Thursday, 5 December 2019
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, motion re the arrangements for the sitting of the House on Tuesday, 10 December 2019, to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business, without debate; No. 2, statements on local government funding, to be taken at 12.45 p.m. and to adjourn at 2.30 p.m., if not previously concluded, with the contributions of all Senators not to exceed eight minutes; and No. 3, statements on crime, to be taken at 2.30 p.m. and to conclude not later than 4 p.m., with the contribution of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and all other Senators not to exceed five minutes, and the Minister is to be given not less than seven minutes to reply to the debate.
The first issue I wish to raise today is a familiar one to many of my friends in the Gallery, namely, The Star bingo in Crumlin village. Many people have been in touch with me about it. I understand legislation is coming in to limit the amount of money that can be given out in prize money. There is much concern that this will take away from the playing of bingo. I accept that issues such as gambling addiction arise, but I do not think bingo leads to that. The people who have come to me are genuine men and women who have retired, and they go to bingo as a social outlet in the evenings. We must be cognisant of that factor because loneliness is a major public health issue. I accept bingo is a commercial enterprise, but it brings much joy to many people, including our relatives, who use it as a social outlet. I do not think we should forget how important it is to have such a social outlet.
The second issue I wish to raise concerns citizenship applications and stamp 4 applications. I raised it in the House previously and the Minister listened to what I had to say, in addition to discussing re-entry visas. He was quick to appeal the High Court residency decision. As I indicated in the House, there are administrative irregularities, bordering on racism when it comes to the timeframe of dealing with citizenship and stamp 4 applications. There is an onus on applicants to adhere to timelines and have all their ducks in a row, but there are no deadlines when it comes to the State processing the applications. It might be time to introduce statutory deadlines for the State to deal with citizenship and stamp 4 applications. When an applicant has all of his or her paperwork in order and he or she is entitled by the laws of the land to be a citizen, we must ensure that is done properly because it is very upsetting when people have to wait a long time.
One cannot travel while waiting for a stamp 4 visa application. Those waiting are contributing members of society and we must give them the proper céad míle fáilte if they are here legitimately and legally. The Minister must look expeditiously at the matter.
Following on from Senator Ardagh's concern about gambling and the like, I wish to ask the Leader if he will arrange for the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, to discuss the presence of gambling casinos and their operation in Dublin, which is in flagrant contravention of the gaming and lotteries legislation. As I understand it, there will be no relevant amendment and all of those operations are illegal but for some reason they have now been in operation for ten years and nobody has done anything to halt them. I would appreciate if the Leader could do something by way of having the Minister in to explain why legislation for which his Department is responsible – I was the relevant Minister some 14 years ago – is not being enforced.
The second issue I wish to raise again concerns the Minister for Justice and Equality. I hope the Leader does not think I am in any sense concentrating on the Minister. Last night we had a very useful debate on the legislation on costs in probate cases. There seemed to be unanimity that the Bill could proceed to Report and Final Stages and although it was not scheduled to take place last night, in my view it could be done in five minutes some time next week if the Minister is here to deal with it.
I rise today to raise the extremely worrying situation in Malta and the ongoing refusal of Prime Minister Muscat to step aside and allow a proper independent investigation into what is the most flagrant breach of the rule of law in the European Union today. I specifically mention the report of a delegation of the European Parliament led by my colleague, Roberto Mazzolo, which found that there are serious concerns that led and are indirectly connected to the murder of a journalist two years ago. Malta is a partner member state in the European Union, one with which we have close relations and with which we share detailed information. Therefore, I call on the Leader to call in the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade to take statements on the matter. I have already called for the Maltese ambassador to appear before the Joint Committee on European Affairs. This is something that crucially impacts all of us. It is an issue not just within an individual member state but across the EU and we in Ireland must absolutely stand side by side with the people of Malta and the rule of law across the precious European Union.
I also welcome the fact that the lottery Bill has been revised. I am aware that many people were very anxious that bingo would, in effect, be stopped. The Bill did not intend that and I am reassured that the law will remain the same for any bingo organisers that have prizes of less than €5,000. However, there is an issue - I understand where the Minister is coming from - given the number of big operators who claim they are giving money to charity yet not much money is going to charity. I am delighted the Bill is being revised and I look forward to discussing it when it comes to the Seanad for consideration.
Yesterday, we had a debate on the Social Welfare (No. 2) Bill. Could the Leader ask the Minister for Education and Skills, who administers the training fund, if he would come to the House to discuss the national training fund? In 2019, there will be a surplus in the training fund of €300 million. Last year there was a surplus of €200 million. Through the introduction of an additional 0.1% levy there is potential for another surplus in 2020 of €400 million. We are cumulatively gathering up quite rapidly close to €1 billion of a surplus in the fund. Where will the money be spent? In the past, money from funds of this type has been misused. I would welcome and appreciate an indication from the Minister as to what will be done with the fund.
The tractors may be gone from the gates of Leinster House but, unfortunately, the beef protest continues. We learn today that the IFA has mounted a protest outside the Aldi distribution centre in Naas, County Kildare. The IFA, among other farm voices, has been calling for action on price increases for their beef.One can see from the beef price index that Irish farmers are clearly not getting next or near what they should be getting compared to their colleagues in the UK or in Europe. In some cases, Irish farmers are taking €80 per head less for their animals than farmers in the UK or across Europe are taking. This clearly is not good enough.
I know that the beef task force met last Tuesday. I was very disappointed to learn that the Minister was not present at that meeting. It took a long time to get everyone around the table on this particular issue. I am flabbergasted that the lead man, in this instance a Minister, was not present. It is an insult to the farmers throughout the length and breadth of this country that the man with total and ultimate responsibility for farming matters in this country was not present at that opening meeting-----
-----which I am very disappointed to hear. This issue has not been treated with the urgency it deserves. Farm families across rural Ireland are on their knees. They are simply not getting a fair price for their product. We need, through the Minister, to shine a light on exactly what is happening in the meat industry. I was also disappointed to learn that retailers were not present at that meeting either.
Can the Leader pass on my frustration and anger to the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine and ask him to get the grip on this situation? This is going to get worse. Farmers are on their knees and they are not prepared to take any more. They need a fair price for their product and the time is long overdue that they got it.
I first will pay a compliment to the Leader and his staff. They have tried to facilitate a meeting with the Minister for Health on St. Joseph's, Shankill and the closure of 60 beds for dementia patients there. Unfortunately, the Minister has not been able to facilitate that despite the good work of the Leader and his staff. Consequently, I have no alternative but to propose an amendment to the Order of Business calling for the Minister for Health to attend the House today and to take statements in relation to St Joseph's of Shankill.
The Irish Pharmacy Union are to meet the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris. It wants to see the long-overdue implementation of the hospital pharmacy review from 2012 and it very concerned about the proposed cuts to that sector. The Irish Pharmacy Union has stated that despite repeated assurances from the Minister that the cuts to pharmacists' income imposed during the financial crisis would be unwound, the Department of Health has recently revealed proposals for further cuts coming on 1 January 2020. Increasingly, patients rely on their pharmacists for their first health contact in the community due to the significant glut of patients in our health system. They are busier than ever and are being unfairly targeted. Pharmacies have a key role to play in primary care delivery. I see so many good pharmacies in my constituency doing just that, providing high quality unrecognised care in the Irish health system.
There is tremendous value as well in pharmacy-funded services and these unfair and unjustified cuts will disproportionately hit rural, disadvantaged and isolated pharmacies the hardest. I support these pharmacies and urge the Leader to tell the Minister, Deputy Harris, that this will be devastating on rural Ireland.
Carlow has 24 pharmacies that directly employ 260 people and with 620,000 annual visits, the importance of the sector must not be undervalued. Some of these cuts will have a direct impact on the most vulnerable. There will be a charge, for example, on the blister-packing service. The HSE did not pay for this and have reduced the dispensing charge and will not pay for qualifying patients. If the HSE does not pay for it the pharmacist has to incorporate the cost and many pharmacies can no longer do this free of charge. Some pharmacies now will pass this charge on. The HSE has cut the number of approvals, which is why more and more people have to pay. This is a very serious issue.
I asked the Leader to bring this matter urgently to the Minister. I will wait until Leader is finished before I continue.
-----speaker where the Minister, Deputy Creed, should have been at that meeting on Tuesday. It is disgraceful that he did not represent the farmers of Ireland and neither he nor the retail trade attended. Shame on them.
Today, I acknowledge that a committee was launched in Limerick last Monday in respect of the directly-elected mayor. This is the way to go for cities in the future. I was delighted that the Minister of State, Deputy Phelan, attended in Limerick last Monday when this committee was established. I am disappointed that there are only four female members on it, out of the 12 different organisations which nominated the various members on to the committee. It is a good and positive direction for local government. I look forward to seeing the directly-elected mayor process being implemented in 2021.
I thank the many Members of the House for their contributions to the Order of Business.
Senators Ardagh and Feighan referred to the bingo issue and the Gaming and Lotteries (Amendment) Bill on which an amendment was passed in the other House last night. There seems to be some misinformation on what is being proposed and it has been changed now. The bingo being run by community associations and sports clubs was never going to be affected.
-----a different matter. The issue around the social aspect where people can go, meet and play bingo is one we all support and the importance of which we understand. Bingo has helped to support many charitable organisations.
I join with Senator Ardagh in welcoming to the House the students from Scoil Eoin. The issue of citizenship raised by the Senator may, as a Commencement matter, receive a better answer than this one.
Senator McDowell raised again this week a very important point regarding the gambling casinos, on which I support him. They are becoming part of the fabric, not just of Dublin but also of Cork, Galway and other places. As I said here earlier in the week, there are some outlets that can only apply for three-month licences. This is an issue that needs to be addressed and I will be happy to support him in that.
I will be happy to talk to him about the Civil Law (Costs in Probate Matters) Bill 2017 and see if we can facilitate time during the next week or the week after-----
----- and to work with him on that matter.
Senator Richmond raised the very important matter of Malta and the death of a journalist. As the Senator rightly said, Malta is a member state and an EU partner state that we are calling to account here. It is important that we have that matter addressed.
Senator Lawlor referred to the education and training fund and I will be happy to bring the Minister to the House on that matter.
Both Senators Gallagher and Murnane O'Connor never cease to amaze me in the way in which they come to the House with their contributions. The Minister appointed a beef task force with an independent chairman. The Minister was never going to attend last Tuesday.
They never said that there was a €300 million beef data and genomics programme or a €200 million beef environmental efficiency pilot. They failed to mention the €78 million in exceptional aid to beef farmers, a restoration to areas of national constraint scheme worth €250 million, €85 million in targeted schemes supporting sustainable beef farming in budget 2020 and, that in the event of a no-deal Brexit, an extra €85 million has been flagged for immediate support for farmers. None of that was said.
Some €1.14 billion has been given to support 120,000 beef farmers.
My final point to both of the Senators is that if one is buying a second-hand tractor or a new piece of machinery, one does not back to the salesman who sold one a dud the first time.Fianna Fáil is offering more of the same. Fianna Fáil and the Green Party.
Senator Humphreys has come in again this morning regarding St. Joseph's and addressed a very important matter. He acknowledged that my office and I have been in contact with the office of the Minister for Health. I am disappointed that a meeting has not been arranged for which I apologise. I will endeavour to ensure that a meeting takes place with Senator Humphreys on the matter. We have endeavoured to get a meeting. I ask the Senator to again allow me, after today's Order of Business, to contact the office of the Minister for Health and I will see what I can get out of that discussion.
I wish to say to Senator Murnane O'Connor that the Minister for Health is meeting the Irish Pharmacy Union today. I assure the Senator that all of us support the whole issue of community pharmacies.
I congratulate Senator Byrne on her stewardship of the mayoral election plebiscite in Limerick. It was a credit to her, unlike the Fianna Fáil Party and its leader who absented themselves in Cork. They played politics with the city of Cork and the future of local government in Cork. Disappointingly, the option was not passed in Cork but it was narrowly defeated in Cork and Waterford. In Cork, the defeat was primarily because the Fianna Fáil Party played politics. I commend Senator Byrne for the work that she played in Cork.
Senator Humphreys has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business, "That a debate with the Minister for Health on services at St. Joseph's, Shankill, County Dublin, be taken today". However, the amendment was not seconded in debate and, consequently, falls.