Wednesday, 2 October 2019
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 91, motion 8, Private Members' business, to be taken at 12.45 p.m. with the time allocated to this debate not to exceed two hours; No. 1, Criminal Justice (Mutual Recognition of Decisions on Supervision Measures) Bill 2019 - Order for Second Stage and Second Stage, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 91, motion 8, and to adjourn not later than 4 p.m., if not previously concluded, with the contributions of spokespersons not to exceed ten minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed six minutes; No. 2, Education (Student and Parent Charter) Bill 2019 - Order for Second Stage and Second Stage, to be taken at 4 p.m. and to adjourn at 5.20 p.m., if not previously concluded, with the contributions of spokespersons not to exceed ten minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed six minutes; and No. 3, Social Welfare Bill 2019 - Committee Stage (resumed), to be taken at 5.30 p.m.
I wish to discuss Brexit first and foremost. We have learned that the UK is putting formal proposals to the negotiators in Europe which are along the lines of the leaks we have heard in recent days, including ten customs posts on each side of the Border and that the North would leave the area by 2025. This House needs to send a clear signal that this proposal is completely unacceptable and a non-runner. We have already got indications that it is not legally operative. I believe some EU capitals have been briefed on this plan, but I know Dublin has not been briefed. The Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney, has said he has not received any formal briefing from the UK Government, which is of concern. I am sure the Tánaiste and everybody from these Houses will tell the UK that this is completely unacceptable.
Irish citizens living in the North of Ireland will not be protected by this proposal. Issues of identity which have been largely settled over the past 20 years will be thrown open once more. The Tories never really understood that the issues surrounding the Border and the Good Friday Agreement related to more than trade and also covered identity. They are crucial to the health, safety and well-being of all people on this island. I want to send a clear signal from this side of the House - I am sure it will be reiterated across the House - that the backstop is not open for negotiation.
I also refer to the lack of Irish Water connections. A considerable amount of construction is going on in my area in north County Dublin and in other areas. The Government has repeated the mantra that it is delivering housing. However, it is not delivering water connection to houses. I have spoken to builders on various housing estates in north County Dublin. They have told me they have been waiting seven, eight or nine months for a connection to houses that are already built and lying idle. Last week a man told me he has been waiting 18 months since he first put in a request for a connection into an estate.
This is causing great levels of stress for people. They are waiting for their newly-built house for which they have sacrificed so much. They have given notice to quit in accommodation they are renting or they are living in overcrowded accommodation with family members and hoping their houses will be completed. Water connection is needed alongside the delivery of housing. It is the nuts and bolts of delivery of housing and this needs to be addressed.
I ask for indulgence to allow me to mention the 7,300 people who have been on the waiting list for home help hours, a figure that has risen in recent weeks. The Minister of State, Deputy Daly, has said he is ashamed and embarrassed about it, as he should be because it is completely outrageous. I am sure that many other Fine Gael Senators, Deputies and Ministers are ashamed and embarrassed about this Government's delivery for the most vulnerable people in society. It is no wonder they are leaving election tickets in droves because of the Government's track record.
As we know these are trying times for our nation and our island. In 28 days' time there is the real prospect that the peace we have all grown accustomed to which took decades or, depending on one's interpretation of history, centuries to resolve could be seriously jeopardised through the event of a no-deal Brexit. The closer we get to yet another EU summit on 17 October, the greater the insecurity our fellow Irishmen and women of every religion and none shall feel north of the Border.
Within the borders of this State, we have rightly spent considerable time focusing on the impact a no-deal Brexit would have on our agrifood sector and the security risks on our island, but not enough on the citizens of Northern Ireland. Thanks to the Good Friday Agreement, every citizen of Northern Ireland can be a citizen of this State and therefore a citizen of the European Union irrespective of what happens in the coming weeks.
However, there is an inevitable social consequence to Northern Ireland being torn away from the European Union against its people's will. While even in the best-case scenario of an orderly Brexit deal, that consequence may only be sensory in that a drive from Dublin to Belfast will become a journey to exit the European Union and yet its citizens remain protected.
Of course, in the current Boris-deal scenario we would have customs checks to navigate on either side of the Border, something that thankfully the Irish Government has roundly rejected. I anticipate the European Union also doing so. No matter what happens, there is a strong likelihood that our two communities, North and South, may drift even further apart. Against this backdrop, an open hand to our friends in the North and overseas, through giving them a say into who is Head of this State and represents this nation, could serve to restore some of those social ties that will be lost through Northern Ireland's departure from the European Union. I hope and, dare I say, I pray our leaders and the leaders of the European Union continue to act as a bulwark against the jingoistic nationalism and contempt for the rule of law we see from the British Government. While I have faith our people will be defended by their leaders in this State and the European Union, it will be up to us to defend our nation and our Northern citizens to ensure they remain part of our Irish community in word and deed. This requires our Northern friends to have a real say on how we move forward as the broad shouldered global community that modern Ireland represents. I hope these ideals will not be forgotten when we finally have the referendum to allow all Irish people the opportunity to vote in presidential elections.
Often we stand in the Chamber and make political charges against each other. We spark off each other and this is the way of political theatre. In light of what the British Government is apparently proposing as a solution to its Brexit problem, the Houses of the Oireachtas must stand firm as a collective. It is deeply upsetting to everybody in Ireland to witness what is happening in the United Kingdom. One can only use words that Boris Johnson has used and describe the proposal as complete humbug. Twenty years ago, the British Government signed a sacred peace agreement after 30 years of violence and more than 3,000 deaths. All of us, Irish, British, Northern Irish, unionist and nationalist, said we would never again return to a scenario that would lead to violence. Less than 20 years later, the British Government has thrown that agreement in the fire and considers English nationalism to be much more important and that a small cabal in the British Tory Party had to be placated. The lack of knowledge among the British commentariat, public and political system and, particularly, the Tory party about the sensitivities of this island and what happened here is quite astonishing. Within all of this, for Boris Johnson to use words of war in his common discourse is deeply offensive. He has used phrases and words such as dying in a ditch, surrender and traitors. It is deeply offensive given what has happened in this country. On behalf of the Labour Party and, I am quite sure, other parties in the Chamber I say we stand firmly behind the Taoiseach and Tánaiste in their absolute rejection of the proposals coming from the British Government. These proposals are coming from an entity that has no interest in a deal. While we spend a huge number of hours disagreeing in this Chamber, on this day of days, as we head towards 31 October and the British Prime Minister addresses his party conference, we must call out this nonsense for what it is. It is a result of narrow-minded xenophobic English nationalism and the Oireachtas will not accept it. It will stand up for the Good Friday Agreement and peace and prosperity on this island and throughout Europe.
I thank Senators Ó Ríordáin, Clifford-Lee and others for their support for the Government on Brexit and what we are collectively trying to achieve in terms of the future of the country. This is a critical period in our nation's history. I salute the efforts of our leadership and their backroom civil servants and advisers. I hope we will be able to navigate through this successfully.
We are led to believe by Met Éireann that tomorrow, we will have Storm Lorenzo. At present, it is a hurricane but by the time it reaches us it will have been downgraded to storm status. I remember standing up in the Chamber in 2014 after Lahinch and the entire coast of County Clare had been battered by the January storms and sea conditions. I am happy to report to the House that since then, in my area of Lahinch there has been coastal investment of €10 million on rock armoury and other works. The big test will be tomorrow evening when we see how effective the coastal work has been. Will the Leader facilitate a debate with the Minister of State with responsibility for the Office of Public Works on coastal protection? It would be very timely, given what we will experience tomorrow. I do not believe we are investing sufficiently in coastal protection. We need to spend billions and have a multi-annual plan over the next ten years, comprising €1 billion per year, to try to protect all of our coastal communities, tourist destinations, fishing villages, people farming on the coastline and coastal infrastructure from the rough elements of the sea. While the sea brings much enjoyment to thousands of people in many parts of the country throughout the year, there are times when its ferocity and anger can have a devastating effect. As an island nation, the only way we can protect from this is by investing in coastal protection. We need the solidarity of our European colleagues to come up with the resources needed. What we are spending at present is minuscule compared to what should be spent. This is extremely important. Coming from a fishing village, the Cathaoirleach knows the absolute importance of effective and proper coastal protection. We are living in a different world now and we need this investment. I hope the Leader will facilitate such a debate in early course.
I want to raise an issue the Leader may not be able to do much about but I want him to be aware of it. I am more anxious that "Liveline" would note it because it communicates with more people than any other radio programme. This is the issue of the notice on dormant accounts by Banking and Payments Federation Ireland. The advertisement, which mentioned the Dormant Accounts Act 2001, appeared in yesterday's edition of the Daily Starand advised people who have may have a dormant account to contact the bank or An Post. If there is no activity on an account for a period of time, the funds are taken by the State and dealt with by the National Treasury Management Agency.
My wife and I have a small rainy day fund of less than €1,000 in An Post. I came across the book recently and went about reactivating it. I went to the GPO, where I was told the money had gone to the Government
I am sure it will look after it very well but I would prefer to look after it myself. I then endeavoured to reactivate the account because I recommend that people save with An Post. Young people should save with An Post and have a post office savings account. Thousands of young people put their holy communion money into an account but did not check it out and the money is gone.
The Order of Business is a very good opportunity to bring matters of importance to the attention of people. There is a procedure involved in getting the money back and I have been working on it for three weeks. I had to send in a copy of our passports, the account number of the agency or company being dealt with and proof of address. That is all I have heard. I want my money back and I want it back now. We need it for the rainy day fund and facing into Brexit we have a lot of problems. I ask our friends in the media to pick this up. I only saw the advertisement in the Daily Star, which is not read by that many people. Someone needs to go on radio and television to inform the public of their right to claim back the funds they own.It is a good, positive step in the right direction. I do not know the exact number but millions of euro are taken by the State every year and people are deprived of their money.
Will the Leader invite the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation to discuss the small and medium enterprise, SME, report, which he actively supported and to which he previously committed? A great deal of work has been done to produce the report and it is significant. I appreciate the Seanad Public Consultation Committee's support in activating the report, which involved approximately two years' work. Since the publication of the report, I have met people from a number of Departments, chambers of commerce, IBEC, the Irish Small and Medium Employers, the Small Firms Association and other organisations, all of which have a strong interest in the report. I have had between 20 and 30 meetings with the industry, which is keen for us to progress with it. I would value the Leader's support in that regard. If he could arrange for the Minister to come to the House as soon as possible, it would be much appreciated. All members of the committee, including our Chairman, Senator Coghlan, would very much welcome it happening as soon as possible. The report was published in May and is approximately five months old.
Approximately 90% of all the passengers at Irish airports use Dublin Airport. Shannon, Cork and the other regional airports are suffering significantly, although that is not Dublin Airport's fault, given that people want to fly into and out of there. We need to create a regional strategy for places such as Cork, Shannon, Waterford and, in particular, Knock to develop a co-ordinated approach. A definite Government policy is needed to create the opportunity. Passenger numbers at Shannon Airport this year will reduce by approximately 120,000, while I imagine there might also be, unfortunately, a reduction at Knock. The airports are essential to our regions and regional development. I urge everybody, but especially the Leader, to push the matter with the Government. As Senator Ó Ríordáin noted earlier in respect of Brexit, we are all together. Let us work actively to try to make such a strategy happen and to create opportunities for our regional airports.
I strongly support what Senator Ó Céidigh stated. The report is an important body of work, to which we referred previously. I hope the Leader will meet the Senator's request in early course and that the Minister will appear before the House to debate and discuss it further.
On Brexit, we should not get too upset. Everything we are hearing is based on leaks. The papers, non-papers, proposals or whatever they are could be part of an opening or ongoing gambit. We should not concern ourselves too much because it will be a matter for the EU. The British Prime Minister is playing to his own audience, as we well know, and he has his own agenda in Manchester. We all know, and will not forget, that our protection and that of the EU, through the backstop and the Good Friday Agreement, is solid. Let us not play-act or respond too much to what happens over there. The British Prime Minister must realise what he must do at the heel of the hunt. He is probably playing down the clock. He knows he will have to obey the Benn Act and the law of the land over there. He will doubtless have to seek an extension, although whether it will be granted remains to be seen. For our sake, I hope that when he is faced with the prospect, it will be granted. The EU, as much as we, will need the transition period of two years or more to get matters sorted and to have them carry on as they are. We should not jump up and down about what they are doing over there. Let us hold our whisht a while and see what, if anything, emerges concretely.
I express my sympathy to the Leader for the incredible pressure he is under in the House. Senator Conway seeks €1 billion a year, while Senator Leyden wants his savings back. How can the country survive such ceaseless demands on the Exchequer? I do not know where we will go with all that.
We had a debate yesterday on what was the latest Brexit development, but overnight, what is happening has become clearer. Unlike Senator Coghlan, I take the view it is becoming abundantly clear that Downing Street is aiming towards a no-deal exit, that the take it or leave it offer, which the British Prime Minister, Mr. Johnson, will apparently ventilate at his Manchester rally today, is intended to be rejected, that he intends to go to the British people making the untrue point that Europe is being unreasonable and he is being reasonable, and that he intends to leave the EU one way or another by 31 October.
The funny thing is that the The Guardiantoday reminds us that under the existing law in the UK, namely, section 10(2) of the exit Act, nothing in various sections of the Act authorises regulations that diminish in any form the North-South co-operation provided for by the Belfast Agreement, or the creation or facilitation of border arrangements between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland after exit day that feature physical infrastructure, including border posts, or checks and controls, that did not exist before exit day and are not in accordance with an agreement between the UK and the EU.
There is now a proposal to break the UK's own law or, one presumes, to change it in the utmost bad faith. I accept that the Irish Government must play a careful game of not being seen to be unreasonable and of keeping its language polite, respectful and so on, and that the EU, too, is playing a careful game not to run into the trap of being seen to be aggressive towards the UK and, in particular, the Johnson Administration. I do not believe, however, that the Johnson Administration is being truthful. It is deliberately engaging in misinformation and distortion of the truth, and misleading its own public. I do not believe that it will obey the terms of the Benn Act but that it will instead try to wriggle out of it and create a political crisis by 31 October. It seems to be intent on doing that. Although I fully support the Irish Government in everything it does on the matter - I do not want to take away from that in any way - we have to be realistic now. It is clear what is happening. Bully tactics, and bandit tactics in respect of international policy and the Good Friday Agreement, are being organised by Mr. Cummings and Mr. Johnson. I guarantee the House that if we wait a few weeks, we will find out the extent of the untruth and bullying being put on as a show with a view to garnering support for a November election to seek a majority for the Tory Party, which has never been a friend to Ireland in respect of Northern Ireland.
I follow on from Senator Conway's theme by raising the matter of the impending storm coming towards us. I ask for the Leader's indulgence to inform and work with me on a practical issue. Applications for the targeted agricultural modernisation scheme, TAMS, which is important, will close on Friday.Teagasc has informed everyone who has made appointments on Thursday and Friday in the six counties in which there is an orange storm warning that the appointments have been cancelled. It will create a problem in the agricultural community. A Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine scheme is closing for the receipt of applications on Friday and the knock-on effect is that farmers will not be able to make the required applications because appointments made three or four months in advance for Thursday and Friday have been cancelled because of the bad weather. Will the Leader ask the Minister to postpone the closing date for the receipt of applications under the scheme for one week to provide the agricultural community with a chance to breathe and get through the storm? It is a practical solution. The agricultural community has a basic right and needs to apply under the scheme. However, farmers will not have the opportunity to do so because of weather conditions. I ask the Leader to use his office to contact the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine to ensure there will be an extension of at least seven days to sort out the issue. It would be a practical way of dealing with the unusual weather conditions.
I support Senator Lombard and second his proposal that the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine be contacted and that the Minister provide at least an extra week to allow for weather conditions.
I wish to discuss the value of family resource centres, of which there are 121 across the State. We have heard from them about the funding cuts made since 2008. In 2008 funding for the centres was €18.84 million, whereas now it is €17.37 million. However, they require €19.3 million to resource their services properly, as matters stand. Like community development projects, family resource centres experienced savage cuts in 2008 and during the years of austerity. While some of the cuts have been made up, not all of the decrease has been addressed. Family resource centres engage in at least 500,000 child and adult interactions annually. They leverage 2.9 times their annual Government funding by sourcing other funding to be used in communities. They have a proven and successful model to meet the needs of at-risk families, provide counselling, engage in community work, provide advice and training and address domestic violence and many of the other issues which cause social exclusion and isolation in communities. They help to reduce poverty and address social inclusion. We speak a great deal about crime prevention and the cost of crime, but if we fail to value the work of family resource centres, we are failing economically as well as socially. If the problems facing individuals, families and communities are not addressed, it can cause many problems down the line by way of anti-social behaviour, addiction and crime. The value of applying extra funding to family resource centres would be huge.
The family resource centre national forum also needs approximately €145,000 to keep going as a national co-ordinator. The forum is important to facilitate the exchange of learning across the family resource centres nationally, which builds capacity for the future.
We have a particular and absolute need for a family resource centre in Erris. An assessment has been made and an application was made last year, but we fell just short, albeit Tusla recognised the need. Erris is a huge distance away from any other family resource centre. Community projects have been cut and it is an area of high disadvantage. The value of having a family resource centre in Erris needs to be recognised in the budget. I look forward to seeing that happen.
I raise the issue of the North-South interconnector, a 400 kV line running from County Meath to County Tryone and passing through counties Monaghan and Cavan. It is 138 km in length. Will the Leader ask the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment to come to the House at the earliest opportunity to discuss comments which appeared last week in the Irish Independent and attributed to EirGrid? Eirgrid stated there was no legal onus on it or the ESB regarding access to land owned by farmers along the route. These comments have angered and further frustrated farmers and landowners along the entire route, as the Leader can well imagine. There are approximately 504 access points along the interconnector route. Clearly, access to lands will be required if the project is to succeed.
The other issue that emerged from the newspaper article involved the ESB ploughing on with the procurement of pylons for the project, notwithstanding the fact that planning permission has yet to be granted in Northern Ireland. What does that say about the planning process in this country? What message does it send for the State to carry on in this way? I ask the Minister to come to the House at the earliest opportunity to update Members on where the project is at, to explain to law-abiding people in counties Meath, Cavan and Monaghan what the State is doing and to react to the comments attributed to Eirgrid in the Irish Independentlast week.
I highlight the plight of 12 graduate nurses working in Mayo University Hospital who have been let down by the HSE. They were promised permanent contracts in their place of work, but they have not been delivered. This is notwithstanding the fact that in March 2017 the INMO and SIPTU agreed with the HSE that from then on graduate nurses and midwives would be offered permanent contracts. It was for the very reason that we were finding it hard to retain nurses and other health professionals. We have invested a great deal in the education of these healthcare professionals and would like to retain them. Nurses and other healthcare professionals need permanent contracts to establish obtain mortgages and themselves and their families. The nurses in County Mayo were likewise promised contracts. As far back as 2017, the HSE's national director of human resources confirmed that all graduating nurses and midwives in the Saolta group would be offered permanent contracts, but that has proved not to be true. There is a serious question about commitments being made in public and the experience of the nurses. It speaks to issues of trust, truth and honesty and has led to disillusionment among those working in the health system. The Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, was told that these permanent contracts would issue, but they did not. I ask that he be invited to the House to allow us to shine a light on the behaviour of the HSE in delivering on this public, on-the-record commitment which it has failed to fulfil. Let us avoid losing these graduate nurses. Their colleagues in the class of 2017 have left and we do not want and cannot afford to lose them too. It is ironic that there are 29 nursing posts vacant in Mayo University Hospital, but these nurses cannot get the permanent contracts they need.
Yesterday I attended the PDFORRA conference. The Leader will agree with me that it is regrettable that a number of members representing Naval Service personnel were refused permission to attend the conference. It flies in the face of any notion of decent working relationships.Later this afternoon, a group of parents in Cork will hold a press conference on the misappropriation of Exchequer funds in education. It is a serious case that has been ongoing for some time. The Leader, as a former teacher, will have some concerns himself on the matter. Anecdotally, we are aware that restrictions on promotional posts and appointments in education mean principals, with whom I have some sympathy, have been put to the pins of their collars trying to manage their schools. Unfortunately, in trying to do so, pupils with special education needs who have been allocated, say, four hours of one-to-one teaching a week have been put together in a single class. Principals have been amalgamating the hours so that they can be used elsewhere for management purposes and so on. The Teachers' Union of Ireland, TUI, my former union, spent much time at its conference complaining about the lack of resources and management structures in schools. The Cork parents have documentary evidence with names, students, times, places and schools, where hours allocated by the Department of Education and Skills were taken from the students and misused. The Minister for Education and Skills should come before the House as a matter of urgency to discuss this and the protocols are in place.
I do not want a witch hunt of principals around the country who may have been involved in this practice. It is deeply regrettable that it is coming to light as it will later but we need to take action on it.
We can all be critical of RTÉ from time to time but I congratulate the station on its programme on Brendan Grace broadcast on Monday night. It was a fantastic show and goes to show that RTÉ can make great programmes. It brought people as well as Brendan Grace centre stage who were suffering from dementia, and made them the centrepiece at the Olympia Theatre. It was a fantastic programme with a huge audience. RTÉ can do magnificent work and I congratulate it on this occasion.
Great work has been done on the restoration of Leinster House. However, I wonder about some pieces that were hanging in various places around the house. Will they be returned or will they be placed in other areas of the House? I refer in particular to the American flag, presented by the late President John F. Kennedy in 1963 which appears to be missing, or at least, is not in the place were it was. A painting of Countess Markievicz hung on the stairway -----
The American flag was a centre piece for tours in Leinster House. People, including teachers, tourists and Americans, who visited the House enjoyed hearing the history of it.
Finally, I congratulate Commissioner Phil Hogan on the way he got through his interview with flying colours. I wish him well with the trade portfolio for the next five years. No better man could have that portfolio representing both Ireland and the EU.
I refer to the point made by Senator Paddy Burke and raise a different issue regarding RTÉ. While praise can be levelled in its direction sometimes, I wish to be more critical here. RTÉ sport has decided not to broadcast the World Athletics Championships this year. It is a retrograde step, especially when we read that some 10 or 12 senior RTÉ officials had chosen to travel to the Rugby World Cup in Japan. Irish athletes are competing in the championships. Our best result to date has been secured by a friend of mine, a fellow club member from Donegal, Brendan Boyce, who obtained a magnificent sixth place in the most gruelling sporting event on earth, the 50 km walk, last Saturday night. I want to extend congratulations to Brendan. He trains mostly in Ireland, with Robbie Heffernan in Cork.
I refer to the Departments of Agriculture, Food and Marine and the Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, and the awarding and processing of foreshore licences in special areas of conservation, SACs, and special protection areas, SPAs. There is an issue in Donegal where foreshore licence applications with the combined geographical footprint of 70 times the size of Croke Park for commercial oyster fishing. There has been no public consultation whatever with the local community, which is now up in arms against the proposal. It might be an issue more relevant to a Commencement debate and I will table a question on the matter. However, I would like both Ministers come to the House to describe in detail the process, or lack thereof, of public consultation at local level. I am also interested in what the Minister with responsibility for protecting SPAs and SACs has to say about such proposals. To date, that Department has made no input whatever on this application, one of the largest ever in the country.
I thank the 15 Members for their contributions to the Order of Business. Senators Clifford-Lee, Lawless, Ó Ríordán, Conway, Coghlan and McDowell raised Brexit. As we speak, the British Prime Minister is on his feet at the Tory party conference. He is saying he does not want to see any customs checks in Ireland and that he wants to protect the existing regulatory arrangements for Ireland. The contributions of Members recognise and reinforce the need for us to stand together. Yesterday, we had a very good debate on Brexit. The Tánaiste's contribution was illuminating. Senator Lawless, in his very fine contribution, crystallised the importance of the EU summit and the need to put the Good Friday Agreement at the forefront of the thinking of EU leaders and what they are discussing. Its dividend has been quite extraordinary. We all know that there is no such thing as a good Brexit outcome. The Good Friday Agreement has been a great positive for our country and for the people of the North and South. Anything that diminishes that is not good. The Government made it clear that customs checks are out. The Tánaiste said that yesterday, and repeated it this morning, as did the Taoiseach.According to my information, the Government has not seen any proposal from the British Government, but we have made our position clear. It is about ensuring an orderly Brexit. I will be happy to facilitate the Tánaiste or the Minister for State, Deputy McEntee, in coming to the House in due course.
Senator Clifford-Lee raised the issue of home help hours. I assure her that the Government is committed to improving access to home supports. It is a priority for it. There has been an investment of €446 million this year, which represents an increase from €140 million. There are challenges because demand is high and increasing, demographics are changing, people are living longer and want to stay at home more. In the HSE's service plan for 2019, 18 million home support hours have been allocated to 53,000 people. The aim of the Government and all of us who meet families every day is to have people remain at home and live with dignity and confidence. In spite of the Senator's comments, the Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly, is very much engaged in creating a new, stand-alone statutory scheme which will bring about regulation of home support services and their financing and regulation. I remind her - she might include it in one of her leaflets - that more than €8 million per week is being spent by the State. If one compares the position this time last year to the position today-----
I thank the Senator. There are fewer people waiting for home help hours now than there were this time last year. All of us, in our offices, deal with people and recognise that there are challenges, but €8 million per week, giving a total in excess of €400 million per year, is being allocated to people for home care supports. I do not need the Senator to tell me what is and is not happening.
On the question about Irish Water, if the Senator has a particular matter to raise about Irish Water connections, I suggest she go to Irish Water directly if she is familiar with the matter she wishes to raise and which is serious for the people on whose behalf she wishes to raise it. I assume she has gone to Irish Water, but, if she has not, perhaps she might put a Commencement matter before us. It is a matter of considerable importance to the people for whom she speaks. I suggest, if she has not gone to Irish Water, she table a Commencement matter about the issue.
Last week and again today, Senator Lawless raised the issue of presidential voting rights. It is a very important referendum which deserves time and space. The Senator made a considered and measured contribution last week about the delay in holding the referendum. It is important that we receive more information and that there be engagement with the wider population and beyond because there is a polarising view emerging that I hope will not lead, or form part of, the campaign.
Senator Conway raised the issue of coastal erosion. It might be best dealt with by way of a Commencement matter. We will have the Minister of State, Deputy Moran, in the House in due course.
I am not sure if Senator Leyden was giving an advertisement for "Liveline" or the dormant accounts fund, but I wish him well in his endeavours. He has the support of the House, as Senator McDowell said. We all stand with him on the matter. The point he makes is very informative. I have seen that this week a number of credit unions have written to their customers, in particular older people who have not accessed their accounts, to tell them that they have been frozen. People have been alarmed at the letters that have appeared in the post telling that them their account has been frozen because, in some cases, the customers have not used it. I am not saying that is the case in the Senator's case.
Senator Ó Céidigh is the author of a very fine report from the Seanad Public Consultation Committee which was chaired ably by the Leas-Chathaoirleach. It is a very important report and I intend to have the Minister come before the House in the coming weeks to discuss it.
Senators Coghlan and Ó Céidigh raised the issue of aviation. The Copenhagen Economics report has today been given to the relevant Minister, Deputy Ross. The report was commissioned by a number of airports and sponsored by the Limerick Chamber of Commerce. There is an issue about the dominance of Dublin Airport in the aviation market. I will be happy to have the Minister come to the House toi discuss the matter.
Senators Lombard and Conway-Walsh raised the issue of targeted agricultural modernisation schemes, TAMS. The point Senator Lombard made about the impact of Storm Lorenzo on the cancellation of appointments is one to which I hope the Department will give consideration. I hope existing applicants' interviews will be rescheduled and the scheme can be kept open.
Senator Conway-Walsh also raised the issue of family resource centres. We are all aware of and appreciate the significant work being done in such centres. The Senator is well aware that this year the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Zappone, increased by €1.5 million the allocation of funding for family resource centres. The €18 million given by the Government this year is the largest allocation in a decade and will allow for an increase in core funding of 5% and the employment of 17 additional family support workers. It will also allow for the investment in young people and families. As we all know, the earlier one invests, the better the results in all outcomes. I am not familiar with the case in Erris raised by the Senator but, if she tables a Commencement matter, she may receive a more expeditious reply. It is important that we support and continue to build on and communicate the importance of family resource centres. The work they do in all parts of the country is incredible.
I have not read the article about the North-South interconnector to which Senator Gallagher referred, but I will be happy for the Minister responsible to come to the House to discuss the issue. As the Senator knows, it is an important project.
Senator Mulherin raised the issue of permanent contracts being awarded to 12 nurses. As it is predominantly a HSE matter, I do not have the answer. The Senator might receive a quicker reply if she were to table a Commencement matter, but it is extraordinary that the HSE has not yet allocated permanent contracts. They must be expedited.
I am not familiar with the issue of the Naval Service being refused permission to attend the PDFORRA conference, as mentioned by Senator Craughwell. He also mentioned the matter of the misappropriation of special needs education resources in some cases. I am aware that there are over 50 cases of alleged misuse of teaching and other resources being investigated by the Department. The inappropriate use, or misuse, of special needs education resources is something none of us will stand over. The investigation is ongoing and I am sure that when it is concluded, the Minister, Deputy McHugh, can come to the House to discuss the matter.
Senator Paddy Burke paid tribute to RTÉ for its programme to mark the memory of Brendan Grace, "Thank You for the Memories", and the work the programme has done with the Forget-Me-Not choir in highlighting the devastating effect dementia has and also the joy and support surrounding people affected by it. I pay tribute to all those involved in the programme and the late Brendan Grace for his generosity before his death. I thank everybody for being involved in the programme.
The Cathaoirleach answered the issue raised by Senator Paddy Burke about flags and different paraphernalia. On my own behalf and I am sure that of the House, I join the Senator in congratulating Commissioner Hogan, first, on his reappointment and his robust and sterling performance in the European Parliament this week. We wish him well in his new, onerous position. As the Senator said, there is no better man to lead the European Commission's trade department.
I concur with Senator Ó Domhnaill that it is regrettable that RTÉ has not carried live coverage of the World Athletics Championships. I remember when Eamon Coughlan won the 5,000 m championship and racing past another athlete. It was a graphic image on our television screens. Equally, I commend and congratulate Brendan Boyce who has been well trained by Rob Heffernan in Cork. I am not sure what the reason for RTÉ's decision was for not covering the World Athletics Championship live.
I do not have the information sought on foreshore licences in County Donegal. I am not trying to give Senator Ó Domhnaill a short answer, but perhaps a Commencement matter might be a more appropriate means to deal with the matter. There are issues with foreshore licences that need to be addressed, not just in County Donegal because I am also aware of a number.