly, to come into the House in the next few weeks to discuss the national district hospital network.
I am delighted with the announcement about Spinraza. I am thinking of Grace O'Malley, the nine year old girl from outside Ballinrobe who came up here with her parents earlier on in the year, and it is a fantastic announcement.
Over the past couple of weeks I have met various groups, farmers, businesspeople, publicans, hoteliers and individuals, all about the rapid increases in the cost of insurance. Some publicans have told me that, over the past three years, their insurance costs have risen by 33% while a hotel owner has told me that, this year, his insurance cost has risen by 50%. I also asked them about payouts and claims. When will the Judicial Council Bill 2017 be back before the House? How quickly will we enact it? Will it have the teeth required to compel the Judiciary to reduce the amount of the awards they are giving, particularly for soft tissue and whiplash injuries?
I convened a meeting last week in Leinster House at the request of the Irish freight industry, led by Seamus Leheny of Freight Northern lreland and Verona Murphy of the Irish Road Haulage Association. We were accompanied by a number of representatives from transport companies north and south of the Border, many operating in the transportation of food and perishable products. Last night, I visited a refrigerated freight company less than 20 miles from the Border, which is responsible for nearly 30% of the agrifood freight between North and South, in order to see at first hand how complicated a process this was. It is a depot where over 2,000 palettes per night were shifted in the business of feeding people north and south of the Border, seven days a week, 365 days of the year. It paints a bleak picture of what will happen after Brexit and there are particular concerns within the freight industry regarding a no-deal Brexit, especially the impact in the area of agrifood. Concerns were raised last week in Leinster House about the number of extra vets necessary to carry out inspections, with one company stating that it would need 35 vets per night because some loads would have to be inspected three times.Concerns were raised about groupage work and hundreds of loads with multiple drops per lorry every night. Concerns were also raised about supply chains, resourcing and the potential impact on agriculture, farm businesses and, ultimately, jobs. Concerns were further raised about stockpiling currently and the negative impact that has.
Seamus Leheny shared some interesting facts about cross-Border traffic on social media in recent days. The A1 crossing between Newry and Dundalk is currently a frictionless, strategic crossing. On 5 June, in one 24-hour period, 8,390 goods vehicles crossed the Border via the A1, namely, 3,038 articulated vehicles, 919 rigid vehicles and 4,434 large goods vehicles, averaging 167 vehicles per hour or one lorry every 35 seconds. If we consider six of the 300 crossings, we find that 13,483 vehicles crossed in the same 24-hour period. If we consider that the average delay at a border is ten minutes, with agrifood presenting extra complexity due to sanitary and phytosanitary, SPS, controls, and the fact that 33% of the sales to the Republic of Ireland is agrifood, we can then deduce that at peak times this equates to 115 lorries carrying agrifood and subject to these controls, with up to 50% undergoing physical inspections. These means that one lorry would need to be inspected every 32 seconds. In one hour, there would be a backlog of 70 trucks stretching 1 km down the motorway. Bearing in mind that these trucks work on a delivery window for perishable goods of 45 minutes at depots, very large penalties and costs will be incurred. A no-deal Brexit will create paralysis on the Border, add costs and cause friction and congestion. Ultimately, trade and business on both sides of the Border will suffer. No technological solution currently exists. The complexity of this situation cannot be understated and the potential damage to the economy cannot be overstated. When this group was asked about the one takeaway point from the meeting, it cited uncertainty and lack of clarity as the main concern.
I warmly welcome the revised fair deal rules which came before Cabinet today. They have been long awaited and are much needed and they will alleviate the situation in which farmers and small businesses find themselves. The new rules will see a three-year cap on a 7.5% contribution from farmers and small business owners. This has been advocated by the farming organisations in particular. In the course of my public representation duties, I have encountered individual farmers who have been severely impacted by the current regime under which no cap applies and people face the prospect of an unlimited fee, tax or charge being applied to an asset. This provision impacts on the future viability of farms and small businesses because it is like carrying a massive charge or loan on a property. The 7.5% contribution can be more than the income one would earn from a business or a farm in terms of one's profit. The current regime means that many farmers delayed going into a nursing home when they needed that care. We are all living longer and we have to look after our elderly. We have to make provision for their care and it must be paid for. People need to contribute towards that cost but it cannot be an undue burden that people cannot manage. Some fairness has prevailed in this matter being approved by Cabinet. Likewise, I hope we can begin to examine the introduction of a similar fair deal type statutory model for home care packages.
With the Cathaoirleach's indulgence, I also warmly welcome the announcement today of the approval of the drug, Spinraza. While the number of families concerned is small, the impact of its approval will be tremendous for them. I am sure they are breathing a sigh of relief for their loved ones who badly need to know they can secure a continuous supply of this medication.I wish them all well and I compliment the Minister for sticking with it.
I do not have a particular ask of the Leader today, per se, but I have set out a job of work for myself and I hope for other colleagues as well. I wish to talk briefly about reconciliation within the context of competing narratives, in particular as we continue to navigate our way through these most crucial years of the decade of centenaries, as they have become known. I think back to the example that I hope was set in Belfast City Hall where councillors invested £3.5 million in a permanent exhibition telling and reflecting the competing narratives and experiences of our collective past. While it has been testing and challenging at times, all of us, right across the traditions, have met the challenge head on, even though at times it has been hard and difficult for us. I think of that as one example.
I also think of the impressive sight of a portrait of the rebel countess, Countess Markievicz, being hung in Westminster as part of the centenary of the 1916 Rising and the 1918 election and history that was made. In this building too we reflect in equal stature people from a pro-Treaty and anti-Treaty perspective. We do not shy away from that, which is important. As we head further into the decade of centenaries we will all have to think of how we challenge ourselves and challenge each other to respectfully engage with our past, learn from it and build a better future for all of us.
I will outline the piece of work that I will undertake as a Belfast man. On this day in 1981 Kieran Doherty was elected Deputy for Cavan-Monaghan. He was an Anti-H Block/Armagh candidate. He was also a hunger striker in Long Kesh at the time. He died a short period after being elected and never got to take up his seat in Leinster House. Navigating again through the challenging and at times contesting and competing narratives of our past we reflect on how we also might reflect Kieran - his experience, community and constituency of that time who hold him in the highest regard, as we do in Belfast as well – his loss and sacrifice in this building alongside people who sacrificed in a similar vein.
I wish to ask the Leader of the House if he would consider the point made by Senator Davitt regarding representations made by Councillor Suzanne Doyle, a member of Kildare County Council, along with the campaigner, Ray Quinn, that the Minister for Justice and Equality could come into the House to give a response to the well put together document which also has the signatures of all councillors in County Kildare. They are taking the issue very seriously and we should respond in a serious manner to their request.
Following on from what Senator Lawlor said, I had intended raising the issue of insurance as it is the most crucial issue currently. We have heard about many hard cases yet there has been no response. An all-party group composed of the Government and the Opposition should be tackling this issue. I do not know whether the Judicial Council Bill will make any difference. I read an article in the Irish Independenton 16 May saying that a judge said a crash victim was prone to exaggeration before awarding her €10,000. At one time I praised the President of the Circuit Court, Mr. Justice Groarke, because I thought he was doing great work. In this case he said Ms Cantaragiu was "prone to misdescription, exaggeration, misrepresentation, apparent falsehood and a lack of accuracy about injuries, previous medical history and her attendances with doctors". He said he believed her complaint of injury to her neck and lower back was "probably correct", and that he would award her general damages of €10,000, jointly and severally against all the parties involved.
That is quite possible. I could be quite capable of doing that.In today's edition of the Roscommon Herald, there is an article about a prominent businessman, Martin Mulligan from the Roscommon side of Athlone, who has been in business with his wife for 40 years and employs 16 people. The cost of his insurance has risen fourfold from €7,000 to €30,000, which will put his business in jeopardy. We are all wringing our hands and everybody, including the Minister of State, Deputy D'Arcy, is speaking about the issue, but nobody in the Government takes it seriously. That is why I asked the Leader to invite the Minister of State, Deputy D'Arcy, to return to the House and outline what exactly is happening. If the passage of the Judicial Council Bill is necessary, why can it not be passed? We have plenty of time. The House was adjourned last week. That Bill should not be blamed for preventing this issue from being addressed. I do not know what is going on because, quite frankly-----
I, too, congratulate Senator Grace O'Sullivan, who follows current and former Members of the Houses who have been elected to the European Parliament over the years, such as Deputies Fitzgerald and Kelleher, as well as Mr. Jim Higgins, Ms Deirdre Clune, Ms Avril Doyle and Mr. Joe McCartin, all of whom were once Deputies and Senators. I assume there are other cases of former Members who were elected to the European Parliament. I wish Senator Grace O'Sullivan well.
I support Senator O'Mahony's point about the redress board and the compensation awarded to people. The Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection now asks those claiming social welfare for various details. When he was Taoiseach, Mr. Brian Cowen apologised to people such as those outlined by the Senator for how they were treated by the State. It is unbelievable that the Department would hound those people, given that the then Taoiseach apologised to them. One wonders what a Taoiseach's apology is worth. I hope Senator O'Mahony receives a prompt response to clarify the matter quickly.
I thank the Ceann Comhairle for apologising to Ms Angela Kerins following the recent Supreme Court decision. In a recent interview on how the Oireachtas will conduct its business in future, the Ceann Comhairle indicated that an internal group of civil servants had been assembled to examine the decision's implications and the broader functions of the Oireachtas. He also said the group was considering streamlining how committees function, perhaps by giving the Business Committee a role. He went on to say changes were imminent and that he hopes to put proposals to the Dáil in September to amend its Standing Orders. Will the Leader outline the role of this House in the changes that may be brought about, or in setting up an internal committee to review how committees are established and their roles and responsibilities? He might give some indication in that regard because in the past three years, the Business Committee has not shown any respect for this House. If it is to have a role in how this House runs or in how we conduct our business, I will have grave reservations.
For the information of the Senator, the Dáil Committee on Procedure and the Seanad Committee on Procedure and Privileges have recently agreed to set up a working group.I suggest, therefore, that we allow the group to proceed with its work.
Before I call the next speaker, I welcome our former colleague, Mr. Michael Mullins, to the Gallery. Members on particular panels might be getting concerned that he will return to the House but he is more than welcome here today.
I apologise that I was not here earlier. I hope I will not be repeating what other Members may have stated. The Judicial Council Bill has received support right across the House from Senators of every view and outlook. Amendments were facilitated on Committee Stage in order to see the legislation through. We were promised that further amendments would be tabled on Report Stage. The time to be taken to formulate those amendments, which was originally thought to be a week, has extended to more than a month. Will the Leader tell us when it is proposed to take the remaining Stages of the Judicial Council Bill?
Like Senator Leyden, I do not believe judicial guidelines provided for in the Judicial Council Bill will be the be-all and end-all when it comes to how the State deals with compensation culture. As far back as 2004, the Civil Liability and Courts Act 2004, which was introduced when I was Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, facilitated the introduction of extensive powers requiring people to swear affidavits, created criminal offences and required solicitors receiving instructions in civil litigation to explain clearly to their clients the implications of exaggerating claims. The courts were given the express power to throw out an entire claim if any part of it was materially exaggerated. That was done in the naive hope that civil litigation would be made more reasonable as a consequence. Perhaps it has become more reasonable as a consequence. At least, that law is in place.
Senator Ó Céidigh tabled a perjury Bill which also received unanimous support in the House, as well as support from the Department of Justice and Equality. I was given to understand Government time would be made available for that Bill in order that it might progress. However, we are now about to have yet another session on the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill, for which there is no public demand and which is a solution in search of a problem.
I welcome the approval of the drug Spinraza by the HSE.
I pay tribute and congratulate our colleague, Senator Grace O'Sullivan, on her election to the European Parliament. I know she will be a wonderful MEP.
Yesterday, I visited Westminster. Like the Taoiseach, I am concerned with the tone of the Conservative Party leadership race. Everywhere I went yesterday, I was asked about the backstop and whether it can be renegotiated. Every time I stated that it absolutely cannot be renegotiated and that the only deal is the one on the table. The next month will be trying for the EU, the Government and, indeed, the British people. What is happening is a charade. It is not understood that there is only one deal in town, namely, the withdrawal agreement. I am concerned - the Taoiseach said this in the Dáil only a few minutes ago - that what is happening in the UK represents a disregarding of the responsibilities of national politicians. Yesterday, I told every politician who asked me about backstop that there is no way there can be a border on the island of Ireland and that the matter is not up for negotiation.I told them that there is no way there could be a border on the island of Ireland. It was not up for negotiation. It is very concerning. All parties here are holding the line that the only agreement in town is the withdrawal agreement, which was agreed by diplomats from both countries and the EU. It is just very frustrating.
I thank the 18 Members for their contributions to the Order of Business. I join with all colleagues in congratulating our colleague, Senator Grace O'Sullivan, on her election to the European Parliament. We wish her well and look forward to the second by-election on the agricultural panel in Seanad Éireann. I also congratulate all Members elected to the European Parliament and wish them well in their term of office. I welcome our colleague and friend, Michael Mullins, and the friends of Senator Hopkins to the Public Gallery.
I also join with Members in raising the issue of Spinraza and congratulate everyone involved. I pay tribute to the Minister for, as Senator Noone noted, his perseverance and willingness to continue the campaign. I welcome the decision today.
Senator Horkan raised the remarks today of the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council. In the context of the conversation, the Minister and the Government note the remarks and articulation by Professor Coffey and other members of the council. I remind Senator Horkan that it was the previous Government that set up the council in order to have an open and frank dialogue and to shine a light on our economic policy. I challenge Senator Horkan to look at the proposals by his own party colleagues and front bench and every single promise made by Fianna Fáil in the run up to the next general election - whenever that is - that, along with those of Sinn Féin, would probably bankrupt the country. Let us be clear. We are a small open economy and we are at risk. To to be fair, the Minister recognises that the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council has a role to play. He takes its advice. Our surplus is 0.2%, we have balanced the books and put aside a rainy day fund, unemployment is down to 4.6% or below, and we are investing 25% more in infrastructure. The Government has committed to reducing our debt burden. We are creating more jobs than ever before. However, I accept the point that there needs to be prudence. This requires prudence on the part of everybody in politics so that they do not grandstand with the electorate and promise everything and we have an honest debate about what we can and cannot achieve. I would be happy for the Minister to come to the House. The summer economic statement will be put before the House before we conclude for the summer recess. I take Senator Horkan's points regarding that.
Many of us share the Senator's concern that the ban on smoky coal should have been introduced a long time ago but as he knows, the ban is of benefit to the country in terms of health, health outcomes, fresh air and breathing. However, we live in a litigious society and there is the threat of litigation. As the Taoiseach said in the Dáil today, that is part of the reason but I would be happy for the Minister to come to the House to discuss the matter.
Senators Gavan and Bacik referred to tomorrow night's Private Members' business. The Minister has articulated a view that we need to be careful in what we do to ensure fairness around tips for workers and that there is transparency in that matter. Tips are for workers. The Minister will bring forward a payment of wages Bill in due course. We will have that debate tomorrow night and I look forward to the Minister coming to the House for it.
Senator Gavan spoke about the HAP scheme. Again, rather than delaying the House in giving a huge amount of time to the matter, I would be happy for the Minister to come to the House for a debate. Alternatively, Senator Gavan might be best served by raising the issue as a Commencement matter.
Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell raised the issue of healthcare assistants. She spoke about the need to fill vacant positions and tackle the critical skills shortage that exists.She also raised the issue of being able to age with dignity and care. We concur and agree with all of these points. The Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government has always said it is not about downsizing; it is about right sizing. I would be happy to have the Minister come to the House and have a debate on the matter in due course.
Senator Norris raised the issue of litter on the north side. I do not necessarily agree with the Senator. The issue has also to do with a cultural attitude to littering. It is not about having plastic bags. It is about getting the mind right regarding litter.
We all share the Senator's concern about the stabbing on O'Connell Street this morning. Government has reopened Garda stations. We have increased investment in An Garda Síochána. As Senator Norris may have seen from the latest report by the Garda Commissioner in the allocation of the new recruits predominately to the north side of Dublin and to Drogheda, the Government is committed to ensuring that there is adequate policing in the areas to which the Senator refers.
Senator Noone also raised the important issue of bottle banks being removed. The point the Senator makes is that in the context of those on private property, but also on public property, we need to find alternatives to give people an option to recycle and to be able to become, as I say, culturally in tune with what is the right thing to do. I commend the Senator for that suggestion. I thank her also for raising the issue of the European Union being able to negotiate on the issue of our drugs basket.
Senators Davitt and Leyden raised the issue of the Parole Board. The Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, is acutely aware of the pain and trauma suffered by victims of crime. The Minister takes great care in reviewing the recommendations of the Parole Board. There is, as the Senators will be aware, a Bill imminent. The Minister is working on that Bill. It will be before the House as soon as it is ready. The Minister is extensively engaging with others on that particular matter.
Senator Boyhan raised the important matter of sewage in Dublin Bay. It is one to which a response needs to be activated quickly. We saw the benefit of Irish Water where Cork Harbour is now clean and where we have seen the elimination of dumping of raw sewage into the harbour. Dublin Bay will benefit from similar activity by Irish Water in tandem with the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government.
Both Senators O'Mahony and Paddy Burke raised the issue of the payment by the redress board to an individual in receipt of a social welfare payment. Both Members make valid points regarding the issue. It is one for which I do not have an answer. It is one with which I do not necessarily agree. Senators O'Mahony and Paddy Burke might be best served by putting a Commencement matter before the House.
Senators Horkan and Bacik raised in a roundabout way similar issues about women's health and men's health. I would be happy to have them debated in due course.
I join with Senator Richmond in congratulating the Emerald Warriors on the successful hosting of the Union Cup. It was a good weekend of inclusivity for men's and women's rugby in Dublin. I congratulate all involved on what was a wonderful show-casing of Ireland, and as Senator Richmond rightly said, of the voluntary effort by the Emerald Warriors' committee. I commend all involved. I thank Senator Richmond, who is wearing the tie this afternoon in the House, for his support of, and representation of the Oireachtas at, the event at the weekend. I would be happy to have the Minister, Deputy Ross, or the Minister of State, Deputy Griffin, come to the House to have a debate on inclusivity in sport. It is something that we need to see debated, but also we need to encourage men and women in sport to be more inclusive in attitude.
Especially boxing, yes.
Senator Swanick raised the issue of Belmullet hospital. I understand both the Minister, Deputy Ring, and Councillor Gerry Coyle have been very active in the matter and have been engaged with the HSE, which has refuted the accusation that there will be no more admissions. There is an issue around three temporary contracts from three staff members who have been redeployed and have been given the option following discussion with the representatives in the area. The district hospital in Belmullet and Áras Deirbhle are very important locally to the people of Erris and beyond. I am told there is no imminent threat to the hospital.I am sure Senator Swanick can table a Commencement matter on this issue.
Senators Lawlor, Leyden and McDowell raised the issue of insurance. I am pleased to inform the House that the Judicial Council Bill 2017 will be taken in the House next Thursday and there will be an opportunity for Members to submit amendments, if they so wish, by the following Tuesday. The Government is prioritising the passage of the Judicial Council Bill 2017. We have had debates on insurance on a number of occasions. I hope Members will be aware of what is happening when they make comments in the House in regard to the priority of Government business. We are all aware awards are too high. I agree with Senator McDowell that one Bill, in itself, will not end the spiralling awards or costs. There needs to be a cultural change here and that requires an absolutely honest conversation around the issue of insurance.
The Perjury and Related Offences Bill 2018 is also ready to be debated and was to be on the schedule for next week but for some reason, it will not be on the schedule until the week after. The Minister, Deputy Flanagan, is ready to proceed with it. It was not the fault of the Government that it was not available for next week.
Senator Marshall raised the very important issue regarding haulage and freight and the need for the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to come to the House. I will be happy to facilitate a debate at the earliest opportunity. Senator Mulherin raised the new fair deal scheme rules to be brought in for small and medium-sized enterprises and for farmers. I welcome and congratulate the Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly, on his proposals which were brought to Cabinet today. We will have a debate on the fair deal scheme in a matter of weeks.
Senator Ó Donnghaile raised the issue of reconciliation. It is important in the context of our centenary of commemorations that we have a conversation around commemoration. Senator McDowell was involved in a very informative television programme recently and I saw the programme on Dolours Price last night. Senator Ó Donnghaile referred to Kieran Doherty being elected on this day in 1981 along with Paddy Agnew. June 1981 was a tremendous period for the Fine Gael Party. We won 65 seats under Garret FitzGerald in the election that year. It was not a good day for Mr. Haughey as Members opposite will recall. I am sure Senator Leyden is still smiling.
It is good to remember, a Chathaoirligh, and, as Senator Ó Donnghaile, has talked about reconciliation, we should also remember our past so we can forge our the future.
Senator Paddy Burke raised the issue of the Committee on Procedure of the Dáil and the Committee on Procedure and Privileges of the Seanad, on which the Cathaoirleach commented, and the apology by the Ceann Comhairle to Angela Kerins. It is time that we, as a House, took a stand, independent and separate from the Lower House. We are joined to the Lower House as, constitutionally, we are part of the Oireachtas. The people decided not to abolish this House. There is an obligation and duty on us as custodians of this House to stand up for it. I believe some of the Members of the Dáil Business Committee would rather that we were not here at all. We should have an honest discussion at the Committee on Procedure and Privileges on how we are viewed, our role under the Constitution, and where we are in the Oireachtas. We should not allow for the airbrushing or removal of Seanad Éireann or its Members from committees, or from dealing with certain issues pertaining to the matters of the Houses of the Oireachtas. I concur with Senator Paddy Burke's sentiments on this matter.
I wish all members of the Conservative Party running for election every success. As Senator Feighan said, I hope they remember that we are their nearest neighbours and that Brexit will have an impact on us.
I welcome Mr. Glenham Smith from Virginia in the USA, who is here as part of an internship programme for the summer months. I wish him well on his first day in Leinster House. I also welcome our former colleague, Mr. Michael Mullins, to the House and wish him well. If he is intent on making a return, a Chathaoirligh-----
-----he will be a very welcome candidate on the agricultural panel in the Seanad by-election. If not, I am sure he will not have long to wait for the next Seanad election, unless he is going to go on to another House about which do not know.