Seanad debates

Tuesday, 8 October 2019

3:30 pm

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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The Order of Business is No. 1, motion regarding the Data Protection Act 2018, back from committee, to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business, without debate; and No. 2, statements on budget 2020, to be taken at 4.45 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed ten minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed eight minutes.

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Leader for outlining the business. I will not dwell too much on the budget since I will make a statement on the budget at 4.45 p.m. but it is clearly a budget that is designed and revolves around Brexit. Fianna Fáil will facilitate it on that basis. We will have statements on the budget shortly.

On the issue of Brexit more generally, one cannot be shocked or surprised by the language that has come from a source in 10 Downing Street. I would appeal to all sides, including British politicians and especially the British press, although my appeal will probably fall on deaf ears, to recognise that a no-deal Brexit would be as damaging to the UK economy as it would be to Ireland and the whole of Europe. It is a lose-lose situation. While it seems that Boris Johnson is totally focused on a general election and its outcome so that he can free himself from other confidence and supply agreements and such, it is important to have some measured and serious language because the issue is far too serious to be playing games, as some people, especially in the UK, certainly seem to be doing.

Last night, I attended a meeting of school principals and chairpersons from the region extending south from the River Liffey to Arklow. More than 50 people representing many schools attended. The issue of staff recruitment and retention is significant, especially given the cost of living in south Dublin. It affects guidance counselling, technical drawing, foreign languages and science subjects across the board. It is difficult to find and retain staff. When people discover that the same job at the same pay is available closer to home, where the rent may be a quarter or half of what it is in Dublin, they decide to leave. I would like the Minister for Education and Skills to talk to us about what he is doing to retain and recruit staff, especially in urban areas where rents are higher.

Photo of Victor BoyhanVictor Boyhan (Independent)
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I call on the Leader to arrange for the Minister, Deputy Ross, to come to the House to discuss the sports capital programme, in particular in regard to its allocations for 2019. In recent days, I have received a number of calls from sports clubs and individuals, both in the area in which I live, Dún Laoghaire, and around the country, with the suggestion that there had been an indication - a wink, a nod - that perhaps they are all through and they are getting this sports capital money.

That is what I have been told and I have no evidence to suggest anything other than that. However, it is important that we have confidence in the sports capital programme process. It is, after all, funded by taxpayers and a percentage is funded by the national lottery. It is very important that the sports capital programme announcements must not be seen, or perceived in any way, to be skewed to curry political favour or give political or electoral advantage to anybody. This is the people's money and no one else's money. Any suggestion that it would be put out there on the side is wrong.

I reiterate that this is a suggestion and a suggestion only, but I have concerns. I believe that everyone in both Houses of the Oireachtas, on all sides, wants a new system in which people have confidence and which is fully open and transparent. My concern is that no one should have political advantage over anybody else in regard to dishing out what is public money set aside specifically for sport. We know the sports capital programme aims to foster and promote an integrated plan for sports facilities right across the 31 local authorities, and across the country as a whole.

I would like the Minister, Deputy Ross, to come to the House to give us an overview of the sports capital programme and the vision for all of that but, more importantly, to reassure the Members of this House there will be no premature sideshow or side announcement, and that the allocations will be made through an open and transparent process. I ask the Leader to use his good offices to find out what is the delay or the hold-up. I understand this has all been agreed and the sports capital allocations have been signed off. When can we expect clubs and local authorities to hear first-hand from the Government and from the Minister as to their allocations?

Photo of Rose Conway WalshRose Conway Walsh (Sinn Fein)
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I ask the Leader to ask the Minister of State, Deputy English, to come to the House to give us an update on the pyrite and mica situation. As he knows, thousands of homes, particularly in Mayo and Donegal, are still waiting to be put right. There is a lot of confusion around what the criteria are and what is going to happen. There is no point in announcing money if it does not go where it needs to go.

I want to commend Angela Merkel for her firm rejection of the reckless proposals put forward by the Tory Government and the DUP. I have to say I respect her understanding of the Good Friday Agreement and her recognition that the only way a hard border can be avoided is to keep all of the island in the EU customs territory. All of this is in the context of the North's milk producers yesterday warning about the impact of a no-deal Brexit, given some 35% of the North's milk pool is processed in the Republic. Tariffs would total €359 million, which is simply not affordable and would leave 600 million litres of raw milk unprocessed. It really brought it home to me yesterday to listen to one dairy farmer on "Talkback" explain the cost of producing a litre of milk at 27p. The impact of a tariff being applied would wipe out his business, and he is just one of over 3,000 farm families likely to be impacted.

It seems that the Tories and the DUP have turned their backs on the agriculture sector and the business sector in the North. Perhaps it is time those sectors looked at releasing themselves from the constitutional entrapment that has proven its disregard for their basic welfare and well-being. If they want their businesses to survive and thrive within the EU, then Irish unity may be their best option. I think that needs to be examined in a serious way and we have talked in the House before about the role the Government here can play in that.

Today, we learned of the continued Government failure to care for women who have suffered under the cervical cancer scandal.Another woman was forced to go to the High Court to get approval for a drug just to keep her alive, the response of the HSE being a refusal by silence to discharge its statutory functions and duties. The only option for this woman is to seek remedy in the courts for the failure to detect abnormalities which led to her cancer and for the subsequent failure of the HSE to exclude her records from the independent panel. So much for the empty promises made to women who have been let down by the State. So much for honouring the women who have lost their lives as a consequence of the Government decision to farm out cervical smear testing, disregarding the clinical advice and warnings that preceded the impact of that decision. I am requesting that the Minister, Deputy Harris, come to the House at the earliest opportunity to address this ongoing saga. It cannot be allowed to continue to be the case that the only place for more women who are seriously ill to go is into the courts.

Photo of Denis O'DonovanDenis O'Donovan (Fianna Fail)
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Before I call the next speaker, I would like to welcome to the Visitors Gallery some guests of the Leas-Chathaoirleach, Senator Paul Coghlan. We have Isolde Liebherr, Johanna Platt, Karl Weisskopf, Michael Brennan and David Cronin. For those who would not be aware, Liebherr is a very famous international outfit with a particularly strong tradition in the Killarney region. It has created about 800 jobs. That is why by good esteem the Leas-Chathaoirleach is looking after them very well. I remember visiting Buenos Aires in South America as a Member of the Lower House about 20 years ago. I witnessed that Liebherr was erecting three massive cranes on the docks in Buenos Aires. It is not just Killarney; it is well renowned. The visitors are more than welcome and I hope they enjoy their stay.

Photo of Martin ConwayMartin Conway (Fine Gael)
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I would also like to be associated with the esteemed guests of our Leas-Chathaoirleach. They are most welcome and if they fancy doing any investments in Clare we would make them very welcome as well. Today was an interesting day to be in the House. It was not the usual budget day. It was kind of different. We often talk about Parliament and how important the work is that we do in these two Houses. We compare the way we are doing our business in these Houses of the Oireachtas with our near neighbours. Certainly the mainstream political establishment, both Government and Opposition, sees the importance of putting the national interest first. That is something that has to be commended. There is a lot to be said about consensus politics as well.

Photo of Gerard CraughwellGerard Craughwell (Independent)
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The party system.

Photo of Martin ConwayMartin Conway (Fine Gael)
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We do not get as much of it as we would like. One thing I want to particularly welcome is the increase in funding for An Garda Síochána and the whole area of justice. We spend a lot of time in this House dealing with justice legislation such as the Judicial Council Bill and the various other components of the justice portfolio, on which I have had the privilege to lead on behalf of the Fine Gael group in this House. It is good to see an extra almost €1 billion going into justice, to see the commitment to continue recruiting another 700 members of An Garda Síochána and to see the resources being made available to establish the Judicial Council and other improvements in the justice area. For too long we have had too many negative headlines to do with justice and its implementation. It is great to see that justice is not on the front pages for the wrong reasons any more. We have seen a classic example of how, in spite of a very difficult fiscal manoeuvring, the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, was able to deliver additional resources in the area of justice. This Brexit budget is a difficult one. I want particularly to commend the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, who has navigated very successfully the needs of continuing to grow and develop our economy and has at the same time ensured that we are as Brexit-ready as we can be, and that we are controlling the things that we can control as best we can.He has done a good job in recent times. I look forward to our engagement this afternoon and to analysing in great detail the various elements of the budget. In due course, the Leader should invite line Ministers to this House to provide details on their increased budget spend and to discuss Brexit and what controls they have put in place in their particular areas. It would be a useful exercise in the national interest to have engagement in the Seanad with line Ministers on their Brexit preparations.

Photo of Jennifer Murnane O'ConnorJennifer Murnane O'Connor (Fianna Fail)
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We have all been listening attentively to the budget debate. I want to speak about a podiatry service in Carlow that is provided by the HSE. Podiatry, or chiropody as I know it, involves diagnosis of disease and abnormalities of the foot and the lower limbs. I have received several telephone calls this week informing me of the proposed closure of the podiatry service in Carlow. This service is so good it is packed out all of the time and there are 100 people on its waiting list. The elderly people who contacted me are upset to hear of its closure, which I can understand. I have tabled a Commencement matter on this issue and I have contacted the Minister's office about it. As I said, this service is currently provided by the HSE but I have been told that legally the HSE is not obliged to provide it and that it is available from voluntary groups or a private provider, but that means people would have to pay for it. This is unacceptable and it hits the most vulnerable people in our communities. Today is budget day. I cannot stand over the closure of this service, which has given to the people of Carlow who need it. There is a good chance it will close but I will fight tooth and nail to ensure it does not.

Photo of Michael McDowellMichael McDowell (Independent)
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We will discuss the budget later. I want to raise on the Order of Business the possibility of the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Simon Coveney, coming to this House to discuss one aspect of Brexit which I think is of great significance. Today's revelation in The Spectatormagazine of what is really going on in the mind of Dominic Cummings deserves close scrutiny. It shows that what I said here last week is entirely true, namely, they have been gunning for a no-deal exit and they are entirely preoccupied with the blame game in which Ireland is going to take the brunt of the criticism.

The point I want to make about Brexit is a slightly different one. For 30 years, we have been resting in the shadow of the United Kingdom in regard to EU matters. The scrutiny and work that goes into developing EU policies, examining directives and regulations and considering the impact of proposals coming from the Commission that has taken place traditionally in the British system, not least in the parliamentary system in Westminster, with the House of Lords European Union Committee being an excellent analytical body, will cease and the Irish Government is not prepared to take up the slack. We do not have experts sitting at desks analysing what is happening in Europe. It was so easy to lift the phone and ask those intelligent people in Whitehall and in Westminster to give us a heads-up on what the implications of various European measures would be for a common law country such as Ireland or England. We were living, effectively, off the back of the British establishment in our dealings with Europe.We have not tooled up, so to speak, for being on our own in Europe and replacing the major intellectual and political analysis that has gone on in Britain for the past 20 or 30 years with every legislative and policy development matter in Europe. We have been living on borrowed time. This must change at a governmental and particularly a parliamentary level. Leinster House has been refurbished but nothing of significance happens here with regard to analysing European legislation or interacting with the European Parliament. Nothing happens in this House on that front and we do not look at what is being cooked up in Brussels. We pay no attention to it and, to be honest, that must end.

It is more serious at a governmental and analytical level. We must get our third level institutions, Departments and semi-State bodies to play an entirely different and professional game. They are not playing minor hurling any more and they will be our only defence and way of interacting with the European system from now on. We need in particular to change our entire structure of Government so the Minister with responsibility for European affairs is a full Cabinet member with a very substantial Department whose job it would be to regulate and analyse our relationship with the European Union.

I am not saying this to be critical of the Leader or the Government. Governments have lived on the back of British efforts for a long time. We will have to up our game, not just in the Rugby World Cup but for the long term and also in Europe.

Photo of Maria ByrneMaria Byrne (Fine Gael)
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I joined a march in Limerick last Saturday attended by thousands of people protesting the decision of the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, to grant a licence for the burning of rubber tyres and various other forms of rubbish in a cement kiln at the Irish Cement plant on Dock Road. There is grave concern among residents. There are schools and many older people in the affected community and the residents want the EPA to engage with them. They would love to have an oral hearing on the decision. They are also very disappointed with the response from the council. They are concerned by the burning of tyres and a list of other items that are to be burned. Will the Leader speak to the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Bruton, about engagement and get him to listen to the concerns of the people of Limerick, as well as people in County Clare, some of whom attended the protest? The community is very upset. Will the Minister engage in a debate on the matter?

Photo of Paul GavanPaul Gavan (Sinn Fein)
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I endorse Senator Maria Byrne's comments on the march as I attended it as well. There were 4,500 people marching on what was definitely the wettest day of the year so far. There is great strength of feeling about the incinerator so I support the call for a debate.

Last week, I attended the Council of Europe, which was a nice break from the continuing pain and chaos of Brexit. To follow Senator McDowell's comments, this is another institution to which we really pay scant attention in either House, which is a real pity. I pay tribute to our colleague, Senator Joe O'Reilly, who has done a terrific job representing us there for a number of years. Great work goes on dealing with human rights issues but none of this feeds back into either Chamber. There is no reporting structure or mechanism. We had a television crew there last week, which was welcome, but really and truly most people are not aware of the important work that goes on, particularly with our own team of an ambassador and full-time staff.

I draw attention to migration, which is the subject of a big debate in Europe. The figures are quite stark as there are 70 million refugees without anywhere to live. With climate change, 200 million more refugees are expected between now and 2050.We need to be prepared to play our part actively because we cannot continue with a situation where people are drowning in the Mediterranean Sea. So far this year, 1,000 people have drowned and 20,000 souls have died in the Mediterranean in the past six years. That is shocking and, unfortunately, the reason for it - I have to call this as it is - is that the European Union is acting as a fortress. We need only look at the despicable deal done with Turkey to keep refugees out of sight and out of mind and the warlords in Libya that we are funding. Interestingly, the Council of Europe condemned the funding of warlords in Libya and that country's coastguard last week. We are all a part of this, including Ireland. There is no debate about that.

I want to draw attention to the fact that, despite those stark figures, Ireland has taken in a little over 5,200 people in the past five years. In the context of the current crisis, where 77,000 people have crossed the Mediterranean this year alone, that number is pitiful. I realise this issue is not easy for any of us and there are no votes in it. We have completely failed as a country to fulfil our duty to bring in the requisite number of migrants and refugees. These are desperate people who are fleeing wars that have often been created by the West and supported through our local airport in Shannon.

I ask for a debate on the issue of migration and refugees, in particular, the very poor record of the Government in this area. When I spoke to my colleagues in Europe last week they were genuinely shocked to hear how little this country had done compared with other countries. When one considers the burden that faces Italy, Spain and Greece, we have not been at the races. We have not turned up to support our European colleagues.

Photo of Gabrielle McFaddenGabrielle McFadden (Fine Gael)
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The Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act 1989 is 30 years old. The Ryan family from County Meath, who appeared in a recent Lidl advertisement, have left this country as a result of receiving death threats. The Ryans are what the media like to call a mixed race couple and they have a beautiful baby boy. I did not realise they were mixed race until I read that they were in the media because when I saw the advertisement I did not see any difference in the couple. Unfortunately, they have had a terrible time and have left the country. As I have said previously, there is no place in this country for that kind of abuse of anybody.

Senators:

Hear, hear.

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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Hear, hear.

Photo of Gabrielle McFaddenGabrielle McFadden (Fine Gael)
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It is totally unacceptable in a civilised society. People should feel safe and protected in their own country and the law should provide that safety and protection. I ask the Leader to use his good office to encourage the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, who loves coming to this House, to come here to discuss the Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act. The legislation is too old and needs to be updated. We should debate the issue in this House.

Photo of Jennifer Murnane O'ConnorJennifer Murnane O'Connor (Fianna Fail)
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Hear, hear.

Photo of Keith SwanickKeith Swanick (Fianna Fail)
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In recent months, we have seen escalating bluster from across the Irish Sea. Prime Minister Johnson's non-proposal proposals for a no-man's land between the Republic and Northern Ireland reflect the seriousness of those who say they are attempting to resolve the issue. We need our Government to be open and honest with people. A breakdown in trust regarding our preparedness for the healthcare implications of Brexit could have dire consequences. I appreciate the dilemma because we do not want to panic people. Our focus for a long time has been on getting a good long-term outcome from Brexit. However, we need to make available to the public, clinicians and administrators plans to address drug availability. We need to be certain of the supply of drugs and medicines. We need to know what emergency plans will be in place on the Border and what plans are in place with regard to the cross-border directive and the services attached thereto. The challenge we face also applies to refrigerated products and products with a short shelf-life. This has tangible implications for the healthcare sector. As a general practitioner on the ground, I have met nervous patients, some of whom have asked whether they should get up to six months in additional supplies of medication with their next prescription.People are seeing the charade and disorganisation in Westminster and are coming to their own conclusions about the 31 October deadline. A trickle could very quickly become a flood. There is something of a disconnect on the ground and people are worried about their conditions. A public awareness campaign would benefit the cohort of patients who are concerned.

Photo of Frank FeighanFrank Feighan (Fine Gael)
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I agree with Senator McDowell. He called it right last week with regard to the Prime Minister's and the Conservative Party's intent on no deal. Today's leak of the telephone conversation between the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, and Angela Merkel was not in good faith. It is obvious now that the Conservative Government is intent on no deal. We joined the EU with our British friends in the 1970s. We got parity of esteem for everybody from this country, ranging from diplomats to business people. My father and people from all over Ireland worked in the UK. They built the roads, taught the children and nursed the sick. They were well treated, but all is changed, and changed utterly. People do not fully realise what good allies we and the United Kingdom were in Europe. We are losing a good ally. However, one thing I have noticed, and this is not to speak on behalf of all the British people, is that sometimes people in the Conservative Party do not realise that we have parity of esteem now. We are not a colony of the United Kingdom.

Two figures come to mind. The GDP per capitain 2018 in the United Kingdom was $45,705 and in the Republic of Ireland it was $78,785. The UK's growth rate is 1.4% and Ireland's is 6.7%. Being in Europe has helped this country immensely, and particularly our relationships. The relationships we built led to the Anglo-Irish Agreement and the Good Friday Agreement, which brought peace to this country. I am aware from Westminster that this is about uniting the Conservative Party. It may bring about the break-up of the United Kingdom, but it will not mean the break-up of the EU, which has been the greatest peace project since the Second World War.

Photo of Aodhán Ó RíordáinAodhán Ó Ríordáin (Labour)
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Last week, we spoke about Brexit and President Trump but, unfortunately, every time I stand in this Chamber, things seem to have got worse on both fronts. We will have an opportunity to criticise the budget later, but we should take a moment to recall that it is not that long ago that budget day was a very traumatic day for Irish people, when there was great discomfort and unrest outside the gates of Leinster House. Whatever queries or qualms one may have about today's announcement, it is notable that we have moved on from the crisis to a possibly better place. Certainly, when one contrasts what has happened with the Budget Statement in these Houses today with what is happening in the UK and in America, and the decision yesterday by President Donald Trump to withdraw from Syria, there is much to be said for what is happening in Ireland currently. We have allies in the United Kingdom. I should put on record the thanks of everybody in Ireland to Ms Bonnie Greer's comment on the BBC last week that Ireland owes the UK nothing and that we owe it no quarter or no concessions.

On another matter, will the Leader facilitate a discussion with the Minister for Health, when time permits in the coming weeks, on the need for a national autism strategy? It has come to my notice that there are many things we must improve in that area. Many parents are struggling to find school places for their children. The system currently demands that they find the school places themselves. There is also a lack of early intervention, long waiting lists and so forth.The time for a national autism strategy has arrived. We could start that debate in this House. It would greatly benefit parents who have a child with a diagnosis of autism, which they are struggling with, trying to get their heads around and find challenging. At the same time, parents seem to have to go to war with the system rather than the system embracing and working with them. A national autism strategy is needed and I would greatly appreciate a debate on the matter.

Photo of Maire DevineMaire Devine (Sinn Fein)
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I know that today is all about the Budget Statement. I wish to review an issue I first raised as a Commencement matter in June 2016, a couple of months after my election to the Seanad, namely, the recruitment of a specialist in sarcoma at St. Vincent's Hospital, Dublin. We had a wonderful Italian consultant and the patients, many of whom have passed away, and their families were delighted with her. There were some shenanigans, however, and in fairness to the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, he met a group of families and gave a guarantee that the consultant would be replaced. Following an interview process, the group was told that a person had been chosen. Obviously, it was not the Italian consultant who had left the country. Another individual was offered the post two and a half years ago. In the past couple of days, it has been revealed that the individual has now turned down the position. A sarcoma specialist is very much needed and one was promised in the overall cancer strategy. The post may have been reopened. The authorities should have known that the recruitment of the specialist would not become a reality if it took two and a half years for an individual to respond to being chosen for the post. I have submitted a Commencement matter on this issue and I hope it will be chosen for discussion in order that I can ask the Minister about his plans. We have lost many patients with sarcoma during the period in question and others are very anxious to find a way forward in a constructive manner. I suppose I could be compared to a dog with a bone as I will not let go of this issue. On reflection, given that the Taoiseach has referred to me and others as wolves, my retort is: beware the waxing gibbous moon; beware the rising of the moon.

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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I call on the Leader to respond.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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How do I follow that?

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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That is up to the Leader. No doubt, he will devise a strategy to do so.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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I thank the 13 Members for their contributions on the Order of Business. In a spirit of collegiality, I will start by thanking Senator Wilson for assisting the Government in the business of the House. I do not normally do that but I compliment Senator Wilson on his collegiality.

Photo of Jennifer Murnane O'ConnorJennifer Murnane O'Connor (Fianna Fail)
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Hear, hear.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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Unlike others in the House, Senator Wilson understands the importance of being a Government Whip and perhaps some day he will return to that post. The House must function and to be fair to the Senator, he obliged and I thank him for that. We will have statements on the budget immediately after the Order of Business.

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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It will not be immediately afterwards. Statements will be taken at 4.45 p.m. The next matter is No. 1.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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I defer to the Chair's superior knowledge.

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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I am reading from a list in front of me.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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Senators Horkan, Conway-Walsh, Swanick, Feighan and Ó Ríordáin raised the issue of Brexit. We have asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade or the Minister of State, Deputy Helen McEntee, to come back to the House to have a discussion on the outcome of the forthcoming European Council meeting. Senator Horkan is correct about the importance of the language we use and the tone and tenor of our communications.There are no winners in Brexit. There is no positive outcome. It is important that we continue to understand the importance of Brexit. We need to be prepared for every eventuality. It is a bit like the boy who cried wolf. All businesses and stakeholders must pay attention. If they have not done so up to this point, it is still not too late but they should start paying attention now. We will have this discussion again in due course.

I will be happy for the Minister for Education and Skills to come to the House to discuss the issue of education, which was raised by Senator Boyhan.

Senator Boyhan spoke about the sports capital programme. To the best of my knowledge, it has not been finalised. No allocation has been announced. I understand the points made by Senator Boyhan. The Minister, Deputy Ross, and the Minister of State, Deputy Griffin, will work under the umbrella of the online sports capital registration process, which is commonly known as OSCAR. It uses an independent and transparent scoring system and assessment process or procedure. I remind the House that there are five criteria which merit scoring in sports capital applications: increasing participation; sharing facilities; the socioeconomic scorecard in terms of areas of deprivation; its own funding; and the technical merits of the project. As Members will be aware, the amount of money that has been applied for is four times greater than the amount of money that is available. Almost 2,300 clubs have applied for grants from a pot of approximately €162 million. I assure the House that the process is independent and transparent. As Senators will be well aware, we have a very independent Minister in the Cabinet.

Photo of Diarmuid WilsonDiarmuid Wilson (Fianna Fail)
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He is very independent all right.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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Indeed. I look forward to the announcement of the allocations. If Senator Boyhan wishes, he can submit a Commencement matter as a means of getting a more prompt reply than I can give him. There has been no delay in the process. My understanding is that it is still being vetted and gone through.

This Government is very committed to giving justice and support to the women who have been affected by the CervicalCheck controversy, which was raised by Senator Conway-Walsh. I am not familiar with the case she mentioned.

We will have a debate on pyrite with the Minister of State, Deputy English, in due course. He has been in the House on a number of occasions.

Senator Conway spoke about the increase in the budget of the Department of Justice and Equality, which we all welcome. I think there is universal welcome for the commitment to more community policing, in line with the Garda Commissioner's new model of delivering better policing, more visibility, more boots on the ground and more gardaí with a presence. I will be happy to have another debate on justice in due course.

Senator Murnane O'Connor referred to the podiatry service in Carlow. She will appreciate that I am not familiar with the issue. Perhaps she can communicate her concerns to the Minister, Deputy Harris, when he is in the House on 23 October if she has not got an opportunity to do so before then.

Senator McDowell raised the important issue of the role of the Houses of the Oireachtas in European scrutiny. As he will be aware, the Oireachtas has responsibility for the scrutiny of EU draft proposals and policies, the proper transposition of EU legislation into law and holding the Government to account. Some of this work is done by the Joint Committee on European Union Affairs. The Senator is right when he says there is a need for more in-depth engagement with European policy. That was mentioned as part of Seanad reform. It is something we could take on board now, prior to any further reform of the Seanad. Perhaps we can put it on the agenda for tomorrow's meeting of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges. This important matter should not be falling between different cracks. The Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, is based in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade with the Tánaiste. If I heard the Senator correctly, he is arguing that there should be a Cabinet-level Minister with specific responsibility for European affairs.

Photo of Michael McDowellMichael McDowell (Independent)
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Yes.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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Okay. I am sure the Tánaiste would have different views on that.

Photo of Michael McDowellMichael McDowell (Independent)
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Iveagh House might not be so pleased about it.

Photo of Diarmuid WilsonDiarmuid Wilson (Fianna Fail)
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I will have a word with Deputy Micheál Martin and we will sort it out.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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Perish the thought that he would ever be in that position.I recall the famous Cabinet reshuffle in which one Minister, Gemma Hussey, was to move to the European affairs Ministry and Barry Desmond, the former Labour Party Minister, was to move out of his Department. There was a complete hiding-under-the-desk job and doors were locked. I hope we will not go down that road. Senator McDowell is right, though, that Europe is becoming more and more central to what we do. We have a very effective Minister of State with responsibility for European affairs in Deputy McEntee and a very competent and very positive Minister in the Tánaiste, Deputy Coveney, but it is important we give consideration to what Senator McDowell said.

Senators Byrne and Gavan raised the issue of the EPA licensing in Limerick. It is worrying, and I welcome their comments.

Senator Gavan also raised the important matter of my-----

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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It is a burning issue, if the Leader will pardon the pun.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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We are environmentally friendly so we do not burn anything now.

Senator Gavan raised the issue of migration. I was at a meeting of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, OSCE, last weekend. Migration is a huge issue for Europe and one we need to have a serious conversation about. I will facilitate the Senator's request as soon as possible.

Senator McFadden raised the issue of the Ryan family in the context of the incitement to hatred Act, which, as she rightly said, is 30 years old. I join those who condemn the vitriolic attacks on the Ryan family. Such attacks have no place in our society. It is regrettable that they have chosen to leave our country and go across the water. The Minister is reviewing the provisions of the incitement to hatred Act. A public consultation is due to start sometime this autumn. I would be happy to have the Minister come before the House to discuss the matter. We should all unite in condemnation of the attacks on the family in question.

Senator Swanick raised the issue of medicines and health in the context of Brexit. As he will know, both Jim Breslin, the Secretary General in the Department of Health, and Dean Sullivan, the chief strategy officer for the HSE, were before the Oireachtas committee dealing with the issue of medicines supply. At that meeting, they said there was unlikely to be any shortages and that there could be some disruption to services. The point the Senator makes is one of communication. I hope that what he outlines will happen. The Minister for Health will be here on 23 October, so that will be an opportunity to have that discussion.

Senator Ó Ríordáin raised a number of issues in the context of Bonnie Greer's comments, and he is right to highlight them. I think we all remember the budget days of trauma, and we welcome today's budget. His comments on autism are very relevant. As he knows, Senator Reilly has a national autism strategy Bill, which was debated in this House. Senator Ó Ríordáin is right, and I agree with him completely: families should not have to go to war with the system; they should be embraced by the system. Perhaps he and Senator Reilly could discuss the matter. We must have a national autism strategy. Far too many families are now competing against one another, which is wrong, for school places, services and assessments. There is also a need for resources in this area, especially in respect of school places and assessment for and provision of respite care. I think we will revisit the matter here because there is a dire need for a national autism strategy.

Senator Devine raised the issue of the specialist sarcoma post. I do not have an answer to that. Again, it might be more appropriate as a Commencement matter. As she knows, the Minister will be here again in October. Whether I am dancing with wolves or sleeping with wolves, she can certainly put the matter before the Minister.

Order of Business agreed to.