Wednesday, 12 June 2019
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. a1, motion regarding the eleventh report of the Committee of Selection, to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business, without debate; No. 1, Private Members' business, National Minimum Wage (Protection of Employee Tips) Bill 2017 - Report and Final Stages, to be taken at 12.45 p.m. and to adjourn after two hours if not previously concluded; No. 2, National Surplus (Reserve Fund for Exceptional Contingencies) Bill 2018 - Second Stage, to be taken at 3 p.m., with the contribution of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes; and No. 3, Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill 2016 – Committee Stage, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 2 and to adjourn no later than 9 p.m. if not previously concluded.
I thank the Leader for outlining the business. The latest report from Dr. Gabriel Scally was published yesterday. It highlights that Irish women's smear tests have regularly been tested in unapproved laboratories overseas. Originally, we were told there were six laboratories, then 11 and now 16. The HSE was not aware of and had not approved some of these sites. One of the laboratories, which was one too many, did not have appropriate accreditation. Clearly there was a breakdown in communications between the HSE and those doing the tests. The Leader will agree that the fact the HSE did not even know there were 16 laboratories involved is very disconcerting. Dr. Scally is certainly not happy with the legal processes which, he said, convert error into injustice and then convert that into financial remedies. We need the Minister for Health to come to the House to give us an update on the Scally report and what measures he is putting in place to give certainty to people using the service. We know that no testing system is 100% perfect and things can go wrong but the scale of what went wrong is frightening and shocking to most of us. We need to know that in future it will be a lot tighter and more rigorous than it has been.
I also want to raise the issue of knife crime. In the early hours of yesterday morning, a very tragic event occurred when a homeless man was fatally stabbed on O'Connell Street. This was only four weeks after a very tragic stabbing of a teenage boy in Dundrum, close to where I live in south Dublin. He was also fatally injured. Other Senators have spoken about crime generally and gangland crime. In the past two years, there has been an increase of 66% in seizures of knives by gardaí. We certainly need to know what they Garda will do in terms of prevention.There is no real scrutiny of the level of criminal activity that involves knives. It is imperative the Department acts before these figures rise further. We need far stricter sanctions for people carrying knives than we have had in the past and measures in place to detect people carrying knives because clearly it is a big problem.
Dublin City Council commissioned a survey by the Royal Holloway University of London. The survey found the impact of living in hotels, particularly on younger children, is very destructive. They struggle to learn how to crawl and to walk due to a lack of space, they struggle with their speech and some have sleepless nights and go to school exhausted as a result of anti-social behaviour in these settings. It is important when we consider the issue of homelessness particularly for people growing up, who are developing as human beings and developing their skills, that they have the space to do so safely. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government to come to the House to discuss the effect of homelessness on families with young children.
As Senators will know, it is exam time and almost 125,000 students are sitting the junior and leaving certificate examinations, which is an increase on former years. I take this opportunity to wish them well in all their endeavours and exams.
Every year these students will wait anxiously for their results, particularly leaving certificate students, to see if they have the necessary points to attend college or university to follow the courses they want. Each year there is a cohort of students who want to follow a particular career path but do not achieve the points necessary to attend third level education. University is not for everyone and sometimes that expectation is unfairly put on some students. I received a copy of the recent report on work permits and apprenticeships compiled by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Business, Enterprise and Innovation and commend the committee on its work. Apprenticeships have a very important role to play for students who do not see themselves attending university or college for three or four years and would rather learn as they work. The range of apprenticeships has increased in the last number of years in employment sectors, other than craft and construction, into fields such as accounting and financial sectors, property, biopharma and the hospitality and food sectors. I am a huge advocate for skills, trades and manufacturing. An Chomhaire Oiliúna, AnCO, FÁS and now SOLAS have played a huge role in furthering the skills of young people.
In the 1980s, a son of an old friend of mine did a FÁS apprenticeship course on thatching. This young lad, William Cahill, was what I would call a townie but he is now the top thatcher in the United States and works with all the major theme parks. He also has his own reed farm. He is an example of the opportunities that exist for boutique skills. As we reach full employment, apprenticeships will play a valuable role in addressing some of the skills shortages we have today. The Government should seek to incentivise businesses, particularly small and medium-sized enterprises, SMEs, to recruit apprentices. It is important that apprenticeships are seen and encouraged as an equally viable option for students as third level education.
I call on the Leader to invite the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation to address this House on how the Government will implement the recommendations made by the Joint Committee on Business, Enterprise and Innovation. As many of us here know, including myself, third level education is not for everyone but hard work will always be rewarded.
I propose an amendment to the Order of Business that No. 14 be taken before No. 1. I refer to putting the Community Participation (Disability) (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2019 on the Order Paper. The Bill was developed by my colleague, Senator Dolan, and it is about the full participation of people with disabilities in their communities. One of the effects of this Bill would be to make toilet facilities, which we all take for granted, readily available to people with disabilities. People suffer the most incredible indignities in public spaces when they try to use public toilets. If any of us had to endure that even for a day then we would be rightly concerned and upset. The Bill seeks to make playgrounds inclusive by using universal design and ensure private buses have the same standards of accessibility as public buses. The Bill seeks to put the advocacy services that are available to people on a statutory basis. I hope that my colleagues will support my proposal to amend the Order of Business.
We will certainly will miss her from this Chamber, but I have no doubt that she will do a marvellous job in Europe for us. I hope that she will stay in touch with this House. I thank the former MEP, Liadh Ní Riada, for her hard work, particularly for rural and coastal communities. She did Trojan work, particularly in the area of fishing and rural development. I wish her well for the future and I have no doubt that she will continue to make a major contribution.
I welcome yesterday's announcement on the approval of Spinraza. Senators will know that I have spoken in this House many times about Spinraza so I was absolutely thrilled yesterday when we got the news it is going to be made available. I was particularly thrilled for Grace O'Malley and Cillian Mearns and their parents because I got to know them personally. Access to Spinraza will give Grace and Cillian a much better quality of life. I thank the Minister for Health for allowing humanity to prevail in this situation. Access to Spinraza was an issue that I was never going to let go of but I acknowledge that it is never too late to do the right thing.
Today, I would like to raise the issue of Belmullet Community Hospital. Last Monday night, hundreds of people attended a public meeting on the hospital. The attempts being made to get rid of agency staff and not renew temporary contracts is absolutely deplorable. One man put the issue succinctly when he said they promised us the birds in the sky but they did not tell us we have to catch them ourselves. The announcement was made within days of the local and European elections. As the Leader will know, there were 40 beds at the hospital but that number was halved when Fianna Fáil was in government even though the area is bigger than County Louth. I ask the Leader to confirm that the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Jim Daly, will visit the hospital next week and who he will meet. I would like to know as many people are interested in meeting the Minister of State.
The nearest hospital to Belmullet is 50 miles away. We talks about delivering healthcare as close as possible to communities and yet we are doing the exact opposite in terms of the privatisation and centralisation of health services, which must stop. We cannot have it both ways. We cannot have platitudes saying that we believe in primary and community care yet at the same time make the most vulnerable in our society pay for overruns and the neglect of the health service.
I wanted to raise another issue but I will hold it over until tomorrow.
Yesterday, some of us expected that our colleague, Senator Grace O'Sullivan, would grace us with her presence. On behalf of the Seanad, I would like to say I was very happy she was elected and I want to congratulate her publicly. I am sure she will be a tremendous asset to the European Parliament because she was a very good contributor in this House and was very passionate about the issues she represented. Like myself, she ran on the agricultural panel. Somebody described another election recently by saying that A was head of the poll but B was man of the match. In this election, Senator Grace O'Sullivan deserves the accolade of woman of the match, coming from humble beginnings to becoming an MEP. She is the success story of the entire European elections. I hope she will come in here before she takes up her seat in the European Parliament but if she does not, then at least I have put my comments on the record.
I am sorry for the intervention and I call Seanadóir Aodhán Ó Ríordáin.
To be adjourned.
The Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, and the Government are to be commended for their action in respect of the availability of Spinraza, on which we have made many contributions in this House. The Health Service Executive, HSE, has now announced that it will fund it. The decision made by the United Kingdom in recent weeks to change its position was welcome and probably led to the decision made here this week. I think, in particular, of Sam Bailey and his family who have been campaigning with others throughout the country to reach this day. I commend the Government for what it has done. It is a life-changing moment for many children. I congratulate, in particular, the Minister for Health and his officials on doing the right thing.
It has been announced that Philomena Lynott has passed away at the age of 88 years. She was the mother of Phil Lynnott and worked so hard to keep his legacy alive. Her love for him is a great Irish story. I offer my condolences and those of the Labour Party to her family and those who loved Philomena and Phil.
I welcome yesterday's announcement that the Cabinet has approved the amendment of the fair deal scheme to the effect that the 7.5% contribution, based on the family farm or a small business, will apply for a limit of three years and hope it will be expedited. I note that the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Jim Daly, plans to bring the legislation to the committee, as well as here, in the autumn. It will be one of the most important Bills to pass through the House. I would like to see someone who has been assessed for two years based on a family farm or small business being limited to three years or someone who has paid for one year only having to pay for a further two years. They should be allowed to defer the contribution attached to the business or the farm. These are specific points, but they are nonetheless extremely important. There are times when we must acknowledge that a particular measure will make a huge difference to families. I also like the fact that the business or farm will be continued for at least six years. It is a positive measure. I very much look forward to seeing the detail of the legislation. I know from dealing daily with families on the fair deal scheme that this change will make an enormous difference to families throughout the country in availing of nursing home care.
I congratulate Fran McNulty, the RTÉ "Prime Time" reporter who has been appointed as the new correspondent on agriculture and consumer affairs at the national broadcaster. I recognise the contribution made by former Deputy George Lee over five years as RTÉ correspondent on agriculture and the environment. He was very fair and focused and highlighted the issues in farming in a very positive way. He was an excellent correspondent. He brought a certain gravitas to the work and attention to an industry that did not receive that level of coverage in RTÉ until his appointment. RTÉ is funded through the Oireachtas or by those who pay their TV licence fee and we are being well served on the Brexit issue by correspondents such as Tony Connolly, Fiona Mitchell, Sean Whelan and Tommy Gorman. RTE has proved to be one of the most well respected and recognised broadcasters in the world for being fair and broadcasting the real truth of the news, not false news. We should recognise its work and excellent correspondents and reporters, including those on "Morning Ireland" and others throughout the day who give 100% to the people of Ireland. We are very lucky to have such a station in the State.
One of the issues we have not really dealt with in this term in the Oireachtas is the financing of broadcasting. We constantly hear on television and radio advertisements urging people to buy a television licence, rather than face prosecution. There are even advertisements to highlight the fact that holiday homes, caravans and the like are required to have a separate licence if a television is brought to them for the weekend. A lot of money is spent on inspectors in travelling around the country chasing homeowners to check whether they have a television licence. A lot of expenditure is incurred in prosecuting people and even after all of this, there is a significant underpayment of licence fee income if the figures are to be believed. An Post gets a cut of the licence fee revenue it collects. It seems that the time has come to grasp this nettle. It would be far more efficient if the local property tax, when it is being reformed, whereby there would be a lump sum payment per household spread over 12 months, was integrated with the collection mechanism. I know that would not deal with everything because it would not deal with pubs, hotels and places of business, but as far as ordinary householders are concerned, it would seem to be a far more equitable and efficient way of collecting the amount due. If the television licence fee is around €160, a person with a caravan, to be strictly compliant with the law, has to come up with €320 out of his or her pocket every year. How much does someone have to earn if he or she is paying tax at the top rate, as many do, to be able to pay that amount? It turns out that he or she has to earn approximately €640 to pay for two television licences out of his or her after tax earnings. The time has come for the Government to face up to this issue, be honest and collect the fee in an efficient way and give the pretence that it is a licence which is a form of taxation. It is a broadcasting levy. Surely the time has come for us to face up to this issue. It has been hanging around for years, ever since the former Minister for communications, Pat Rabbitte, talked about cavemen. It must be addressed at some stage.
The Scally report released yesterday identified the fact that where there were contracts with laboratories the work had been sub-contracted. This morning I raised queries at the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health about whether there was a provision in the contracts that allowed it to be sub-contracted. I raise an extremely concerning issue about women under 25 years of age who do not come under the CervicalCheck programme. I have a letter addressed to a GP about someone who is under 25 years of age and suffers from an immune deficiency and is, therefore, more likely to contract cervical cancer. The GP became concerned and, believing the issue was urgent, arranged to have a smear test conducted privately. As the results showed that it was an abnormal smear, the GP immediately referred her to CervicalCheck. The letter from CervicalCheck states that because she did not go through its process, it cannot put her on its list. It is astonishing that someone with an abnormal smear test result does not come within the remit of CervicalCheck and must be seen under a screening programme, resulting in a considerable delay. It is wrong, where it has clearly been identified that someone under 25 years of age has had an abnormal smear test result, that CervicalCheck is closing its doors. Cervical cancer is not confined to those over 25 years of age. I know of cases of people as young as 18 and 21 years of age where cervical cancer has been diagnosed and they have to go through the treatment process. I ask that this matter be brought to the attention of the Minister for Health. I would like him to come to the House to tell us exactly what changes are occurring in the provision of the CervicalCheck programme. Are there restrictions which prevent certain women from gaining access to care and treatment? That is exactly what has occurred in this case and the woman concerned does not have a big income. At the time she felt it was important to have the issue dealt with, as per the advice of her GP, and has now been told that she cannot receive care under the CervicalCheck programme. I ask that this matter be brought to the Minister's attention and dealt with as soon as possible.
I join in the good wishes extended to our colleague Senator Grace O'Sullivan. The Civic Engagement group has been effective and had a lot of success in pursuing the different policy initiatives and agendas it has put forward. Senator Grace O'Sullivan has always been an integral part of that work, with Ed Davitt who works in her office. Although we wish her well, we will definitely miss her as part of the group. She is a huge loss in the work we do.
I support Senator Ó Ríordáin's request that the Order of Business be amended to allow the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill 2016 to be adjourned at 6 p.m. A huge amount of work has been done by the Department, something I will not deny, in getting the Bill to where it is now. Unfortunately, however, there has been a problem in communication with the Adoption Rights Alliance, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties and all of the different groups involved, including adoptees who are scared and anxious about the Bill, even with the Minister's amendments. They believe it is flawed and does not balance their right to information and an identity. Given that those who will be affected most by the Bill only become aware on Tuesday of last week when they were contacted by Senators that it was on the schedule, we need to give them time to engage with the parties and Senators on the 161 amendments that have been brought forward. To do this, the debate on the Bill should be adjourned at 6 p.m. They were not able to contact many Senators last week when the House was in recess and we should give them the space they need to do so. I support Senator Ó Ríordáin's request in that regard.
I join Senators in wishing Senator Grace O'Sullivan well as an MEP. With Ed Davitt, she will be a loss to the Houses. If there is to be a by-election to fill a vacancy in this House, although I am not sure of the timeframe, we should consider the amendment proposed by Sinn Féin to the Seanad reform implementation group, whereby lists of replacements would be submitted, rather than have yet another progressive voice on the Government benches, or not, as in the case of Senator Marshall.
I also support the amendment proposed to the Order of Business which has been seconded that the debate on the the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill be adjourned at 6 p.m. in order to give groups a chance to engage further on it. I come from the position "Nothing about us without us". On this occasion, the campaign and advocacy groups for adoptees have not been heard by the Department. While we will represent their concerns today, they should have an opportunity to meet it. We, therefore, ask Members to support the amendment proposed to the Order of Business.
On the issue raised by Senator McDowell, changes to the media landscape have obviously had a drastic impact on RTÉ and TG4. We need to be address the issue of collection. While the local property tax may help in that regard, it will not address the issue of funding for public services. If the property tax is €80 and the licence fee is €160, merging them will only result in a reduction in funding for public services. There is a non-payment rate of 18%, whereas the non-payment rate in Britain is around 5%. Therefore, addressing the non-payment rate first would be best.
With reference to the sustained and continuous debate on climate change, it is a fact that the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, SEAI, has experienced a considerable surge in uptake of the various grants it offers across its programmes. This is putting considerable pressure on its budgets. The issue was first flagged for me in April when it seemed that new applications were being stalled and contractors engaged in the provision of energy efficiency measures such as insulation and so on were experiencing delays in being paid and having new work approved. Immediately thereafter, when I took up the issue, it seemed to be in abeyance. Unfortunately, however, the news I have received in the last week is that there is a serious problem which was not addressed in April and, in particular, a serious budgetary problem with the warmer homes scheme, of which there has been a massive uptake. Individuals, in particular, older people who qualify under the scheme, have been ringing and wondering when their job of work will be done. Contractors who are rolling out the scheme under a service level agreement are entitled to expect payment within six weeks, but it is taking three months, at the very least, for payments to arrive at their door. There is a lack of clarity on funding. Has the budget been spent? Will more funding become available? This is a critical issue. We are encouraging people to take steps to make their home more energy efficient and warmer, reduce their energy bills and help us to achieve our climate action targets. There is a need for clarity for the many people who are wondering when their job of work will be done and the contractors who have serious cash flow problems. Private contractors have to pay staff and need to know where they stand. I ask, therefore, the Minister responsible to come to the House to clarify and shed light on the matter in order that people will know how to apply for grants, given that there is a lot of confusion about the various grants on offer. It would be helpful to have a good debate on the issue.
I offered my congratulations to Senator Grace O'Sullivan yesterday. Judging by her Twitter account, she appears to be very active in Brussels already. I am really delighted for the Senator. Her victory in the European elections was well deserved.
I support the proposal to amend the Order of Business - made by Senator Ó Ríordáin and seconded by Senator Ruane - to adjourn the Committee Stage debate on the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill at 6 p.m. rather than letting it run until 9 p.m. I was one of the Senators who engaged in the Second Stage debate on the Bill, which took place more than two years ago, on 22 March 2017. At that time, we were promised consultation on amendments to address the concerns many of us raised about the way in which privacy rights were appearing to trump rights to information. We waited for over two years and amendments were finally produced very late on Monday night. My assistant, along with others, attended a briefing organised by the Minister on Monday evening but the amendments were not even provided then. They were provided later and we have really only had one day to grapple with them. There are, as Senator Ruane pointed out, 161 amendments in total. The Labour Party has other amendments but we did not put them forward for Committee Stage precisely because we had not had sight of the Government's amendments by Monday, which was the deadline for submission. We wanted to reserve our position in order that we would not duplicate anything. Plenty of other colleagues submitted amendments. Indeed, there is a huge number of amendments to the Bill, many of which have been tabled by the Minister. However, those amendments were only made available to us after the deadline for submission had passed and that is simply not acceptable.
In terms of Seanad procedures, I do not know why a Committee Stage debate is being scheduled to run from the afternoon until 9 p.m. Again, that was just indicated to the House by the Leader. While I know that this is what the Leader has been asked to do, it looks as if an attempt is being made to just ram through the Government amendments-----
-----without adequate time for debate or consideration. This is unacceptable, particularly in light of how long we have waited and given the extent of the issues that have been raised with us by persons who have been adopted and the Council of Irish Adoption Agencies. I received an email from the latter this morning stating that, having listened to the Minister's arguments on "Morning Ireland", it believes it would be a total disaster for adoption practice if the Bill is progressed in its new format. Further, the council does not believe that sufficient consideration has been given to the implications for Tusla if the Bill is passed. It is not just those persons who have been adopted who have objections here. Anyone who heard my colleague, Deputy Burton, speak passionately on "Today with Sean O'Rourke" about the flaws in this Bill would agree that we should proceed with caution. While we are willing to proceed with Committee Stage and do not want to delay the Bill further, the idea that we would run with Committee Stage until 9 p.m. is not acceptable. Given the late publication of the amendments and in view of the very serious concerns that the Adoption Rights Alliance, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, the Council for Irish Adoption Agencies and so many adopted persons have raised, we should adjourn after a couple of hours of debate.
Ba mhaith liom fáilte a chur roimh an scéal aréir faoin reifreann ar chúrsaí vótála i dtoghchán na huachtaránachta.
The Leader is always encouraging us to be positive so I will start by being positive in welcoming the Cabinet approval for a referendum Bill to provide for presidential voting rights to be extended to citizens outside the State. This is something that I and many colleagues, not least Senator Billy Lawless, have focused on in our time in this House. The proposal has the broad support of people across this Chamber and beyond. A marker has been laid down. This is a very formal display from the Cabinet and the Government and what we need no is everyone, whether involved in political, civic, community, cultural and voluntary life, getting out there to ensure that we invest in our global diaspora and that citizens in the North are not left behind any longer. We need to win this for citizenship and in order to send a clear message to our citizens and to fellow member states across the EU that already afford this franchise extension to their citizens. I want to add a caveat to my positivity by stating that there is a bit of time to go between now and October. I sincerely hope that we get to that stage because I do not believe we can allow this issue to slide any longer. I do not think citizens outside the State will forgive us if we allow it to do so. I look forward to a very positive campaign and encourage all of the global Irish networks, not least organisations like the GAA, which will have a pivotal role in this campaign, to get involved, as well as members of all political parties and none represented in this Chamber. We must go out, mobilise, encourage participation and win this.
I had indicated earlier that I was not going to speak but I just want to add my voice to those of my colleagues who have suggested that it is very bad parliamentary practice to introduce significant Government amendments very late in the day and then, without giving us time to consider them properly and table our own amendments, ram a Bill through over the course of five and a half hours. I assure the Leader that it will be the same two or three people who are engaging on every Bill in this House. This is just wrong, unfair and sloppy, and I completely oppose it. I will be voting with my colleagues on the proposed amendment to the Order of Business.
I am sorry for being late. I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on family hubs. I have just come from a meeting of the Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government at which presentations were made by representatives from the Mercy Law Resource Centre and Focus Ireland and by the Ombudsman for Children. They gave harrowing accounts of children who are staying in what is meant to be temporary accommodation. Family hubs were a new solution to replace hotel accommodation. We know, despite numerous promises by the Government, that families are being accommodated in hotels, in some cases for up to three years, all over this country. In many cases, they are many miles from their original homes and often they are in different counties to where their children go to school. We have a constitutional provision that refers to cherishing all of the children equally in this nation but that is simply not happening. In that context, it is important that we invite the Minister to this House to explain what he means by temporary accommodation and by hubs. At the very least, I call on him to establish an independent inspectorate to examine these hubs because we have heard harrowing stories today. Many Senators will have heard similar stories in their communities. This is an important issue and it should be given absolute priority. I ask the Leader to arrange an early debate on how we are housing children and families in inappropriate accommodation. These cases will be tomorrow's redress scheme. We will look back and ask what we did for our children and their families. This is an important issue and I ask the Leader to facilitate an early debate with the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government and his colleague, the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, who also has a responsibility in this area.
I am not sure that Senator Boyhan was that progressive in his previous incarnation. I am sure he is very happy sitting next to Senator McDowell, as he has done for many years. Well observed on the part of the Cathaoirleach. It is amazing what politics throws up. I welcome the new gentler, kinder Sinn Féin. The local and European elections must have given the party some lesson because its members have been very nice so far this morning. We welcome their newfound generosity of spirit and look forward to the hand of friendship being extended across the aisle and to seeing the party voting with the Government on legislation, other than the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill.
On a serious note and for the benefit of those Senators who were not here yesterday, I wish to again congratulate our colleague, Senator Grace O'Sullivan, on her election to the European Parliament. As the Cathaoirleach said, it was a man-of-the-match performance and we wholeheartedly congratulate her. She was a very strong participant in this House and a very positive colleague. I know that many of us will now look forward to postcards from Brussels, having received them from many parts of this country during the summer holidays. We wish Grace well. I join Senator Conway-Walsh in thanking all of our MEPs, those who were elected and those who stood but did not get elected. As we all know, it takes courage to stand for election, irrespective of one's political affiliation. We wish all of the defeated candidates well.We congratulate our outgoing MEPs who have retired, and wish our new MEPs every success in Brussels. Brussels is very important and the European Parliament is an important place to be with regard to future policy for our country.
Senator Ó Ríordáin raised the issue of the death of Philomena Lynott. On my behalf and on behalf of the Government, I offer our sympathies to her family. She was a very courageous woman. Any of us who read the biography she wrote, My Boy, could not but be impressed by her tenacity and integrity and the care she had for her son and for her city and country. We sympathise with her family. It is fitting that she was able to see the statue dedicated to Phil Lynott in our capital city. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.
We also remember the young man who was killed tragically yesterday on O'Connell Street, Peter Donnelly. We offer our sympathies to his family. Any life cut short by violence is something for which we must condemn the perpetrators. We must also find out the reasons for the attacks. I will come back to Senator Horkan with regard to knife crime.
I thank the 15 Members of the House for their contributions to the Order of Business. The Scally report is one we should all read because, as Senator Horkan quite rightly said, we need to bring certainty to the families and the women and we must also have confidence in the system. As Senator Colm Burke said, there are issues we must address. I am happy for the Minister to come to the House to discuss the supplementary report issued by Dr Scally. It beggars belief that the number of laboratories used increased without the approval of CervicalCheck. We must have an inbuilt system where there is confidence in the quality and assurance given to the women and their families. All of us recognise that the Minister, Deputy Harris, is committed to ensuring we get answers. This is why he and the Minister for Justice and Equality commissioned Mr. Justice Meenan to work on tort reform and on the issue spoken about this morning, which is that it is important we get answers.
Senators Horkan and Boyhan raised the issue of people living in hotels and family hubs. I have every intention of bringing the Minister with responsibility for housing to the House. It was our intention to bring him here next week but we must deal with legislation that needs to be passed. He will come to the House as soon as possible. There is a robust system of inspection but every effort must be made to ensure family hubs are a temporary and not a permanent solution. This is why the Government, through Rebuilding Ireland, is committed to increasing the number of houses. The point made by both Senators is important and I am happy for the Minister to come to the House in the coming weeks.
Senator Lawless raised the important matter of the leaving certificate and junior certificate exams and the leaving certificate applied exams. I join him in wishing continuing success to all the students who have gone through one week of exams. The Senator also raised the issue of apprenticeships. He is right that third level education is not for everybody. This is why the Government has a robust and active apprenticeship scheme and why last week, the Ministers of State, Deputies Mitchell O'Connor and Halligan, and the Minister, Deputy McHugh, announced €7.5 million to be awarded to ten third level institutions for the provision of new apprenticeships. It is important that we have a strong programme of apprenticeships and that we support and advertise it as a matter of urgency. The Government's 2016 to 2020 apprenticeship programme has set a target of 31,000. Last year there were 15,373 apprenticeships on the books. It is important that we urge people to consider apprenticeships. I concur with the Senator in that regard. The Minister of State, Deputy Halligan, came to the House recently to discuss the matter but I will have him back to the House in due course.
Senator Horkan raised the issue of knife crime. The point he made is valid. The Government is working on a national strategy on assault and particularly knife crime. The draft strategy is due to be published in July. In 2018, 1,136 knives were confiscated by gardaí through stop and search. This was a 60% increase from 2016. There is need for a national conversation on why people use knives, where knife usage is going and how we ensure it does not increase. I will be happy for the Minister to come to the House to discuss the matter.
I am happy to accept Senator Kelleher's amendment to the Order of Business regarding her proposal that Senator Dolan brings forward a Bill next week.
Yesterday, we had a discussion on Spinraza and all of us in the House were very happy with the announcement made. Many Members of the House, including Senator Conway-Walsh, campaigned vigorously for it and it is a good news story all round.
Senator Ó Ríordáin raised the issue of the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill 2016, as did other Senators. I cannot accept the amendment he proposed to the Order of Business. It is a bit unfair to suggest the Minister, Deputy Zappone, has not engaged. I will go ahead with my proposal.
I join Senator Kieran O'Donnell in congratulating, as we did yesterday, the Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly, on the changes to the fair deal scheme. He will come to the House in the coming weeks.
Senator Leyden was on an RTÉ promotional tour and we congratulate George Lee on his appointment to a different brief. We also congratulate Fran McNulty on his appointment as agricultural and environmental correspondent. Senators Leyden and McDowell raised the role of RTÉ. The TV licence is an important part of raising revenue for RTÉ. Last year, the Oireachtas committee published a report that recommended changing to a broadcasting charge from what we have at present. I believe An Post receives €1.46 million from the licence fee. I would be happy to have a debate. The former Minister, Pat Rabbitte, attempted to change it. Given the report published today by Reuters on how people access news it is something we should look at. Today, more and more people do use media such as television or radio to access news or information. They use hand-held devices or iPads. We will have this debate in due course. The future of broadcasting and print journalism is something on which we need a debate and I would be happy to have one.
Senator Colm Burke commented on CervicalCheck and women under the age of 25. I do not have the answer to the question he raised. Perhaps it would be best served by a Commencement matter. He raised a very important issue. Senator Warfield also raised the issue of the media landscape as part of the discussion.
Senator Mulherin raised the issue of the SEAI grants and the need for clarity on funding. I would be happy for the Minister to come to the House but perhaps it is a matter that could be discussed by way of a Commencement matter.
I apologise to Senator Conway-Walsh as the issue of Belmullet District Hospital was raised in the House yesterday by Senator Swanick and I gave a reply on the issue of redeployment of staff. I do not have the exact answer to the question but it is important, as I said yesterday, that the issue is clarified. I am confident that it will be.
That is beyond my pay grade . I cannot confirm it. It is not a matter for me as the Leader of the House to have input on that. It is a ministerial and departmental issue. I am sure Councillor Gerry Coyle will give the Senator the information if she asks him.
Senator Ó Donnghaile raised the issue of the forthcoming referendum Bill and I look forward to the Sinn Féin Party canvassing actively on the matter with the Government. There is a long way to go between now and October and there will be various viewpoints. We look forward to the debate.
I am happy to accept the amendment to the Order of Business proposed by Senator Kelleher but I regret I cannot accept the amendment proposed by Senator Ó Ríordáin and others.
Senator Colette Kelleher has moved an amendment to the Order of Business that: "That No. 14 be taken before No. a1." The Leader has indicated he is prepared to accept the amendment. Is the amendment agreed? Agreed. Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That debate on No. 3 be adjourned at 6 p.m. if not previously concluded." Is the amendment being pressed?
To clarify, it is likely that we will not get to the debate on No. 3, Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill 2016, until 4 p.m. Adjourning at 6 p.m. would give only a two-hour window for debate. To be fair to the Minister, there are many reasons for the delay in moving the Bill forward. The Minister has been working on it. We will not finish Committee Stage tonight.
Ivana Bacik, Frances Black, Victor Boyhan, Rose Conway Walsh, Paul Daly, Aidan Davitt, Robbie Gallagher, Paul Gavan, Kevin Humphreys, Colette Kelleher, Pádraig MacLochlainn, Michael McDowell, David Norris, Marie Louise O'Donnell, Niall Ó Donnghaile, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, Lynn Ruane, Fintan Warfield.
Colm Burke, Paddy Burke, Jerry Buttimer, Maria Byrne, Paudie Coffey, Paul Coghlan, Martin Conway, Billy Lawless, Anthony Lawlor, Gabrielle McFadden, Michelle Mulherin, Catherine Noone, Kieran O'Donnell, John O'Mahony, Pádraig Ó Céidigh, James Reilly, Neale Richmond.