Wednesday, 9 October 2019
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, Health and Childcare Support (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2019 – All Stages, to be taken at 12.45 p.m. and to conclude at 2.45 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons on Second Stage not to exceed eight minutes and those of all other Senators on Second Stage not to exceed five minutes, with the Minister to be given not less than five minutes to reply to the Second Stage debate, and with Committee and Remaining Stages to be taken immediately thereafter; No. 2, Criminal Justice (Mutual Recognition of Decisions on Supervision Measures) Bill 2019 - Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken at 2.45 p.m.; No. 3, Parent's Leave and Benefit Bill 2019 - All Stages, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 2 and to conclude at 4.15 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons on Second Stage not to exceed eight minutes and those of all other Senators on Second Stage not to exceed four minutes, with the Minister to be given not less than five minutes to reply to the Second Stage debate, and with Committee and Remaining Stages to be taken immediately thereafter; No. 4, Social Welfare Bill 2019 - Report and Final Stages, to be taken at 4.15 p.m. and to be brought to a conclusion after three hours by means of the putting of one question from the Chair which shall, in relation to amendments, include only those set down or accepted by the Government; and No. 5, Private Members' business, Free Education (Prohibition of Fees and Charges) Bill 2018 - Committee Stage, to be taken at 7.15 p.m., with the time allocated for this debate not to exceed two hours.
I am disappointed that nothing has been done in budget 2020 to assist commuters who use our rail lines on a daily basis. I refer to the hundreds of thousands of people who pile onto overcrowded trains on all our commuter lines. The situation has been getting progressively worse. I am disappointed that extra capacity will not be delivered on any of our commuter rail lines until 2023 at the very earliest. At a time when we are talking about reducing carbon emissions, it is absolutely outrageous that we are forcing people into their cars, thereby increasing carbon emissions and putting a lot of stress on people who have no option other than to use commuter trains to get to work in the cities of Ireland. When commuters were asked a few weeks ago to stagger their train times to ease these pressures, it was an incredible admission that the situation is very bad and that the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport is unable to keep commuters safe on trains. I was very disappointed to see that. Unfortunately, the commuters of Ireland, who should be a priority, got no joy from yesterday's budget. I have invited the Minister, Deputy Ross, to come to Donabate, where I live, to see the state of the trains there. People have to pile onto trains at 7 a.m. each day. People stagger their times between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m., but it is still absolutely outrageous and completely unsustainable. Extra carriages are needed on all commuter lines.
I would like to call for a debate in this Chamber on advertising standards, with particular reference to vaping advertisements that target teenagers. We need to ban such advertisements, just as we have banned smoking advertising. We need to have plain packaging. There are advertisements that deliberately target teenagers. It is clear from the research that vaping is a gateway to tobacco products. Some research has shown that vaping is beneficial in some regards, for example, in cases of people who want to come off tobacco. When teenagers are specifically targeted with glossy advertising and attractive flavours, it does the health of teenagers and the health of the nation as a whole no good. I would like to have a proper debate in the Chamber as soon as possible. I know there is legislation in the pipeline that will ban the sale of these products to people under the age of 18. I would like them to be subject to the same ban on advertising that we applied to tobacco products. This should be done as a matter of urgency. I ask the Leader to arrange a debate on this matter as soon as possible.
I would like to speak about three issues: forestry, horticulture and Bord na Móna. I welcome the announcement yesterday by the Minister of State, Deputy Doyle, of further support for the development of forestry. As we all know, he is very committed to this area. It was announced in budget 2020 that €103 million is to be provided for forestry. In fairness, this allocation reflects the commitment of the Government and all parties to the planting of 8,000 ha in 2020. That is a phenomenal plantation. I welcome this large and ambitious target, which is important because it is in line with the objectives of the climate action plan. I think it will require a synergy between the public and private sectors. We should not have a hang-up about synergies that involve the private sector and the public sector, including State agencies, working collectively in the forestry sector. We need to get our targets in line with our objectives. It is important to welcome yesterday's announcement.
I welcome the allocation of €6 million for Irish horticulture, which is an industry that is suffering significant difficulties but offers great potential. When I visited a community garden in Carlow the other day, I learned about a community co-operative initiative that allows 300 families to sustain themselves from seasonal vegetables. It goes back to the old thing of throwing a few drills in the ground. In the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, farmers across Ireland threw out a few drills to grow turnips, potatoes and brassica crops. There are possibilities. It is important for additional funding to be provided for horticulture. If we are serious about organics and the horticultural industry, we need to find alternative uses for sustainable horticulture and - more importantly - for sustainable communities and sustainable food.
Bord na Móna announced in recent weeks that more than 600,000 native trees are to be planted across boglands in counties Offaly, Laois, Westmeath and Tipperary. It is particularly important to find new uses for boglands. It is important that this collaboration will involve Coillte and Bord na Móna because it ties in with our climate action plans. We need to have synergies with the private sector, the co-operative movement and the farming organisations. We should pull people together to reach these targets. I am asking for a debate with the Minister of State with responsibility for horticulture and special responsibility for forestry, Deputy Doyle, to be scheduled at some point. As a Deputy for the Wicklow constituency, he has great experience in this area. I would like him to come to the House to brief us on the three projects I have talked about this morning.
I commend Social Justice Ireland on the critique and analysis it carried out in respect of the budget. The subhead of the analysis is very telling: "Budget betrays the vulnerable as many left further behind". That about sums up the budget. I want to talk about two such examples of people being left behind. The first is timely in the sense that Mental Health Day is on 10 October. The Government announced €39 million extra for mental health services. On the face of it, that sounds okay but the reality is that only €14 million of this is new money because €25 million was announced in last year's budget and then withheld. We see this with a lot of these figures. As one has time to analyse the headline figures, one sees that they do not reflect the reality of the allocations at all. While the total mental health spend has increased in recent years, most of the money has been swallowed up by pre-existing services just trying to meet large increases in demand. Mental health funding will only increase if we look at the budget from yesterday in the context of how it affects rural communities in particular. They may seem like small amounts, but the costs associated with the carbon tax and other measures increase the financial imposition on people. The worry associated with the cost of heating a home and the lack of rural transport, which can lead to individuals feeling even more isolated, affect people's mental health. This lack of transport leads to people not being able to connect with their communities, get to hospital appointments, etc. There needs to be further investment into those areas but also in terms of mental health services.
Every day of the week, people with severe mental health problems are let out of acute hospitals and we know what the outcome is for many of them. Nearly everybody sitting in this Chamber knows of individuals to whom that has happened. It is the fault of the revolving door system. When mental health patients present at accident and emergency departments and have to wait for hours upon hours, they sometimes leave without ever being assessed. Others are assessed and may be kept in for a day or two or kept on a trolley and then are let out into the community again without any real access to care. Six months later, they are given follow-up appointments with counsellors. Unfortunately, many of them may not be with us six months later. That is the reality. That is why mental health needed to be addressed in a very serious way in this budget. We have again failed the people who have mental health challenges.
I have just a brief comment on the Brexit budget. I was pleased to see - very late in the day - some moves from Government to alleviate the situation in which vulture funds came into this country and took up enormous numbers of distressed loans while the individual loan holders were given no opportunity whatever to bid for their own loans. These funds made hundreds of millions of profit from their activities and paid no tax. That is utterly shocking. There has been some small movement, and I welcome that, but I am rather surprised and sorry that the Government did not take the opportunity to put tax on emissions from aircraft. I first raised this 30 years ago and it is now a much more significant problem. That would have been something imaginative to have done.
With the permission of the Cathaoirleach, I would like to mention the passing of Ulick O'Connor. I knew him for over 40 years. He was a distinguished creative writer, poet and playwright. In addition to this, he was a biographer. I will come back to that in a minute. He was also a very noted athlete. He was a very fine pole vaulter and a boxing champion of the British Isles at university level, I think. He did not disdain controversy. I remember when his biography of Brendan Behan came out. All hell broke loose because he acknowledged the fact that Brendan Behan had a pretty active gay social life. The family did not like that at all and there was a lot of controversy about it, but Ulick was right. He was a peppery individual.
He would fight with his own shadow but it was not his own shadow that he fought with. He fought notoriously with taxi drivers all over the city of Dublin and the sparring matches on "The Late Late Show" with one of his companions were one of the features of the early days of the programme. Ulick O'Connor, who has been quiet for the past couple of years and who was nearly 91 when he died, was a remarkable figure in Irish public life and we are diminished by his passing.
I, too, welcome my good friend and colleague, former Senator Maurice Cummins. He has had many outings in this House over the years. In the face of two serious challenges that the country faces, namely, those relating to Brexit and climate change, I welcome the cautious approach adopted by the Government in presenting the budget yesterday. Preparing for a no-deal scenario has to be done. We must manage the risks associated with a no-deal Brexit and ensure that the State finances are secure, while all the time aiming to make continued progress across so many sectors. In the area of health alone, the budget announced yesterday will mean that we will have 1,000 extra nurses and other professionals in our communities, 1 million extra home help hours which we know are badly needed, €100 million towards the national treatment purchase fund to reduce the waiting lists in our hospitals and €45 million to expand free GP care for children under eight and free dental care for those under six. I especially welcome funding for the new palliative care unit at University Hospital Waterford, where a provision of over €4.8 million is being made for a fully-staffed unit led by Dr. Brian Creedon, a consultant specialist. This will mean that there will be a 20-bed regional hospice for the very first time to service the south-east region and it will be based at University Hospital Waterford. In saying this, I acknowledge the significant contribution of the Waterford Hospice Movement and the support of the general public, who made a contribution of over €6 million towards the new unit in a building that cost almost €36 million in total.
A no-deal Brexit presents serious challenges for our economy but especially for the regions. Two sectors that were always mainstays of our economy and helped us out of recession were tourism and agriculture. We are especially vulnerable in those sectors in a no-deal scenario. That is why I welcome the Brexit contingency fund. Waterford and the south east have benefited from strong tourism and agriculture. These are very strong, productive sectors indeed. I welcome the fact that additional contingency funding of €40 million for tourism and €110 million for agriculture, fishing and farming is being provided to help in the event of a no-deal Brexit. I ask the Leader for a debate on the capital spend increase of €800 million up to €8.1 billion. I am sure many people here remember when we had no capital spend during the years of recession. This funding is vital for infrastructure development, for our schools, roads, housing, rural regeneration and indeed broadband as well. I also expect a flagship project in my own city of Waterford, the north quays regeneration project, to benefit from this funding and I look forward to an announcement on that in the coming weeks and months. I ask the Leader to schedule the various Ministers to come to the House to debate the funding streams that are being made available in budget 2020. This is a critical time for our country and a solid debate in this House can contribute to how we can manage our State finances, manage our public sector and support communities and people right across the country.
This morning I want to raise an issue which was raised with me by means of a telephone call last night after a television programme on TV3. In the programme debate on the budget, it was mentioned by a certain Deputy that he was running buses to the North for people to get cataract operations done there under the National Treatment Purchase Fund. A friend of mine who was watching this programme rang me in disbelief. His uncle lives in Tyrone and is on a six-month waiting list to get his cataracts done in the North. If he comes down here, he can get them done straightaway once he pays and he will then be refunded by the NHS. This is the exact opposite to what is happening here. There are people coming down from the North to get their cataracts done on the day they arrive. Then there are people being driven from all over Ireland to the North for the same scheme. We talk about carbon taxes and how we will tackle climate change. Aside from the implications to the health system, the carbon footprint created by shipping people from one jurisdiction to another for health services is unbelievable. These people are generally elderly and it is a traumatic experience getting this procedure done. If one has to have this procedure done, one would be far more comfortable in that trying time in one's own locality. It is important the Minister for Health comes to the House to discuss how this can be overcome. If we have a hard Brexit and do not have an all-island health service or free movement, will people on both sides of the Border have to wait six months to get their cataracts done? It is farcical. If it was not so serious, it would be funny. However, I actually laughed when I got the phone call. I was not aware that people from the North are coming down here to the same extent as people from the South are going up, getting the procedure done on the day and then reclaiming the money from the NHS. It is a debate we need to have. Why can we not do our own and they do theirs? If nothing else, we will cut out the carbon footprint of the travel between the two jurisdictions.
I propose an amendment to the Order of Business to have the Minister of State with special responsibility for defence before the House. A battalion will be deployed to Lebanon in two and a half weeks’ time. I have just received news that the commanding officer of the battalion has resigned to take up a job in the private sector. I do not know how we will send a battalion to Lebanon which has been training for several weeks under the command of this officer. I do not know where we will find a lieutenant colonel to take over a battalion at such short notice. Most of those at the rank of lieutenant colonel would be married men or women with family commitments which need to be organised before they could leave the country for six months. I understand this resignation has come as quite a shock to the Department of Defence. We need to know where we are going with this. I am proposing an amendment to the Order of Business.
I welcome much of what came in the budget yesterday for education. The appointment of new teachers is to be welcomed. The Leader, as a teacher, will know that there is some concern that these jobs will be subdivided into part-hours for teachers, however. Instead of giving a full contract to a teacher, we will find three teachers appointed for every teacher the Government intended to appoint. I hope the Minister for Education and Skills will come to the House to discuss the issues which arise from the budget with respect to education.
The €190 million which has been provided for further and higher education is to be welcomed. However, we should listen to the Provost of Trinity College Dublin and various other college presidents. Ireland is falling behind in third level education ratings around the world. I realise there is a significant draw on Government funds all of the time. We need to find a way of investing in third level education at a much higher level. We need to see greater research. The budget provided money for research, which is to be welcomed. However, we need to ensure our higher education sector is funded properly in order to compete on the world stage.
The Leader has some feelings about the further education sector. Apprenticeships need to develop to the stage where they achieve parity of esteem with bachelor degrees. People spend five years of their lives training for vocational occupations. They should be held in the same esteem as those who attend university. It behoves all of us to work towards that. It is a point the Government can assist on by putting further funding into further education.
Thankfully, it is a good news morning in County Cavan. I was delighted to listen to all the good news from Cavan on the way up the road. I congratulate Virginia International Logistics which has become the first haulier in Ireland to complete a zero-carbon HGV delivery to the Continent. The trucks are fuelled by compressed renewable gas, also known as bio-compressed natural gas to transport freight to the Continent. The first European load was a consignment of processed beef from Liffey Meats in Ballyjamesduff, County Cavan, to Caen in northern France, a return trip of 1,121 km. I congratulate the company and its managing director, Ray Cole, who is a good friend of mine and of everyone in the area. He is a good community man. I congratulate him and his family on this amazing initiative and a first in Ireland. They deserve our warm congratulations.
The second bit of good news from Cavan this morning is that Liberty Insurance is creating 120 new jobs in Cavan town. I joined my colleague, the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Heather Humphreys, in making that announcement. These new workers will join 143 people who are already employed in the company, which is now rooted in Cavan. It understands Cavan has good infrastructure, hotels, restaurants, as well as education providers with Cavan Institute and quality schools. Liberty Insurance has accepted it is a good place to bring its employees and grow its business.
A good initiative in yesterday’s budget is that we will start to move civil servants around the country. This is necessary from the point of view of carbon emissions and the housing crisis in Dublin. We have already had 680 applicants for moves in the first tranche of requests.
Those are three pieces of good news today. I will have more tomorrow.
I made my statement on the budget last night to a less than full House, which was unfortunate. I welcomed the initiative to appoint a just transition commissioner. It is envisaged that the commissioner will engage with relevant stakeholders, in particular in the midlands where Bord na Móna has announced it will close 17 bogs which will make 430 employees redundant. I have always argued at the Joint Committee on Climate Action that we need the transition to be set against the template drawn up by the international trade union movement. It will be a big job to focus on communities and workers, dovetailing this with cleaner renewable energy and the reduction of carbon emissions. Will the Leader ask the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Bruton, to attend the Chamber to tell us the terms of reference and remuneration of the new commissioner and when the appointment will be made? This is a matter of a grave urgency.Talks between the unions and Bord na Móna are currently taking place but we are not privy to the detail of them because it is a sensitive matter. The sooner a just transition commissioner is appointed and that office is established with terms of reference, the sooner we will know how we can all work with the stakeholders and provide cleaner, but happier, communities.
I very much welcome the tweet and Facebook post by the Minister, Deputy Harris, on dementia services. It is the first time he has acknowledged the need for funding for dementia advisers. It will be a significant breakthrough if a follow-up to that happens at 2 p.m. today when the Minister is due to outline the impacts of the Budget Statement on his Department. The work of the Alzheimer Society of Ireland is worthy of mention as is the contributions of Nora Owen along with the Forget-Me-Nots choir in highlighting the issue, together with the all-party committee comprising Members of both Houses in raising the issue. I very much look forward to seeing the detail of the supports that will put in place for families who have a loved one suffering from dementia and for those who care for them. This is a significant breakthrough. It is an acknowledgement there has been more than a decade of neglect in providing for families living with family members with dementia. I hope we will see an incremental improvement in the services for people suffering from dementia, their families and carers. It would be small of me not to acknowledge the Minister, Deputy Harris, has said there will be a significant announcement later today. I thank all the Members, especially Senator Kelleher, who very much has led the battle on acknowledging the need for support for families and those suffering from dementia. I would be thankful if the Leader would pass those remarks on to the Minister for Health today. He is due to come into the House on 23 October and I will have an opportunity to question him further on that issue.
I welcome the provisions announced in the budget yesterday for tourism. The tourism industry is one of the biggest employers in our economy and one of the sectors that helped us to get through the recession. There will be increased funding for supports for tourism, especially in light of Brexit, particularly targeted at aviation policy with respect to regional airports. Mr. Michael Cawley, chairman of Fáilte Ireland, appeared before the Joint Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport last week and outlined the importance of getting tourists directly into the regions. Dublin Airport is a major hub but Dublin can become choked in terms of accommodation and the shortage of beds. Mr. Cawley spoke about tourists coming to Dublin and going on a day trip to the Cliffs of Moher, rather than going directly into the regions.
I was with the Taoiseach when he unveiled a newly-resurfaced runway at Ireland West Airport in Knock a few weeks ago. Continued support to get tourists into the regions is necessary and welcome. There is great value for money in all the regions throughout the country. We talk about regional development in terms of jobs-----
I welcome that support. It could be a very good solution. It was good to hear the policy supported yesterday and the announcement based on the tremendous work Fáilte Ireland has done in the marketing of the Wild Atlantic Way and Ireland's Ancient East. To see connectivity to all the regions supported in the budget is very good news.
No. 4. I propose that No. 4 not be brought to a conclusion after three hours, if not concluded. Very important amendments are proposed to the Social Welfare Bill and there is no good reason for the proposed guillotine on the debate.
I attended a briefing this morning with a delegation from the Border Communities Against Brexit. I want to relay some the concerns they spoke about this morning. To be honest, I came out of it a little traumatised after listening to the fear and uncertainty facing the people living on either side of the Border. It is very worrying and extremely frustrating. They feel they are not getting proper answers. They are terrified of what a no-deal Brexit would mean for them. In terms of the dairy industry, and I know we have done this previously, but I want to highlight what they said. They spoke about dairy farming and said that if trade tariffs were imposed on raw milk and related products moving from Northern Ireland into the EU or across the Border, the dairy council said it would cost about €360 million per year. That tariff alone is 25% of the value of the entire industry and would mean an 11 cent drop in the price paid to farmers. Quite simply, it would cause a huge proportion of the industry to collapse and thousands of jobs and livelihoods would be lost.
Brian Cunningham, a seventh generation fisherman from Carlingford Lough, spoke about how his mussel farm will not be able to deal with the delays and checks and he thinks it might end up possibly having to be closed. It is not only a financial loss. It is the destruction of part of our social fabric and the loss of fishing communities that have been in place for generations.
Damian McGinty, who led the delegation, referenced research from a Central Bank economist, Dr. Thomas Conefrey, which showed that beef and sheep farmers which make up 70% of Irish farms are heavily reliant on direct payments from the EU under the Common Agricultural Policy. One in three Irish farms are classified as economically vulnerable and these will be the farms at risk of going under if no deal is reached.
Again, the fear being felt by these communities is very clear and it is really troubling. Somebody in the audiovisual room this morning said that no one south of the Boyne understands how personal this is for the people involved and their lives and families, and how worrying it is for them.
It is crucial these realities are first and foremost in all our minds in the coming weeks in the efforts to reach a deal. I know the Government is doing a good job. These people understand the reality and they have made the case strongly that a no-deal solution would have a devastating impact on our economy, North and South, and on very many lives. The Tánaiste, Deputy Coveney, has reflected stories like this consistently over the past few years. These businesses are rightly seeking an answer from the Government. What will the Border look like on 10 November and how will it work?. That is what they want to know because that is what they are terrified off.
I second the welcome to the former Senator, Maurice Cummins, a former Leader of the House, and a man who is partly responsible for us being here today. He was a very courageous Leader of the House and a very courageous Senator.
I make a request to all the Brexit negotiators that there should be a blackout on the rolling 24-hour news about who said what, when and where and how it is misinterpreted and reinterpreted. Michel Barnier is acting on behalf of the European Union. There is the United Kingdom Government and Michel Barnier should be in consultation with all the governments and all the leaders in private to finalise these negotiations.The way it is going with the British Prime Minister and the German Chancellor making statements and being misinterpreted or misread, it will not work out. I make the request that there be a news blackout until there is some finality regardless of whether it is on or off - just have it completed. Any negotiation needs that kind of service.
On a less serious note, RTÉ is putting a painting up for sale. It is selling the silverware. It is going to Sotheby's in London to sell two famous paintings by Louis le Brocquy entitled "Táin" and "The Massing Of The Armies", which were commissioned in 1966 and 2000, respectively. These are very valuable paintings and there should either be negotiations about them or they should stay here in the National Gallery. Why can one Department not talk to another and say these are invaluable? I have not seen them in RTÉ because I am not out there. I am never invited out there. I have not been there for about 20 years. It would be useful-----
I do not particularly want to be out there. My point is that I would prefer it if the public had a right to see these artworks in the National Gallery instead of them being stuck out in RTÉ where nobody can see them. They are now going to Sotheby's in London, a British company, to be sold instead going to Irish companies. It is outrageous. RTÉ is losing its way. I am member of the Oireachtas Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Environment, which the chief executive of RTÉ will appear before in due course. RTÉ is short of funds, but by God, it is fairly spending them.
I wish to raise the decision of the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, to grant a licence to Irish Cement to burn up to 90,000 tonnes of toxic waste daily. Irish Cement is based in Castlemungret in Limerick where there are a number of schools along with plans for up to 800 houses. The area also contains a number of nursing homes and a respite home, so there are a lot of very vulnerable people living in the area. There are three schools within less than a kilometre of Irish Cement. After the EPA granted the licence, thousands of people took to the streets of Limerick last week. I was glad to join the protest. There must be engagement between the EPA and Limerick Against Pollution. The Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment also needs to have an input into it because there is real fear about the burning of up to 90,000 tonnes of toxic waste. Limerick Against Pollution hopes to appeal regarding some of the produce it is proposed to burn. The Minister needs to intervene because we are talking about climate change, a topic that is at the top of all our agendas, and burning in the old kilns is not acceptable.
I thank Senator O'Reilly as his incantations and exultations are well heeled. I was educated in County Cavan so I echo everything he said. Anything that can put Cavan even more on the map is fine by me since it gave me a great education and a great sense of articulation. I thank the Senator for all he said about Cavan.
I know how fond of iPads and iPhones my colleagues are - for very good reasons. Even though I chastise them about it, they are as linked to them as the umbilical cords of the great documentary on the Rotunda. I suggest every Senator and Deputy have a look at Stephen Cluskey, CEO of Mobility Mojo, on the World Wide Web. He spoke at Skift Forum Europe. He fell about 17 or 18 years ago at the age of 18 and was paralysed from the neck down. He has now become the CEO of Mobility Mojo. Skift is the largest creative business event in the global travel industry, and he was its main speaker today both as an Irish representative and a young man who has been paralysed. A total of one billion people worldwide are disabled. A total of 40 million people in the US are disabled, of which 4.7 million are disabled veterans. In the US, one million people have knee injuries while there are 25,000 car accidents per year. So 25% of the total tourism market is made up of high-access needs. We also have one million seniors in Europe. Mr. Cluskey spoke about accessibility. I have just done a big series on train travel in Ireland. Accessibility is not just about getting on and off trains. It encompasses opening up a whole world to people with a disability, be it their eyes, hands or feet. It is a significant area. The fact that a young Irish man who is paralysed from the neck down has become the CEO of Mobility Mojo and was the main speaker at this global forum is an outstanding achievement and has done more for disability in Ireland than anything else. I know Senators use technology for very good reasons even though I chastise them for it. I ask that they look up Skift, which is the largest creative business event in the global travel industry, and have a look at Mr. Cluskey's speech because it would do their hearts good.
Senator Leyden rightly said that it might be time to look at a 24-hour blackout on information regarding Brexit. Yesterday, there was a controversial and disputed interpretation from Number 10 regarding the Johnson-Merkel talks that needed to be challenged. I believe the Tánaiste was right when he said that a no-deal Brexit would not be Ireland's choice or the choice of the EU but would be a decision made by the British Government. We must put that firmly on the table. I welcome the fact that the Taoiseach will meet the British Prime Minister, with whom he had a discussion last night regarding Brexit, in the coming days in advance of the European Summit on 17 October.
I was horrified to think that the signalling system between Portlaoise and Heuston Station was affected by recklessness and what was effectively terrorism. It certainly inconvenienced tens of thousands of commuters and put them at risk. One wonders what is happening. I suspect it is about getting the copper wire because 500 metres of copper wire were taken up, but this is vandalism. I call on the authorities to root this out immediately. I listened to people on the radio. Thankfully, there were no accidents. Irish Rail had to take action. However, it inconvenienced by 90 minutes tens of thousands of people travelling to work. One wonders who these people are who are picking up the signalling system and going after copper wire. It certainly is not worth that as it costs the State and people tens of thousands, indeed millions, of euro.
I second Senator Black's amendment to the Order of Business. I wish to raise my concern about and hope for the group announced by the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection regarding a statutory maintenance agency. I have been a bit scarred by judge-led task forces in recent years with regard to my drug decriminalisation Bill and how that panned out. The Minister means well and is eager to move forward with a statutory maintenance agency so that the State can pursue absent parents for financial support for the parent instead of, in most cases, the woman having to pursue the father.I am concerned about what the timeline may be. The research is already there, so I do not think we need to carry out more research and we just need to know which type of statutory agency works best in Ireland. I am worried that we will move towards a general election and a new department but this research will not be carried out. I hope that, when possible, the Minister, Deputy Doherty, can come to the Chamber to discuss this very important issue of the statutory maintenance agency and give us much more feedback on how she sees the work being carried out.
I have a Bill that is currently being drafted by the Office of the Parliamentary Legal Advisors in regard to a statutory agency and I do not want to cross over with other work. It has been a long time coming. Dolphin House is not a nice place for women to have to continue to be in order to pursue maintenance when this ends up pushing them further into poverty and further into abusive relationships. I hope the Leader will communicate with the Minister, Deputy Doherty, in the coming days.
I agree with Senator Leyden in regard to RTÉ and the paintings which, by the way, would look very well on the wall of the Seanad, given the fact this used to be an art gallery during the Fitzgeralds' reign. The State needs to intervene to keep those paintings in State ownership.
My main concern, which I spoke about briefly yesterday, concerns the just transition. An area of the country which was stated clearly by the Minister in his speech as one that will benefit, rightly so, from the just transition fund is the midlands. However, another place that is going to be significantly impacted with the recalibration in regard to our climate and the non-burning of coal is Moneypoint. I ask the Leader to bring in the Minister, Deputy Bruton, so he can put his assurances on the record of the House that Moneypoint will also benefit from the just transition fund.
The ESB also has questions to answer. Has it set up a just transition team? Is it working in collaboration with the Government and the Minister in terms of its responsibilities with regard to just transition and the electorate and people of west Clare, whose jobs are very much under threat. There are also the indirect effects which businesses will suffer as a result of the recalibration of Moneypoint.
I was shocked to hear on radio this morning that criminal gangs are supposed to have received money from builders in order to provide protection to building workers so council houses can be built, and that this somehow received the blessing of Dublin City Council. The chief executive officer of Dublin City Council needs to make a statement today denying that this has happened. If he does not, we have to assume it did happen. If it did, what is he doing about it? Has the person or persons who are supposed to have given the blessing and the nod and a wink to go ahead with this been suspended pending an investigation? We need to know urgently because that type of behaviour is absolutely deplorable.
I want to raise the issue of mobile phone coverage or, more accurately, the lack of mobile phone coverage throughout the country. For example, Monaghan town is located along the main Dublin to Derry road, the N2, yet if one drives north, south, east or west, just one mile out of town, calls are dropped or there is no phone coverage whatsoever. It is frustrating for citizens, particularly those who are in business, that the coverage ranges from non-existent to very poor. When this is combined with the fact we have issues in regard to broadband in rural Ireland, this is clearly an issue that needs to be addressed.
Councillor Paul McCabe of Meath County Council recently proposed at a meeting that a mobile phone blackspot programme would be rolled out throughout County Meath, and I know places like Drumconrath and Kilmainhamwood have little or no phone coverage. It seems to be a problem that is getting worse rather than better. For that reason, I ask the Leader to invite the Minister to the House for a debate on the deteriorating phone coverage that most citizens are experiencing, particularly those in rural Ireland.
With regard to yesterday's budget, I welcome the additional 1 million hours for home-care packages. It is an issue I have raised in the House many times. Much more needs to be done and I would like a debate on home care and home help, which is an area that is totally lacking in funding. A lady of 93 years of age from outside Monaghan town has been approved for a home-care package but, unfortunately, there is no money for it. Clearly, there are also those who have home-care packages that are not adequate. When we consider the ageing population and the demographics of this country, it is a problem that is going to get worse rather than better. For that reason, it is time for the Minister to come to the House to have a debate on the entire area of home-care packages and home help for our elderly citizens.
I would rather export our paintings than our people. At a time when there is considerable uncertainty about the future of the national finances, we should be careful about calling on the Government to engage in yet more public expenditure just to keep paintings in Ireland. It might not be our first priority, I would suggest.
I want to echo and welcome what Senator Coffey said about the very positive development of there being €4.8 million for a fully staffed, 20-bed regional hospice in Waterford. This is a gap that needed to be filled. As somebody who wrote a report on the future of palliative care in Council of Europe countries, I have been very conscious of the great work of the hospice movement. It is also a great example of the kind of public-private mutual support and assistance Senator Boyhan spoke about earlier today.
I know the Government is rightly focused on Brexit at the moment, perhaps to the exclusion of all other foreign affairs matters. The issue of Hong Kong is one that should trouble us all in this House. Normally, when I see on my television people with face masks storming buildings, I think they are probably in the wrong. However, I have to say the protesters in Hong Kong must be given more than the benefit of the doubt. They are in a very dangerous situation in Hong Kong. China agreed to an international treaty that there would be one country, two systems, and that was to last until at least 2047. However, the threatened extradition law, whereby people could be extradited from Hong Kong to China, has been truly frightening for people.
I know our country and the Government do significant business with China and the Government enjoys reasonably friendly relations with China, despite the fact it is an authoritarian communist regime, with a contempt for democracy, the rule of law, free speech and religious freedoms. We think about the treatment of Falun Gong, the underground church and Uighur Muslims. This is something that needs our attention.
I was at a conference a couple of months ago in Portugal which was addressed by Cardinal Zen of Hong Kong, who wanted to talk about the secret agreement between the Vatican and the Chinese authorities on the future of the church there. It was also addressed by Martin Lee, one of the fathers of democracy in Hong Kong. The Chinese put on enormous pressure to get those people disinvited from the conference, and people showed up and snatched brochures from the conference venue. I said to myself: if this is what China is like now, what will it be like in 20 years? We need to wake up to the real vulnerability of many countries, including our own, to the financial incentives of engaging with China in particular ways, but which may come at a terrible price for democracy and human rights in the future. Although I fully commend the Government for what it is trying to achieve in regard to Brexit, the disturbing events in Hong Kong are something I think all democratic countries should be turning attention to in their parliaments, and I hope that we will do so soon.
I want to return to an issue I raised in the House a short time ago, namely, Lyric FM. This is in the context of RTÉ, the paintings and so forth. Lyric FM is very important, both as a national broadcaster in terms of culture and music, but more particularly because it has been based in Limerick for over 20 years.People have families there and Lyric FM is part of the cultural identity of the city. While RTÉ might look to retain Lyric FM, there are serious concerns among the staff who would find moving to Montrose in Dublin unacceptable. I am aware that the RTÉ board is undertaking a review of all activities within the RTÉ family, but we want Lyric FM to remain in our family in Limerick. I am on the cultural and educational panel and I ask that we seek to ensure that Lyric FM is not only retained, but remains in the heart of Limerick city.
Furthermore, our regional studios are based in the same building as Lyric FM. We speak about RTÉ devolving and decentralising to the regions. We want both Lyric FM and the regional studios to remain in Limerick. It is ironic that our current President was the Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht who signed the letter to establish Lyric FM. It is unacceptable that there is even a suggestion of its demise or cessation of broadcasting from Limerick.
I endorse what Senator Mullen said about China and its treatment of its provinces and other independent democratic states such as Taiwan. I had the honour of attending Taiwan's national day celebrations yesterday evening with many Members of both this House and the Lower House.
I join my colleague Senator Joe O'Reilly in congratulating Virginia International Logistics and the Cole family on completing the first zero-carbon HGV delivery in Europe. It is a marvellous achievement and we look forward to more transport companies following its example. I also welcome the creation of 120 jobs by Liberty Insurance over the next three years. That is 40 jobs per year. It makes up somewhat for the 430 jobs that have been lost in that business since 2010. Any investment in a town such as Cavan is very welcome. I wholeheartedly agree with what Senator Joe O'Reilly said in that regard and congratulate him on the efforts he made to ensure this employment. Sometimes the person who is playing in the back line does not get the credit when a forward scores a goal. I congratulate the Senator on the work he has done in that regard. As I recently pointed out in this House, we need to look at the overall infrastructure of the Border counties, which have been neglected for decades. That is the only way to get real investment and jobs into the part of the country the Senator and I both come from and are proud to represent.
I thank the 22 Members of the House for their contributions to the Order of Business. I join my colleagues in welcoming to the House our former colleague, Leader, and friend, Mr. Maurice Cummins. I thank him for his presence and acknowledge his outstanding contribution as a member of the Oireachtas and his local authority over long years of service.
Some 13 Members, including Senators Clifford-Lee, Conway-Walsh, Norris, Coffey, Craughwell, O'Reilly, Devine, Humphreys, O'Mahony, Conway, Gallagher and Mullen referred to the budget in their contributions, on which we had a debate yesterday. I can tell Senator Clifford-Lee that the transport budget has been increased by €2.7 billion, which is a 16% increase.
Vaping is becoming a matter of huge concern in this House. As Senator Clifford-Lee noted, Senator James Reilly proposed legislation on vaping. The Minister for Health stated at the Joint Committee on Health last week that he had given consideration to legislation banning flavoured vaping products for young people. We need to have a serious conversation about this because vaping is a gateway to smoking, as the Senator noted. I welcome the Minister's statement that he will not meet any representatives of the vaping industry.
Senator Boyhan raised a number of issues regarding horticulture, forestry and Bord na Móna. I would be happy to have the Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Doyle, come to the House. I thank Senator Boyhan for his very thoughtful contribution.
Senator Conway-Walsh raised the issue of the budget. The Sinn Féin policy seems to be that of an ostrich putting its head in the sand, as the Taoiseach said this morning
Senator Norris noted the passing of Ulick O'Connor. On my behalf and on behalf of the House, I extend sympathies to the O'Connor family. Those of us of a certain generation were familiar with him from his appearances on "The Late Late Show", which Senator Norris very colourfully described. He was also a renowned athlete and journalist, though many people did not know that. I pay tribute to him for his work, acknowledge his contribution to Irish life and extend our sympathies to his family. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.
Senator Paul Daly raised the issue of reverse journeys being taken to have cataract operations done. The Minister for Health should come to the House to discuss this matter and we will try to facilitate that.
Senator Craughwell raised an issue related to the Defence Forces. He has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business which I will not accept. It is inappropriate for any Member to call for an amendment to the Order of Business in order to discuss an individual's specific case.
I understand the Senator's motivation and appreciate where he is coming from. We should put political partisanship aside when it comes to members of the Defence Forces. However, this is not about pay or conditions. If that were the case, the Senator would have welcomed the additional €32 million for defence and the €15 million for pay and conditions of the Defence Forces in the budget.
We do not bring in the Minister for Justice and Equality to speak about an assistant Garda Commissioner or a chief superintendent resigning. Similarly, the Senator has never asked for the Minister for Education and Skills to come to the House to discuss the resignation of a school principal or the CEO of an education and training board.
It is not, and the Senator knows that well. If the Senator was to be absolutely honest in his approach to this matter, he knows there are contingency plans in the Defence Forces regarding personnel in many different areas.
Senator Craughwell also referred to the issue of education, to which the Minister, Deputy McHugh, and the Minister of State, Deputy Mitchell O'Connor, are committed. As the Senator knows, €11 billion is being allocated to education in the budget this year. He is right about the issue of retention and recruitment, and I agree with him that there should be no deviation whatsoever in the provision of posts.
Senators Reilly and Wilson referred to Virginia International Logistics and its wonderful achievement. We congratulate those involved and welcome the new jobs at Liberty Insurance in Cavan.
Senator Devine made a very good point about the just transition commissioner, and I would be very happy to have a debate on the matter. It is a very topical matter on which we need a real and in-depth conversation.
I welcome Senator Humphreys's commendation of the Minister, Deputy Harris. The Minister will be before the House next week or the week after and we can have a debate then on the matters raised.
I will not accept Senator Black's proposed amendment to the Order of Business on the basis that the Bill before the House today deals with social welfare. All Stages of the Bill will be dealt with in the Dáil next week. We had a Second Stage debate here in July and have had very thorough Committee Stage debates on two separate days already this term. We have allocated three hours to debate on the Bill today, and I have in fact extended the time allocated today following requests to do so. As Members will be aware, the Bill is about allowing for increases to protect the self-employed, with payments due on 1 November.
The matter Senator Black raised about the Border communities and Brexit is one to which we need to pay particular attention. Again, we hope to have the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, or the Minister, Deputy Coveney, before the Seanad post the European Council meeting but, as the House will be aware, it is a very fluid situation.
Senators Leyden and Feighan, along with Senator Black, made two sensible contributions about Brexit, specifically the need for a communications blackout in respect of negotiations. Senator Leyden is dead right. The statements are helping nobody and are only causing confusion and raising the heat at a time when calmness is what is needed on all sides, especially the British side, let me add, not our side.
Senators Leyden, Conway, Mullen and Kieran O'Donnell raised the issue of RTÉ, Lyric FM and the paintings. I heard what Senator Mullen said. Notwithstanding his comments, if I am correct, it was RTÉ that commissioned the paintings originally. Therefore, public money was won and used to commission them.
As a consequence, I do not believe it is right for RTÉ to sell the artworks. I know that Louis le Brocquy's wife commented that she had no moral objection to the paintings being sold, but RTÉ should reflect on the points Senators made today. It should not be allowed to sell the works. They should be put on public display in the National Gallery. That is the most fitting place for them. There are five pieces of work. Notwithstanding the comments made about the nature of the auction house selling them - I am sure it is doing what it is doing to try to get the best international price - RTÉ should not sell them. They were procured and commissioned by RTÉ from taxpayers' money and should not be sold under any shape or form.
Senator Kieran O'Donnell also raised the issue of Lyric FM. As he knows, we have in the past debated Lyric FM, its importance in Limerick and the role it has played. I hope RTÉ will not do anything to downgrade or move Lyric FM. We saw RTÉ close its local radio station in my city of Cork, which was a travesty and a huge mistake. RTÉ should have a commitment to the regions in its broadcasting policy, and Lyric FM in Limerick fulfils those criteria very well. I stand with all Members of the House regarding the matters raised about Lyric FM.
Senator Byrne raised the issue of the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, and Irish Cement. The points she made are very relevant, and I would be happy for the Minister to come before the House to discuss the matter.
Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell referred to Stephen Cluskey, the young man who is the new CEO of Mobility Mojo. We congratulate him, wish him well and thank him for his work.
Senator Ruane raised the issue of a statutory maintenance agency. We need to have that debate and legislation on the matter. Senator Ruane is dead right that we should not put women who are already in precarious positions in positions of vulnerability. We should not add to the burden and the pressure on them. There is an obligation on people to pay maintenance and to stand up and be held to account in that regard. I will support the Senator on every step on the way to that. It would be appropriate for the Minister to come before the House to discuss the matter. I do not have a timeline but I will work with the Senator on the matter.
Senator Feighan raised the issue of public transport, and I would be happy for the Minister, Deputy Ross, to come before the House to discuss that. I think the theft of the items the Senator mentioned is more of a justice matter.
Senator Conway, besides his comments on a just transition and matters concerning RTÉ, raised a very important matter concerning Dublin City Council. If the allegations are correct, the actions would be wholly inappropriate for a city council. An investigation is ongoing. It came out in the High Court yesterday, as part of an action taken by the Criminal Assets Bureau, CAB, that the council is paying money to criminals, supposedly to protect a building site. It would be absolutely unacceptable and disgraceful if Dublin City Council behaved in this manner, and the people who authorised and paid that money should be held to account. We cannot condone or support any activity of that type. I am constrained in what I can say because the matter is the subject of an investigation, but I agree with Senator Conway that the matter should be dealt with appropriately.
Senator Gallagher raised the issue of mobile phone coverage. I think all of us in the House accept that the issue is a source of frustration we share from time to time, namely, losing calls on motorways, in certain parts of the country and in certain parts of urban Ireland. I would be happy for the Minister to come before the House to have a debate on that and the home care package situation as well.
Senator Mullen raised the issues in Hong Kong, and I think we all are concerned by the activity there. The Tánaiste and Minister, Deputy Coveney, as the House will be aware, has been engaged in different EU foreign affairs meetings about the issue of China. We need to be very careful in how we engage, but equally, the Chinese authorities need to be held to account. Like Senator Wilson, if I may, I wish the Taiwanese people every success on their independence day on 10 October. I thank the ambassador for his Taiwanese independence day reception last night.
With that, I ask Senator Craughwell to withdraw his amendment rather than divide the House. I will not accept either amendment.
Senator Craughwell has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business, "That a debate with the Minister of State at the Department of Defence on the imminent deployment of troops to Lebanon be taken today." Is the amendment being pressed?
Ivana Bacik, Frances Black, Gerard Craughwell, Maire Devine, Paul Gavan, Alice Mary Higgins, Kevin Humphreys, Colette Kelleher, Pádraig MacLochlainn, Rónán Mullen, David Norris, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, Lynn Ruane.
Paddy Burke, Jerry Buttimer, Maria Byrne, Paudie Coffey, Paul Coghlan, Martin Conway, Paul Daly, Aidan Davitt, Frank Feighan, Robbie Gallagher, Maura Hopkins, Gerry Horkan, Billy Lawless, Anthony Lawlor, Terry Leyden, Gabrielle McFadden, Jennifer Murnane O'Connor, Catherine Noone, Kieran O'Donnell, John O'Mahony, Joe O'Reilly, James Reilly, Diarmuid Wilson.