Tuesday, 9 July 2019
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, motion regarding Animal Health Levies (Pigs) Regulations 2019, back from committee, to be taken on conclusion of the Order of Business without debate; No. 2, Judicial Council Bill 2017 [Seanad Bill amended by the Dáil]- Report and Final Stages, to be taken at 4.45 p.m.; No. 3, Courts (Establishment and Constitution)(Amendment) Bill 2019 - Second Stage, to be taken on conclusion of No. 2, with the contribution of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and all other Senators not to exceed five minutes and time can be shared; No. 4, Parole Bill 2016 - Second Stage, to be taken on conclusion of No. 3 with the contribution of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and all other Senators not to exceed five minutes, which time can be shared; No. 5, Local Government Rates and Other Matters Bill 2018 - Second Stage, to be taken on conclusion of No. 4, with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and all other Senators not to exceed five minutes, which time can be shared; and No. 6, statements on defence matters, to be taken on conclusion of No. 5, with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and all other Senators not to exceed four minutes, which time can be shared.
I join the Leas-Chathaoirleach in welcoming our former colleague and friend, Dr. Pat Gallagher, and his students to the Gallery.
I also welcome our former colleague and friends in the Gallery and hope they have a lovely day. I refer Mr. Justice Iarfhlaith O'Neill's decision in respect of the State's interpretation of the European Court of Human Rights judgment in the case brought by Louise O'Keeffe against the State. Mr. Justice O'Neill described the State's interpretation and approach as an "inherent inversion of logic" and as representing a "fundamental unfairness to applicants." The Government argued in interpreting the decision that it only applied to people who were abused after an initial complaint was made against a teacher and no action was taken. The decision, which was published yesterday, is very disturbing. I commend Louise O'Keeffe on her bravery and tenacity in fighting this case and highlighting this issue. I call for a debate in this House on Mr. Justice O'Neill's decision. We really need to consider how the State got to the point where it completely misinterpreted a judgment of the European Court of Human Rights. That decision and poor interpretation really affected survivors of abuse in this country. It is very concerning and very unfair.
I also wish to raise the dangerously high levels of nitrogen dioxide in the air in our city. It is particularly bad around the city centre and used to be really bad around where the Luas runs, just outside Trinity College. A high level of nitrogen dioxide causes serious health risks to people.It is understood to contribute to asthma, emphysema and carcinogenic outcomes in patients. This report came from the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA. That is a serious body and we need to start taking heed of what it is saying. We must see Government action to combat environmental pollutants like this, which are in the air just outside the door. We need to take this issue a little more seriously.
The third issue I raise is Central Bank levies. These levies are forcing many credit unions to increase their interest rates and ultimately to close. A new Central Bank levy on credit unions will have a devastating impact on lending institutions. It will force massive interest rate increases, the closure of credit unions and their ultimate amalgamation. The credit union movement is very much consumer led. Ultimately the credit union model should be nourished. Credit Unions provide a very good service to consumers. They issue small and short-term loans to people who are really in need of financial help. Levies like this undermine the good service they provide. We should ask why they are being applied to credit unions and if there is anything we can do to help them, as they provide a good service to consumers throughout the country.
I wish to sympathise on the passing of Councillor John Bailey, a Fine Gael colleague of the Leas-Chathaoirleach, who passed away after an illness lasting some time. It is important that we pay tribute to such people. I knew Mr. Bailey for a long time. I first met him on the greatest day for him and his daughter, Maria Bailey, who is a Deputy and a Member of the Oireachtas, when they were elected together in June 2014. It is unusual for a father and daughter to be elected together. I particularly want to extend my sympathy, as I know others will, to Mr. Bailey's wife, Angela and all his children. He passed away very early this morning. It is a particularly difficult time for his daughter, Deputy Maria Bailey, and the staff in her office, where Mr. Bailey also worked as a political assistant and adviser.
Many Members will have known John Bailey. It is not for me to talk about him today. He was elected to Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council in 2014. Anyone who knew him will know he was immensely involved in the GAA and local politics. His political and sporting activities were his life and they very much defined who he was as a man. He was highly competitive and liked to take on a challenge. There will be other times and places to talk about him. Each and every one of us will have had our own experience of him, and each and every one of us will have our own stories about him. I wish to offer my condolences to his family, the staff in Deputy Maria Bailey's office and the Fine Gael Party as a whole. May he rest in peace.
I too extend sympathies on behalf of the Sinn Féin group to Deputy Bailey and all of her family.
I rise in the midst of ongoing controversy and preparations by the Cabinet for a no-deal Brexit. I understand from coverage at the weekend and remarks made by the Tánaiste that he will make statements to the other House about the Government's preparedness and the ongoing work on the series of memos going before Cabinet this evening. I appreciate that we have a very busy schedule this week, but if there is an opportunity, I ask the Leader to invite the Tánaiste or another Minister before the House to make similar statements on Brexit before we rise for the summer break. The months ahead will be a period of crucial and critical importance for Ireland and the EU overall.Given that the House has worked so openly on this matter, by means of the work of the Seanad Special Select Committee on the Withdrawal of the UK from the EU and on legislation such as the Omnibus Bill, it is important that Senators, with the agreement of Government and colleagues, should have an opportunity to hear from Ministers about the matters that will go before the Cabinet tonight.
The Reverend Harold Good of the Methodist Church in Ireland will be known to many people for his work in peace-building initiatives. He was one of two people to oversee the decommissioning of IRA arms, the other being the late Father Alec Reid. Yesterday, he told Eamonn Mallie that nobody should fear or presume to know Protestant-unionist-loyalist thinking on the debate regarding the issue of a new, agreed and shared Ireland. In light of the purpose of this House as a civic space and a space for discourse at an all-Ireland level, I wish to take this opportunity to commend the Reverend Good on his conscious and thoughtful remarks in recent days, which came on the back of a series of contributions from people such as James Nesbitt, who is from Coleraine, and Baroness Paisley, who is the widow of the late Reverend Ian Paisley, both of whom indicated that it was not incendiary or controversial to have a view or a discussion on this issue. Senators should not shrink from the discussion because we have a safe space in which to hold one, particularly in view of our make-up and our purpose, and we can contribute positively to the live debate that is being held within society.
I want to make a very strong protest over the swingeing reduction in the grant for the International Dublin Gay Theatre Festival. It is the biggest such festival in the entire world and has an enormous international reputation. It was established by Brian Merriman in 2004 on a non-profit basis. It has always had some support from the Arts Council, though this has been very minimal, but after 16 years its organisers do not have an office, they do not have a computer and they do not have any paid staff. This is an astonishing situation. This year, Irish companies have been invited to perform plays in New York City, in Provincetown, at two London venues, in Stockholm and in South Africa. This year the box office grew by 60%, while the year before it grew by 16%. Despite strong praise from the Minister, Deputy Madigan, the grant has been cut. Last year they raised it from €10,000 to €15,000 but this year, in an announcement that was made over the weekend of the Pride march, they celebrated that event by cutting the grant by 50% and restricting it so that the international aspect is excluded completely. It must now concentrate exclusively on Irish plays by Irish writers and with Irish players and workers. It is astonishing and very regrettable so I ask the Leader if he would contact the Minister to see if there is anything that can be done. It is a minute grant out of the almost €1 million that is available.
My second point concerns the fact that Commencement matters were dislodged this morning from the business of the House, in favour of a discussion on Travellers.
This is very bad practice and I say that as the person who introduced the first amendments to Irish law protecting the rights of Travellers. That was many years ago. I strongly support the Traveller community but I do not think the business of this House should be dislodged by any group, whether it is a subsidiary function of the Seanad-----
I wish to inform the father of the House that all I was trying to say was I did not think it was good practice coming from the father of the House that he should object at this stage to what the House agreed. One never knows-----
I wish to be associated with the very nice tribute to the late councillor, John Bailey. So say all of us in terms of what Senator Boyhan very articulately said. He obviously knew Mr. Bailey better than I did and he articulated it extremely well. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.
I rise to speak this afternoon about the speculation on the loss of 100 jobs in Moneypoint in County Clare. Everybody knows that the future of Moneypoint as a coal-burning facility for generating electricity will cease in the coming years. There are not too many employers in west Clare and the ESB is the second biggest employer there. Given the fact that the job cuts are imminent, as part of the Government's response we should have a special economic taskforce to look at what we can do to assist the people who are currently working in Moneypoint, who now face an extremely uncertain future. Such a taskforce should be funded by the Government with the support, funding and participation of the ESB. The ESB must engage closely with the unions and workers in Moneypoint to bring clarity as quickly as possible because there has been no official comment from the ESB on numbers. What we have heard is what is being speculated in the media and that is probably not a good position. The best position is for intensive escalation of engagement between ESB management and unions and workers at Moneypoint in order to bring the matter to a conclusion and to bring clarity. As part of that, it is extremely important for an economic taskforce to identify employment opportunities and alternative business and economic opportunities for west Clare.
I commend Lahinch golf club, the European Tour and the Dubai Irish Open on what was a phenomenally successful Irish Open in Lahinch over the weekend. In terms of numbers, it was the most successful Irish Open since 2012. People who have been going to the Irish Open for many years tell me that it was the most successful one in their memory in terms of enjoyment. Enormous credit is due to Paddy Keane and his great team in Lahinch golf club, Clare County Council, An Garda Síochána and the other State organisations, but in particular to the almost 1,000 volunteers from within Lahinch golf club and the wider community who rolled up their sleeves and assisted for the five to six days. Credit is also due to the many businesses which spent significant money upgrading their facades, painting their buildings and ensuring the place was pristine for the 20,000 visitors a day, amounting to approximately 90,000 overall.
I request that the Leader invite either the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney, or the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, to the House prior to the recess to outline what action they will take regarding the broadcasting of a documentary entitled "Brexit: Behind Closed Doors". The promotional material states, "As Brexit continues to dominate headlines around Europe-----
I am asking the Leader to invite the Tanáiste or the Minister of State at his Department, Deputy McEntee, to come before the House prior to the summer recess to outline what action they will take regarding the broadcasting of a documentary entitled "Brexit: Behind Closed Doors". The promotional material states, "As Brexit continues to dominate headlines around Europe, this behind-the scenes doc gains unprecedented access to lift the veil on the negotiation process." It was broadcast on RTÉ on Monday, 8 July, from 10.45 p.m. to midnight, and will be followed up by a second documentary tonight at 10.35 p.m. My personal objection is that it was secretly filmed and illegally recorded with hidden equipment in collaboration with Guy Verhofstadt, MEP, the former Prime Minister of Belgium. He alleged that he met a delegation of UK MPs in September 2017.
Allow me to finish. Mr. Verhofstadt alleged he met a delegation of UK MPs in September 2017. In fact, it was a meeting of a British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly committee led by its chairman, Andrew Rosindell, MP, which I attended, and it was recorded and broadcast last night on RTÉ 1.
The Leas-Chathaoirleach should watch the programme before he says anything more. It has damaged relations between the European Union and the UK. I understand that Mr. Verhofstadt has been reappointed as a representative of the European Parliament on Brexit. Furthermore-----
There was once something called phone tapping. This was tapping meetings. I was once a Minister of State at the then Department of Industry and Commerce and I would never expect a member of the European Parliament to be wired up-----
The Leas-Chathaoirleach remembers the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly. We brought out a report - Inquiry into Brexit and the Future of British-Irish Relations - in October 2017, which is worth reading. I want this matter to be fully investigated.
This has had serious repercussions and the Government should act. It should take this as seriously as it would if someone in this House was tapping people's phones or illegally recording the meetings of any of the parliamentary parties.
I am holding in my hand the schedule of business for the Seanad for the coming days and I have got to say it is one of the most unprofessional documents I have come across in a long time. We have a schedule of business that starts at 3.30 p.m. today, with no times indicated for any of the other debates.
Tomorrow, following Commencement matters and the Order of Business, business will start at 12.45 p.m. with no times set out for the rest of the week. On Thursday, we start at 11.30 a.m. after the Order of Business, and we have no idea when any debate will take place. On Friday, we have a 10 a.m. start and there are another four or five items to be debated. That is not acceptable. The Leader will have dealt with the various Ministers and he knows the times they are available. Why can he not publish those times, not only for Members of the Seanad but also for members of the public who want to come in here during debates or watch them on Oireachtas TV? This is unacceptable.
I am proposing an amendment to the Order of Business that the Order of Business show the times at which each debate will start for the entire week. I am formally proposing that amendment unless the Leader chooses in his reply to agree to set out timings for the week.
-----to help clarify the position for Senator Craughwell, the times he referred to are put in on occasion and on other occasions they are not. As agreed at the meeting of the party Whips and leaders last week, the times were to flow to ensure that when a Bill concludes, the next item of legislation or statements would flow immediately afterwards. Rather than providing for an adjournment or suspending, that is what we agreed to do.
I listened with interest to my colleague, Senator Ó Donnghaile, speak about the work of the Reverend Harold Good. I took great interest in what James Nesbitt said about a union of Ireland, namely, that he would embrace it as long as lives of the people North and South, and between the two islands, improved. We are moving into a different space now in that we are privileged to talk about issues without fear of contradiction on occasion.
I thank our GAA boss, Mickey Harte, who apologised if anybody was offended by the unacceptable behaviour of some of the Tyrone team who sang rebel songs in front of a band passing the team bus. That is leadership from somebody who is able to stand up and apologise but we need more.
We have the marching season during which bonfires are lit. We have the Irish flag and effigies of politicians being burned. We need to show respect for anthems and flags. Similarly, at the end of March, we see Union Jacks and poppy flags being burned. We have to ensure we provide a space for anybody - church, civil or political leaders - who is prepared to stand up and apologise for unacceptable behaviours. I commend Mickey Harte because he is able to apologise if he believes he has offended somebody, but we need to do that on all sides.That is what we are here to do. I will not refer to a mob mentality but we should commend people who are prepared to stand up and be counted.
Senator Conway raised the future of Moneypoint power plant and the thousands of jobs that will be lost. The Joint Committee on Climate Action has discussed at length the issue of a just and fair transition. I echo Senator Conway's call for the trade union, the ESB, the Government and the workers to work this out. As we move to a greener economy, this could become a template that would be on the side of the workers and communities affected in future, including in Bord na Móna.
Homeoptions is a new company which has been set up using what is known as the mortgage to rent to repurchase model. The company was only launched today but it appears to offer an alternative to the vulture funds and banks to which we have paid needless billions of euro. People are still being thrown out of their homes and evicted. The Homeoptions concept comes on the back of the Right2Water movement and will be in the same market to purchase as the vulture funds. It will, however, give homeowners or tenants, as they will become in some instances, a right to rent and repurchase their homes. I ask that the Minister encourage this kind of community banking and togetherness which prevents people from ending up on the streets as victims of the hedge funds, bankers and vulture funds.
I raise the sugar tax, an issue I have raised on a good number of times over the years in the context of obesity. We need to have a renewed focus on treatment and prevention. Figures show that the Exchequer received €32 million from the sugar tax which was introduced last year. I hope I am not wasting my time by repeating that this money should be ring-fenced and spent on nutritional and educational incentives for children and parents, subsidies for physical activity and water fountains in towns and cities. Prevention is obviously better than cure and all of these measures would help prevent obesity.
On the expansion of treatment for obesity, there is only one proper bariatric treatment unit in Dublin. Foresight is needed on this issue. It may be the case that treatment is expensive to provide in the short term but over the long term it will save the health service a fortune if we take this matter seriously. We need a modern healthcare system that could be partly funded by these tax revenues. The whole point of the sugar tax was to incentivise more healthy choices when it comes to drinks. The obesity experts say that sugar-laden drinks are a major contributor to childhood obesity. If the money just goes in to the general Exchequer, it will not make any major inroads into an area that really needs funding. There is a precedent for this in the plastic bag levy. Much of the income from that levy was reinvested in environmental projects. We are missing a trick if we do not ring-fence this money. I feel very strongly about this issue.
I congratulate Carlow woman Rhona Cullinan for winning the prestigious and inspirational Woman's Waymum of the year award. We often celebrate medals in sport and accolades in businesses. I wanted to celebrate an award for motherhood. It is a job which many of the population do incredibly well but behind the scenes. Rhona is well-known for her advocacy for Down's syndrome and autism. She is a mother to Jamie, who is 15, Joshua, who is four, and Molly, who is two, and I wish her well.
I want to talk about the priority processing for the student universal support Ireland, SUSI, grant, which is closing. Applications will continue to be processed over the summer but the message for thousands of students around the country is to apply now. The SUSI grant is incredible and allows those who are disadvantaged to attend college. It is time to look at the ways to qualify for the special rate of the grant. The special rate is for those with income under €24,000. It is directly linked to the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection. I call for it to be increased to allow for access for working families who are not in receipt of social welfare but perhaps qualify for working family payment or where each parent is in receipt of a State pension. SUSI grants and giving students a chance to get to college are crucial.
I agree with Senator Ardagh about the proposals made by the Central Bank of Ireland to increase the credit union annual membership levies. In my area, Carlow, there will be an increase of €40,000. That is unacceptable. There are 30,000 members in the Carlow Credit Union. Credit unions are not for profit. This levy is unacceptable. I ask that the Minister come into the House and address this. It will eventually go back to members of credit unions. I will second Senator Ardagh's proposal that we bring the Minister into the House. This levy is unacceptable.
Last week, we passed a Bill dealing with missing persons, the Civil Law (Presumption of Death) Bill 2016. It has been passed by both the Dáil and Seanad. A connected area which I raised earlier in the year relates to where a body or part of a body is found and we are not able to identify who the person is, or the part of the body is from. If a body is found in Kerry and the name of the person is not identified, then the information stays in Kerry. There is no central database to co-ordinate this area. There were two incidents in the last 18 months. One was the case of a person who disappeared in Dublin and then about three months later a body was found in Louth. There was no connection between the two incidents and it took ten years for the family of the person who had disappeared to find out that the body found in Louth was the body of the person who disappeared in Dublin. There was a case in Limerick where a young lad disappeared and no body was found. About nine months later, a body was found in Clare and there was no connection between the two, in that the body was not identified as the missing person from Limerick. It took 17 years for the family to find out that the body discovered in Clare was that of their son.
There is a need for a central database. I have raised this issue and understand that the Department of Justice and Equality is looking at it. I do not understand why it is taking so long to come to a decision on the matter. It is extremely important that we co-ordinate information between different areas of the country, especially to assist families of missing persons such that information is available and it is co-ordinated so that when a body is found, we can identify who the person is. I ask that the Leader bring it to the attention of the Minister and that, if necessary, we could have a debate on the matter in the next session.
I commiserate with Senator Terry Leyden on the fact that he was confused with a British MP by Guy Verhofstadt.That was a tragic accident and the sympathy of every member of this House goes out to the Senator on that account. How Mr. Verhofstadt could make such a mistake, I do not know.
I wish to return to a point Senator Ó Donnghaile made earlier regarding a specific debate. Am I not being clear?
I agree with Senator Ó Donnghaile that these Houses, and in this House in particular, need to engage in an intelligent and reasonable debate about future relations between the two parts of this island. The debate on whether there should be a Border poll is somewhat premature and would be far better replaced by a debate on whether there are intermediate steps towards co-operation between the two parts of this island that would attract support from both sides of the community in Northern Ireland and from the people in this part of the world. The idea that there is going to be a 51% to 49% plebiscite some day soon to unite the country without actually knowing what would be involved is somewhat misconceived. If we are going to make progress on reconciling the two communities in Northern Ireland, and on providing a framework for the two parts of Ireland to work together, perhaps in the context of the European Union, it has always struck me that sharing membership of the European Union between the two parts of this island is something which should be examined, rather than simply expecting that a unitary state in the form of a republic would precede such shared membership.
In that context, and on a serious note, according to the newspapers and media reports, the Cabinet is engaging in considering the serious potential implications of a disorderly British exit from the European union. The political process in the United Kingdom, particularly at Westminster, does not seem to be taking account at all of the possible implications for Ireland of the competing, aggressive approaches being offered to the membership of the Tory Party by those aspiring to be its leader. The only mention of Ireland I hear in the British media, in particular in political interviews, is that the United Kingdom can use the adverse effects on both the Republic and Northern Ireland as some kind of leverage to extract concessions from the European Union. That is a deeply reprehensible and irresponsible attitude on the part of those protagonists and their supporters.
As we approach the end of this term, we might consider establishing a committee on future relations in Ireland in the autumn in order that we could engage in serious discussion and dialogue with people north of the Border in particular, from both communities, with a view to advancing realistic and achievable steps towards giving Ireland what it needs, which is, if at all possible, the idea that both parts of Ireland would share the benefits of European Union membership.
It is not often Senator McDowell usurps me.I agree wholeheartedly with what he said in the context of what James Nesbitt and Harold Good said over the weekend. What Senator McDowell outlined can be very simply done through this House. We have done some very good things. I want to see the House play a part in the consultations, just as my colleague, Senator Ó Donnghaile, and Senator McDowell said. It can be easily done if we have agreement from each of the party and group leaders. We need to shape our own destiny. If the Brexit debacle has shown us anything, it is that we cannot be left, and cannot leave our children, at the behest of the Tory public school boys. Together we must shape a new and agreed Ireland, and we may as well do so sooner rather than later. People say our party should not call for a Border poll, but were we not to do so we would not even be having this conversation now. That call is to instigate the conversation that is needed on this in order that nobody is left behind. I have often said that a new and agreed Ireland to me is not about me being somehow better than a loyalist in east Belfast. It is about us all being equal and having equality of opportunity. As I said yesterday when speaking in another context, a mother on the Shankill Road wants the same for her children as I want for my children in Mayo: equality of opportunity in respect of education, careers, health and many other things that will take them through their life cycles in order that they can reach their full potential. We therefore need to work on those things that unite us and to shape the type of island we want. This is what we have been trying to do for decades, and I very much welcome that other people are on board now. This does not belong to any one party. This is the collective responsibility of all of us as citizens. We will certainly play our part, but this does not belong to any one person. There is no room for egos here; the business we need to do is too serious for that. We will certainly play our part in that business.
I listened with great interest to what Senators McDowell and Conway-Walsh said about the future of the island in the light of the increasing and awful prospect of a no-deal Brexit. I will add a small observation of my own. A most unfortunate development has arisen post the Vótáil 100 programme we held last summer. Colleagues will recall that as part of the programme, I along with Senators Conway-Walsh, Higgins and others accompanied the Ceann Comhairle to Westminster to present a portrait of Constance Markievicz to the Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow. The journalist Martina Devlin has just brought to light the fact that the portrait is unfortunately no longer hanging in a public space in Westminster, as I think we had assumed it would be, but was put into storage. It has now been liberated by the Labour Party MP, Conor McGinn, and is hanging in his office. I ask that we communicate with the Ceann Comhairle about this and see why or how the portrait, gifted by our speaker to the Speaker of the British Parliament, was not kept hanging in public after last summer's presentation, which was so successful. That is perhaps a small perhaps footnote on British-Irish relations but nonetheless of some significance.
I wish to voice my disappointment that in this last sitting week, as has become an unfortunate tradition, we are inundated with justice Bills being pushed through. I know that this is not of the Leader's doing, that it comes to us from the other House. It is unfortunate, however, that we are seeing really important, long-awaited Bills such as the Parole Bill debated and rushed through this House in a matter of two or three days, even though that Bill started in the other House at the instigation of Deputy O'Callaghan in 2016. There is therefore no reason for this unseemly rush at the end of July every year. It always seems to be a particular feature of the Department of Justice and Equality and its legislation.Will the Leader convey our disappointment that this is once again happening?
I commend Ms Louise O'Keeffe on her resilience and persistence in light of the report from Mr. Justice Iarfhlaith O'Neill, which makes it clear that the conditions placed on the redress scheme for survivors of abuse in day schools should not have been so placed. I heard the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy McHugh, on radio this morning. I hope that the Government will now devise a scheme that is fair to survivors of abuse. I should declare an interest, as I represented survivors of abuse in day schools. I know how long a battle to seek justice it has been for many of them.
I wish to pass on my sympathies and those of the Fianna Fáil Party to the family of John Bailey, including his daughter, Deputy Maria Bailey, his wife, his other four daughters, their partners and his grandchildren, and the Fine Gael family generally. I worked closely with John. We sat together on Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council. I was there a little bit before him, but for almost 12 years we worked with each other and, sometimes, against each other. Very sadly, he died this morning of motor neuron disease. John had been such an energetic and dedicated councillor for many years. He gave his life to public life, both in terms of politics and the GAA. I was the Fianna Fáil group leader when he was the Fine Gael group leader. We worked with each other to put a programme together in 2014 that stood the five years. I sat beside him and we would often have little jousts, but we were good friends and I want to put on the record my sympathies to his family, friends and political colleagues across the country. It is a sad day for him, his family and us all.
I understand that there is an objection to the Order of Business. I will actually address the Order of Business, which is not something we often do during the Order of Business. Regarding the idea that we should set times for everything, I take Senator Bacik's point about a great deal of legislation seemingly being put through. I am not sure that we can call 9 July the end of July, but I take her point that that deadline might be focusing people's minds.
Yes. Even leaving out the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill, the past few weeks have seen a large number of Bills from that Department. Like Senator Craughwell, I chair the House quite a bit. I was on a local authority for 12 and a half years. Senator Craughwell was not, but he knows many people who were. The agenda is the agenda and it flows from one item to the next. If we set aside an hour and a half for something that only takes 20 minutes, we will be sitting around waiting for over an hour.
Something might take 20 minutes or an hour and a half. If it takes 20 minutes after we set down a time of an hour and a half, though, we will be sitting around waiting for another hour and ten minutes for the next business. We would have to bring Ministers-----
Members of the public can watch on television or be in attendance whenever they like. They are more than welcome to be here. I will sign anyone in at any time. Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council or any of the 30 other local authorities will meet at 5 p.m. and do its business. Sometimes, it will not get through half its business that day and will have to return to it the next month or even the month after that. Sometimes, it can do its business quickly. If we are going to start putting times on everything, though, and particularly this week, we could be here until midnight.
We might not get our business done efficiently. If a formal amendment has been proposed about affixing times to everything, I wish to object to it. In the interests of all Members and the efficient management of the House's business, it would be better.
I thank the 16 Senators who contributed on the Order of Business. I join with Senators Boyhan, Horkan, Ardagh and others who spoke on the tragic death this morning of former councillor John Bailey. I had the pleasure of knowing him as an elected politician, but also as a member of Cumann Lúthchleas Gael.He was an extraordinary man, dedicated to his community, his club, Cuala, and his family. I offer our deepest sympathies to his wife Angela and his daughters. The tributes paid to him this afternoon are justified and well deserved. He was an extraordinary person, a man who loved life and who was committed to his family, his local community, the GAA and politics. His maxim was to make life better for people. We sympathise with his family.
Senators Ardagh and Bacik raised the issue of the redress scheme and the decision yesterday of Mr. Justice Iarfhlaith O'Neill. I join with the Taoiseach in welcoming that decision and I welcome the Taoiseach's apology today to all victims. As the Taoiseach said in the Dáil, the process should have been in place before 1992 to record an allegation of abuse. The Taoiseach also told the Dáil the Government proposes to amend and reopen the scheme in a way that will be responsive to Mr. Justice O'Neill's decision. The State has a responsibility to protect children who are abused. The Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy McHugh, will make a statement on the matter in the Dáil tomorrow.
I draw the attention of Senator Ardagh to the decision in 1998 of the then Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Micheál Martin, to take the Louise O'Keeffe case to the Supreme Court. I ask the Senator to read the Supreme Court judgment in that case. It is important that we welcome the Senator's U-turn here today and that of Deputy Micheál Martin, who, as Minister at the time, could have said "No" in 1998 but he did not. I call on him to explain why he did not do so. The Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, has the capacity to say "No" to a case. I commend the bravery of Louise O'Keeffe and I thank her for her courage. We welcome the decision of Mr. Justice O'Neill. What is important now is that we get justice for the young people, now adults, who were abused and that the scheme is reopened. I welcome that the Minister, Deputy McHugh, will make a statement on the matter in the Dáil tomorrow.
Senators Ardagh and Murnane O'Connor raised the issue of the Central Bank levy. The rate recommended by the Central Bank is half the rate of the levy applicable to the high street banks, to reflect the unique contribution that the credit union movement makes in our local communities. I understand the questions posed by both Members this afternoon. I was a member of the credit union supervisory committee of my local credit union. I recognise the importance and value of credit unions and I commend all the volunteers and staff who do great work in our local communities and who work with people of all ages and gender in very difficult and, sometimes, fraught situations. The Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, was before the finance committee last week, where there was a very informed debate on the matter. I hope that the levy will be reviewed in time.
Senator Ardagh also raised the issue of the environment and the high nitrogen dioxide levels and I am happy to have the Minister come to the House on that matter. Senators Ó Donnghaile, Feighan, McDowell, Conway-Walsh and Bacik raised the issue of Brexit and future relations on our island. It is an important conversation that we need to have and I am happy to provide time in the House. The suggestion from Senator McDowell regarding the establishment of a future relations in Ireland committee is one I wholeheartedly embrace and support. This House has done the State a huge service in terms of the provision of a Brexit committee, the future of which will be before the Seanad Committee on Procedure and Privileges, CPP, for decision later today. The points raised by all Members of the House are ones that we need to reflect upon. For any candidate of Government or political office to seek to use this country as a leverage to gain support or political advantage is irresponsible and reprehensible. I concur with Senator McDowell in that regard. There is need for a conversation around future relations on our island, while at the same time respecting both traditions. I have not listened to or read the James Nesbitt interview, so I cannot comment on it. As I said, I am happy to have the Brexit and future relations in Ireland debate in due course. The suggestion made by Senator McDowell is one that the Seanad CPP could examine. It deserves consideration. There are a number of committees dealing with the Good Friday Agreement, including the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly.If I may make a suggestion, such a committee could be a joint endeavour of the Upper and Lower House. This would give it the significance of an Oireachtas joint committee. If that is not to be, this House should certainly consider going it alone.
Senator Norris raised the issue of the Dublin Gay Theatre Festival. I concur with his remarks regarding the reduction of the grant. I have received the email from Brian Merriman and I hope to meet with him. The points made by Senator Norris are valid and I support them.
Senators Norris and Craughwell have made comments regarding the ordering of the business of the House. With regard to Commencement matters, the Seanad Public Consultation Committee, which the Leas-Chathaoirleach chairs, was anxious to complete a number of pieces of work before the summer recess. One of these was on Senator Colette Kelleher's proposal regarding the Traveller community. We have facilitated a number of very important debates at that committee. A decision was taken between the committee, others, and myself as Leader to hold a meeting this morning from 10 a.m. to 2.30 p.m. This decision was not made to facilitate any group or grouping within society, but to facilitate the Seanad Public Consultation Committee, which we have also done at other times.
They were indeed. The proposal was agreed by the House and was also agreed at a meeting of the group leaders and Whips. I will not apologise in any way for holding a meeting of the Seanad Public Consultation Committee. With regard to the points made by Senator Craughwell, I apologise to the Leas-Chathaoirleach because I am going to use my phone to highlight and indicate a number of things. First, the schedule as outlined was agreed at the meeting of group leaders. As Members will know, the schedule is indicative and is open to change in respect of times. Second, it was agreed that we would run all debates one after the other in order to use the time of Ministers, Members, officials, and members of staff of the House to the greatest benefit. As Senator Horkan said, this allows for better flow between debates. Senator Craughwell has not proposed anything but has said that he will oppose the Order of Business. If he were to propose to set times for each debate or stage of legislation, he would be proposing to guillotine them. If time were to run over on any particular legislation, debate would be curtailed.
The Senator is correct in that indicative times are listed for items in the Dáil from 1 p.m. to 5.35 p.m., but times for Government business from 5.35 p.m. onwards are not. Senator Horkan is 100% correct. I will make a copy of the schedule available to all Members of the House. From 5.35 p.m. the following items are set for discussion: the CervicalCheck Tribunal Bill 2019, the Redress for Women Resident in Certain Institutions (Amendment) Bill 2019, the Coroners (Amendment) Bill 2018, the Qualifications and Quality Assurance (Education and Training) (Amendment) Bill 2018, and the Criminal Justice (International Co-operation) Bill 2019. No times are indicated for any of these.
As Senator Horkan and, I hope, Senator Ardagh and others will know, we try to be collegial in setting the business.There are occasions on which we try to allocate times because it suits the debate to so do. However, that does not always fit with the flow of proceedings and latitude must be allowed in that regard. To accuse people of being unprofessional is somewhat irresponsible, and I ask the Senator to withdraw that remark because it is unfair to the Members and others who try to put the schedule together.
Senators Conway and Devine raised the important issue of Moneypoint. I would be happy to have the Minister come to the House on the matter.
I did not see the television programme broadcast last night to which Senator Leyden referred. I am unsure whether the House can do anything on this issue as it is not a matter for the House per se. It might be more expeditious for the Senator to table a Commencement matter on the issue.
I will buy the popcorn if Senator Leyden provides the television. I point out to Senator Devine that my hearing is somewhat fallible today. I did not hear the name of the group that was formed. As it is a financial matter, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, will be happy to come to the House on it in due course.
Senator Noone raised the important issue of the sugar tax and the importance of tackling the issue of obesity.
I join Senator Murnane O'Connor in congratulating Rhona Cullinan on her award. I agree with the Senator regarding the issues in respect of the SUSI grant. It is a very stressful time for applicants and their families, and every effort should be made to make the application process easy for people and to work with them in that regard.
I commend Senator Colm Burke on the passage of his Civil Law (Presumption of Death) Bill 2016 last week. He raised a point connected with the Bill and I am happy to have the Minister come to the House in that regard.
I have addressed the points raised by Senator McDowell in regard to the future-----
I will come to the issue of the future of Brexit. After the Order of Business, the Seanad Committee on Procedure and Privileges will meet to discuss an extension of the Brexit committee. Although it may not be possible, I will endeavour to have the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney, and the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, come to the House on Brexit tomorrow or on Thursday. The issue is one of availability. All Senators recognise that a no-deal Brexit is not a good scenario and I know that the Tánaiste is doing everything he can for it to be avoided.
Senator Bacik raised the issue of the portrait gifted to the Speaker of the House of Commons. It is a matter that can be taken up by the Committee on Procedure and Privileges. We can use it to raise this issue.
It seems that the Department of Justice and Equality is dealing with a significant amount of legislation in the House. I do not know why that is so, but I assure the Senator that we certainly do not endeavour to deal only with legislation brought forward by that Department.
Senator McDowell has certainly given it lots of time. I am not sure that the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, would use the same turn of phrase as did the Senator. We look forward to the conclusion of the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill tomorrow in accordance with the Senator's comments in the House last week.