Thursday, 20 June 2019
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
I wish to mention three groups I met yesterday, as did many of my colleagues in the House, namely, the Irish National Teachers Organisation, INTO, the Union of Students in Ireland, USI, and Fáilte Ireland. The INTO and USI had significant support yesterday from Members across the two Houses. I want to stress some of their requests. We know, especially for primary school education, that class size is one of the most important mechanisms for ensuring that children get the best education possible. I work in, and hope eventually to represent, Dublin South Central, an area which has one of the highest proportion of schools in the delivering equality of opportunity in schools, DEIS, programme in the country. DEIS has been successful since it was brought in by my Fianna Fáil colleague, former Deputy Mary Hanafin It is time now to bring in a second round of DEIS because, despite the programme's success, many children in inner city and more disadvantaged communities are still left behind. We need proper investment in schools, class sizes and appropriate support, leadership and paths for career progression to keep young teachers in the profession. The teachers make the children and ensure they get the best possible education.
The representatives of the USI brought forward many issues that we already know about and discuss every day in this House. The first and foremost is housing. Where one will live is a significant factor when considering where to go to a third level institution in this country. The CAO forms allowing students to change their minds are out now and students have ten days to decide what courses they would like to pursue and housing is an issue. A student who is fortunate enough to live in Dublin can stay at home and have a choice of the excellent colleges in the capital. However, for a student who lives outside the capital and far from a good third level institution, the issue of where they will live will be the biggest factor in deciding which college to put on their CAO form. That should not be the case. Students should be able to decide what course they want to do based on the merits of the course.
I ask the Government to look at grants and the prospect of reducing fees for third level students. It is a cliche but the old Irish saying, "Mol an óige agus tiocfaidh sí; cáin an óige agus críonnfaidh sí" is pertinent and very much applies to education. It is the best investment we can make in our State.
I was very impressed by the presentation from Fáilte Ireland. There is stiff competition for tourism across Europe at the moment. I commend the local authorities around the country that are putting their best feet forward in Dublin, the Wild Atlantic Way, Ireland's Ancient East and across counties Cork and Kerry. We have great options available for tourists. There has been an increase in numbers of tourists to Ireland and we need to keep an eye on it and ensure there is proper investment in tourism. Perhaps we could have a debate on it in this House at some stage.
Today is World Refugee Day and all of us in this House should reflect on what exactly this means. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, UNHCR, yesterday released its annual global trends report which found that 70.8 million children, women and men were forcibly displaced at the end of 2018, the highest number in the agency’s almost 70-year history. This is twice as many people as 20 years ago and 2.3 million higher than 2017’s figures. It is deeply worrying that this global figure of refugees is likely to be an underestimate.
Today the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, IHREC, issued a strong statement calling again for changes to be made to the International Protection Act 2015 which are in line with my International Protection (Family Reunification) (Amendment) Bill. The commission stated that it "has criticised the narrowing of access to family reunification for people granted international protection" under changes to the legislation made in 2015. The commission also stated that "the removal of the right of international protection beneficiaries to apply for family reunification with extended family members under the International Protection Act 2015 and the introduction of a statutory time limit for applications constitutes retrogressive measures".
The International Protection (Family Reunification) (Amendment) Bill, which I introduced in July 2017, passed all Stages in the Seanad on 7 March 2018. It passed Dáil Second Stage on 13 December 2018 with a huge majority of 78 in favour to 39 opposed. On 6 February 2019, the Bill was received for detailed scrutiny by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice and Equality. The committee report is pending and still awaiting the Minister for Justice and Equality's observations. The report is expected to be supportive of my Bill.
This Bill has been consistently backed by majorities in both Houses but blocked by the Government with the threat of a money message. While we await this legislation, families cannot reunite with their vulnerable family members who are still living in dangerous places. These are families like that of Lilav Mohamed in Clones, Izzeddeen Alkarajeh in Cork, the Sido family in Navan and many others whose names we do not know. It is really time for the Minister and the Department to engage on this. They should listen to IHREC, both Houses of the Oireachtas and the desperate families who have already suffered more than any of us can possibly imagine.
I request that the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, come into this House to outline his position on the concept of family reunification, my Bill and the IHREC’s call today. I want to hear his response to the global refugee crisis.
Ireland has an opportunity to revert to a tried and tested, humane system of family reunification, which worked. This House and the other House of the Oireachtas voted for this. Ireland can and must play its part to help alleviate the traumas of the record numbers of refugees who are fleeing crises and conflicts to the safety of Ireland.
I want to talk about the €100 million beef package that was well advertised before the election to cover the income losses that beef farmers have incurred, or may incur, because of Brexit. We have now learned that the €50 million from the EU is on the basis that the beef sector will be restructured.This has caused much concern for farmers all over the country but particularly those in the west of Ireland who are dependent on suckler cows. Does this mean the number of suckler cows must be reduced? We need the Minister to come to the House to explain it. A sum of €50 million was to come from the State but we now find this is to be made up from savings from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. They did not tell us that before people went to the ballot boxes. We have no idea who will receive this money and we need to know who will receive it and that it will be distributed on an equitable basis.
None of these matters was highlighted before the election, which is symptomatic of something that happens time and again here. There are headlines and budgets in Departments for public relations exercises but once we are beyond the fooling of people as they go to the ballot boxes, the real truth emerges. As a matter of urgency, I want the Minister to come to the House and tell the truth. Is the €100 million there and to whom will it go? What are the conditions attached to that funding? Farmers deserve that information. Farmers and the agriculture sector in general have struggled for many months and years and they now have the threat of a hard Brexit. They received promises but they have now found these to be no more than smoke and mirrors. I want some answers from the Minister about this issue.
For the past couple of months I have heard anecdotally about anti-social behaviour in Longford town but seeing it last night on the 9 p.m. news was very shocking. It is really not good enough that a couple of feuding families could terrorise the good people of Longford and its neighbourhoods while damaging local businesses. Longford town and county has much to offer and tourism has become a very significant part of its economy. The Garda Síochána is doing the best job it can and it has called in the western region armed support unit. The unit is patrolling with local gardaí as a temporary preventive measure to ensure the people of Longford remain safe in their homes.
Will the Leader use his good office to ask the Minister for Justice and Equality to come to the House and outline for us the procedures to be put in place to ensure the Garda Síochána in the Longford area have enough resources and gardaí on patrol? What other resources will be put in place to help them deal with the matter? It is just not good enough that this is going on and we must protect people in their homes and businesses.
I will speak to the climate action plan. At a meeting of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Climate Action yesterday, the Minister outlined the 180 recommendations and actions needed to ensure greener and renewable energy for the future of Ireland and the world. We had a long debate with him and extra impetus was placed on certain elements. The homepage of the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment has a link to the climate action plan but it also has a link to two consultations relating to site surveys by Europa Oil for Edgeworth Prospect and Kiely East Prospect. These relate to discovery of oil or more fossil fuels, which goes against the idea of keeping fossil fuels in the ground and aiming for renewable energy. The links to these consultations are beside the link to the climate action plan, and it is quite staggering to have them on the Department's homepage.
We must move to renewable energy, and some of the 180 actions we discussed yesterday deal with that in depth. On the Department's website the first thing we see is the potential for more licences for fossil fuel discovery and extraction but we know we must keep them in the ground. We must stop digging. Will the Leader ask the Minister, Deputy Bruton, to come in and explain these licences, how many there are in hand and how many have been applied for? How many will be successful and who makes the decision, given that the climate action plan was published two days ago?
Yesterday was a very special day for a very special, well-loved and highly respected individual. This man, in his ninth decade, celebrated a very important anniversary that may resonate with the Leader. Seventy years ago Belfast priest Fr. Des Wilson was ordained and he has spent the 70 years of his ministry in the service of his faith in the diverse community of Belfast and beyond. Fr. Des, as he is affectionately known, is a sage, a man of great wisdom, a scholar, a fluent Irish speaker, a published writer and regular columnist. He is a theologian with a keen sense of the gospel of hope and liberation for the oppressed, powerless and those on the margins of life. With a small number of other priests he has spent his life opening the church and its teachings to the people in the pews, so much so that he decided to live, teach and struggle among them.
He has always acknowledged, celebrated, empowered and lifted the role and place of women in our society, including the late Ms Noelle Ryan, a lifelong friend and confidante. He did all this because he knew the depth of people's faith and the deep desire they have to be treated with dignity, respect and justice. For Fr. Des, the church and its people are indivisible, one and the same. He is a crusader for justice with a compassionate and consummate commitment to help those in need. In the most difficult days of conflict, he was a beacon of reason, hope and peace for those people hurt by the conflict.
Fr. Des has a great sense of humour. He is a raconteur and a joy to be with for a cup of tea around his famous and much sought-after kitchen table in his equally famous community house in Springhill, where he has educated generations of people from Springhill, Ballymurphy and beyond. I studied for my maths GCSE there as I needed a bit of extra help at the time.
He is a priest for all the people and for all seasons. He is generous, warm and a remarkable human being. We are all the better for having had him in our midst and I wish him from the Seanad a very happy 70th anniversary of his ordination. Comghairdeas leis an Athair Des. Go maire sé an céad agus gabhaim buíochas leis.
The Leader is familiar with the many tragedies we have had at sea around our coast over the years. As a Donegal man, I have heard of far too many of our fishermen losing their lives. We were delighted in 2016 when it was announced by Bord Iascaigh Mhara that it would fund a €1.5 million sea safety and survival training centre at the National Fisheries College at Greencastle. The centre would have a deep 15 m pool where weather conditions found at sea could be simulated. The only other pool of this kind on the island is in Cork, so there would be one at the top of the island in Greencastle on the Inishowen Peninsula and one at the bottom in Cork. Fishermen and others involved in life-saving would be trained, including Coast Guard and Royal National Lifeboat Institution personnel. It could train people from Mayo up the coast to the top of Donegal, as well as people from the Six Counties, I am sure.
We learned in recent days that the announcement made just a week before the general election in 2016 has been rowed back. Bord Iascaigh Mhara has said it will not now proceed. This centre would have cost €1.5 million and it is essential. I have spoken to people in the college and the community, as well as fishermen, and people are very angry about this. There is a real sense of betrayal. I ask that the Leader would send a transcript of what I have said to the Minister with responsibility for the marine and ask him and his Department officials to urgently intervene, meet officials from Bord Iascaigh Mhara and see how this officially announced centre could be made a reality.That is the least the Government can do for the fishing communities right along the west coast and into the North.
The Multi-Units Development Bill was enacted in 2011 but several problems have arisen for apartment owners and dwellers in the interim. The legislation should be reviewed to determine its impact on apartment owners and those living in apartments. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government to the House to discuss the legislation and the changes needed to improve apartment living and make it more affordable.
The recently launched Climate Action Plan 2019 is very welcome. Concerns have been raised about overruns on capital projects such as the children's hospital. In that context, there is a need for Ministers with responsibility for delivering on Project Ireland 2040 to come to the House to discuss delivery under that plan and the changes that will need to be made in the context of the climate action strategy and the aforementioned overruns.
We might keep the Acting Chairman in position because he is certainly fast-tracking the Order of Business. I thank the eight Members who contributed. I join Senator Ó Donnghaile in sending best wishes to Fr. Des Wilson who is celebrating 70 years in the priesthood. He is renowned as a champion of the people, particularly in the context of education. Fr. Paddy McCafferty spoke at his mass yesterday. We thank him for his work. His 70 years in the priesthood is, by any stretch of the imagination, a wonderful testimony to a life well lived. We wish him ad multos annos.
Senator Ardagh raised the issue of a number of briefings held yesterday, one of which was hosted by the INTO. We all value our education system. We applaud the quality of our teachers and school communities. I also attended the briefing in the museum yesterday by the INTO. As the Senator will be aware, last year we continued to pursue the Action Plan for Education with an budget of €10.763 billion, an increase of 6.7%. The request made by the INTO yesterday was reasonable. Last year's budget provided one day for teaching principals for administration. The Government has also created more than 1,300 new posts, including 950 new SNA posts and 372 new teaching posts. The school capitation grant also increased by 5% in the budget. Under Project Ireland 2040, there will be an €11.9 billion capital investment in education. Between 2011 and 2016, at a time the country had little or no money, the Fine Gael-led Government made a significant commitment to improve the capital spend in the built environment in our education communities. Notwithstanding the positivity, there are challenges at third level, particularly with regard to housing. I am sure the Senator will join me in welcoming increases in the availability of student accommodation. That said, challenges remain. The Higher Education Authority, HEA, and the Union of Students in Ireland, USI, raised numerous concerns yesterday.
Our tourism figures continue to increase. There was a 6% increase in the number of overseas visitors between January and March of this year, albeit with a number of caveats. The spend is down by 4%, with the exception of North America. Numbers from mainland Europe and long-haul destinations are up. There is a concern that we are pricing ourselves out of the market, particularly in Dublin vis-à-vishotel accommodation. While that is an issue about which we must be concerned, Fáilte Ireland is to be congratulated on its wonderful ability to promote, sell and market Ireland through campaigns such as the Wild Atlantic Way, Ireland's Ancient East and so on.
It is. The Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Griffin, has been very strong in promoting Ireland. The briefings that were held yesterday were very important.
I join Senator Kelleher in welcoming today as World Refugee Day. All Members should send a message about Ireland being an island of welcome and a place of sanctuary. I do not have an answer to the Senator's question on the International Protection (Family Reunification) (Amendment) Bill 2017 but I urge her to raise it as Commencement matter to get a timely response from the Minister.
Yes, I will do that. I will talk to him.
In response to Senator Conway-Walsh, I know that the Sinn Féin party is in a period of transition. Its members are modifying their language. They want to be warm, woolly and fuzzy but are they really-----
We will have a period of consultation until 31 July, when we will respond. The Government is awaiting the publication of the Commission's regulation. Consideration will be given to that, and the IFA is engaging with farmers across the country on the matter. The Government has put the case. It will have a response back and will do the right thing, as it has always done, for Irish farmers. I know that the Senator will join me in congratulating the Government on securing that money from Brussels. We will spend it wisely, as she knows.
Senator McFadden raised the issue of anti-social behaviour, which is a very important matter. Anti-social behaviour is beginning to spiral upwards in many parts of the country. While I appreciate that we need to understand why people engage in such behaviour, there is an obligation on all of us to ensure that it does not continue or go unchecked and that those who perpetrate it on communities, individuals and families are punished. The Senator referred to Longford, which is a very fine town. We all know of people who have had car windows or mirrors destroyed, hanging baskets on their houses ruined and so on. We all know of businesses and properties that have been damaged and of people who have been interfered with and intimidated. This cannot continue. A more robust approach must be taken to anti-social behaviour, whether through increasing the use of anti-social behaviour orders, ASBOs, or instituting no-go zones in the context of zero tolerance, although I do not like using that phrase. We must make a concerted effort on anti-social behaviour.
Senators Devine and Humphreys raised the issue of the climate change action plan. It is my intention to have the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment come to the House before the summer recess to have a discussion on it. As Senator Humphreys knows, there is shadow pricing in respect of carbon in all plans. The shadow price is set at approximately €100 per tonne. It is also important to note that, as time moves on and technology changes, that price may decrease. I am happy to invite the Minister to the House to debate the matter.It is important that the good work of the Members of this House on the climate action committee be acknowledged. Second, it is my intention that we will have a debate on the climate action plan before the summer recess.
I am aware that a debate on the summer economic statement will take place in the Dáil. It is my intention to have a similar debate in this House, probably in the week after next week, but I will come back to the House on the matter.
Senator Mac Lochlainn referred to BIM. I do not have the answer to his question, but I know that there is similar one in Ringaskiddy. The Minister is aware of the issue and I will be happy to have him come back to the House to discuss it.
Senator Humphreys raised the issue of a review of the legislation dealing with multi-units. We all join him in wanting to see apartment living made more affordable. I will be in touch with the Minister's office on the matter.