Wednesday, 27 November 2019
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, Private Members' business, Industrial Relations (Joint Labour Committees) Bill 2019 - Second Stage, to be taken at 12.45 p.m., with the time allocated to the debate not to exceed two hours; No. 2, Judicial Appointments Commission Bill 2017 - Report and Final Stages, resumed, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 1 and to adjourn after two and a half hours, if not previously concluded; and No. 3, statements on the provision of accommodation and ancillary services to applicants for international protection, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 2 and to conclude after 80 minutes, with the time allocated to all Senators not to exceed six minutes and the Minister to be given not less than six minutes to reply to the debate.
I was surprised to see farmers out protesting again today but I have much sympathy for them or all those who feel they cannot make a living after putting so much time and effort into a livelihood. We need to have a proper debate in this House on rural Ireland and putting a value on farmers, the sustainability of rural Ireland and farming and how much we value having fresh produce and good beef. Individuals and the supermarket sector as a whole must figure out whether we want decent beef and agricultural produce in future. I have started going to my local butcher because the beef is a little better and although I pay a little more, it is worthwhile. I have considerable sympathy for those farmers.
On the same matter, issues around death threats to certain individuals should be clarified. There is much hurt out there and if the parties are to go ahead with the task force and the mediation of some form of agreement, they must clear the air. There must be trust on both sides. I hope the talks will go ahead in December and the farmers will achieve some sort of satisfactory agreement. It is very much a long-term issue but we must all figure out whether we appreciate fully our access to good produce. I would like a debate in this House on the matter.
I also raise the issue of cycling in the city. Three weeks ago, a young man, Mr. Neeraj Jain, was knocked down, tragically, by a cement truck on the South Circular Road at the junction with St. James's Hospital. We know cycling is becoming more dangerous on the roads in the city. I commend Dublin City Council because as part of the Dublin agreement, councillors agreed to allocate 20% of the roads budget to increasing cycling infrastructure, which is very welcome. I also welcome the new laws coming into effect whereby fines of €120 for overtaking a cyclist in a dangerous fashion will be implemented. It is really important that we have enforcement. We have many great laws but the real problem is with enforcement of those laws. Perhaps the Garda Síochána will assign enough personnel to enforce cycling-related laws in the city.
I commend my colleague, Senator Craughwell, who is not here today but who spent some time recently cycling on the roads to see the issues on the ground.
We all endure those problems. Last night I would have liked to have been a cyclist when I was leaving Leinster House. They were able to speed past all the traffic. It is a sensible way to do business but I would be too scared to cycle. I have tried it but until cycling infrastructure improves, many people will be like me and will not be comfortable cycling the roads.
With four by-elections taking place this Friday and Christmas just around the corner, there seems little doubt we are on the march to a general election early in the new year. It is my sincere wish, as it has been since I had the honour of being appointed to this Chamber, that I will leave this Seanad knowing that the Irish people have been given a chance to vote on whether their Irish brothers and sisters right across the globe will be able to vote on who our next President should be. I fully supported the Government's decision to postpone the holding of this referendum in the teeth of Brexit negotiations but if, as seems likely, we will have a degree of certainty surrounding Brexit following the completion of the United Kingdom general election, I strongly urge the Government to call a referendum before the St. Patrick's Day festivities.
What an amazing sight it would be for all the Ministers travelling across the world to interact with our diaspora having seen a referendum passed to give them a formal say in who should be the Head of State. I know in my adopted country of the United States the enormous depth of meaning the holding of this referendum would have for our community. St. Patrick's Day is a unique period in our calendar where every Irish person resident in this State recognises and sees just how global and broad-shouldered is our community. Beamed across the globe from Dubai to Durban and Singapore to Seattle, the whole world stops and pays attention to the community of this small island.
We know the economic and diplomatic value of our Taoiseach and Ministers travelling across the world and although there is always criticism of the cost of these missions, we never talk about the value to the State and taxpayer of what it means to our Irish community to be visited by their home Government. That value would be enhanced dramatically if we could deliver a referendum to give that community a say in who our next President should be. I am calling on the Government and all other political parties to support my call for this referendum to take place before St. Patrick's Day in 2020.
I will follow the comments of Senator Ardagh on the farmers' protest. I was out there this morning meeting some farmers, and this follows previous engagements I had with them both at previous protests outside these buildings and at a meat processing plant at Rathdowney in County Laois.On each occasion, a heightened sense of frustration and despair has been highlighted among these farmers. The beef talks that took place after the previous round of meat plant protests have not resulted in a successful outcome for these farmers and they are now back out on the streets. All these farmers and their families want is fair trade and a fair price for their produce. Instead, as Senators are aware, many of them are producing at below cost price and losing money. Smaller farmers will feel this most as they do not have the critical mass to negotiate stronger positions on price. This crisis is affecting beef producers of all types, however.
We expect a lot from our farmers. We expect them to adhere to rules and regulations, engage with policymakers and legislators, reduce emissions, improve biodiversity and achieve other environmental outcomes. However, when they face difficulties such as those we are seeing now, they are left with little or no support, guidance or advice. The agrifood system is broken in this country. From inside the farm gate all the way to the consumer both here and abroad, creating consistent high demand for Irish food while also addressing our environmental commitments should be at the heart of any effective solution for the Irish agriculture sector. The oft repeated narrative or threat that if we do not produce goods, someone else will do so demeans Irish farmers and their produce. If our produce is so easily produced elsewhere, where is the added value in it coming from Ireland? This is a question for Bord Bia but one we should keep in mind.
The continued pursuit of commodity production in a small country such as Ireland does not serve our farmers or environment well. We must also reflect on the social and economic impacts on our farmers. Land abandonment and farm consolidation are happening. Reports suggest that about 1,000 farms go out of business in the EU each day. This is a staggering number. Retaining small-scale family run businesses is a must, particularly for a small country such as Ireland. With all our eggs in one basket of beef and dairy, we are exposed and vulnerable to climate change and the volatility of global markets. At farm level, our dairy farmers are in receipt of some of the lowest milk prices in Europe and our beef is stagnating at a cost price that is lower than the cost of production. In the meantime, our emissions keep rising and our biodiversity, animal welfare and water and air quality are compromised. Where will it end?
A new land use plan is required both to adapt to and mitigate the effects of climate change and biodiversity loss and to turn the tide of depressed prices for our farmers. Farmers will rely significantly on a reformed Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, to deliver these transitions on their farms. A business as usual approach with a few cherries on top will not suffice. Food production will always remain central to our agricultural land use but we must at the same time consider other income streams for farmers, including farming for carbon storage and water-----
I support the comments made by Senator Lawless on the referendum on voting rights in presidential elections. I commend him and others, including Votes for Irish Citizens Abroad, VICA, on all the work and heavy lifting they have done for years on voting rights in presidential elections. We have cross-party agreement so there should be no impediment to holding a referendum, getting this done and sending out a signal that we are sincere to the diaspora and Irish citizens in the North. Let us get on with it.
I will not bring him into this. We have to talk about what is happening outside these gates and around Dublin today. We have to talk about our farmers. The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Creed, has been sitting on his hands for too long, unfortunately. The beef sector agreement was signed six weeks ago and the beef task force has yet to meet. The Minister needs to call on the factories to withdraw all the injunctions. That is the impediment to having the talks. There can be no level playing field while powerful, cartel-like factories have legal injunctions out on farmers. The protests we are seeing are a direct result of farmers' frustration at the lack of progress the Government is making on the beef sector. I spoke to farmers yesterday, last night and today and they do not want to be here. They have farming to do at home and do not want to be surrounding Leinster House or in Dublin with their tractors. They have lots of work to do.
The Minister has to sit down with the farmers. I know he went out to the protest this morning but he has to sit down and talk. He also needs to have respect for farmers. Some of the comments he made yesterday in the Dáil show contempt and disrespect for the farming community. These are my neighbours and friends. They are from all over the country and they are struggling to survive. They are the keepers of rural Ireland who produce the quality food we can be proud of when we travel the world. The Minister has to meet the farmers halfway.
Sinn Féin calls on the Government to support our Mandatory Beef Price Transparency Bill 2019, which would ensure transparency throughout the supply chain and that a fair price to all farmers for their produce. We have to sort this out once and for all or this protest will become an everyday occurrence. I call on the Minister to act. The buck stops with him and he has to get this issue sorted, not only for the farming community. We are conscious that people are trying to get to work, hospitals and so on all over this city. The Minister cannot ignore this issue.
I propose an amendment to the Order of Business, that the last hour of the debate on the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill 2017 be substituted with a debate on crime and that the Minister for Justice and Equality be summoned to the House to discuss the issue of crime. I made comments yesterday on a murder that took place at the beginning of this week. That was the fifth such murder in seven months on the north side of Dublin. The situation is clearly out of control. If this had occurred in any other area of the country, the political system would have screeched to a halt and every available Minister would be seated around a table talking about it. That has not happened with regard to Coolock and that needs to change. We are asking for an amendment to the Order of Business to provide that the last hour of the scheduled debate on the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill 2017 be substituted with a one-hour discussion on the issue of crime in Dublin and around the country, in light of the most recent murder at the beginning of this week.
I share the concerns raised about the farming protests that are taking place. We are in a terrible situation. Dublin city centre is in disarray with farmers protesting and people unable to go about their daily business and get to work in the city. Farmers feel desperate about prices and the terms and conditions they are being asked to operate under. We know that no problem will be solved on the streets. We all thought a solution or at least a formula for a solution was in place when it was agreed at the beginning of September to establish a beef market task force. Nothing has improved since and farmers are in exactly the same position. Many people will be frustrated by what is happening on the streets. There are even whispers suggesting people do not have much sympathy for farmers. If farmers are complaining and protesting, they have reason for doing so. This problem has been going on for far too long and we need a solution. Meat Industry Ireland can no longer sit back and take a laissez-faire approach.C&D Foods has taken out injunctions against a couple of people involved in the protests. It is incumbent on Meat Industry Ireland to get that matter off the table and get everybody talking.
We need to talk about price transparency, competition law issues and the fact that farmers are receiving a return that is below the cost of production. They are bearing the cost of the difficulties in the sector. I have not heard of any meat plants being in danger of going out of business but there are many farmers who are in such danger.
If we do not address these problems, the next generation will not be interested in getting involved in farming. We have a proud agricultural tradition in this country; if we do anything well, it is farming. Farmers are up to meeting the challenges of the market and of climate change, but they are not being given a chance to do so. I welcome the initiative by the Minister, Deputy Creed, in going out to speak to the protestors, but it is time for everybody involved to sit around a table. There are no farming organisations out there today, such is the disarray in which we find ourselves.
Meat Industry Ireland cannot just sit back and let others deal with the issue of the injunctions. It must be proactive on the matter, and it is in its interests to take that approach. Bord Bia and the Government are working hard to win markets for the sector in China and elsewhere. What is going on is not acceptable. We want farmers off the street and back on their farms and we want the beef market task force up and running and doing the job it is supposed to do. It is a tough job but it must be done.
I will finish by giving some figures that illustrate starkly the difficulties for farmers. In June 2018, farmers were getting €4.40 per kilogram of beef from the factories.
I propose an amendment to the Order of Business that the Minister of State at the Department of Health with responsibility for disability services, Deputy Finian McGrath, come to the House today to discuss the proposed closure on Friday of the Cuisle facility in Donamon in County Roscommon. I propose that this debate be taken at 3 p.m. instead of the resumed debate on the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill 2017. It is a matter of great urgency that the Irish Wheelchair Association, IWA, has decided to close this resort, which provides respite and holiday services for people with disabilities, without any consultation with its members. We need a debate today to allow for a postponement of the decision by the Joint Committee on Health last Thursday and to discuss how additional funding can be secured to ensure the service is retained. There must be an extraordinary general meeting of the IWA to allow members to have their say. It is not acceptable that the executive members of the IWA should act like a dictatorship by deciding, without any consultation, to close the unit on Friday, 30 November.
My appeal to avert that closure is a reasonable one. The same call was made at a rally in Roscommon last Saturday which was organised by a support group in Oran and attended by 2,000 people. The people of County Roscommon are as one on this matter. The Minister of State must explain to us the position of the HSE and the Government in regard to the closure of this important service for people with disabilities. It is an issue of fundamental importance but it is not getting national coverage because most media, including RTÉ, are very much Dublin-oriented. We have at least had some input from the State broadcaster's regional correspondents. The matter would have had no publicity at all if not for them and the local media, including local radio stations Shannonside and RosFM, the Roscommon Heraldand the Roscommon People. They are giving the issue oxygen and making sure people in the area know what is going on.
I share colleagues' frustration with the deadlock on the beef market task force. Farmers are agitated and disappointed, as are Senators and Deputies. I welcome the decision by the Minister, Deputy Creed, to meet with the protestors, but the situation still requires urgent resolution. The Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers Association has expressed serious concerns in regard to Bord Bia, the beef prices index and the difficulties in breaking through the deadlock with the meat factories. These serious problems must be addressed. As Senator Mulherin said, we want farmers out of the city and back on the land where they want to be, doing what they do best. It is important to keep cool heads as we work to get the task force up and running as quickly as possible.
There was reference on "Morning Ireland" today to a leaked report indicating that county and city councillors will receive a pay rise of €8,000. The Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Phelan, confirmed at an Oireachtas committee meeting earlier today that the review of local authority members' remuneration has not been completed and, as such, the reports of a specific pay increase are not accurate. He indicated that he saw a draft of the report some months ago and that he made a submission on it two months ago. Ms Sarah Moorhead SC was commissioned in June 2018 to conduct the review but has still not completed her work and made a comprehensive report. We are no further on in the matter, although I welcome the indication by the Minister of State that when the report is published, which could possible be in ten days' time, he will publish it immediately.
Proposing amendments seems to be a popular activity today, so I should probably hold off for now. However, I have been holding off on a particular matter since April 2016, namely, the appointment of a consultant sarcoma specialist at St. Vincent's hospital. Following meetings with patients, the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, agreed to the creation of this post. One of those meetings was attended by members of the hospital board, who had not been invited. Since then, we have had a lot of heel dragging. The post was offered to somebody who decided, after two and a half years, to decline it, even though it is custom and practice that posts be taken up within three months. In the meantime, there is no specialist available for patients suffering from sarcoma, which is a terminal illness that requires specialist input.The specialist we had, Dr. Bertuzzi, was sent packing. I do not mind saying that there is nefarious stuff going on in St. Vincent's Hospital. I am sure they will come down quite heavily on me but self-interest is evident. I would like the Minister to come to the House to address those concerns. I would like to ask him why this post has been languishing for so long when so many of the sufferers who pleaded for it have passed away. Many other young people are now diagnosed with this condition.
I am beginning to sound like a broken record but I wish to raise the issue of University Hospital Limerick. There were 85 people on trolleys on Monday and 75 yesterday. The list is growing. I met with the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, last week to express my frustration. We need to ensure a safe environment for the staff of the hospital and for people attending it. I recently met somebody who chose to stay at home rather than go to the hospital, even though they were very ill. That is a very sad case. Something has to happen and somebody has to intervene. The Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland is carrying out an independent review. What is the status of that review? There is no sign of the report coming out. I ask the Leader to bring the Minister in to have a debate on overcrowding in hospitals, especially University Hospital Limerick, as soon as possible for the sake of the safety of patients, staff, and those who attend the hospital every day.
I support the amendment proposed by my colleague, Senator Ó Ríordáin, to substitute a debate on crime for one hour of the debate on the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill. I also support Senator Leyden's amendment, which would substitute a debate on the important issue of Cuisle for the other hour and a half of debate on the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill. Both are hugely important issues and are far more urgent than the ongoing debate on Report Stage of the Bill. My group and I will certainly support both amendments. I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach for his excellent-----
I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach for his clarification of the issue. I also support what Senator Ardagh said in respect of cycling. As somebody who cycled in today and yesterday and who cycles regularly or every day, the roads were very clear because of the farmers' protests.
We do, however, need to make more provision for cyclists, as I said in my contribution on the Finance Bill 2019 last night. I commend Senator Hackett on her excellent speech in response to the farmers' protest. I understand it is in the process of being resolved, which is welcome because the farmers' group is raising serious issues. Senator Hackett is correct when she speaks about the future of sustainable farming in Ireland. I spoke about an excellent model during the Finance Bill debate last night, that of the Burren Beo Trust and the work being done in the Burren by Mr. Brendan Dunford and his colleagues on sustainable farming. That is the future.
I commend the Dress for Success organisation and the organisers of the great conference being held today. I had the pleasure of attending this morning where An Taoiseach announced that the Citizens' Assembly on Gender Equality will have its inaugural meeting on 25 January 2020 when it will look at issues around the serious and ongoing gender pay gap between women and men and issues in respect of ensuring women's equal participation in the workforce. The conference will be hearing about the importance of childcare, expanded parental and paternity leave, and so on. I welcome that announcement in the spirit of collegiality. I very much welcome the Government's announcement in respect of the citizens' assembly.
I thank the Taoiseach for his reference to the Labour group and myself having introduced the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (Gender Pay Gap Information) Bill 2017 in this House as a Private Member's Bill. It is very important legislation, which we very much hope will finally see the light of day in 2020. I ask the Leader to use his offices with the Taoiseach to inquire as to the progress on the gender pay gap legislation which we have been promised since I first introduced my Bill in this House. I hope it comes into effect next year to address the serious issue of the ongoing gender pay gap between women and men.
I also support Senator Leyden's amendment to the Order of Business. Following on from Senator Bacik's comments, I welcome the fact that there appears to have been a breakthrough of sorts in the farming dispute. What I find particularly frustrating - and I am sure many farmers do as well - is that it seems to take farmers leaving their lands with their tractors to drive up to the gates of Leinster House to get action. This clearly illustrates that more urgent action is required of the Minister to address this issue and to finally achieve a positive resolution.
The main issue I wish to raise relates to mortgage holders. Mortgage interest rates in the Republic of Ireland are among the highest, if not the highest, in the eurozone. To provide a practical example, a couple or single individual with a mortgage of €200,000 pays €250 per month more than their eurozone counterparts. That amounts to €3,000 per annum, which is a serious sum. This is clearly not right and not fair. People are asking why this is so.
The other area of the mortgage market about which the Government needs to be more proactive is that of switching. Many people do not realise they can save thousands of euro by switching their mortgage from one lender to another. More needs to be done to inform people of the savings that can accrue. The process of switching mortgage needs to be simplified so that more people take up the opportunity. More switching would encourage more competition which would, in turn, reduce interest rates. I ask the Minister to invite the Minister for Finance to the House for a debate on the mortgage market in Ireland and on how Irish mortgage holders are currently being fleeced compared to their European counterparts. We need to get the Government to be more proactive and we need a campaign to encourage people to switch their mortgages from one lender to another to save themselves a few euro.
I would be happy if the Leader could explain to me how our citizens are going to benefit from this seat the Government is chasing on the United Nations Security Council. As of September this year, we had spent €650,000, €100,000 of which was spent on a video using Bono to sell the notion of Ireland having a seat on the Security Council. We recently spent another €144,000 sending Ministers to the US to further this cause. This is nothing but a vanity project. It serves no citizen in this country in any way. It does nothing for hard-pressed citizens and it is time it stopped. It is time that we stepped back and started to use the offices of Ministers to do the jobs they are empowered to do.
This morning we were unable to get into Leinster House without using ID cards and at the top of the street we see tractors and farmers taken from their farms. The level of poverty there is unbelievable. Somebody remarked that there could not be that much poverty in light of the size of the tractors but the truth of the matter is that the banks own them. These men and women are in dire straits. The Leader will be aware that there is a market of 80 million people waiting to buy Irish lamb and beef in Iran. The only impediment to opening up that market is our lack of an embassy in Tehran. Why do we not have an embassy there? Iran has its problems. Indeed, the Iranian ambassador to Ireland will admit there are problems in his country but there is a market there for Irish beef. My colleagues were talking earlier about the price of Irish beef being down to €3.30 a kilo. Good God tonight, are we going to drive our farmers out of business? It is simply not good enough. On the one hand, we are off chasing vanity projects while, on the other, we are not looking after our farmers, who are the heart and soul of this country. I want somebody to explain to the House what good this goddamn vanity project we are chasing will do.How will this project benefit any citizens on this island whether they are homeless, farmers or lying on trolleys? It has helped nobody.
Ba mhaith liom tréaslú leis an méid a bhí le rá ag an Seanadóir Lawless ní ba luaithe maidir le reifreann ar chearta vótála i dtoghcháin uachtaránachta.
I second the remarks made by Senator Lawless on the referendum for presidential voting rights. To be fair to officials and the relevant Ministers, the heavy lifting has been done. There is a growing consensus among political parties, civic society and diaspora groups and it is now time to put the question to the people. The Convention on the Constitution has agreed it. The Senator made the imaginative proposal that the question should be put before the Government travels all around the world to tell the diaspora how much it values them. Perhaps now is the time that the Government showed them by initiating the referendum.
I call for a debate on cross-Border transport and travel, which is an issue that I have raised on several occasions since I became a Senator. Today, I found out via the Twitter account of our colleague, Senator James Reilly, that the Cabinet has approved a feasibility study on a cross-Border Dublin to Belfast train with a reduced travel time of one hour. Belfast City Council and councils along the eastern corridor have voted in favour of this and, indeed, Belfast City Council has initiated a feasibility plan to consider the issue. A feasibility study is a significant and necessary step forward by the Government, and I welcome the announcement. Rather than make an announcement via the Twitter account of the Senator, who happens to be an election candidate but I shall let people make their own minds up on that aspect, it is important that we get the stakeholders around the table for a discussion. We must get the chambers of commerce, the councils, local authorities, the Departments in the North and South and, indeed, the Members of the Houses of the Oireachtas and other elected representatives who have advocated and lobbied for the initiative. A feasibility plan is vitally important. However, we need to move on and see it inserted into the capital plans. The project must become a major priority for the Government, not least given the current political and economic climate and the threats posed by Brexit. We must all work in collaboration. I hope and certainly Sinn Féin hopes that the rail link will not be confined to just being between Belfast and Dublin but can expand across the island and, therefore, address some of the historical infrastructural neglect.
The situation for farmers is catastrophic, particularly farmers with medium and small-sized farms. There is no question or doubt about that. Everybody else seems to make money out of the sweat from farmers' brows. Prices are chiselled at the meat factory and supermarket yet, for farmers, their costs have risen and incomes have decreased.
I was appalled at the remarks made by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine when he appeared to draw a parallel between the dignified protests of the farmers and the kidnap, torture and attempted murder of Kevin Lunney. I do not think there is any such parallel possible. It would be no harm if the Minister withdrew his remark and apologised.
Finally, I wish to discuss the business of C&D Foods that was bought by Larry Goodman. The enterprise used to be a petfood factory that was owned by Albert Reynolds. Larry Goodman is a gentleman who is a millionaire many times over. He has milked the taxpayers of this country for decades. It is a bit rich for him to hold up the process and refuse to withdraw injunctions against a couple of-----
-----should be put in his place. I shall outline what is at the heart of this matter. What was basically the traditional employment of the overwhelming majority of people in this country - farming - is a losing ticket now. That is extremely sad and very damaging to the social fabric of this country.
I dtús báire, at 4 o'clock we have Professor Kate Kenny coming in to the audiovisual room. She is the leading European expert on whistleblowing. A lot of EU regulations will come down the tracks over the next six to 12 months and, therefore, I strongly encourage all Senators to go to the audiovisual room to hear her presentation. There will also be plenty of opportunities to ask questions. She has written a number of books on the topic of whistleblowing so I urge Senators to please avail of the event if they are free.
I do not know how many Senators met the farmers yesterday but I hope everyone did as it was well worth doing so. Senator Conway-Walsh met them last night. The Senator and I spoke to the farmers and they are ordinary, decent people. They do not want to be in Dublin but want to be farming. It takes an awful lot to get ordinary, decent people like them to come here to protest. I fully support the passionate comments that Senator Mulherin made about farmers. I ask her to use whatever influence she has on the Government to get it to move faster on all of the issues.
I shall now talk briefly about rural Ireland. There are between 31 and 32 local enterprise offices, or LEOs, in Ireland. Tá Údarás na Gaeltachta i gceannas ar na LEOs i gceantair Ghaeltachta. Faigheann na comhairlí contae ar fad roinnt airgid le cabhrú leo LEOs a eagrú. Níl sé sin ag Údarás na Gaeltachta. I ask the Leader to use his office and ask the Minister of State, Deputy Breen, to give equal treatment to rural Ireland and Údarás na Gaeltachta in terms of getting the normal amount of funding that all of the other organisations get in terms of LEOs. I need two minutes to mention one final matter.
The Olympic rowing organisation in Ireland gets about €600,000 to get its Olympians to the Olympics but, in the budget a fortnight ago, the Minister announced that the greyhound industry would receive €16.8 million, which is absolutely crazy. Will the Leader see what he can do to reduce that funding and give it to the people and athletes? In Ireland, there are about 15% fewer people between the ages of 16 and 19 years of age playing soccer now than three years ago.
I wish to raise issues around certain groups who are currently campaigning against the reform of the relationship and sexuality education curriculum in our schools. The groups are whipping up fear. For a number of weeks they have circulated leaflets across the State. For a number of months they have been holding public meetings and there was a meeting at the Spawell venue in Templeogue last night.
One group is called Let Kids be Kids. It has distributed leaflets, and participated on radio shows such as "The Niall Boylan Show" on Classic Hits 4FM and on fake news outlets such as Gript Media. It has consciously circulated misinformation for months.
Let me give an example of the misinformation. That children under four years of age will be taught about masturbation and a report by the World Health Organization, WHO, was cited but it has no link or reference to the ongoing curriculum review. Some leaflets make spurious claims suggesting that reform of relationship and sexuality education will lead to incidents of statutory rape. On what planet do these people live?
Without doubt, the misinformation is intentional. It is seen as some sort of bastion of defence against liberalism. However, they are content not to consider the consequences of not reforming relationship and sexuality education. They are happy for children to grow up without a formalised curriculum, without getting information about consent, and without a curriculum that helps them to stay safe.They want to exclude lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender young people from getting education about sexuality and relationships. They are content for generations of Irish society to grow up with shamed and distorted views about sex. According to a newspaper in Donegal, parents were left outraged in the wake of the distribution of what has been described as "propaganda" in local schools. A Sinn Féin activist in Donegal has pointed out that, "There is a fierce irony in attempting to counteract the perceived inclusion of political propaganda in schools by distributing what is undoubtedly political propaganda in schools." Being gay in school is still not easy. A campaign group that goes by the name of "Hands Off Our Kids" is a disgrace because it harks back to an agenda that frames gay men as predatory. There are Members who will remember that when homosexuality was decriminalised, there were attempts to provide for an age of consent that was much higher than the general age of consent.
In Britain, the age of consent for gay people was 21 while the general age consent was 18. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister, Deputy McHugh, to come to the Seanad to dispel these serious and insidious claims.
I am concerned that we are going to read a lot of the news that we are going to hear in the media before it is Government policy. It seems to be the way of things nowadays. The leak that came out this morning related to councillors' pay and conditions, which is a matter close to the Leas-Chathaoirleach's heart. Many of us here are quite animated about it. A great deal of work has been done in recent years. I understand the Moorhead report will not be released today. Much of its contents seem to be known. All that is missing is the circulation of the report. It has been suggested that the recommendation will be lumped in with another review of pay and conditions. Up to now, this was not part of the agreement with councillors, who have had a long-outstanding entitlement in respect of their pay and conditions. There has been a lengthy review. This process has gone on for years. The effect of the mealy-mouthed statement we are hearing at this stage is that it is great that there will be a pay increase, and we are happy about that, but-----
-----we are going to push it into a commission and see what we get out of it. It is just not good enough to say, "We will turn it in there and see what comes out at the end of it." The Government is speaking out of both sides of its mouth.
It is amazing that every avenue of reform is rejected. That is it. I would like to respond to Senator Bacik's remarks about gender equality by mentioning that last night we got the good news of a very worthy series of appointments to the Bench.
I would like to contribute to the discussion about farmers. Senator Craughwell has mentioned Iran as a possible market for beef and lamb. I am sure it is. This country needs to be honest and truthful when it comes to the People's Republic of China.
We are going on our knees to appease a regime that is engaging in the most dramatic and repulsive deprivation of human rights of the past five, ten or 15 years. One million people are detained in re-education camps that are run in the most vicious and humiliating way. The camps are designed to obliterate the identity, language, religious beliefs and way of life of the detainees.
I am very grateful to the media for giving publicity to what is going on in China. All of this is being done as part of a policy that is approved by President Xi, whom we feted when he came to this country, and others in Beijing. We are on our knees trying to sell beef to these people. There has not been a whimper of protest from Iveagh House about the Uighur population being the subject of a latter-day psychological holocaust, if I can use that phrase to describe it. Do we stand for anything anymore? I do not want to talk about the carbon footprint of the agricultural trade in beef to China. Is that trade more important than the need to stand up for what we believe in as human beings? I am shocked that the Irish Government is so weak. I am grateful to the BBC "Panorama" programme the other day, which showed us the reality of what this savage regime is all about.
I support the comments of my colleague, Senator McDowell, on China. We have called previously for a detailed debate on our relationship with that country. The Asian country with which I am most familiar is Taiwan, which is a democratic republic. It has a population of 24 million and is the most democratic country in the world. Ireland does not recognise Taiwan and does not trade with it in any real way. I suggest that if this Government and previous Governments had treated Taiwan with the respect it deserves, we could be sending much more beef to Taiwan than to mainland China, and without any strings attached. When I visited Taiwan recently with a number of colleagues, we went to a food trade fair at which almost every European country was represented. However, the Republic of Ireland was not. The EU even had a stand. Most European countries have trade offices in Taipei. They trade openly with Taiwan. For some reason, we are afraid to deal with Taiwan. China only deals with us for commodities it needs. Otherwise, we would be in the ha'penny place. It is time for us to wake up and look at markets other than those that are trying to impose themselves on this country.
Many Senators have spoken about the farmers' protests that are going on outside Leinster House. Senator McDowell has referred to the need to be "truthful". The agricultural system, as we know it, is broken. I am not surprised that farmers are on the street because they are running faster and faster just to stand still. Food is cheap. As consumers, we have to acknowledge that we are paying too little for food. I will give the House some figures in support of my contention. People in the UK and Ireland spend approximately 9% of their disposable income on food. The European average is approximately 14%. French people spend almost twice as much of their disposable income on food. We must be under no illusions about the fact that cheap food is part of this problem. It is not solely about pricing. We have all spoken about the three pillars of sustainability. We all know about economic, social and environmental sustainability. Farmers are working tirelessly on a daily basis to ensure they produce food as efficiently as they can. We need to develop systems that will reduce losses. Most of all, we need to help the agriculture industry to develop robust and healthy animals, genetics to reduce waste, precision farming and positive welfare attributes. They need support. It is not all bad. I am frustrated by the continual bad news stories that are coming from the industry as it comes under immense pressure from animal welfare groups and environmentalists. I will give the House some statistics that were shared with me yesterday. We need to stop beating our farmers up because they are doing a good job.
In 2007, it took 35% less water, 23% less food, 21% less livestock, 11% less land, 56% less nitrous oxide, 43% less methane and 24% less manure to produce a litre of milk than it did in 1944.Those guys are doing a good job and are getting better and better, but we keep beating up on them. We need some systems thinking. We need the Government, farmers, industry and consumers, in conjunction with research and academic, working together. To make changes and stop these farmers taking to the streets, we will have to address a broken agricultural system.
-----of the House for their contributions to the Order of Business. Senators Ardagh, Hackett, Conway-Walsh, Mulherin, Boyhan, Bacik, Gallagher, Craughwell, Norris, Ó Céidigh, McDowell and Marshall all raised the issue of the farming protest. Senator Marshall's final comments are probably the most pertinent of all the contributions made this morning, especially his reference to working together. There is much positivity, as well as many challenges, in the farming sector. Working together, however, we can fix the system.
It is important for Members on the Opposition benches to remember that they do not have a monopoly on empathy, concern or frustration. All of us either live or work in farming communities or have family members who do. We understand, at first-hand, the challenges faced every day by farmers. Let us make a few things clear, however. The Government has no role in the pricing of the beef market. That is not its duty. We all understand the frustration and anger felt by farmers. The Minister went out and met some of the protestors this morning. Senator Ardagh mentioned the issue of death threats. The Minister commented on that matter during parliamentary questions in the Dáil this morning and it is important that that is recognised.
It is also important to recognise that the protests today are not supported by the main farming organisations. Equally, the beef industry should lift the injunctions that are in place. All of us want to see farmers receive a legitimate price for their produce. I am surprised that Senator Ardagh is only going to her local butcher now. We should all be going to our local butchers all of the time, because those are the people we should be supporting. We should shop locally in our own small way in our own small communities. The issue at stake concerns finding a solution, but it works both ways. The Government has intervened. I could read a whole list of Government interventions to support the beef industry, including in the area of beef genomics, beef development efficiency, beef environmental efficiency, exceptional aid to beef farmers, restoration of the areas of natural constraint scheme and the €85 million targeted support scheme. That all exists.
As Senator Marshall correctly stated, however, there is a role for everybody to work in collaboration. That includes Meat Industry Ireland, MII. I do not fly a flag for that organisation at all and that organisation should arrange for the injunctions to be lifted. I am happy to have a debate on the beef industry, and on our Government's role in that sector as well as in farming more generally. There is positivity, but that works both ways. Coming into this House, however, and naming people does not help. All of us want to find a solution that will allow the beef industry and the farmers to rise because we all understand the frustration and toil required to bring an animal to market. We also understand the segmentation of that market. I am happy to have that debate. When I hear Members speak about markets, I do not fly a flag for China, as Senator Wilson knows. I heard Senator McDowell commenting on China when it was his Government, the Government in which he was the Attorney General, that adopted the Asian strategy under former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern. That was signed off when Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats were in government and Senator McDowell was the Attorney General in that Government. Was he missing in the corner office at the time?
I will come into the House and criticise China, as I am doing now. I agree with Senators Wilson and McDowell that we should be doing more trade with Taiwan. Are we, however, going to take €6 billion from China and then say "Goodbye" to the market? Are we also going to tell the farming community that we are going to say "No thanks" to the new markets opened up last month? Is that what the Senators really want? Let us have a real debate or we might as well fold up our tents and go home. I know we campaign in poetry and govern in prose, but either the Senators want to have a sustainable beef and agriculture sector or they do not. If all they want are headlines in The Daily Mailevery day, then let us do that and we can all fold up our tents and go home. We would have no agricultural society, no farmers-----
-----the frustration of the farming community and we stand with them. As Senator Marshall stated, it is not by producing soundbites and trying to get attention-grabbing headlines that we will solve this matter. We will solve it with collaboration. That could include the Department, the farming organisations and MII. My position is clear. I stand with the farmers and I understand their frustration and annoyance.
If Members in this House really want to state to the Department that we are not going to take up the opportunities of new markets in China and €6 billion in trade, then that flies in the face of what Fianna Fáil did in government for 20 years.
Senators Lawless, Conway-Walsh, Ó Donnghaile and McDowell made reference to presidential voting rights and the referendum. I salute Senator Lawless, in particular, for the work he has been doing. He was in Washington D.C. last week pursuing a different matter. He has been working diligently behind the scenes to ensure we get bipartisan support for our undocumented in the United States. I congratulate him on his work. The decision to postpone the referendum was a good one. As will be appreciated, the setting of the new date for the referendum is beyond my pay grade. I do think that it should be held, however. My only concern, lest videos be put up again, is that we may have too narrow a window to accomplish that. I am afraid the referendum might get lost in the commentary on the general election. I am also not sure there is enough time between now and March, or whenever the election happens. The St. Patrick's Day visits around the world are also a factor to consider. I will support the Senator on that issue, however. The timing is a matter for the Government but it is important that we get this right and I salute the Senator.
Senator Ó Ríordáin proposed an amendment to the Order of Business. I am not against it, but I am not going to accept it today. Given the importance of the matter which he discussed yesterday and today, and on which Senator Ardagh also spoke yesterday, I propose that rather than divide the House today we have statements on crime next Thursday instead. I would be happy to give considerable time for that debate.
Senator Leyden also made a proposal on the Order of Business. To be fair to him, as well as to Senators Hopkins, Mullen and other Members of the House who referred to the issue of Cuisle, that is really a matter for the Irish Wheelchair Association, IWA.Given the sensitivity and importance of the matter raised by Senator Hopkins in the last couple of weeks, in light of the proposal made by Senator Leyden this morning and bearing in mind my reluctance to divide the House on such a sensitive matter, I am proposing in a spirit of co-operation that we should take statements on Cuisle for an hour, to be followed by a 90-minute debate on the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill 2017. I ask Senator Ó Ríordáin to agree that we will take statements on crime next week. Rather than dividing the House, I suggest that my proposal be agreed. In fairness to the Minister for Justice and Equality and his officials, the important matter of crime should not be foisted on the Minister today. I will be happy to provide for such a debate next week. I have spoken to people who are affected by the important and sensitive matter that Senator Leyden has raised, which is having significant repercussions for families and service users.
Senators Boyhan and Davitt referred to the leaked Moorhead report. I suggest that the person who leaked the report to RTÉ today did a disservice to everybody. It should not have been leaked at all. I watched the Minister at the committee. I heard some of the proceedings. I intended to have statements on local government today, but now they will be held next week.
Senator Devine spoke about sarcoma, which is probably the second most important issue to be raised today. She could legitimately call a vote on having the Order of Business amended. As she knows, I have met people who are involved in the campaign. What is happening is unacceptable. There is a need for clarity from the St. Vincent's hospital group. My information, which is subject to clarification, is that an interview process is beginning. It is a pity that what happened occurred in such an unfortunate manner. I refer in particular to the late refusal or rejection of the position by a particular candidate and to the non-offering of the position to the person who was in the post. I am not familiar with what is going on, but it is unacceptable. I will endeavour to get the Minister to come to the House to debate this important matter. I have a better sense of the situation since I met some of the people involved.
Senator Byrne raised the issue of University Hospital Limerick. Again, it is about ensuring the supply of beds is increased.
Senators Ardagh and Bacik spoke about the importance of cycling. It is important that we understand that cyclists in our cities, especially in our capital city, have rights and should be treated with courtesy and respect. The law should be upheld. We have had a very tragic death recently. We extend our sympathies to the families of the person who died.
I will be happy to have the Minister come back to the House in the near future for a debate on sustainable transport and cycling.
I do not have the information that Senator Bacik is seeking on the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (Gender Pay Gap Information) Bill 2017. I will endeavour to get it as soon as I can. I commend everyone involved in this morning's Dress for Success event, at which the Taoiseach spoke.
Senator Gallagher raised the important issue of mortgage rates. We will endeavour to have a debate on this important matter.
I know I am going to incur the wrath of Members again - I do not mean to sometimes - as I respond to what Senator Craughwell said about this country's efforts to get a seat on the UN Security Council. We should look beyond the populist narrative of a headline.
Senator Craughwell has been around this world for a long time. He has served and been involved in public service for a long time. He knows the reasons better than I do. If he does not, I will be happy to share them with him on another occasion.
While I do not have an answer to what Senator Ó Donnghaile said about a tweet, it is important that we develop a coherent and clear transport strategy between the North and South of Ireland. If that means we have a high-speed one-hour train, it will be great that all sides of the island are connected. I hope we get such a service between Cork and Dublin as well.
Senator Ó Céidigh can have a discussion with the Minister of State, Deputy Breen, when he is here later this afternoon.
Senator Warfield raised an important point about sex education being open to everybody. I agree with him that it should not be seen through a narrow prism. I would be happy for the Minister to come to the House. I subscribe completely to the Senator's view on this issue.
I think that is it. I ask Senators to agree to my proposal that we take an hour for a debate on Cuisle and an hour and a half for the debate on the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill 2017. I ask Senator Ó Ríordáin to agree that we will discuss crime next week.
Senator Ó Ríordáin has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That No. 2 adjourn after one and a half hours, if not previously concluded; that a debate on crime with the Minister for Justice and Equality take place for one hour on the adjournment of No. 2; and that No. 3 be taken on the conclusion of the debate on crime." Is the amendment being pressed?
We want a substantial debate and a substantial statement from the Minister about the issue on Thursday week. I do not want to have a pre-written script that could have been read out last month or in the previous months. I want the Minister to come in here and accept the need for a commission and a task force on the north side of Dublin, as was done in the north inner city. If it takes the Minister a week to get his act together and to deliver that, I am happy to delay the debate.
There was a debate on crime two weeks ago, but there has been a murder since then. I will withdraw the amendment to the Order of Business in good faith on the basis that we have a real and substantive debate on crime, gangland crime, murder and drugs in this House next week.
Thank you, Senator. The withdrawal of the amendment is accepted. Senator Leyden has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That No. 2 not be taken; that a debate with the Minister of State with responsibility for disability issues on the imminent closure of the Cuisle accessible holiday centre be taken in its stead; and that No. 3 be taken on the conclusion of that debate." The Leader has made a proposal in respect of this amendment. Is the Senator accepting the Leader's proposal?
I thank the Leader of the House for granting my request for a debate on this matter. He is aware of the sensitivities of this issue. I am pleased that the Minister of State with responsibility for disability issues will come to the House to outline the latest position and say whether the closure can be deferred for six months or a year to enable us to sit down and try to solve this problem. That is all.
The amendment is withdrawn. The Leader of the House has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That a debate on the imminent closure of the Cuisle accessible holiday centre be taken for one hour after the conclusion of No. 1; and that No. 2 be taken for one and a half hours on the conclusion of that debate." Is that agreed? Agreed.