Thursday, 10 October 2019
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, motion regarding the Official Languages Act 2003 (Public Bodies) Regulations 2019, back from committee, to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business without debate; and No. 2, Industrial Development (Amendment) Bill 2019 - All Stages, to be taken at 12.45 p.m. with the contributions of group spokespersons on Second Stage not to exceed eight minutes and all other Members not to exceed five minutes, with Committee and Remaining Stages to be taken immediately thereafter.
I thank the Leader for outlining the business. There are reports of Dublin City Council being involved in making protection payments. While the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, said that he only heard of it yesterday, it was referred to in a court case by the Criminal Assets Bureau. The Minister of State, Deputy Byrne, seems to have known about this for quite some time. I am fairly sure that if I was sitting where Senator Buttimer is and he was over here, he would wonder how the Minister of State, Deputy Byrne, did not communicate with the Minister at the time, Deputy Coveney, or with the current Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, about her concerns. I know the relationship may not be perfect but it is important that the Minister of State, Deputy Byrne, and the Ministers, Deputies Coveney and Eoghan Murphy, come into this House. Dublin City Council has denied it. I am not saying it happened but it is certainly being reported in a court case. It is a serious story and it is important that we have more knowledge about who knew what. I do not think anyone in this Chamber would support the payment of protection money to gangs or support extortion. It is important that we have a statement from the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, about who knew what and when. I would appreciate that.
Next week's European Council meeting contains much about EU reform. I would like the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, or the Minister, Deputy Coveney, to come into the House and outline the Government's approach to EU reform. On a similar but not exactly the same vein, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, OECD, is reported about in yesterday's Financial Times. A tweet came from its economics editor, stating:
Bad news for tax havens, Ireland, Luxembourg and big multinationals
Good news for almost everyone else
We clearly get a lot of corporation tax from big tech companies and it is very beneficial to the State. The more that we have, the more we can do with it, but we need to plan for changes that may happen in the global tax environment, through the OECD, which I have attended a number of times as a member of the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach. Pressure is being applied and if we lose any of that corporation tax, we will have to find a way to plug that hole. It is important that we invite the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, to tell us what his approach to the OECD is. He is a very measured individual and I know that he will be able to outline to us what he plans to do. We should all be concerned about having less revenue in the uncertain times ahead.
Insurance continues to be a significant problem for play centres and crèches. Vast amounts of money are paid out for what seem to be minor injuries in many cases. I would like the Minister of State, Deputy D'Arcy, to come to the House soon to outline what is being done. Work may be getting done but we are still seeing insurance claims and substantial pay-outs at a significant cost to society generally.
I am delighted that I will launch the report by Crosscare Migrant Project, entitled Returning in Crisis, next Monday in the EPIC Museum, one of the finest museums in Dublin, especially with regard to the history of emigration from Ireland. As most Senators are aware, Crosscare Migrant Project is a non-governmental organisation that provides information and support to many returning Irish migrants. Some of them return in crisis situations, are vulnerable and need assistance with the challenges facing them. This report outlines personal stories of returned emigrants and the assessment of the Irish immigrant support groups, which help Irish migrants abroad and on their return to Ireland. Return migration is not new but now that our diaspora is returning in greater numbers, with more than 600 per week returning, it is imperative that any obstacles in people's path are removed.
The Government is to be thanked for implementing some measures from the Indecon report, with the reduction in required driving lessons from 12 to six prior to applying for a driving test, but many other issues need to be addressed, such as housing, education, access to healthcare, opening bank accounts, etc. Ireland has a long history of support for the most vulnerable of its diaspora, especially through the immigrant support programme. As Senator with responsibility for the diaspora, I will continue to lobby at Government level to ensure that we welcome all our returning migrants, both those who return with new skills and experience and those who return in vulnerable circumstances and need additional support.I invite all colleagues to attend the launch of this report next Monday afternoon at the EPIC museum.
I thank colleagues across the House for their support last night for the Labour Party Private Members' Bill on education and commend my colleague, Senator Ó Ríordáin, who initiated it. We took it through Committee Stage without opposition last night and I look forward to working with the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy McHugh, and colleagues to ensure it is passed. We are happy to discuss amendments and so on in the meantime.
I am concerned about reports of developments in northern Syria and the Turkish offensive against the Kurdish forces there, heralding what has the dreadful potential to be a real humanitarian catastrophe not only for Kurdish civilians and forces but also for Syrians living in the area. The effect of President Trump's unilateral withdrawal of US forces has left the way open not only for the Turkish offensive but also for the awful prospect of a return of ISIS to the area. I have raised the issue of Syria many times in this House and at the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Defence, of which I am a member, but I ask that we might have a debate with the Tánaiste. The Security Council is meeting today to see what intervention can be made to have an impact on Turkey. I ask that the Tánaiste come to the House in due course to debate this matter in order that we might hear from him how Ireland can bring pressure to bear on Turkey and the US, particularly since the withdrawal of US troops clearly paved the way for this development.
I ask that we have a debate on safe access for those seeking health services, particularly those relating to termination of pregnancy. Some of us met the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, some two weeks ago to discuss how best to ensure that women seeking access to abortion will have safe access and will not be pressurised or intimidated on their way in and that neither will staff going into clinics or hospitals. This is in the context of reports about protests. I am glad that we have received correspondence from the Minister today indicating that he is setting up a consultation process to establish what is needed in order to ensure safe access for women and others seeking to access hospitals and, furthermore, that the Garda Commissioner has notified gardaí to be more proactive in the context of putting in place measures to ensure safe access. Some of us, including myself, had called for legislation on this but I am happy to work with the Minister in a constructive spirit to ensure that women have access to termination of pregnancy in a safe and unobstructed manner and that all those who seek to enter hospitals must not have to run the gauntlet of intimidatory protests on their way. I just seek to reaffirm the commitment. I know the Minister will meet all of us in the near future.
We will hear reports later today of the meeting between the Taoiseach and the British Prime Minister. Many of us have grave concerns that this meeting is being set up by the Prime Minister as a fig leaf and as part of a set-up in a blame game that he may use to lay responsibility for the collapse of the talks on Brexit on others. There is real concern across the House. We have seen the President Johnson and his advisers seeking to blame anyone but Boris for what may develop into a no deal situation or the breakdown of any negotiations. He sought to blame Chancellor Merkel earlier in the week and many of us are concerned that he is now seeking to blame Ireland. The Taoiseach and all of us must be mindful of that and stand against it. The Taoiseach is correct in stating that we will all work towards a deal but not at any cost.
I raise two matters relating to the mid west. First is yesterday's good news with €10 million announced in the budget for new routes for which Shannon Airport can apply. That is very good news as there has been much discussion about Shannon Airport in the House recently.
I also raise Facebook's policy. Facebook would not allow advertisements for a new book published on the monks at Glenstal Abbey. This was featured on RTÉ last night. A painting called "The Good Thief" by one of the monks showed a lot of skin, which Facebook said was against its policy. Many books are published and advertised widely online. The painting featured in The Irish Catholic. If it featured anything unwarranted, it would not have been published there. The late eminent art historian, Sister Wendy Beckett, published many famous books including Sister Wendy's 100 Masterpieces, which included many images on the front cover including Sandro Botticelli famous masterpiece, "The Birth of Venus". That book was published by a reputable house, DK Publishing. Would the latter have printed it if there was something wrong? Facebook needs to look at its advertising policy. We have many famous paintings of world renown which attract visitors from around the world. Facebook will not allow this book to be advertised because of the skin that they would not allow it to be advertised.
I wish to refer to a matter which other Senators have raised before me. It is of vital importance that we contact the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, and encourage him to extend the slurry spreading deadline, at least regionally. Next Tuesday, 15 October, is the last day on which farmers may spread slurry. It has been impossible for them to spread slurry. It seems that we look for extensions annually, which is probably because it is nigh impossible to farm by calendar, which is how things have been set up. Dates are picked on a calendar by bureaucrats and farmers have to work to them. We all saw the coverage of Donegal in the aftermath of Storm Lorenzo when football fields and farmlands were completely flooded. One could not walk out on them, yet farmers are expected to have their slurry out on those fields before next Tuesday. That will be impossible. Common sense should prevail. We need to put pressure on the Minister. He is a man well used to moving goalposts when it comes to the deadlines he sets for himself so I do not see how he could find difficulty in doing the same if not nationally then regionally for the north west, the north midlands and areas that were hit worst by the storm and are being hit worst by the persistent heavy rains. It will not be possible for farmers to spread slurry by the Tuesday deadline in those areas. The country as a whole has had a lot of rainfall and the ground is saturated. Thinking back to the pictures of Donegal only a week ago, how in God's name could anyone be expected to go out with machinery and spread slurry on that land before next Tuesday? I hope that it will be looked on favourably and that common sense will prevail.
I congratulate the Financial Services Union and the University of Limerick on an excellent piece of research into technology, work and skills on the impact of technology on employees. They held a seminar across the road on the right to disconnect. It is really important for workers here. More and more workers are expected to be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Emails fly to workers when they are on holiday. The permanent civil servants who service this House work extremely hard and are available for as long as we choose to sit, which is something that we should remember.
I am deeply concerned about the way in which the workforce in this country is developing, particularly in the professional areas of accounting and legal where people are expected to work around the clock. Young people entering accountancy work until midnight and are expected to be back in at 8 a.m. the following day in order to meet clients and put reports out on time. The large practices which have young people working for them need to understand that productivity falls through the floor when people work excessive hours. I do not care what training is involved. We have seen this in the medical profession over the years whereby young doctors have been expected to work 100 hours a week and so on.This is totally unacceptable and it needs to be tackled. The Irish Congress of Trade Unions says it wants legislation for the right to disconnect. Such legislation must, however, be based on the right to collective bargaining within the organisation. One of the great shames in this country is that trade unionism has been sidelined in many organisations and is sometimes deemed to be the big bad brother.
I cannot let the day go without mentioning those who service our needs when it comes to being elected to this House. I first spoke about the pay and conditions of county councillors in 2014. It is now 2019 and nothing has changed. They are still being treated in an appalling way and I know every Member wants to see change, and quickly. I ask the Leader to do whatever he can to get the Moorhead report out. I know he is as interested in this as I am and I will not take lead on this any more.
It is worrying and disturbing to see Turkey attacking the Kurds in Syria. These Kurds of the Peshmerga and their forces did everything to quash ISIS and I cannot understand it. Maybe we should call the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade to the House to ask him why this is happening. These forces, of both men and women, did a huge service in getting rid of the ISIS threat, but it seems President Trump has just knifed them in the back. I understand that the situation is very complicated but these people have been let down by the West.
I support the FSU's call for the right of workers to disconnect their emails and phones when they finish their working day. In my work as a doctor, I see the amount of work related stress that is now presenting itself in many of my patients. I hope Government will listen and take on board what has been said, which seems to me to be an obvious and natural right.
The town of Balbriggan has 25,000 people in it, of whom more than 8,000 are children, making it the youngest town in Ireland. The local population, in conjunction with Fingal County Council, has formulated a plan for the future development of Balbriggan, called Our Balbriggan,. The plan has the potential to transform the town into the sort of place in which we would all like to live. It has fantastic natural assets, including a beach, and it has connectivity to Dublin through the rail network with plans to improve the service by electrifying the line. There is access to the M1 and it lies in the economic corridor between Dublin and Belfast. It has obvious potential for more development in terms of jobs, but we want to see its potential as a prime place to live being developed. This plan has a price tag of €20 million. The Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government is reopening the urban regeneration fund, and I expect Fingal County Council to lodge an application when it opens. I invite the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, to come out and see the plan for himself and to see Balbriggan and its phenomenal natural assets. He would see how much better it would be as a place in which to live if it got the infrastructure support which this plan envisages.
The final speaker is Senator Lombard. Before he speaks, however, I wish to raise a matter on which the Leader and Members might reflect. I chose four Commencement matters yesterday but three were withdrawn because the Minister was not available, though I will not cast aspersions on any staff or Minister. In future, perhaps there could be a mechanism for improving the situation when, for example, I pick four from 11 matters for debate. I feel guilty when I do not pick one because they are very important to some Members, but six have been withdrawn since I came back three weeks ago. I will talk to the Leader about it when I am back in a week's time.
This week is dyslexic awareness week. In the audiovisual room yesterday, the Dyslexic Association of Ireland gave a very detailed presentation of the issues and struggles for dyslexic people. It brought up some very interesting figures. One in ten people in Ireland is dyslexic, which equates to around 920,000 people. We need strategies to include that cohort of society in programmes to improve reading skills and their interaction with services. A frightening statistic was that only 8% of teachers felt comfortable or properly equipped to deal with dyslexia in the classroom. The current college teaching programmes have been changed to include a module on dyslexic people, but the teachers who have been trained in the past 30 years now need to be brought back into the circle. It is a real challenge and a real issue for us. We need to ensure we provide further training to bring teachers up to standard so that they can work with pupils with dyslexia. Two teaching unions were present and they brought great insight into the difficulties they have in trying to rise to the challenge.
We need to have a hard debate in the Seanad on how to progress this issue because it affects three kids in every classroom. It probably affects people in this House and it affects 10% of society, but the issue has been cast aside for many years. The time has come to put dyslexic people into the mainstream. We need a major debate on how we are going to change our teaching policy and society and change the view of dyslexics in society. This has to start in the education forum and I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy McHugh, to the House for a comprehensive debate. We should ask him to bring forward a strategy to fill the gap that is there among teachers, because when 92% of teachers do not feel they are properly equipped, it is a massive issue. We also need a strategy for changing the view of dyslexics in society and to ensure they have a place and a home. Often, the slow boy in the class, or the one who seems just not to be up to it, is the brightest boy in the class. He is just wired slightly differently. I hope it can happen in the next few weeks as it is an important issue for me personally. We need to push it forward.
I do not know how up to speed the Leader is on this matter, but I had a brief meeting with Deputy Cahill earlier to discuss coursing and the netting of hares. The two relevant Ministers, Deputies Madigan and Creed, have agreed to the limited netting of hares for use in coursing and will assess the situation further over the next three or four weeks. The only complication is that it will be late in the coursing season by then. Having spoken to Deputy Cahill, it is fair to say that Fianna Fáil is not happy with this. A speedier resolution is needed. While we welcome that a limited number of hares will be netted in the coming weeks, the plan in this regard is too long-term in nature. The Leader might speak to the relevant Ministers and speed up the process.
Mental Health Week is kicking off today with events throughout the country. This morning, I attended the Oireachtas health and well-being team's information and coffee morning. The team will roll out events for Members and staff. I urge everyone to attend when information on them is put up on the Plinth website.
It is concerning that, during world mental health week, the Government failed to deliver extra services in the budget to address the mental health crisis. Two thirds of the announced increase of €39 million for next year will go towards pay increases and do nothing to provide for the 2,500 children waiting for child and adolescent mental health services, CAMHS, or other rehabilitative services. The post of national director of mental health is missing; it was allowed to vanish into the ether. We need it back so that our services can be co-ordinated and someone can speak at national level for the well-being of our population.
I will relay details of something I encountered last week. A woman of 27 years of age had been discharged from the Coombe Hospital with a four week old baby. Fair play to the hospital, which kept them for an extra two weeks. She was discharged to a hostel because, while she was in hospital receiving care, her landlord had sold apartment in which she had been living. The hostel cannot be accessed until after 9 p.m. and people must leave at 7 a.m. This is what our young mothers are experiencing. I was struck by her story. I commend the mental health services of every maternity hospital. Once I reached out to them, they reached out to her. Hopefully, she will find somewhere soon. She has a young infant in a hostel - I will not mention all of the other issues that arise at hostels - that she cannot access until 9 p.m. She is waiting to go back to work in February but has no home at the moment.
I thank the 11 Senators for their contributions on the Order of Business. Senator Horkan referred to the issue of Dublin City Council and protection payments. The matter was also raised by Senator Conway yesterday. As I stated then, there is a need for the people in Dublin City Council who were involved to be held to account. Senator Horkan asked who knew what and who said what, but it is not a question of that. Rather, it is a question of what the council did. A court case is ongoing and the matter is being investigated by the council, so it would be inappropriate for the Minister to address the House. Dublin City Council needs to determine who authorised the payments, who was involved and who in the council knew. The Senator is trying to apportion political blame to the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government.
The bottom line is that those who did this should be held to account.
I agree that we need to debate reform of the European Council. We have submitted a request for the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, or the Tánaiste to attend the House after the European Council meeting.
Senator Horkan is right about the issue of taxation and the perception that we are seen as being a little different when the fact is we are probably not. The Senator's point is relevant.
We will debate the issue of insurance again with the Minister of State, Deputy D'Arcy.
Senator Lawless raised the matter of migrants returning to Ireland. Is it not wonderful that we have 600 people who had to go abroad because of the failed economic policies of the past coming back every week? It is a pity that the media will not report this. Some 600 Irish citizens are returning home every week.
A country is being renewed. As Senator McFadden rightly stated, the Opposition gave out about people living. Now that we are bringing them home, there is not a word. As Senator Lawless indicated, we should make every effort not to place barriers to people returning home.
It is an offensive against the Syrian people and Kurds. We condemn the incursions out of hand. It is disappointing that the US - I am not talking about President Trump - made this decision and left a vacuum, one that is being exploited. As the EU stated yesterday, this is a betrayal by the USA. It is important that we all send the message that Turkey should stop its operations in Syria and that we keep the matter to the fore of the Minister's diplomatic relations.
Senator Bacik spoke about safe access to health services. We discussed this during an Order of Business last week. I will be happy to facilitate any debate on the matter, which is something that the Senator has been involved in. It is important that we have engagement and discussion and allow for safe access to services for women and their partners. It is a sensitive time for people and we should be mindful of the need for respect.
The Senator also referenced Brexit. We wish the Taoiseach well this morning in his meetings with the British Prime Minister.
Senator Byrne mentioned the €10 million in the budget for regional airports. We welcome that funding. I join her in asking Facebook to review its policies. Senator Bacik spoke about legislation previously. Senator Byrne discussed the issue of safety and respect. I hope that Facebook reviews its policies. I congratulate Glenstal Abbey on the book's publication and the television programme that Senator Byrne referenced.
Senator Paul Daly discussed the nitrates directive and slurry spreading. In an answer in the Dáil yesterday, the Minister stated that he does not have plans to change the date but is keeping an eye on the matter and will be in communication with the Tánaiste, Deputy Coveney. I will relay the Senator's concerns to him.
The Senator's points are valid.
Senators Craughwell and Reilly referred to the report published this morning on the right of workers to disconnect. It is an important right that we should all support.
The Moorhead report is with the Minister of State, Deputy Phelan, as far as I know. There is widespread support from the majority of Senators, who have been advocating for and representing the case of councillors irrespective of the fact that Senator Craughwell has now abandoned his leadership of the issue.
Again, in recognising the role local authority members play, there must be a recognition from the political system that their workload has increased, the nature of their work has changed and there is a real need to have a conversation on how to support and pay public representatives at local level. Unfortunately, there is an unwillingness to tackle the issue because of a fear of what people might think or of what journalists might write. In the case of our local elected representatives, there is a need to make a decision and stick by it. They deserve to be supported irrespective of what political party they are in or if they are Independent.
Senator Reilly raised the issue of Balbriggan and the Our Balbriggan project. I join with him in wishing them well in the report. I hope the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, will come to the House to speak on that issue. Senator Reilly has been a champion of Balbriggan in this House and in the other House for a long time.
I congratulate Senator Lombard on his briefing yesterday. He is right and I would be happy to facilitate a debate in the House on dyslexia to raise awareness and support future training, but mainly to present information to people. This is dyslexia awareness week, and as Senator Lombard rightly said, one in ten people are affected by it. It is a condition whereby, with support and services, people can play a full and positive role in society. Mr. Richard Branson is one example of that.
Senator Davitt raised the issue of coursing and the netting of hares. The Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Madigan, the Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Doyle, and the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Creed, have been in negotiations and engagements with many members of the Fine Gael Parliamentary Party on that issue and I hear what the Senator is saying. The matter is being addressed. A process has been established between the Departments. To be fair to the Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Doyle, and the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Creed, they have been strong in their desire to have a resolution to the matter. There is ongoing engagement, and as the Cathaoirleach knows quite well, this week we will have the semi-finals of the Irish Laurels in Cork, which is the second premier greyhound racing event in the year. I would hope people will support the greyhound track in Cork for the Laurels and into the future. It is a wonderful sweepstake and I hope that on 12 and 19 October, which are the dates for the semi-finals and the finals, people will support the Irish Laurels in Cork.
Senator Devine made reference to the issue of mental health. As she knows, the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Daly, has been committed to this matter as the Minister of State with responsibility for mental health and older people. We have seen an increase in the budget for mental health and the National Office for Suicide Prevention has been created. There is a need to recognise that in the budget, funding will increase to €1.03 billion, which will include €13 million to open the forensic hospital in Portrane for example. The points the Senator makes are well made. We must take mental health away from being the Cinderella part of the health service and make it more mainstream in its supports and the way we talk about it. I would be happy to support the Senator in that regard.
On the Cathaoirleach's commentary on the Commencement matters, I want to say that it is disappointing if Members put down a Commencement matter, only to discover a Minister is not available. I would be happy to discuss this matter with the Cathaoirleach or with members of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges of Seanad Éireann to see how we can make Commencement matters more user-friendly and productive for Members of this House.