Seanad debates

Thursday, 28 November 2019

10:30 am

Photo of Catherine NooneCatherine Noone (Fine Gael)
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The Order of Business is No. 1, Finance (Tax Appeals and Prospectus Regulation) Bill 2019, Second Stage, to be taken at 12.45 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and all other Senators not to exceed five minutes.

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Deputy Leader, Senator Noone, for outlining today's Order of Business. I wish to raise a couple of points, one on the town and village renewal programme. In response to a parliamentary question from Deputy Calleary, the Minister for Rural and Community Development, Deputy Ring, stated that last year, 224 projects were successful and 66 were unsuccessful. This year,156 projects were successful and 153 were unsuccessful. It is a vastly worse scenario in terms of people getting funding for their programmes right across the country, including all of the areas that are facing by-elections, namely, Dublin, Wexford and Cork. Lots of towns were excluded for various reasons. I do not remember the last time the Minister, Deputy Ring, has been in this Chamber but it is a long time. We have not seen him since we came back in September. It would be useful if we could arrange through the good offices of the Deputy Leader to bring in the Minister, Deputy Ring, to explain the situation. It could be the case that the scheme is so successful that more people are becoming aware of it, more towns are applying and they are applying for more money. I understand that it is a competitive process but people who are going through the process are looking for money for various valid reasons and they are not getting it. It would be useful and interesting to hear from the Minister on that particular point.

In my memory, we have never seen a Government backbencher express her frustration and embarrassment at the state of the health service, as one of our Fine Gael colleagues in the Lower House did recently at an Oireachtas committee. To be fair to her, she made the point that her child may have been less sick than others, but she was embarrassed by the state of the health service. Other people have been making complaints about units in Connolly Hospital in Blanchardstown where bloods cannot be tested there and are put in taxis and sent to Temple Street hospital. The blood is congealing on the way. We have reports of a lot of dysfunction going on in the health service. We need to see the Minister in the House. We are not even at the worst of the winter yet and higher numbers than ever are on trolleys in emergency departments. Despite all the money going into the health service it does not seem to be working in the way it should and it is not delivering a service for citizens. We need the Minister, Deputy Harris, to explain to the House how he is trying to get through it. We have a new chief executive of the HSE, Paul Reid, whom I knew when he was chief executive of Fingal County Council. I am sure he will do his best but the HSE is an enormous organisation. We know that the money is going into it and it is something we have to worry about.

I am very concerned at the recent report from the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council, IFAC, outlining that as much as €6 billion of the €10 billion a year in corporation tax is temporary. We have rows over fiscal space of €300 million and €500 million each year in the budget and where we might have €1 billion to play around with if we are lucky. The more we have the better. If we had €20 billion I would be delighted, but we are building foundations, increasing Revenue spending and plugging holes in health in particular with this money. It may only be temporary. I hope it is not, but the IFAC is outlining concerns which I share. Half our corporation tax is coming from ten companies, most likely Apple, Microsoft, Google, Oracle and some of the pharmaceutical companies. For reasons of taxpayer privacy we do not know who they are but we can guess. The IFAC is concerned that the level of Government spending is barely prudent. It is very much teetering on the edge of being prudent at this stage. We need the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, to come to this Chamber. I do not think I have seen him here for a very long time. He usually sends either the Minister of State, Deputy D'Arcy, or the Minister of State, Deputy O'Donovan. I know he is a busy person managing two Departments but this House needs to know what measures he is putting in place to control Government spending, as Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. These windfall gains are great, but if one wins the lottery one year and one starts to live a lifestyle based on winning the lottery every year, when one stops winning the lottery, one has a problem. I would appreciate it if the Deputy Leader could organise those debates.

Photo of Joan FreemanJoan Freeman (Independent)
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I acknowledge that it is Thanksgiving Day. I wish the people in Solace House in New York and all the clients that go to them a happy Thanksgiving Day.

I wish to follow on from what the previous speaker said about the embarrassment of Fine Gael over the state of the emergency department in the children's hospital. It made me look back at Fine Gael's election manifestos in 2011 and 2016. I will read a little from it:

Fine Gael policy on mental health incorporates the recommendations of A Vision for Change. We are committed to reducing the stigma of mental illness, ensuring early and appropriate intervention and vastly improving access to modern mental health services in the community.

What happened during those years? Fine Gael's next manifesto in 2016 stated: "We will publish a plan for the achievement of the faster access to comprehensive and appropriate mental health services, building upon A Vision for Change, with an emphasis on building on [...] reduced waiting times for child and adolescent services." Another reference is quite ironic, namely, reduced admission rates to acute units. Of course Fine Gael has achieved the latter aim because half the units are closed so of course they will show a reduction in acute units. I would like to call in the Minister of State, Deputy Daly, to ask him what has happened to A Vision for Change. There have been two more reviews in recent years, one about six months ago. Where is it at? What is happening? How embarrassing for Fine Gael that it is not coming through with any of the promises it made prior to the previous two elections. We are coming back into the silly season again where everybody will go around door to door promising everything. What is Fine Gael going to promise this year? Will we witness that it will not follow up on it?

Photo of Rose Conway WalshRose Conway Walsh (Sinn Fein)
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I thank the Leader for facilitating the statements on Cuisle yesterday. Subsequent to that, it was mentioned in the Minister of State's statement that it was not about funding and requests had not been made for funding, when it was clear from those who contacted us, including service users, that a request had been made to the Department.The Minister of State expressed a willingness to discuss what can be done with the HSE and the Irish Wheelchair Association. We need to listen to people who depend on that accommodation service for respite and a break. It is not good enough to say that they can just go to a hotel. That centre was suitable to meet people's needs and the €1.15 million investment needs to be made. We spent €1.8 million on a printer that has not been used for a year because it was not possible to fit it into the designated location within the relevant building. That is not good enough. These people are much more important than a printer.

The impact of Brexit on the motor industry has not received enough focus. Obviously, we are extremely concerned about the impact of Brexit on many other industries, not least that relating to agriculture and, in particular, the beef sector, which may incur 80% tariffs. It has been estimated that the UK motor industry will incur a loss of £40 billion up to 2024. Here, 12,000 jobs could be lost in small businesses in Mayo and elsewhere. A large part of their business involves importing cars from either the North or Britain. We need to consider the impact of losing 12,000 jobs, many of them in rural areas. In addition to the job losses, there will be an estimated €231 million tax loss to the Exchequer. The matter needs further discussion and needs to be examined. Mitigating measures need to be introduced for that industry to give it assurance. There will also be an impact on consumers in the context of how much more it will cost to buy cars. People living in rural areas need to have cars. Households there often have two cars. Brexit will also have an impact on people's spending power.

Photo of Aodhán Ó RíordáinAodhán Ó Ríordáin (Labour)
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I discovered with some disquiet an issue mentioned in the media yesterday. The Cabinet has given approval for changes in gambling legislation to allow stakes of €5 in gambling machines versus the current limit of 3 cent, with the maximum payout increasing from 50 cent to €500. These gambling machines have been proven to destroy many lives. I remember a campaign in the 1980s to ban one-armed bandits, as they were then called. I am completely perplexed as to where this has come from. Who is advocating for these changes? What lobby group has the ear of the Ministers who decided, apparently out of the blue, to increase the minimum stake from a number of cent to quite a number of euro and the maximum payout from 50 cent to €500. We have a culture now whereby people are beginning to talk more about addiction to alcohol, drugs, pornography and gambling. The UK is going in the opposite direction. I am confused as to the thinking behind this move in respect of gambling machines. Who is advocating in respect of it? Who will benefit from it? Do we really feel that society will be enhanced by having gambling machines that can accept higher stakes and pay out more money? This proposal emerged from the Cabinet meeting held on Tuesday.

At the very least, we need to talk about this issue. A significant number of vested interests seem to get the ear of the Government. This particular move has been met with surprise and alarm. I ask the Deputy Leader to facilitate a debate as quickly as possible. I presume the Minister for Justice and Equality has responsibility in this area. Why are we doing this and who will benefit? Unless I am completely confused, from my reading of what is involved, this will be very damaging for people who already have gambling addictions. It will also be a gateway for people who do not necessarily have such addictions and it will suck them into something much more dangerous. We should not let this go without rigorous examination. I hope that, potentially, we might put a stop to it.

Photo of John O'MahonyJohn O'Mahony (Fine Gael)
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Yesterday, Sport Ireland received the KOSI report it had commissioned in respect of the governance of the FAI. That report was handed over to the Garda for investigation. The report was due to be discussed by the Joint Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport, which began the process relating to this matter. Obviously, the joint committee's deliberations in this regard will now be delayed. I call on the Deputy Leader to invite the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, to the House at the earliest opportunity, preferably next week. I totally support the withdrawal of Government funding, which should not be restored until good governance is guaranteed. We all know that the Garda investigation may run for months, if not years. The guarantee of good governance is absolutely vital but the restoration of the funding is urgent. Coaching programmes, particularly those relating to children, are dependent on Government funding and they are all being held up. Next year, the Aviva Stadium in Dublin will host two UEFA European Football Championship games, which will obviously also require Government funding. An immovable object has come up against an irresistible force and something needs to be done. It is important that the Minister come to the House at the earliest opportunity next week in order that we might be informed as to a timeline for how this will play out. The handing of the report to the Garda yesterday means that the other process is on hold.

Photo of Michael McDowellMichael McDowell (Independent)
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I also noticed the newspaper announcement to which Senator Ó Ríordáin referred. I wholly agree with the sentiments he expressed. I wonder who could be encouraging the Department of Justice and Equality to increase these limits for gambling machines in Ireland. As I have never heard of any popular demand for this, I presume it is coming from a group of people who are engaged in that business and who are twisting the arms of politicians. The damage done by these machines, fixed-odds betting terminals, in Britain and here has been enormous. They create substantial poverty and misery among people. The Gaming and Lotteries Act 1956 has had the effect of prohibiting certain activities in Dublin city amusement arcades where these machines are located.One need only walk up O'Connell Street or down the quays or drive to the airport to see massive casinos in operation. The Garda has collapsed in its determination to uphold the law. I am sorry to say that some District Court judges around the country have had the wool pulled over their eyes. Revenue licences have been produced to them in circumstances where local authorities have not yet adopted - and have no intention of adopting - a resolution permitting the casinos in their area. One of the few powers left to local government is to decide on whether these machines will be permitted in their local authority area. It has been decided to allow them in places such as Bray and Bundoran, and that is fine by me. However, the city of Dublin has never authorised the operation of amusement arcades which have these machines. It is plainly and simply illegal. Money is talking. The blatant loophole in our laws which is allowing this to happen without prosecution or enforcement has been allowed to remain for many years. Vast sums of money are being invested in and taken out of the casinos.

I totally agree with Senator Ó Ríordáin that the time has come for somebody in Government to claim responsibility for the proposal to increase the maximum stakes and payouts. I have the greatest of respect for the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, whom I very much like as an individual. Is he seriously going to come to this House to tell us that he wishes to increase the sums of money people can gamble and win on these machines? Will he explain to the House who has asked him to increase the limits? Will he claim it is important for tourism or will he face up to the fact that it would increase misery, the number of people falling into gambling addiction, the consequences for their families, criminality and so on? It is inexplicable that the Government would facilitate the change. There is no demand or good reason for it. The law is being openly flouted in Dublin and it is about time the Garda Commissioner, the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Minister for Justice and Equality closed down the casinos in Dublin which are being operated in total disregard of the law of the land.

Photo of Paul GavanPaul Gavan (Sinn Fein)
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Well said.

Photo of Maria ByrneMaria Byrne (Fine Gael)
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Last Monday was the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. People are being asked to wear purple to mark the occasion. I encourage all people to be more aware of issues facing women and the fact that many women have been through violent situations. I wish to highlight the importance of the day.

Photo of Maire DevineMaire Devine (Sinn Fein)
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I echo the dismay of Senator Freeman at the lack of implementation of A Vision for Change. The strategy was published in 2006 and was to be implemented by 2016, but 75% of it is yet to be implemented. Its funding was scalped in the name of the fiscal rectitude which has eaten away at our health services.

I refer to Our Lady's Children's Hospital, Crumlin, which is located up the road from where I live. Several years ago, I was alerted to issues at the hospital by the INMO and nurses working there. Approximately a year ago, I did some work on numbers relating to the hospital. There has been a stark increase of 15%, at least, in attendance at its emergency department. However, facilities or staffing numbers have not increased. The situation there is now being highlighted but it has been going on for some time. The chaos in adults' accident and emergency departments is well known. I tried to highlight the difficulties in children's emergency departments in 2016. We have not reached the high point of need for emergency treatment, which usually occurs in February or March.

This morning, a paediatric consultant interviewed on the "Today with Sean O'Rourke" radio programme kept referring to an urgent care centre. It was eventually clarified that she was referring to the new children's hospital at Connolly Hospital. We need to get the message out that the facility is open. Although it is only open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday, we need to advertise it such that parents know they can bring their children there. It opened in July. I would like the Minister to inform the House on the staff ratios there, the status of recruitment and which parts of the service are fully operational. If it is only operating from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m., it is obvious that it is only partly operational. We are awaiting the opening of the new children's unit at Tallaght Hospital and the children's hospital on the St. James's site which is being constructed at massive cost. We need to advertise the new satellite children's hospitals. I ask that the Minister come to the House and answer questions on the current operational capacity of the facility at Connolly Hospital.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Fine Gael)
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I wish to highlight a dreadful attack on Fergus Kilcoyne, an Independent councillor from Patrickswell. At 4.45 a.m. last Monday morning, his house was attacked. All the windows were broken and his car was smashed. He, his wife and their children were asleep in the house. His wife and family were terrorised. Gardaí based at Roxboro Road Garda station are carrying out an investigation. The facts are in the public domain locally. It was a significant affront to society and an attack on democracy. We must seek to ensure we stop this type of attack. We should consider whether our legal and legislative systems are sufficiently robust. I have spoken to Fergus Kilcoyne. His main concern is for his family. He operates a business in the village of Patrickswell. The Garda is carrying out a detailed investigation into the matter and I ask that anyone with information contact it. The Seanad should give consideration to our legal and legislative systems in light of the attack and ask the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, to come to the House on the issue in the not too distant future. Obviously, extra Garda resources are needed. The Garda Commissioner will attend a meeting of the joint policing committee in Limerick on 12 December to examine specific matters. It was an isolated incident, but we need to show solidarity with colleagues across the country. It is key that anyone with information contact the Garda at Roxboro Road or elsewhere in Limerick to ensure the perpetrators of this heinous crime are brought to account.

Photo of Kevin HumphreysKevin Humphreys (Labour)
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I echo the remarks of Senator O'Donnell. Such incidents occur across the country. There are communities in Dublin that are not policed. The Minister, Deputy Flanagan, must explain why the allocation for Garda recruitment was reduced in the budget.

I wish to raise the issue of housing. It has been reported in today's morning papers that an entire housing estate in Maynooth has been bought for €57 million and the properties are to be put on the rental market. We need a healthy and well-regulated rental market. The regulations must be enforced. What we are seeing over and over again is entire apartment blocks or housing estates being purchased in order to be put on the rental market. This is leading to the breakdown of communities. We need a mix of rental, social housing and other forms of housing. People who are earning a reasonable income should have the opportunity to purchase a house, but they cannot compete with these investors. Earlier this month, AIB and Bank of Ireland put together a fund of €50 million to buy up small residential developments which will be put up for rent. In my area, many young couples were hoping to have an opportunity to purchase one of the approximately 150 apartments being developed in a complex in Mount Argus.They then read in the newspaper that it was entirely purchased by a fund.

I know certain Members of this House, mainly on the Government benches, are sewn into the idea of a market economy and they say the market will decide. Ireland was traditionally a homeowner society with people who put roots into communities and created sustainable communities and they wanted to live in those communities in the long term to rear a family, to contribute to society and to build a community. This is no longer happening because we have an ideology that the market decides. That ideology will only offer the children who are in this House today an opportunity to rent for the rest of their lives. They will not have the same opportunity their parents had to purchase a house, to build a community and to build a family, safe in the security of knowing they own their home. We have an economy that is market-driven and we have a party that says the market decides, which was said in this House about co-living. It was said that the market will decide how many co-living units we will have and that we will only see them in the city centre. Now we see them all over the country.

We have a grave responsibility to the generation sitting in the Gallery so that they have an opportunity to purchase their own homes and rear a family. We have a responsibility to the 20 year olds and 30 year olds so that they will not get caught in a scheme where they will have a pension fund that will only pay for their accommodation. We are not doing any forward planning on families in this State because it is a market economy and that is disgraceful.

Photo of Neale RichmondNeale Richmond (Fine Gael)
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I would like to raise the issue of the new European Commission that was elected and approved yesterday in Strasbourg at a sitting of the European Parliament. Europe is facing into a difficult five years under the Presidency of new Commission leader, Dr. Ursula von der Leyen. I call on the Deputy Leader to work with other officials in the Oireachtas to invite President von der Leyen to address a joint sitting of the Houses of the Oireachtas as soon as possible, much like former President Juncker did in recent months. There is much to deal with for Ireland and Europe beyond Brexit, be it the climate emergency, the new European budget, the migrant refugee crisis and so much more and it is vitally important we engage as early and as fully as possible with the new Commission, including President von der Leyen and the Irish nominee, Commissioner Phil Hogan, to deal with all these key issues.

Photo of Victor BoyhanVictor Boyhan (Independent)
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What Senator Richmond said is important but it is also important that we have a Seanad Special Committee on the Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union and I would welcome an early opportunity to have an updated report on its work, how it is meeting and what it is up to. That is really important. We have a number of slots and maybe we could identify a slot such as a Thursday afternoon for that. I thank Senator Richmond for all the work he is doing in that regard.

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission issued its report this morning and it is very significant. This will be examined in the UN on Monday and Tuesday of next week in greater detail. I sent this out to colleagues today. It will be televised and there will be a live link to the proceedings. It will be important to see how we account for ourselves. I ask the Deputy Leader if we could have a debate on this report. There are significant issues in it and there are significant recommendations for this country, particularly in the area of hate speech and hate crime, which we all know about and which we have talked about a lot. There are also recommendations on discrimination against specific groups and a substantial number of groups are mentioned. The issue of the international protection of human rights and trafficking also features in the report. These are three major themes the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission has singled out with Ireland and it details how we have acquitted ourselves or not in the issues around human rights and equality within the remit of the Commission. I ask that we would have a specific debate on that.

I wish the 20 local authorities around this country that are coming here to Dublin tonight having been short-listed and nominated for the local government awards well. It will be an important evening. As Members know, there are 31 local authorities but 20 of them have been short-listed and nominated for specific awards for local government excellence, and that is taking place tonight so I wish them all well.

Photo of Tim LombardTim Lombard (Fine Gael)
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I would like to raise an important issue in the House this afternoon. We need to have a debate with the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy McHugh, and probably the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, on what their priorities are for next year's school transportation scheme. I became involved in this issue last September and October, when we had children and their parents in distress with waiting for tickets and buses not being available. It is a huge issue for rural Ireland. More than 100,000 children use the school transportation scheme every year and 30,000 of them are waiting on tickets, depending on the capacity of buses.

This entire matter has changed. We are talking about a new era of promoting public transport and the ability to have a carbon-neutral society. Two diesel cars emit the same amount of carbon as one school bus. We have to look at this differently and put a real scheme in place to ensure we have the capabilities and the capacity to take the children who are looking to go on school buses. This debate has to happen now. I do not want us to have a scenario where next summer we will be looking to try to find solutions. The solutions to the problems need to be found now. The planning needs to start now. We need to solve all the issues with the school transportation scheme because we are promoting a society where parents have the ability to work and engage in society but if they are tied to having to take their kids to school every morning and collect them every evening and everything pertaining to that, it makes it hard for rural dwellers to survive. The debate needs to start now. That policy change needs to happen and we need to start to have a focus on how we will ensure we get more kids onto buses. If it does not, we will have the same tsunami next August as we had last August.

Photo of Paul GavanPaul Gavan (Sinn Fein)
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I want to bring up the issue of University Hospital Limerick. I know my colleagues in Limerick have raised it already this week but I had a public meeting on this issue last Monday and I would like to share some of the facts Members may not be aware of, while calling for a debate on the issue. The staff there told me that day that there was a new record of 85 patients on trolleys and they predicted that the number will go over 100 this winter. They were certain of that. They also told me that of the €26 million winter fund for hospitals in this State, University Hospital Limerick received the princely sum of €500,000. That is completely inadequate for the emergency that is there. I remind Members the emergency protocol has been operated there every day for the last two years. I have to ask how it can be with Fine Gael in government and with plenty of Fine Gael representatives in Limerick that a pittance of €500,000 was allocated to University Hospital Limerick when everyone here knows the depth of the crisis.

I also want to give Members examples of the incompetent management in the hospital, something I have been raising in here for years. For example, a person may turn up at the accident and emergency department, where an MRI scan is deemed to be required. Such a person is told he or she will be put in a hospital bed and that he or she can leave at 10 a.m. each morning once he or she is back at 8 p.m. that evening, because otherwise there will be a two-year wait for the MRI scan. Then we wonder why beds are blocked. That is management practice. A nurse who wanted to reduce her hours from 39 hours to 30 hours was told there was no way that would be allowed. As a result she resigned her post, came back in as an agency worker two weeks later to do her 30 hours per week but now the State picks up the tab. Again, that shows a complete lack of cop-on in management. Fine Gael has had nine years to deal with University Hospital Limerick. We consistently break records there. It has been a catalogue of failures. I have called for change in management and for the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, to intervene. The Minister has dodged my colleague, Deputy Quinlivan, and he does not want to come in and answer questions. I am calling for a debate and I am calling for honesty in that debate because Members of the House all know about what I am sharing here. These practices happen throughout the health service. They just happen to be worse in Limerick than anywhere else. It is time for the catalogue of failures to end, it is time for the Minister to intervene and it is time for people in Fine Gael to hold up their hands and accept they have failed the people of Limerick miserably with University Hospital Limerick.

Photo of Michelle MulherinMichelle Mulherin (Fine Gael)
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I would like the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney, to be invited in to discuss a serious human rights issue that has received news coverage, most recently by the Daily Mail.Children as young as four are in cobalt mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo, extracting cobalt so that we might have electric vehicles and batteries for them. It is estimated that approximately 40,000 children are operating in these mines. To say that it is not good for their health is an understatement, and there are long-term repercussions for these children. We are mindful of securing the future of the planet by tackling climate change. What is the future for these children? How are our policies contributing to this problem? The biggest cobalt mines are in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the demand is escalating with western policies to electrify transport, which means that car manufacturers are seeking this particular mineral. This is having a knock-on effect.

How are we contributing to solving this problem and what are we doing? I think everybody understands that this is disturbing. We see other investigations by Sky News and The Washington Post. There is much evidence, along with the fact that the Chinese are involved in these mines and the extraction of cobalt. We have placed ourselves on the world stage. We have to take action and see that there is some accountability such that we are not adding to the misery of people who are already living in very difficult circumstances. It is not acceptable. If this is the way that our climate action policies are going to proceed, they are sorely lacking in seeing the bigger picture of how people's lives are being impacted. This is urgent. It is not something new but it is clearly not being addressed. It is timely that the Minister would be brought in to explain to us what is happening and how the human rights of these children are being protected.

Photo of Rónán MullenRónán Mullen (Independent)
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When I read last weekend that the Dublin broadcasting branch of the National Union of Journalists, NUJ, had called for presenters' fees at RTÉ to be capped at the top rate of Civil Service pay, I was pleased to see that journalists were responding to public disquiet about excessive pay at the State broadcaster, especially at a time when RTÉ has a major budget deficit. This motion was passed by 30 NUJ journalists, describing the celebrity salaries as indefensible. I have learned from Kevin Doyle's report in the Irish Independentthat the local NUJ branch is effectively being carpeted by the NUJ leadership for speaking out of turn and, in the words of NUJ boss, Séamus Dooley, having a meeting without senior industrial officials being present. It is to be presumed that if those senior industrial officials were present, we would have got a fudge of the kind that some would like to see, with some celebrity journalists having their salaries pegged to much higher salary scales in the commercial semi-States.

Since September, I have been in touch with the Office of the Parliamentary Legal Adviser to see how the law might operate in a manner that respects RTÉ's independence as a State broadcaster while ensuring that top presenters' pay is tied to recognisable, sensible public sector pay scales. I welcomed the NUJ branch's comments last Saturday but I said that a statutory approach would be needed to ensure that this goal could be achieved in a way that will be fair, transparent and that will stick. Seeing the infighting now going on within the NUJ, I am even more of the view that external statutory regulation is necessary. I hope that when I bring this legislation forward in the new year, the Seanad will take a strong lead with me on this.

Tá gá le bunús reachtúil, go háirithe de bharr an achrainn agus easaontas laistigh d’Aontas Náisiúnta na nIriseoirí i dtaobh na ceiste seo. Leadership works best when it comes from the top. As I understand it, there are many different levels on which one can be paid in RTÉ. If one is in TG4, one is paid at a lower level than other journalists in RTÉ. We all know about the so-called yellow pack journalists operating both in RTÉ and the independent sector. It was in another context that Senator Humphreys referred a few moments ago to the injustice being done to the next generation, who are being priced out of the housing market etc. If the younger generation working in journalism or teaching simply cannot aspire to the same salary and conditions as more famous people within the organisation simply because they are young and have come into the organisation later, that is no way to build and promote morale. It is no way to protect and promote excellence in journalism either. I am disappointed to see that there is division within the NUJ about this important matter. Our response as a Legislature must be to take a lead and bring forward the necessary statutory basis for sensible pay scales which, though it would by no means be the end of the problem, would help RTÉ with its deficit problem.

Photo of Frank FeighanFrank Feighan (Fine Gael)
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I congratulate and thank the 1,500 people in County Roscommon who marched last Saturday to try to get the issue with the Irish Wheelchair Association resolved in Cuisle. I hope that we can work together with all the stakeholders to get this resolved.

Senator Gavan rightly raised the issue regarding University Hospital Limerick. I was in this situation. The Senator talked about Fine Gael not doing any work. Since we have been in government in 2011, we have made significant changes in healthcare. I was a victim of scaremongering and a political football regarding Roscommon. People said that people would die and that the place would be closed. Hundreds of people are alive today due to the air ambulance. Roscommon hospital is a model for smaller hospitals around the country. A national inpatient experience survey was done in Roscommon hospital and it got a 98% approval rating which I want to put on the record because many people and media outlets had a race to the bottom. Many good things are happening in the health service. Senator Gavan was absolutely right to raise some of the bad things but sometimes I think we lose sight of the great experiences that people have of our health system around the country. It can improve and will never be perfect. Fine Gael in government has done much to change the way that we deliver healthcare throughout the country. I am very proud of that.

On a lighter note, more than five years ago, our colleague, Senator Ned O'Sullivan raised the issue of seagulls having lost the run of themselves. There was great mirth. I was a victim of that today. I was on Grafton Street with a sandwich and I was mugged by a flock of seagulls.

Photo of Paul GavanPaul Gavan (Sinn Fein)
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Fianna Fáil seagulls.

Photo of Diarmuid WilsonDiarmuid Wilson (Fianna Fail)
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Sinn Féin ones.

Photo of Frank FeighanFrank Feighan (Fine Gael)
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They were Dublin seagulls, I think.

Photo of Catherine NooneCatherine Noone (Fine Gael)
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Leave the Dubs alone.

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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We will hear the Senator out on this.

Photo of Frank FeighanFrank Feighan (Fine Gael)
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It was very frightening. They were large, aggressive birds. I would be frightened for older people and young children. I have never seen anything quite like it. I understand this is an ongoing situation on Grafton Street especially.

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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The Senator is right. What time of day or night is he talking about?

Photo of Frank FeighanFrank Feighan (Fine Gael)
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I understand that the Minister, Deputy Madigan, has agreed to the formation of a consultative committee with an independent chair. Where is that now?

Photo of Rónán MullenRónán Mullen (Independent)
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Could the Brexit committee change its remit, perhaps?

Photo of Diarmuid WilsonDiarmuid Wilson (Fianna Fail)
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If seagulls were referred to emergency departments, they would-----

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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All right now.

(Interruptions).

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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I know it is amusing but it is serious as well.

Photo of Rónán MullenRónán Mullen (Independent)
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We do not want to set up too many new committees if we could repurpose some of the existing committees.

Photo of Diarmuid WilsonDiarmuid Wilson (Fianna Fail)
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Fill up the emergency department in Limerick.

Photo of Frank FeighanFrank Feighan (Fine Gael)
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I understand this group has met. Maybe we should ask the Minister for an update on the committee's report. I understand that it is a serious issue in Dublin and it is to be hoped we can get to it. My colleague, Senator O'Sullivan, was maybe five years ahead of his time but it is an issue that perhaps we should address.

Photo of Michael McDowellMichael McDowell (Independent)
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Is it in order to single out a minority of birds for this kind of treatment?

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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We are not going to have further chat about this at the moment.

Photo of Martin ConwayMartin Conway (Fine Gael)
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I listened, as I always do, with great interest to our colleague, Senator Gavan. I agree with much of what he has to say. Nobody can defend the situation in University Hospital Limerick. Anybody who would defend it would not be doing justice to any mandate. It is terrible. I agree that there are challenges with management. I know that some sort of report is being carried out on the situation with the management of the facility.They are reviewing emergency department facilities overall anyway. At a ministerial level any request that has come in from the mid-west hospital group for funding for the emergency department in Limerick has been facilitated. The request was submitted for a six-bed modular unit and the Minister provided the money. It is up to the management to get that up and running. I am extremely frustrated with the delay in building the unit and making it operational. We are told it will be operational for next winter. Hopefully it will. We shall wait and see.

Another thing we all sought was a second MRI scanner. Twenty people get MRI scans in Limerick hospital each day. From next week, there will be 40, doubling the numbers. I understand that many people on trolleys are waiting for an MRI. I do not know if this will be a panacea or a start to resolve the problems in Limerick but I sincerely hope it is. This is not a party political situation, we all want to see it resolved as it is a humanitarian issue.

I attended two very interesting events today. The first was in the Italian Room in Government Buildings, with the Leader, where we attended the launch of the LGBTI+ strategy. It is a two and a half year strategy to try to break down the inequality in society among LGBTI+ people, including name calling and verbal abuse. I welcome the strategy which was launched by the Minister and Minister of State for Justice and Equality, Deputies Flanagan and Stanton. The Taoiseach gave a video address. It has whole-of-Government support and will be useful. We might have the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, before the House to go through the report's 100 recommendations.

At 11 a.m. today I attended the yellow flag presentation in the audiovisual room to six schools which have done enormous work to create equality and diversity, diversity in understanding in their primary schools. It is a pity it was not 60 or 600 schools but six schools is a start. I commend the young people from those schools who have already made a significant difference in their communities and education communities. Not only are the children learning from each other but the parents and teachers are learning from the children. I hope that society will also learn from the children. Much has happened in the area of climate action among children who have done fantastic work -----

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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Thank you Senator.

Photo of Martin ConwayMartin Conway (Fine Gael)
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-----in terms of their Friday protests and so on. I hope we see a similar approach to breaking down the inequalities that exist in our society -----

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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The Senator is on double time.

Photo of Martin ConwayMartin Conway (Fine Gael)
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---- and I hope that is led by children as well.

Photo of Jennifer Murnane O'ConnorJennifer Murnane O'Connor (Fianna Fail)
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I raise the issue of the system that is broken. Lalini Veerassamy, chief of mission of the International Organisation for Migration in Ireland, said direct provision is not bad but she believes standards can be improved. Direct provision is what we have but it is not good enough. It is not right at all. It might be good enough as a first port but it cannot be a forever home. To read yesterday that there are still 700 people living in direct provision centres who are legally allowed -----

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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We had a debate on this yesterday.

Photo of Jennifer Murnane O'ConnorJennifer Murnane O'Connor (Fianna Fail)
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I was at another meeting so I wanted to highlight this now on the Order of Business. I will be two seconds. We attend a lot of meetings. We are not giving enough support and we need to ensure there is a new community and new part of life.

I wish to raise something I read last week as I think it is important. A man named Denis Kelleher, who I am sure some Members will have heard of, died. He personified the Irish immigrant story. He was a poor shoemaker's son who emigrated to America in 1958 aged 18 years. He started at the bottom of the ladder of a financial firm and worked so hard every day of his life that he rose to greatness and opened his own Wall Street firm. He landed in America with less than $50 and every day he worked he put away money to support his newly-widowed mother home in Ireland. He was a boy who went to school in Killarney and used his great earnings to educate poor Catholic school children through the inner-city scholarship fund in the New York archdiocese. It is a really good story. We need to look at the bigger picture. I tried to get up to speak on it yesterday but I did not.

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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The Senator is quite right about Denis Kelleher. He helped found Radio Kerry with me.

Photo of Jennifer Murnane O'ConnorJennifer Murnane O'Connor (Fianna Fail)
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That is right, he did too, but the Leas-Chathaoirleach did not even address this in the House. I have a lot more to say.

Photo of Diarmuid WilsonDiarmuid Wilson (Fianna Fail)
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He had to leave Killarney to become a millionaire. The Leas-Chathaoirleach was fortunate.

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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He is a very famous son of the kingdom.

Photo of Rónán MullenRónán Mullen (Independent)
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Has he a vote in the Seanad elections?

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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That is the end of that for the moment. I call on the Deputy Leader to respond.

Photo of Catherine NooneCatherine Noone (Fine Gael)
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I thank those who raised issues on the Order of Business. Senator Horkan raised the town and village renewal and spoke in detail on the apparent reduction of successful applications this year. The Minister, Deputy Ring, may be due a visit to the Seanad. He has not been here in a while. It would be a worthwhile debate. He also raised the issue of the children's hospital. Based on several contributions today it would be timely for the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, to come to the House to discuss that and a wide variety of issues including those raised by Senators Gavan and Conway. The Senator also referred to the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council's report and pointed out that the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, has not been here in a while. I cannot suggest that a Minister comes to the House for every thing that is raised but it is something to look at in the new year.

Senator Freeman referred to the children's emergency department and called for a debate on mental health with the Minister of State, Deputy Daly. He would be more than willing to have such a debate and I will suggest that we do that in the new year, or before Christmas if that is possible.

Senator Conway-Walsh referred to Cuisle. The House had a debate on this yesterday afternoon. There is a need for the Irish Wheelchair Association to engage with those who will be most affected by this.

Senator Ó Ríordáin referred to gambling. The Gaming and Lotteries (Amendment) Bill passed in the Seanad earlier in the year. The media reports refer to the imposition of limits which is the only part that is in the control of the Minister. It will be due back in the Seanad on 12 December when there will be an opportunity for Members to discuss that.

Photo of Michael McDowellMichael McDowell (Independent)
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Meanwhile, what about casinos?

Photo of Catherine NooneCatherine Noone (Fine Gael)
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There will be an opportunity to discuss that.

Photo of Michael McDowellMichael McDowell (Independent)
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In two years' time?

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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The Deputy Leader to speak without interruption.

Photo of Catherine NooneCatherine Noone (Fine Gael)
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I refer to the particular legislation.

Photo of Diarmuid WilsonDiarmuid Wilson (Fianna Fail)
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It is a particular amendment to the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill.

Photo of Catherine NooneCatherine Noone (Fine Gael)
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Lads, take it outside if you want to have a conversation.

There will be a debate on 12 December which is the week after next. I suggest that is an opportune time to raise the matter with the Minister.

Senator O'Mahony raised a very important issue around sport, the FAI and the ongoing issue with the FAI's funds. This is a very serious matter and he is quite right that the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport should be brought to the House to discuss this. Hopefully it will be next week. I will suggest that the Leader does this.

Senator McDowell also raised the limits on gambling. I agree with much that has been said on the limits. It is something that we can discuss with the Minister the week after next. Senator Byrne noted that today is International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. It cannot be highlighted often enough.

Senator Devine referred to the children's hospital. She made the very constructive suggestion on the need to advertise that Connolly Hospital now has an emergency department. That should be able to alleviate some of the pressure at least. It highlights the underlying need for the new children's hospital. That is something that could be discussed with the Minister in the near future.

Senator Kieran O'Donnell raised the incident relating to Councillor Fergus Kilcoyne.I do not know the details, but it sounds like a very serious incident. As the Senator said, we must show solidarity to any colleague who goes through such an ordeal. It is absolutely horrific, though I am sure the Garda is dealing with it. None of us want to see that happening and the Senator is quite right to highlight it.

Senator Humphreys raised the issue of housing and the estate that was purchased in Maynooth for €57 million. I presume that development is targeted at students because of Maynooth university.

Photo of Kevin HumphreysKevin Humphreys (Labour)
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No. They are family homes.

Photo of Catherine NooneCatherine Noone (Fine Gael)
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I did not read the article the Senator referenced but there is a need for a wider debate on housing policy and those kinds of purchases. Many of the housing developments being built at the moment are either 100% private or 100% social, and we need to be looking at the mix. I come across many people on the doorsteps who do not expect a house from the State, who are quite willing to pay for it and who are trying to access the housing market. While there is an urgent need for social housing, there is also a very pressing need for those individuals who wish to live in their own localities and only want access to purchasing. I agree with much of what the Senator said on this issue. We should have a proper debate about it in the House in the new year.

Senator Richmond suggested inviting the new President of the EU Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, to a joint sitting of the Houses. We would all welcome and enjoy that if it is possible to do so.

Senator Boyhan raised three issues. He stated that he would like a debate on the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission's report, which is a good suggestion. The report highlights hate speech, crime and discrimination against certain groups in society, as well as trafficking which has been in focus recently. That would be a good debate to have.

Senator Lombard raised the issue of school transport, which is a huge issue for rural Ireland and which he is quite right to highlight.

Senator Gavan raised the issue of Limerick hospital, as he and Senators Byrne and Kieran O'Donnell do regularly in this House. There is a very serious crisis in the management of that hospital. We could do with a specific debate on that particular hospital, but it should also be addressed in the context of a wider debate on the health services.

Senator Mulherin raised an issue which I also read about during the week. It is frightening to think that 40,000 children as young as four years old are in mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It beggars belief that such a thing could happen to such young people, at the start of their lives, in this day and age. Climate action is very important and is all anyone is discussing. We are trying to come up with policy solutions, but I would personally rather drive a diesel car than be a part of policies which require so much cobalt that children are forced to work in mines. We need a debate on that, perhaps in the context of a global climate conversation with the Minister. Many countries are involved in this, and we are in the frame because of our agricultural sector and various other sectors where we need to make improvements. Serious human rights violations in countries around the world must be faced up to, as well as very serious climate violations. Some of those countries are not making serious efforts, in comparison with the efforts of many countries in Europe. The Senator has raised a very important point about something I personally find very disturbing.

Senator Mullen raised the issue of the NUJ and celebrity RTÉ salaries. He is highlighting a point with which many people would agree. Certain presenters on RTÉ earn three times the Taoiseach's salary - not that the Taoiseach is looking for a pay rise - and the idea that the person-----

Photo of Rónán MullenRónán Mullen (Independent)
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He just wants security of tenure.

Photo of Catherine NooneCatherine Noone (Fine Gael)
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As do we all.

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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Order.

Photo of Catherine NooneCatherine Noone (Fine Gael)
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The Senator has raised an important point and I look forward to seeing his legislation when it comes before the House. It seems timely and relevant.

Senator Feighan raised the issue of the Cuisle centre. He was unable to be present for yesterday's debate on this matter due to a family bereavement. Senator McFadden and I spoke on his behalf and on behalf of Senator Hopkins.

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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Senator Leyden as well.

Photo of Catherine NooneCatherine Noone (Fine Gael)
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Senator Leyden was here.

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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That is what I am saying. He spoke as well.

Photo of Catherine NooneCatherine Noone (Fine Gael)
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Many people spoke. I am referring to people who were absent and could not speak for themselves. It appears the Minister is in a bind in this situation, and the Irish Wheelchair Association has made a policy decision which negatively affects the users of this service. Everyone needs to just get together and sort this out. The will to keep this facility in Roscommon seems to be there. Fair play to Senator Feighan, because he went through hell over Roscommon hospital on both a personal and professional level. He must be very proud to see the report in today's papers that the hospital has a 98% satisfaction rate, and must feel vindicated for the stance he took. I hope he is rewarded for his brave stance on that matter.

On a lighter note, I refer to the issue of seagulls. Every time we talk about this, it gets attention because it sounds so ridiculous. However, it is a serious issue for people, especially in my constituency.

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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Absolutely.

Photo of Catherine NooneCatherine Noone (Fine Gael)
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It is not only a problem near the sea, because seagulls are now so domesticated that they come onto Grafton Street and terrorise people. It is an issue. In Howth, Fingal County Council has installed special bins that make it much less likely that rubbish is strewn around the place. Many councils all over Dublin have to take that into account.

Photo of Frank FeighanFrank Feighan (Fine Gael)
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For the record, it was a sausage McMuffin.

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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They are not very shy birds.

Photo of Catherine NooneCatherine Noone (Fine Gael)
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No, and they are clearly fond of sausage McMuffins.

Photo of Rónán MullenRónán Mullen (Independent)
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I am glad to say that this is one problem with which rural Ireland is not plagued.

Photo of Catherine NooneCatherine Noone (Fine Gael)
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It is an interesting area because it is hard to know what to do about it. It is raised with me quite regularly. It sounds like a funny frivolous issue to raise but it is quite serious, especially for children as I have heard many reports of them being chased by seagulls. It is, as the Senator noted, quite frightening. I will request an update on this from the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Madigan.

Senator Conway raised the issue of Limerick hospital, which I have addressed. He also highlighted the LGBTI+ strategy that was launched this morning and the schools involved in a diversity programme. That is to be commended and, we hope, extended.

Senator Murnane O'Connor raised direct provision and spoke about a billionaire in America, which-----

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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A very famous man.

Photo of Jennifer Murnane O'ConnorJennifer Murnane O'Connor (Fianna Fail)
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I just thought it was a lovely story.

Photo of Catherine NooneCatherine Noone (Fine Gael)
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The Leas-Chathaoirleach obviously knows that man well.

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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He is a great personal friend.

Photo of Catherine NooneCatherine Noone (Fine Gael)
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It is nice to highlight a positive initiative.

Photo of Catherine NooneCatherine Noone (Fine Gael)
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It is very common that Irish people who go abroad and do well give back to Ireland. We are very lucky when it comes to that inward investment. On that level, it is very important. People who partake in that type of philanthropic activity deserve to have their efforts highlighted, though oftentimes they do not wish for that at all.

Photo of Jennifer Murnane O'ConnorJennifer Murnane O'Connor (Fianna Fail)
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They are forgotten.

Photo of Catherine NooneCatherine Noone (Fine Gael)
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They are not doing it for praise, recognition or thanks. They do it because they feel they can give back. I thank the Senator for highlighting that.

Order of Business agreed to.

Sitting suspended at 12.40 p.m. and resumed at 12.45 p.m.