Tuesday, 18 June 2019
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, motion regarding Regulation (EU) 2018/1727 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 14 November 2018 on the European Union Agency for Criminal Justice Co-operation (Eurojust), and replacing and repealing Council Decision 2002/187/JH, back from committee, to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business, without debate; No. 2, Criminal Justice (Mutual Recognition of Probation Judgments and Decisions) Bill 2018 - Second Stage, to be taken at 4.45 p.m. and to adjourn at 5.50 p.m., if not previously concluded, with the contributions of spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes; No. 3 Judicial Appointments Commission Bill 2017 - Committee Stage, resumed, to be taken at 6.15 p.m. and to adjourn after three and a half hours, if not previously concluded. Business will be suspended between 5.50 p.m. and 6.15 p.m. to enable the Minister for Justice and Equality to attend the Dáil to take a Topical Issue matter on a sensitive matter.
On my behalf and that of the House, a Chathaoirligh, I offer you and your family our deepest sympathies on the sad loss of your sister, Eileen, who died yesterday, and to our Leas-Chathaoirleach, Senator Coghlan, who lost his mother, Peggie, yesterday.
On behalf of the Fianna Fáil group, I convey my sympathies to the family of the Cathaoirleach. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a h-anam dílis. I also convey my sympathies and those of the Fianna Fáil group to the Leas-Chathaoirleach and his family on the passing of his mother, Peggie. Our deepest and sincerest condolences to both families.
I raise two matters today. The first is eye health for primary school children. I call on the Minister to introduce a scheme whereby the first-time driving licence test requirements are applied to primary school children. Many children are given the HSE standard eye test, which they pass, but then go on to suffer sight loss. Those children would have failed the optician's eyesight test. I was approached by a mother with a five year old son who has sensory and anxiety issues. She let the school know about these before an eye test happened and, six months after the eye test, heard nothing from the school or the HSE as to how her child got on. As time passed, her child still presented with serious sight issues and a lot of anxiety when going to school so she brought the child to the opticians and it turned out the child was, in fact, long-sighted.
Other children and parents in the school have been discussing it and it turns out that the HSE standard eye test is deficient and many ophthalmologists have been agitating for the HSE to implement the driving licence test standard to primary school children because it is more effective in ensuring that, if children have issues with their sight, it is identified. The HSE test is too simple and is not working. I call on the Minister to look into the matter.
The second issue I raise is knife crime in the city. There was an incident on O'Connell Street last week and, over the weekend, an horrendous incident in Ballyfermot and Cherry Orchard. Pictures are circulating on the Internet of a cross-section of a wound on a man's face. It is a very graphic picture. We are seeing a rise in knife crime in this city and the Government has not got a handle on it. A many-pronged approach needs to be taken. We need the Garda to be resourced properly and we need stronger sentencing for knife crimes and for the sale and possession of knives. Gardaí also need to be protected. It is daunting, dangerous and scary for gardaí who approach large gangs of youths because they do not know what the outcome will be or how aggressive the situation will be. I am calling for a serious debate in this House on knife crime in the city. The incidence of knife crime has increased, it is an epidemic and we need to be worried. The increase in knife crime in the UK was described as a public health epidemic and we need to look at it in the same way.
I congratulate our colleague, Senator Grace O'Sullivan, who was elected to the European Parliament.She will still be with us for the next few weeks. We wish her well in her new endeavours and post and will miss her dearly.
At the outset I would like to indicate to the Cathaoirleach that the Independent Senators at their meeting today passed a motion of sympathy for the Cathaoirleach on the sad loss of his sister, Eileen, and a vote of sympathy for the Leas-Chathaoirleach, Senator Coghlan, on the death of his mother, Peggy. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a n-anamacha dílse.
I will mention a number of matters today. The Perjury and Related Offences Bill that we read about today in the newspapers, which has been championed by Senator Ó Céidigh and other members of my group, has been lying unaddressed in this House for some time and I am glad to see that the Minister for Justice and Equality has got the Government's agreement to make some amendments to it. I am somewhat underwhelmed by the suggestion that these amendments are far-reaching in any particular way because the Bill did extend to perjury before tribunals and perjury in affidavits tendered to tribunals.
Be that as it may, it is not a question of ownership of the Bill, but one of getting it moved onwards, debated and passed. The Leader should indicate when it is proposed to take the next Stages of this Bill, for which there is cross-party and almost unanimous support in this House for its quick passage and enactment into law, in order that civil law will have some teeth in view of the reluctance on the part of the prosecuting authorities to prosecute in the absence of a clear statutory basis.
The second point I raise arises out of the plans which were approved by the Cabinet yesterday and which I hope will be circulated to all Members of the House fairly quickly for our consideration and debate. They relate to climate change and the steps the Government proposes should be taken over the next few decades on that issue and my specific issue pertains to data centres. I understand there are between four and eight serious proposals to build extensive data centres in Ireland, the effect of which will be to increase our demand for electricity over the next ten to 12 years by up to 33% to 35%, which is a conservative estimate. It appears to me that the Department responsible for enterprise has been single-mindedly pursuing the establishment of data centres in Ireland without proper consideration as to whether we can sustain an increase in the demand for 24-hour a day electricity of that order in the context of meeting our climate change targets in the future. I ask that the Minister, Deputy Bruton, be called to this House by the Leader to indicate how he proposes to reconcile the increased demand for electricity anticipated on foot of the establishment of all of these data centres with the adherence to the targets for sustainable electricity consumption and generation over the next 15 years.
Finally, on the Order of Business, I propose that an amendment be made that the figure of three and a half hours proposed by the Leader of the House should be two hours only.
I too want to extend my condolences on behalf of the Sinn Féin Party to the Cathaoirleach on the sad passing of his sister, Eileen, and indeed to the Leas-Chathaoirleach, Senator Paul Coghlan, on the sad passing of his mother as well. May they rest in peace.
I raise today the strike we are facing on Thursday that will have very serious implications. That is the strike of the healthcare assistants, the homecare assistants, the maternity care assistants, the staff, the cleaners, the laboratory aides, the chefs and the surgical instrument cleaners who operate our hospitals and health facilities.These are the people who hold our health service together. Some 6,200 workers are affected in 38 facilities across the country, including the Central Mental Hospital. I welcome that a delegation from SIPTU, led by Paul Bell, came to Leinster House earlier to discuss the implications with Members and give us the details. I also thank my colleague, Senator Gavan, and Senator Nash for inviting them.
It is disgraceful how these workers are being treated. They may be described as servants in the Health Acts but they are not slaves, which is exactly how the State has been treating many of them. They are on low wages as it is, and have agreements on phases 1 and 2 with Government, but the Government will not implement them. Even the employer, that is the HSE, has agreed. The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform has been aware of this all the time but it did not make provision for it in the budget, which is disgraceful. These workers must not continue to be treated in this disrespectful and dismissive manner. Massive bonuses for bankers are being reintroduced while tax relief for vulture funds continue, yet this is how the State treats the lowest paid, hardest working in our society. It is unacceptable that these workers face entering an official dispute to secure what they are owed. They are not looking for anything extra, only what has been agreed and what is owed to them.
The Government has saved millions of euro since 2008 when the job evaluation scheme was suspended. These are the low-paid workers who get up early in the morning and just about manage to exist. The Government must implement this agreement. It is within its gift to prevent this strike and the impact it will have on communities and to the most vulnerable from happening on Thursday. The Government must honour this agreement or I will join the picket lines in Mayo with these SIPTU workers on Thursday.
I join others in expressing the Labour Party group's sympathy on the passing of the Cathaoirleach's sister and the Leas Cathaoirleach, Senator Paul Coghlan's mother.
I join others in recognising the industrial action by SIPTU workers that will take place on Thursday. It is important that people understand that no worker takes the withdrawal of his or her labour lightly. It is the singular most difficult decision that any worker can make. It is a particularly painful decision, which can have any number of ramifications, sometimes for years, in how a person's position in work might be treated and interactions with others in work can suffer as a consequence. Taking industrial action is a major decision. The Government has reneged on its promises to these workers. Many of our hospitals will effectively shut down on Thursday. Many Oireachtas Members will stand shoulder to shoulder with members of SIPTU on Thursday, as will I. As others have noted, it is important that the Government steps in to resolve this. It is not good enough for the Taoiseach to suggest that this is a matter for the Labour Court. The Government and the HSE are the employer, they have reneged on promises made and they should resolve the dispute immediately so that we do not end up with pickets outside hospitals.
Anyone who has had the misfortune of having a loved one under the care of people who work in hospitals will be aware of the essential services that go beyond the nursing and doctor grades furnished by people who provide meals or transport around the hospital. Hospitals cannot function without them. I very much give them my support and thank Senators Nash and Gavan for their presentation earlier with SIPTU workers.I have spoken previously about the issue of school places for children with autism on the north side of Dublin and I thought we were making progress on it. I raised it as a Commencement Matter and, in fairness to the Minister, he gave me great assurances that no child would be left without a school place in September. However, the issue is still unresolved. As the Leader knows, there were marches in Cork and Dublin last Saturday. Yesterday it was reported in The Irish Timesthat the National Council for Special Education, NCSE, is telling the Minister there are not sufficient school places in September for children with autism. This is not something that is just being said by a campaign group; the NCSE is also stating it. Can we please have a debate in the House with the Minister, whom I know is a fair minded man? We cannot have a situation where children with autism have no school places in September. The system is broken and needs to be fixed. It is now the middle of June and we are facing a situation where children will have no school to go to in September. I plead with the Leader to have this discussion with the Minister. I know he will do his best to find a solution but we are waiting and we still do not have a resolution to this very serious issue.
I also offer my condolences to the Cathaoirleach on the death of his sister, Eileen, in New York, and to the Leas-Chathaoirleach, Senator Paul Coghlan, on the death of his mother. Both happened yesterday morning within a couple of hours of each other. I am very sorry and pass on my condolences as, I am sure, does every Member.
I want to follow up on the thoughts of Senator McDowell regarding climate change. A major document was published yesterday. It is the document of our generation if it is implemented correctly and it is important for every person, household and business in the context of climate change. We cannot delay in any way on what it is proposed to do. There are incentives for people to insulate their attics, replace their windows, wrap their houses or whatever other measures can be done at home, and to encourage people to drive electric cars. All of these initiatives need to be rolled out quickly. It is important that we bring the Minister to the House in the next week or two to outline to us the speed of what he is doing. It all sounds great and we have Project Ireland 2040, something else 2050 and many targets that are a long way away but the work needs to start now. People have shown they are interested in climate change and are willing to adapt but they must be given help and advice. They want to know what to do and the right way to do it and it is important that the Minister comes to the House soon.
I acknowledge the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill we are still dealing with on Committee Stage was published in 2016 but we need to proceed carefully with it. We have had a significant number of representations. I have never had as many representations on a Bill in my time in the House. I appreciate I am not here as long as many other Members. Clearly, a large number of people are concerned about the contents of the Bill. I ask the Leader to proceed carefully and sensitively with it. I do not doubt that he will but perhaps scheduling it tomorrow is a little premature as we may need to examine it. I know we are discussing today's Order of Business now but perhaps the Leader will reflect on the representations that have been made to many Members. I am sure the Leader and other members of his party receive as many emails as I do. There is genuine anxiety about the contents of the Bill and we need to examine it carefully before we proceed further with it.
I refer to the Land Development Agency, which I have raised in the House on a number of occasions. The establishment of the agency was announced and a statutory instrument signed in September 2018. The agency is intended to manage the regeneration of land, particularly State lands, deliver affordable housing, work constructively and consolidate land banks on public lands between the private and public sectors. It is expected to support collaborative structures, including mergers between public and private entities to maximise the potential for the delivery of affordable housing and social housing. I raise this in the context of a debate on affordability we had this morning at a meeting of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government.We had a presentation by the Dublin City Council chief executive, Mr. Owen Keegan, and the Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council chief executive, Ms Philomena Poole, among others. The absence of the Land Development Agency Bill was very clear from the discussion and the interaction with other county managers across the country. It has been promised for a long time. The significance of this is that, in effect, no lands can be transferred as there is not yet a legal entity called the Land Development Agency. As we have been advised that no lands can be transferred when this entity does not exist, it is critical that we get it up and running with the required legislation. Will the Leader speak to the relevant Ministers to find out what the issue is with the Bill? The legislation could be initiated in the Seanad. We have spoken about wanting to be constructive and everybody wants to be constructive. There is time in our schedule. We meet three days a week and this can be extended. Let us take on such matters if that is the wish of the relevant Ministers. Will the Leader come back to the House on this issue after speaking to the Ministers?
I second the amendment to the Order of Business proposed by my colleague with respect to the Judicial Appointments Bill. We should amend the schedule as suggested.
I support the call made for an invitation to be issued to the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Bruton, to discuss the climate action plan. It is by far the most significant environmental and climate action document the country has ever seen. Much of it arises from our growing awareness of the impact of human behaviour on the environment and climate change, as well as the need to change not just to reduce carbon emissions but also to safeguard water quality and biodiversity. In many ways I am disappointed to hear some of the commentary on the plan that is nothing short of reckless and hypocritical coming from some of those in the Opposition. The plan recognises that every sector, including how we live in and heat our homes, our modes of transport and the agriculture and construction industries, must come under scrutiny. It is not just about climate change as we must also be sustainable. We are dependent on fossil fuels from volatile countries that may be at war with one another because of oil, coal and all the rest. This is our opportunity to make a change. If the critics of the plan look at it, they will see an entire section on transition. It acknowledges that it will not be easy and that sectors of society may be hit very hard. It notes, however, that people should not be crucified. Clearly there is an appetite among the public, especially young people, to address the matter. It is a clarion call to politicians to tease out the matters surrounding transition but not to knock a plan that will require individual Departments to be responsible and have carbon budgets that they will not be able to hive off as somebody else's responsibility. Everybody will have to consider how he or she will make this country a better place. If we are clever, we will invest in the bioeconomy and the business possibilities for economic growth such as research and development of wave energy or electric vehicles. We should look at anything that might provide a new way of living that will not be dependent on fossil fuels, which is how we have enjoyed our lifestyles for the past 100 years or since oil and the internal combustion engine were discovered. There is both a great challenge and an opportunity. I hope that is where the debate will start, rather than the charge that we are attacking rural Ireland or doing this or that to somebody else. Everybody is in this together. We must only look around to see the impact it will have on the climate, water quality, biodiversity and everything else. We should face up to the matter.
I would like to be associated with the remarks of sympathy expressed to the Cathaoirleach by most, if not all, Members on the loss of his sister. I also express my sympathy to Senator Coghlan on the loss of his mother.
I organised a briefing today that was referenced by Senators Conway-Walsh and Ó Ríordáin.I thank them for attending the briefing with representatives of the SIPTU health division who explained to Deputies, Senators and staff in these Houses why 10,000 members of the SIPTU health division have decided to take industrial action commencing this Thursday. It is important that Members of this House understand why that difficult decision was taken. It is not a decision that was taken lightly. A number of years ago the Government decided, in consultation with the trade union involved, to undertake a job evaluation process. This involved an investigation into and examination of pay rates, skill sets and how the roles of health care assistants, porters, surgical instrument technicians and so on have evolved over the years. That independent job evaluation process made a number of very interesting findings, including the fact that the jobs in question have evolved to the point where the skill sets, requirements and responsibilities involved are enormous and, critically, that the workers, who number 10,000, are significantly underpaid in many cases. Unfortunately, this Government has decided not to fulfil its part of the bargain. It has accepted the outcome of the process but has, in essence, shelved the reports produced and refused to pay the moneys owed to our health care assistants, porters, hospital chefs and other important health service support staff grades on which the health service depends.
The first person one meets when one goes into a hospital is the porter. Those of us who have stayed in hospital know that the health service is very much dependent on the work of health care assistants to support nursing and medical staff. They do very important jobs, but unfortunately this Government does not seem to recognise that. There is an upstairs, downstairs attitude, as described by my colleague, Mr. Paul Bell of SIPTU, earlier today. This Government certainly seems to value the work that is done by doctors and nurses, as does everybody, but if the attitude of the Government to this dispute is anything to go by, it does not place any value whatsoever on the work done by health care assistants and others. We are talking here about critical cogs in the wheel, people who make sure that the system works effectively and efficiently. I am sick and tired of being told by Fine Gael Ministers, Deputies and Senators that this and matters like it are for the Labour Court to resolve because this is actually a political issue. There is no discussion to be had in the Labour Court because the evidence is based on the job evaluation reports. The Government has accepted the job evaluation reports and it is now a political decision as to whether the Minister for Finance will pay the moneys to the Department of Health and the HSE to ensure that these people get the recognition and respect due to them and the moneys that are owed. This is a political decision and I am calling on Members of this House to support the SIPTU workers who will be on strike this Thursday, the first of five planned days of industrial action. I hope it does not get to the stage where we have other days of industrial action but that is a matter for the Government to address now.
Today I want to highlight the achievement of a Carlow woman, Ms Cathy Reddy, who was selected from more than 10,000 amateur, professional and hobby artists from across the UK, Gibraltar, the Falkland Islands, the Isle of Man, the Channel Islands, and the Republic of Ireland to take part in the television show, "Sky Arts Landscape Artist of the Year". The competition offers artists the chance to win a commission worth £10,000 for the permanent collection of a British institution and £5,000 worth of art materials. Ms Reddy is taking part in the competition this week and I wish her well. In her journey through this competition, however, she will receive no funding and will have no entitlements. She might be reimbursed for the costs of her trip when the competition is over. We do wonderful things in this country for established artists and there are great arts officers in many counties, including Carlow. When it comes to young people starting out, however, it is very hard. I am aware that grants are available to artists in various parts of the country but it is very difficult to qualify for same. Ms Reddy needs a grant now but I have been told that none is available. Ms Reddy, who I hope does very well in the aforementioned competition, did not ask me to raise this issue. I raise it today while also sending her my best wishes. I ask the Leader to organise a debate on how to support young artists to help them onto the world stage, as we often do for young sportspeople. It is important that when we have a uniquely talented artist like Ms Reddy, we support her and give more to people like her. I raise this in an effort to stimulate a debate on issues around artists' grants and so on.
Like others, I offer my condolences on the passing of the Cathaoirleach's sister, Eileen. I also offer my condolences to Senator Coghlan on the passing of his mother, Peggie.
I support what my colleague, Senator Mulherin, has said about climate change and the Government's plan. There is no doubt that there will always be more that can be done, but there is plenty that can be done now. Grants are available, and further grants will be put in place, to support everybody, including those in rural Ireland, in addressing this issue. Farmers are businesspeople and they will grasp with both hands anything out of which they can make a sustainable living.
I wish to address the issues of autism and the Autism Spectrum Disorder Bill 2017 which this House passed unanimously two full years ago. I last raised this issue in January when I asked the Leader of the House to ask the Minister to address us and to tell us what problem was preventing this Bill, which was supported by 77,000 people online, from progressing to the Dáil. The Minister has failed to come in and I am very disappointed by that. It is grossly unfair on people. More than 60,000 families in this country have a member with autism. That is more than 60,000 Irish citizens who, if they got help early enough in life, could make a real contribution to Irish life or at least would not suffer as much as they otherwise would and would be more independent than they would otherwise be. There are such strategies in place across the UK, in England, Scotland and Wales. They are also in place in France, Canada and various other countries around Europe. I am aware of no good reason not to have one here. I ask the Leader to again invite the Minister in to tell us what problem is preventing this Bill progressing to the Dáil. I will continue to raise this issue weekly until I get a satisfactory response. Irish men, women and children with autism deserve better.
I express my sincere sympathy to the Cathaoirleach on the death of his sister and to Senator Coghlan on the death of his mother. These are always sad occasions.
I refer to the statement from the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, to the effect that the Government has decided to force people out of their cars. This is completely the wrong approach. People will resent it. They will not care for it at all. People need to be encouraged. With regard to this business of stopping people having petrol or diesel-driven cars in the city, does anybody in this bloody Government realise that - hello - some of us still live in the city? We live in the inner city and would like to have our cars, thank you very much indeed.
I will not. Last year the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, requested that each local authority designate a vacant homes officer to co-ordinate actions to address the issue of vacant properties. I welcomed that at the time and I feel strongly that there should be at least one such officer in every large town rather than just one in each county council area. These people should not be taken from another job within the council. A new post should be created and that should be the person's sole job. All of the towns and villages in this country have premises above their shops, many of which are vacant. We have said time and time again that these properties should be used to house families. On the street on which I grew up in Athlone, Connaught Street, 70 families lived over their businesses when I was child. My family was one of them. All of those premises are empty today. It is the same in every town and village in the country. I was in Galway at the weekend and I walked along Salthill, where many of the premises are vacant.As I came out of Galway, I noticed that the former Corrib Great Southern Hotel is standing absolutely derelict, which is a disgrace. If it were used as student accommodation, students could move out of houses into which families could then move. Alternatively, it could be converted into apartments for families. When we drive out of Dublin along the quays each Thursday, we see many empty premises that look like they need some work to be done on them. When the Tánaiste, Deputy Coveney, compiled the housing action plan in his former role as Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, he came up with the idea of a repair and lease scheme to allow people to borrow up to €40,000 from their local council to do up a unit in which a family could be housed, with this money being repaid over a number of years. I would like the Leader to ask the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, to come to the House not for a broad discussion on housing but for a focused debate on different aspects of the housing issue, including the repair and lease scheme. Perhaps the Minister will tell the House how many vacant homes officers have been appointed. How many of them are actually doing their jobs? What are the results of their efforts? We need some accountability and data to back these things up.
I would like to be associated with the expressions of sympathy to the Cathaoirleach on the sad passing of his sister in the United States and to Senator Paul Coghlan on the sad loss of his mother.
Unfortunately, the insurance crisis in this country is showing no sign of abating. Every day, insurance costs are putting substantial pressure on businesses the length and breath of this country. The insurance issue is posing an existential threat to community organisations and voluntary activities throughout the country. There is a fear that many organisations will have to shut down. Businesses like activity centres and open farms have already closed due to high insurance costs. Mr. Paddy O'Reilly had to close his pet farm and visitor centre in Killinkere, County Cavan, last week due to what he described as "compo-culture gone mad". The only quote that Mr. O'Reilly managed to get from an insurance broker was for €11,000. He had invested over €200,000 in his business premises over the years. When he initially set out, his insurance premium was just €700. This is just one of many examples of businesses being forced out of business. I know the Government commissioned a report which made many recommendations. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister to come to the Chamber to advise Senators on where exactly we are at. We need the Government to focus on this issue and give it the urgent attention it badly requires. It is intolerable that businesses and voluntary organisations which run festivals the length and breath of this country are closing down.
I would like to extend my sympathies to the Cathaoirleach on the death of his sister and to Senator Coghlan on the death of his mother. I think that as one gets older, it is even more difficult to lose a parent or a sibling because one might not have youth on one's side to get through the terrible grief. I ask the Cathaoirleach and Senator Coghlan to accept my sincerest sympathies.
I agree with what my colleague, Senator Mulherin, said earlier our natural environment. As a member of the Joint Committee on Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, I believe we should have a new Department that deals with the natural environment. I do not know whether this is constitutionally possible. It is all very well to hope other Departments will take action. We need to think about the destruction of the natural environment and about how dependent we are on the natural environment. The recent documentary drama on Chernobyl showed what we are capable of destroying within ourselves as technology advances. The Government should think about establishing a Department where this issue could be taken extremely seriously. To give a simple example, we constantly use the natural environment - birds, animals, mammals and fish - to advertise. Eir used the murmuration of starlings to advertise its technology. I do not remember Birdwatch Ireland getting hundreds of thousands of euro for that. A company would have to pay others hundreds of thousands of euro to use their image or logo.Such practices are commonplace in tourism. Visitors come to see our island, waters, puffins and other birds and to fish, but we do not put the same amount of money into the development of our natural environment as we do into technological development. We should consider developing a Department with responsibility for our natural environment and its preservation.
The second issue I wish to discuss is the proposed strike by healthcare assistants who keep the best of us alive in the healthcare environment. We need to discuss their critical skills, career trajectory and pay and conditions. I read in a newspaper that we did not have enough barbers and that critical skills employment permits were being issued to boners and other workers in the agriculture industry. Given the ageing population, there is a great need for healthcare assistants in private homes and private, public and voluntary nursing homes. We should develop a task force to determine what we will do to assist the 6,000 people who are looking for assistance and remedy the fact that 1,800 vacancies have not been filled.
I, too, extend my sympathy to the Cathaoirleach on the death of his sister and to Senator Coughlan on the death of his mother. When such events occur, we realise the insignificance of the other things about which we worry in life.
Last week I told the House that I was to travel to Westminster and mentioned Rory Stewart, a candidate for the leadership of the Conservative Party. Most Senators did not know who he was, but he is now seen as the main rival of Boris Johnson for the leadership. Sometimes we watch such contests in anticipation of the result. Whoever becomes leader of the Conservative Party will be Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and have a significant impact on our relationship with the United Kingdom, as well as that between the United Kingdom and the European Union. It is not our decision. Last week I thanked Rory Stewart for at least talking about the impact of Brexit on the island of Ireland. Our voice needs to be heard in the United Kingdom, as well as in the European Union.
I hope Senators will forgive me for being self-indulgent. I congratulate the Roscommon football team on their wonderful victory last Sunday. I was at the match in Galway and there was great joy. A humorous video of Paddy Joe the barber jumping up and down with the cup in Roscommon town is doing the rounds. He is one of the loveliest and wisest people in County Roscommon. Sometimes one encounters people who are passionate about football and their own county but who do not like certain other counties or matters. However, Paddy Joe is one of the nicest people I know and does not mind when another county wins the Connacht football championship. It is nice to see such an attitude. Now that Roscommon have won the Connacht championship, I do not mind if Galway or Mayo win the all-Ireland football championship.
When one's county wins the Connacht championship, one becomes generous towards others. I am not saying Roscommon will not win the all-Ireland football championship. The people of County Roscommon have been very happy for the past few days. I want to let all Galway and Mayo people know that we have been having a wonderful time.
How does one follow that? I join other Senators in expressing my sincere sympathy to the Cathaoirleach on the loss of his sister and to Senator Coughlan on the loss of his mother.I wish to extend sympathies on my behalf and on behalf of my colleagues, some of whom have already spoken.
I commend Senators Nash and Gavan on their work in support of the SIPTU healthcare workers. I know others have spoken on that matter. I was pleased to come out and support them earlier today.
I wish to speak about the dreadful case of Majella Moynihan. I commend her on her immense bravery in coming out and speaking about the horrific injustice she suffered at the hands of the State and her superiors in An Garda Síochána and about the terrible wrong done to her and her child, that is to say, the coerced adoption and her interrogation and threatened dismissal, along with all her other treatment at the hands of her superiors. One thing was highlighted in a piece about her case today by Orla O'Connor of the National Women's Council of Ireland. She pointed out that after suffering all of this injustice, Ms Moynihan was then denied access to information that she sought from within An Garda Síochána. She was denied access to information on file.
Her treatment, the injustice done to her and the difficulties she had in accessing information should all be borne in mind in debating the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill. We commenced Committee Stage consideration last week but it became clear quickly that the Minister's amendments fall far short of what is required to be done in the interests not only of adopted people but of birth mothers. All of us in Irish society need to ensure that we have a robust framework that is sufficiently protective of the human rights of those involved, the women and children to whom the State did such injustice. The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Zappone, and the Government need to reflect on the injustice that has been highlighted by the Moynihan case. They need to reflect on what it says about us as a society and what it says about how we should construct the legal framework in the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill. I and my Labour Party colleagues have put forward an amendment seeking to address some of the serious flaws in the Minister's Bill. We need to take some serious time to consider it and engage in dialogue with the Adoption Rights Alliance and others before we can progress the Bill, given what we know now about injustices done to so many women who were forced, coerced or compelled to hand up children for adoption.
Déanaim comhbhrón leis an gCathaoirleach agus lena chomhghleacaí, an Leas-Chathaoirleach, Seanadóir Coghlan. Is olc linn bhur mbris. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a n-anamacha.
I want to follow on from issues raised by Senators McFadden and Gallagher, in that what I have to say touches on both the issue of vacant premises and the pressures on businesses. Since the recent local elections, new councillors have been having their first meetings within their municipal districts. It is a shame that there is one issue they will be unable to consider properly. It is one of the most burning issues facing local communities within their remit, that is to say, the issue of commercial rates.
One of the provisions of the Local Government (Rates) Bill 2018 is to allow councillors at municipal level to vary commercial rates by business type or geographical area. The Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Phelan, told the Seanad last December that a rates consolidation Bill would be introduced this year. The Bill I have just mentioned was introduced in the Dáil in January and passed Second Stage there on 30 January. Unfortunately, it has not progressed any further since then.
We are all concerned about the state of some of our rural towns and we are all well aware of the threats faced by small retail businesses in towns, small and large, throughout the country. They are facing the dual pressures of having large multiples located outside the towns and of online selling. Many of these small business must grapple with issues such as red tape, regulations, tax returns, managing the rights and entitlements of their employees and so forth in a way that large multiples simply do not. Large multiples do not have the same difficulty because they have the resources to deal easily with these issues. Of course online retailers do not have to deal with many of these issues at all.
We know that despite the economic recovery, a great many towns have considerable vacant shop space on their main streets. During one of our recent debates on gambling and gambling addiction, I observed that the only type of business that seemed to be thriving on every main street in Ireland was the betting shop. In recent days I spoke to two different business owners. One, who was in Ballinasloe, spoke about the hefty bill of €12,000 for rates. He pointed across the road to a small business that had recently closed down. It was another vacant premises. The closure was partly because of the pressure of the inability to meet, among other things, the rates.Another business in the midlands with which I spoke is facing a similar bill. The owners said they afforded it but they objected on principle and were going to fight it. They pointed to their business, which has oodles of potential. With a hefty rates bill they simply will not have the resources to develop it the way they want and provide employment, which in the end would benefit the Exchequer so much more. The Bill could give authorities at municipal level the power to apply lower rates to smaller family-owned businesses on a town's main street, perhaps to be balanced by a higher rate for large multiples based in retail parks at the edge of towns. That kind of localised assessment of needs and localised response would allow smaller businesses based in the centres of towns the breathing space they need to survive, let alone to grow. If the Leader agree, I request for the Local Government (Rates) Bill 2018 to be progressed as a matter of urgency to allow new municipal councillors to consider this issue in their areas. Perhaps the Leader could kindly enquire of the Minister what is delaying the Bill. It has been said many times recently that the Dáil is not overburdened with legislation, so it is strange to me that such a worthwhile measure should languish with no progress for seven months.
I join my colleagues on behalf of the Civil Engagement Group in giving our sympathies and condolences to the Cathaoirleach and the Leas-Chathaoirleach. My contribution today is on a light note. Sometimes we can be quite local in here, but I am going to bring the discussion even closer and talk about my daughter, Jordanne. She is currently the lead in a film. I was coming through town today and I got to see her face plastered across a bus, which was a wonderful moment. It got me thinking about how she ended up there in the first place. It stemmed from a collaboration between Killinarden Community Centre and the director, Mr. Frank Berry, the creator of "Ballymun Lullaby", who then went on to make a community-based film on youth mental health. That created two amazing actors, one of whom went on to star in "Michael Inside" and won an Irish Film and Television Academy, IFTA, film and drama award for doing so. Jordanne is also award-winning and IFTA-nominated. It shows the importance of actors, directors, producers and people in the arts going into the hearts of communities that do not ordinarily have access to theatre schools or connections. It was a wonderful moment to see her on the bus. She is a young working-class woman with a huge passion and talent all her own. I wanted to acknowledge that the opportunity, though not her talent, originated from a director working directly with a community to unearth talent and give it a platform. I wanted to say that.
I share in the expression of sympathies to the Cathaoirleach and his family on the death of his sister, Eileen, in the United States of America. Our condolences on this loss and to our esteemed colleague, Senator Paul Coghlan, on the death of his mother, Peggie. Paul is lucky to have had his mother when he is so mature in life. We were not all lucky enough to have our mothers for so long, but it is still a big loss. We all have only one mother.
I wish to ask the Leader of the House if he could elaborate on the situation of the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill 2016. It has been mentioned already. I have never received more genuine emails on any other issue that has come up in the House in my 17 years here. I was trying to download one just before I came. I got a very heartfelt email from a woman in her 70s. There is something wrong with this Bill. I have read it and I believe it is not right. There is some cover-up-----
I had time for reflection on the issue when I was out of the country for a few days and I read the emails. Last week we were told a few things and that we had to go along with a certain line but now I believe there is something very strange about the Bill. It is a cover-up. Nobody could think that Tusla would be given the right to decide to find out where a mother was or who she was. A person is entitled to that information as it is a human right and it is about time this country was opened up. We should stop the cover-ups. I am asking for this Bill to be withdrawn.
I express my condolences to the Cathaoirleach and his family, as well as to the family of Senator Coghlan. The loss of a brother or sister is tough and I have had to face it myself, with two sisters and one brother now gone. I wish the Cathaoirleach well as he works his way through this time.
We had a debate today on class K PRSI and how it applied to Members of the Oireachtas. The Taoiseach, Deputy Varadkar, changed the class of PRSI that applied to city and county councillors in 2016 and brought them into class S. It is my hope that we will find some way to do that for Members of the Oireachtas. I would like a debate on the terms and conditions that apply to Members of the Oireachtas and members of city and county councils. We do not have the same terms and conditions as any other worker in the State.
Today I was told by the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection that we have very generous pension schemes. We do not have generous pension schemes. All that anybody who is here for a short period of time can expect to get is about €8,000 or €9,000, which is hardly generous. One thing that needs to be looked at is access to additional voluntary contributions, in particular, last-minute additional voluntary contributions. These should be available to city and county councillors, many of whom are finding that because of the change that took place from class K to class S, they are not in a reckonable year for welfare once they have lost their seat. Not everybody in a council has two jobs and for quite a number of them, it is their only employment. We need to have an open and honest debate about this. What are we afraid of? I could not care less what people think about me arguing for our terms and conditions of employment. We are employees of this State like anybody, albeit that we are called "officers" of the State.
Before I ask the Leader to respond, I thank all Members present, and some who are not present, for their messages of sympathy to me on the death of my sister. She is a sad loss. She left Ireland and west Cork when I was a few months old and I did not meet her until I was eight. We became very close and I wish I had the strength she had to deal with a life abroad as a young girl. She had lots of ups and downs but one thing that always struck me was how she never complained, even up to her final days. I will sadly miss her. I thank all the people who offered me their condolences. I did not expect this to happen on the Order of Business but I was not in a position to stop it. I sincerely thank you all.
On my behalf, and on behalf of the House and the Fine Gael group, I offer the Cathaoirleach and the Leas-Chathaoirleach, Senator Coghlan, my deepest sympathies. It is testament to the Cathaoirleach's integrity that he is here today when he did not have to be. We thank him for that. I am pleased that the Cathaoirleach was able to go to New York to visit his sister before she passed away. I spoke to Senator Coghlan yesterday and he has wonderful and precious memories of his mum, who was aged 99.He, too, was anxious to be here as he was concerned about how the House would function if both he and the Cathaoirleach were missing. That is a testament to both their political acumen and the value put on this House.
I thank the 20 Members of the House for their contributions to the Order of Business. Senator Ardagh raised the issue of eye health. I agree with her about the need for an effective test, and I would be happy to have the Minister for Health come to the House regarding the matter. She also raised the issue of knife crime, which I dealt with in last week's Order of Business. There has been an increase in the number of knife acquisitions, and a strategy is being compiled by the Government which is awaiting publication. It is important that we also recognise the need for a whole-of-community response. Some 2,000 knives were confiscated last year, up from 1,200 in 2016, which is a startling increase. There is a need for a strategy and the Government is working on that.
Senator McDowell raised the Perjury and Related Offences Bill. I know Senator Craughwell will intervene on this, but I wish people would listen to the replies on the Order of Business. I said last week that it would be before the House this coming week. It was supposed to come in this week but has not for different reasons. We are working with Senator Ó Céidigh on its progression through the House and the intent is to have it here next week, as I said last week.
Senators McDowell, Horkan, Mulherin, Norris, James Reilly, and Marie-Louise O'Donnell in her comment on the natural environment, raised the issue of climate change and the publication of the Government's climate change plan yesterday. We are all looking for a cleaner, better environment, and it is a plan, as Senator Horkan indirectly said, for the ages. It is for the future, and we have to act. We all have to buy in. I agree completely with Senator Horkan that it is not about having a stick, but about incentivising, communicating, ensuring we learn from what went wrong, and planning for the future. I disagree with Senator Norris completely. He can shout and roar all he likes, but we need to have a modern, new city, which does not rely on cars or diesel-----
Senator Norris does not know everything. Neither do I, but the Government published a plan yesterday, and one aspect of that plan is reducing dependency on cars, which is a good thing. Senator Mulherin said that human behaviour is required to change.
Senator McDowell raised a pertinent point regarding data centres and electricity. I remind and alert the Senator to the fact that data centres both here in Ireland and across Europe are pioneering green technologies and are leading the way in energy efficient practices and renewable energies. These include advanced energy efficient cooling technologies, free cooling which reduces the use of electricity, and aiming for 100% sustainable energy zones using solar, water, and wind power. We can learn from the model used in Stockholm, and their innovative ideas whereby they reduce excess heat through the design and build of the infrastructure. That is important. I hear the Senator's point and it is a good one, but here in Ireland, the data centres have been trying to make huge progress around energy efficiency, and the issues of construction and design are important going into the future.
I am not going to accept Senator McDowell's amendment to the Order of Business. I amended the Order of Business, as proposed, last Thursday. I understand that Senators have the right to vote against it, but a proposal was circulated in the schedule last Thursday for seven hours of debate. In the spirit of collegiality, and given the events of the past 24 hours, I took a decision not to have seven hours of debate in the event that we might have a temporary Chair today. I propose three and a half hours, and I will put that to the House.We have been engaged on this Bill for 12 months in this House. I appreciate there are those with a committed view on the Bill but I do not believe a proposal of two hours today is acceptable. I proposed three and a half hours and consulted on it so I ask the House to agree to it today.
Senators Ó Ríordáin, Conway-Walsh, Nash and Bacik raised the proposed strike by healthcare assistants and other health workers this Thursday. I had the pleasure of working in a hospital as a porter when going to college. I do not know where Senator Rose Conway-Walsh came up with her phraseology. Many of us on this side of the House, including me, value, appreciate and understand the importance and centrality of all these workers. They provide a great service through support, catering, secretarial, portering and domestic work. The hospital would not function without them. I certainly recognise they have a legitimate claim. Those who have put forward the view in question, many of whom are trade unionists, know full well there is a role for the mechanism called the Labour Court in this.
I am appealing to all sides to engage. This is an important matter. These workers have entitlements and grievances that should be heard. I appeal to all sides to re-engage at this 11th hour.
Senator Ó Ríordáin also raised the issue of school places. I do not have the answer to his question but the Senator has a reasonable request and concern. I do not have the answer as to why Senator Reilly's Bill has not been progressed. I would be happy to engage with both Senators again on the matter.
Senators Horkan, Leyden and Bacik raised the Adoption (Information and Tracing) Bill. I am happy to listen to and meet Senator Horkan, the Fianna Fáil acting Whip, about his concerns over the Bill proceeding tomorrow, and I would also be happy to meet Senators Bacik and Leyden. The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Zappone, to be fair to her, did engage. It is a very sensitive, delicate Bill. Senator Bacik spoke about learning from the past. Whatever else one says about the Minister, she is very considerate, measured and caring and she has engaged on this Bill. We need to strike a balance between the rights of the birth mother who has requested privacy and allowed her baby to be adopted and the right of the adoptee to have information. I do not want in any way to pour scorn on any of the concerns raised by Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell, who has spoken to me about this, or the concerns of others. I would be happy to talk to them after the Order of Business regarding the scheduling of the Bill tomorrow. The last thing we want is to have the Bill made into a political football. Many of us, including as Chairmen of committees, have engaged on this Bill. Senator Reilly was a Minister responsible for children. There are constitutional issues associated with the Bill and advice has been given to the Minister but I hear the Senators' concerns and will not engage in an adversarial way. To be fair to Senator Horkan, he has before today raised the matter with me, as have Senators Marie-Louise O'Donnell, Ó Ríordáin and Bacik. I would be happy to hear their comments afterwards.
Senator Boyhan raised the Land Development Agency. It is up and running. It has a budget of €20 million. The Senator referred to the Bill. That is required to get €1.25 billion. The agency is hiring. There are eight sites being progressed, with seven more in the pipeline. Mr. John Moran was appointed interim chairman of the board. The Minister is making progress on the Bill. He has been engaged in a number of back-and-forth discussions with various parties. My information is that the Bill will be back with us in the coming weeks. It is not delaying the work of the agency.I appreciate Senator Boyhan's concerns regarding that matter.
I do not have an answer to Senator Murnane O'Connor's question regarding Cathy Reddy. I wish her well and congratulate her on her achievements. It is a matter the Senator could take up with the Arts Council which is the funding source for the arts.
Senators McFadden and Mullen raised the issue of vacant properties. I will invite the Minister to come to the House to discuss the issues raised by both Senators, especially that of Senator McFadden who has raised it here before. The repair and lease scheme is a good one but the uptake for it is not great. There is a serious need to employ a vacant housing officer across different local authorities. Such an officer could find out who owns the houses, what it would take to put them back in use and make them available. It could also deal with the issue of the planning authority.
Senator Mullen should know that the Local Government (Rates) Bill 2018 will be on Committee Stage next week. It will then be in the Dáil the week after and back in this House the following week.
Tá an Bille ag méadú.
Senator Gallagher raised the issue of insurance costs. The Judicial Council Bill will be in the House this week. We all agree there is a need to tackle compensation culture. This requires collective buy-in regarding this matter.
Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell's proposal for a new ministry deserves consideration. Senator Feighan raised the issue of the Tory leadership race in the UK, a debate into which I will not enter. I congratulate the Roscommon football team on its victory last Sunday.
Senator Bacik raised the issue of Majella Moynihan. I join with all Members in saying that what happened to her was wrong. The story is about Majella Moynihan and how she was treated badly. I thank the Garda Commissioner and the Minister for Justice and Equality for the way in which they reached out and their speedy apologies to her. The case was of a different time. Perhaps we should all reflect upon from where we have come. It is about Majella Moynihan. We should applaud and support her bravery. We must hope we never go back to those days or allow such situations to happen again.
I congratulate Senator Ruane's daughter, Jordanne, on her achievements. The point the Senator made about collaboration in the arts field is important, especially in communities where there may not be many avenues open for careers in acting. It just shows that if one has a dream, good fortune and motivation, one can do anything.
Yes. The old saying in Kerry comes to mind, “Black cat, black kitten”. The Senator's daughter is following in her footsteps.
There must be an election coming because Senator Craughwell is electioneering again today on class K and class S PRSI contributions.
Senator McDowell, I will put the question and he can reflect on it.
Senator McDowell has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That No. 3 be adjourned after two hours, if not previously concluded." Is the amendment being pressed?
Catherine Ardagh, Ivana Bacik, Victor Boyhan, Lorraine Clifford Lee, Gerard Craughwell, Paul Daly, Aidan Davitt, Joan Freeman, Robbie Gallagher, Gerry Horkan, Kevin Humphreys, Terry Leyden, Michael McDowell, Rónán Mullen, Jennifer Murnane O'Connor, Gerald Nash, David Norris, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, Marie Louise O'Donnell, Grace O'Sullivan, Lynn Ruane.
Colm Burke, Paddy Burke, Jerry Buttimer, Maria Byrne, Paudie Coffey, Martin Conway, John Dolan, Frank Feighan, Maura Hopkins, Anthony Lawlor, Gabrielle McFadden, Michelle Mulherin, Kieran O'Donnell, John O'Mahony, Joe O'Reilly, James Reilly.