Tuesday, 10 December 2019
An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, motion re Planning and Development (Amendment) Regulations 2019, back from committee, to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business without debate; No. 2, motion re Universities Act 1997 (Section 54(3)) (University Authorisation) Order 2019, back from committee, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 1 without debate; No. 3, motion re appointment to the Policing Authority, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 2 without debate; No. 4, Housing (Regulation of Approved Housing Bodies) Bill 2019 - Second Stage, to be taken at 3.45 p.m. or on the conclusion of No. 3, whichever is the later, and to conclude after 75 minutes, with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and the contributions of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes, time can be shared, and the Minister to be given no less than six minutes to reply to the debate; No. 5, Finance Bill 2019 - Report and Final Stages, to be taken at 5 p.m. or on the conclusion of No. 4, whichever is the later; and No. 6, Judicial Appointments Commission Bill 2017 - Report and Final Stages (resumed), to be taken on the conclusion of No. 5 and to adjourn after 90 minutes if not previously concluded.
Even though domestic homicides have outpaced gangland murders by almost 2:1 in recent years, they have generated far less commentary, far less media coverage and far less attention than gangland crime. The Garda Commissioner, Drew Harris, said at the weekend that gardaí respond to approximately 30,000 domestic incident calls each year. This equates to between 500 and 600 such calls each week. Given that domestic abuse is characterised by silence, I suspect that these figures are the tip of the iceberg and that far more domestic violence and domestic abuse is occurring in Irish homes.Between 2016 and 2018, there were 40 domestic homicides. During the same period, which was bloody in the context of gangland crime, there were only 26 gangland related homicides. While I do not mean to diminish that lower figure, we should be focusing on domestic violence and homicides within the home much more. These figures are very stark.
The offence of coercive control was added to the Statute Book a couple of years ago. Initially, the Government was not in favour of that move but it will significantly help people who are in abusive situations. However, more education is needed in order to highlight the signs of coercive control, not just for the Garda but also for people working in schools, health facilities and communities. They all need to know the signs of coercive control and we need a wider public discussion on what constitutes such control. We need to know how to spot it and we need to teach children in school what it is so that when they grow up and enter relationships, they will be able to identify it from an early stage.
That leads me on to the need for a serious discussion on the progress of the promised family law complex at Hammond Lane. I have raised this issue on a number of occasions since my election to the Seanad. Last October, the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality recommended that funding be allocated as a matter of urgency in order to allow this complex to be built. A coalition of 11 groups has formed Courting Disaster, which was launched in Dublin earlier today. The 11 groups involved in the coalition are: Barnardos; the Children's Rights Alliance; Community Law & Mediation; the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre; the Family Lawyers Association of Ireland; Free Legal Advice Centres; the National Women's Council of Ireland; One Family; the Council of the Bar of Ireland; the Law Society of Ireland; and Women's Aid. This coalition was established to seek action on the delivery of the family law complex at Hammond Lane. Some of the most vulnerable people in society are accessing the courts and are seeking their help in resolving some serious issues in the context of access, maintenance, custody and childcare and their protection in cases of domestic violence.
The family law courts are unfit for purpose. They are really in a bad state and I say that as someone who was a practising family lawyer until recently. There are no meeting spaces and there is no privacy for people. We have a huge hole in the ground near the Four Courts in respect of which action and delivery are needed. That is not mention what is happening in the context of the District Court and the sittings thereof in towns, such as Swords and Balbriggan, in the constituency in which I live. The courthouses in those locations have completely inadequate facilities and the people working there are meeting their clients on the streets in the rain. I raised this issue last December after a judge was held hostage in the family law court and a man threatened to use an explosive device. Four years ago, at the same time of year, a judge was assaulted in Dolphin House. This lack of facilities is causing great distress. Family law proceedings are held in camera. They are often forgotten and they are certainly forgotten by this Government. We need action now and we need that family law complex delivered.
I congratulate Finland on the appointment of Sanna Marin as the youngest Prime Minister in Europe. Interestingly, the Finnish Government's coalition now has five women leaders who are all under the age of 40. It will be interesting to see how business in the Finnish Parliament progresses in the coming months.
I also want to mark the passing of Paul Anthony McDermott, a wonderful barrister and a great author. He will be sadly missed for his interviews on RTÉ in which he made complex matters simple for people. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.
There has been much discussion about the FAI in recent days and months. I received a communication last night that I find deeply disturbing because it would appear that not everything is out in the open. A number of questions relating to the FAI remain unanswered, such as how much has the association received in grant support for the senior league, licence compliance, underage development, disability football, football for the deaf, women's football and numerous programmes Were these moneys used for the purposes they were intended or were they used to pay wages and service debt? The maths do not stack up. For example, the Irish Football Association in Northern Ireland received its annual licence compliance grant and distributed it to clubs to assist them. In the case of the FAI, I understand that board members were never told how much the FAI received or where the money went.I also understand that the regional development officers who were part paid by local authorities, were employed to promote the game and assist clubs, but again, I understand that this was never done. The development officers were forced to sell summer camps, training camps and other activities that would enhance the FAI's revenue stream. Development programmes within the FAI fell to clubs, parents and sponsors, which is an absolute disgrace. I am informed that everything within the FAI in the past ten years was about revenue generation to service debt that was unsustainable. Now football at all levels is on its knees and will take a long time to recover. There is now a major concern that regional development officer will be laid off as local authorities will no longer fund those programmes. We need assurances on the matter.
I am informed that the FAI had a rule that all potential club sponsors must in the first instance be passed by FAI headquarters. Once the FAI headquarters became aware of a potential sponsor for a club, people from headquarters - I am not sure who they were - would approach the sponsor and seek to do a deal on corporate seats or whatever it took to get the money directly into the FAI and away from the club for which it was intended. What has been happening in the past ten years is that the FAI used every club, player, coach, parent and everybody else as a revenue source while putting nothing back into the game. At one stage, I understand that the financial director tried to resign but was told he would have to stay on to present the financial report at the AGM. He resigned while everybody was away in Armenia. Rumour at the top table was that he was assured the FAI had met its target of selling corporate seats in the Aviva Stadium so the FAI could draw down money from the bank. This target had never been met. He felt his integrity was compromised and he was not willing to stand over a set of accounts he did not believe in.
What went on in the FAI has destroyed people's faith in the sporting world in Ireland, in particular when we see how some senior people walked away with greatly enhanced moneys in their pocket while clubs are starving. This person goes on to speak about the League of Ireland clubs which had to put in between €15,000 and €25,000 a year for legal fees, referees' fees, fines, licensing fees, etc. A number of sponsors put in more than €50,000. How can the League of Ireland say-----
In case any other Member wishes to raise the matter of the FAI, I wish to advise that this matter is sub judice. I understand there will be all sorts of investigations into it so bí very cúramach that we do not drag ourselves into the Four Courts.
What I would like though is to see the Minister come to the House. I understand your position, a Chathaoirligh. Anything else I am concerned about I will refer to the Garda. I would not use the privilege of the House to undermine what is taking place in the public domain right now but I do think the Minister needs to come to the House and explain where we, as in the Government, is with respect to the FAI today. There is a danger of contagion running across other sporting organisations, most of whom perform at the upper end of probity and decency. From that point of view it is something we need to look at here.
Virgin Media describes itself on its website as "the leading connected entertainment cable and broadcast business [that offers] multi award-winning services including broadband, TV, mobile and home phone" to consumers and businesses in Ireland. I gather Virgin Media is also now offering union busting at no extra cost, unless of course one happens to be one of the 400 employees in its call centre in Limerick. Management has decided to run roughshod over a collective agreement reached in 2008. It has ignored a Labour Court recommendation for a pay increase and is apparently trying to tear up an agreement on redundancy payments. I heard a horror story this morning of employees being told that they were being made redundant and that they could sign up to the company's new offer, which is half that of the old offer agreed with the union, by 5 p.m. that day or else just receive statutory payments.That is what is happening in Virgin Media today. Somehow, I doubt it will be covered on "The Tonight Show". Staff voted overwhelmingly for industrial action. It is an appalling way to treat people at any time, but particularly in an age when one would expect media companies to treat people with respect. It is part of a bigger story in terms of what is happening in communications and media. I understand the staff, apart from being very angry, are absolutely resolute in resisting the imposition of redundancies and the refusal to implement a Labour Court pay increase, and have voted to take industrial action up to and including strike action. I call on Virgin Media to act as a responsible employer and sit down and engage meaningfully with its staff, rather than head into the industrial chaos which will follow.
I want to raise the related issue of Lyric FM. It has been discussed in recent weeks but we have heard nothing since. I spoke to Lyric FM staff today who told me they still have not received any information from RTÉ about the projected cost savings in Limerick. From an industrial relations point of view, that is completely unacceptable. We seem to have an agreement across the Chamber that it is wrong to close the Lyric FM office in Limerick, yet RTÉ is not sharing the proposed cost savings because they amount to a hill of beans. We need political responsibility and I call on the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Richard Bruton, to come to the Chamber and explain where he stands on the issue of closing Lyric FM in Limerick. It is not good enough for him to fold his hands and say it is up to RTÉ. The people of Limerick will not stand for it.
Before I call on Senator Frances Black, I welcome to the Gallery a group of children and a special gentleman from the Kingdom who often broke Cork hearts. Tá fáilte romhat, Tomás Ó Sé. As a member of Gael Linn, I had the pleasure, many years before he was born, of sitting in the same class as the great Páidí in a small school west of Ventry in Killvicadownig. I stayed in Fahan with the Longs. Tomás probably knows the country. I hope he enjoys his visit. I love visiting the area, but sometimes Munster finals are hard to go to, especially if one is a Cork man. Tomás is more than welcome. I hope he has a lovely day with the children from his school and friends.
I attended a briefing held by Deputy Gino Kenny and the Endometriosis Association of Ireland in the audiovisual room earlier today. I was horrified to hear the stories of what some women have gone through and their horrendous pain and fatigue. Some remained undiagnosed for years. As it was a woman's health issue, the way these women were treated was awful. Endometriosis is estimated to affect between 2% and 10% of all women in the general population. That means over 100,000 women in Ireland are affected. The stories told by the women were very upsetting. The life of a very good friend of mine was destroyed by endometriosis in many ways. Her work was affected, she was constantly exhausted and the pain she went through impacted many relationships in her life.
Those giving the briefing wanted to highlight the issue. It was almost like a breath of fresh air. I felt it was time this issue was highlighted. I call on the Government to examine education on this issue in schools. Funding healthcare for women with endometriosis is vital, as is funding proper research into the disease. We heard from women about the lack of understanding from medical teams who had no understanding of what was going on and had no answers.Some of them also had to go to England. I emphasise the importance of education in schools, funding of healthcare for women with endometriosis, and funding for proper research. It would be great if the Minister could come in and talk to us about this.
If I am allowed I would like to call on another football fanatic. Senator John O'Mahony might say a brief word to our friend Mr. Tomás Ó Sé before he leaves, as a contest of Mayo versus Kerry. By the way, the O'Mahony family is from Drinagh in west Cork, so the Senator is half a Corkman though he might not admit it.
I assumed when I saw Tomás outside that he had come to announce Kerry's arrival now that Mr. Jim Gavin has stepped down. He is very welcome. He has been a great ambassador for the GAA and for Kerry, and a great pundit on "The Sunday Game". I do not always agree with all of the pundits, but Tomás Ó Sé is brilliant. I hope he enjoys his stay and keeps Kerry and Cork on their toes. Regarding Mayo, as someone once said, "They haven't gone away, you know".
I was about to yield to the father of the House, but as I am on my feet I will continue. Last week we had a Commencement debate about crime and the impact of drugs in our cities, especially in disadvantaged areas. There has now been a crisis in the FAI. I am not going anywhere dangerous with this, so the Cathaoirleach can relax. The outlet for many young people in disadvantaged areas is training three nights a week and a football game at the weekend. That is a healthy outlet for young people. It burns off energy and builds social skills through working with groups. Many football clubs are very important in the south inner city, and so are the development officers. We have touched on this. It is not about the summer camps. Development officers do important work training coaches, building up expertise in the community and developing coaching skills among so many volunteers. The things that happened regarding governance and the money paid to the chief executive were not victimless crimes.
The victims that will suffer from this are young people in disadvantaged areas, including both boys and girls. My fear is that those services will be lost. I want to have a constructive dialogue about this. I believe there is a way to fund the development officers and their important work, even if we need a short-term measure to make sure services are maintained within those disadvantaged areas. Development officers are not on huge money. Their average salary is between €35,000 and €43,000 a year. It is not a huge gap to get over for a couple of months. It has to be sorted out. Disadvantaged communities cannot be the ones that pay the price.
I welcome the action the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, has already taken and the funding he has put into the women's international team. That money has been ring-fenced so it does not go into the black hole of FAI debt. The Minister has acted responsibly. I am disappointed that the FAI will not be attending tomorrow's committee meeting organised by Deputy O'Dowd. I compliment the Chair of the Joint Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport for organising it. At the very least it would have given the opportunity for senior members of the FAI to come in and apologise. One word that has not been used as of yet is "apology". I am talking about an apology to the many parents, volunteers and players in the League of Ireland and in our local parks day in and day out. They have been betrayed. I do not use that word lightly. Let An Garda carry out its investigations, but let us work together to ensure that the supports for disadvantaged areas, the development officers and the coaches, are kept in place. We must work in a constructive manner to put a structure in place to allow that.I do not know whether that should be done by way of a debate in the House or in committee. I welcome the Minister's initial response. I would be happy to work with any group to make sure the resources and services provided to disadvantaged communities are kept in place during what will be a worrying period for many people who work for the FAI. These staff are facing redundancy as we approach Christmas and they do not know where they stand.
I ask the Leader to arrange for the relevant Minister - I presume it is the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment in this instance but the Leader will identify the correct Minister - to come into the House to discuss the need to build more timber-framed buildings. We need more houses built from timber grown in Irish forests to help us reach our climate change targets. We grow trees faster than anywhere else and we need to put this timber to work in our built environment. Houses, apartments, offices and schools could all be built with timber. A modest residential extension could easily lock up 3,000 or 4,000 tonnes of carbon. Advances in science during the past ten years have made durable timber buildings possible and these could be at the heart of our national building programme. Timber is a material that absorbs rather than emits carbon. Our forests absorb 3.8 million tonnes of carbon each year. That is equivalent to emissions from 60% of the 2 million cars on Irish roads. The timber industry provides 12,000 jobs in rural Ireland. To put it simply, trees act like large vacuum cleaners in removing carbon dioxide.
The current regulations do not allow for timber-frame construction of office complexes, schools or larger and taller buildings, which is a pity. This matter merits a detailed examination as timber-frame construction could be very much part of a climate change agenda in addition to creating jobs.
It is estimated we need 250,000 new homes. According to an estimate released today, a large number of homes need to be built every day. The figure may have been 90.
It is a very large number. It is projected that we need 250,000 new homes in the coming years. A large number of those houses could be built using timber. The issue I want to address is our allowing allow office complexes, schools or taller buildings to be built using a timber frame. My understanding is that the current regulations prohibit buildings that extend to a certain number of storeys from being built using a timber frame. Everything about building commends itself to a re-evaluation in the context of the climate change agenda and better building methods.
What a pleasure it is to see the Cathaoirleach back in office in robust good health. I have been a Member of this House for about 33 years and I can say absolutely that he is just about the best Cathaoirleach this Seanad has ever had in that he is fair, impartial and decent.
I forgot that the Cathaoirleach is good-humoured as well.
I join in the expressions of sadness on the death of Paul Anthony McDermott.He was an incisive, informative commentator on legal matters. He had a very distinctive voice. He died at the very early age of 47.
Since we are in the business of paying tributes, I would like to mention briefly the late Professor John Gilmartin. He was a most refined, elegant man who gave his life in very large part to helping to preserve Georgian architecture.
Finally, I wish to mention a rather curious person, the late Randal MacDonnell. I read his obituary, reprinted from The Telegraph, with a degree of sadness. He was a Walter Mitty figure. I remember him parading himself as Lord of the Isles until I pointed out that that title had been extinguished and absorbed by the title Prince of Wales after the Highland rebellion of 1745. He then described himself as MacDonnell of the Glens, which came as a bit of a surprise to the Earl of Antrim, whose title is actually that. I remember Randal parachuting from a helicopter, wearing a kilt and no underwear, into the college races at Trinity, somewhat to the surprise of Mr. Éamon de Valera. I would like to think Mr. de Valera's defective eyesight meant he did not catch a glimpse of the undercarriage as it floated earthwards. Randal could be charming despite his Walter Mitty character. I was sad to learn that he died in a one-room hovel in Tangier and that there was not enough money left to bury him. That is a sad, but perhaps appropriate, end to a very colourful career. I know he would have been really thrilled to get practically half a page of an obituary from The Telegraph. I would like to think he would also be pleased that he was mentioned on the record in Seanad Éireann today.
I thank the Senator for his kind remarks. I would also like to be associated with the comments on the sad passing of Paul Anthony McDermott. I was unaware of it because I was off sick. Mr. McDermott was a frequent visitor to this House and, to the best of my knowledge, he was an adviser to one of the committees I chaired as a Deputy. May he rest in peace. He was a very pleasant character. He gave very balanced advice and was sure-footed from a legal perspective.
I call on Senator O'Mahony, who is to get a second bite of the cherry.
I thank the Cathaoirleach for his indulgence earlier and that of my colleagues. He is very welcome back. One's health is the most important thing in life. It is great to see the Cathaoirleach back in charge again.
I support Senators Craughwell and Humphreys regarding their comments on the FAI. I will not indulge myself in speaking about this because I wish to raise another issue. I requested the Minister to attend last week on two occasions because I had a fair idea of what was coming up on Friday. It is a mistake that the representatives of the FAI are not appearing before the committee tomorrow. We will discuss it at another stage.
I was scanning the Sunday newspapers at the weekend. I usually skip the full-page advertisements of the multinationals and so on but I could not help being struck by the fact that the price of alcohol, particularly spirits, seems to be lower this Christmas. Bottles of whiskey are available for €18 each, or two bottles for €35. Bottles of Baileys are available for €10. The Public Health (Alcohol) Act 2018 was passed over a year ago. The commencement of the section on minimum pricing was held up because we wanted to proceed along with Northern Ireland when its Administration was back. It is not back, however, so it does not look like there will be movement on legislation in Northern Ireland. Scotland was at the European Court of Justice at the time and it won its case. It is now revealed that alcohol sales in Scotland have dropped to the lowest ever level since minimum pricing was introduced in May 2018. Therefore, it does work. In fairness to the Minister, he indicated in the past six weeks or so that he was seeking approval from the Cabinet to sign off on the relevant section of the legislation. I am not asking the Minister to come to the House but I ask the Leader to seek an update. The Minister indicated his intention six weeks ago.I do not refer to responsible publicans or small off-licences but rather to the large multinationals that seem to sell alcohol as a loss leader.
The Cathaoirleach is tough like a Cork or Kerry footballer, which is a great trait.
I raise an issue I raised in a recent Commencement debate, namely, aquaculture licence applications for Ballyness Bay in County Donegal. Since I raised the matter in the House, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine last week granted approval for 14 of the 18 applications, effectively giving approval for an area the size of 40 ha that can now be used for harvesting with trestles Pacific oysters and clams. The local community are deeply annoyed at the decision, taken swiftly by the Minister, in light of the fact that, in general, such applications take up to two years for a decision to be made. The decision in this case was made within approximately six months of the applications being submitted. There are significant questions to be answered about the public consultation process, given that the local community were not provided with the opportunity to make submissions prior to the Minister's decision. Their only option is to appeal to the Aquaculture Licences Appeals Board, which is an expensive process, with each appeal costing €200. There are 14 licences, and if any group or individual appeals all the applications, it will cost €2,800.
The Minister has got the matter deeply wrong. He spoke in this House and the Dáil, and has blatantly ignored the public concerns over the issue. While nobody wants to deprive people of a livelihood or an economic benefit garnered through farming or aquaculture, the public good, as well the destruction that could be forced on a small bay, needs to be taken into consideration. That did not happen, however, before the Minister arrived at his decision to grant the licences. It is most unfortunate. I ask the Leader to facilitate a debate on the processing of aquaculture licences. Although it may not be possible before the Christmas recess, I would like the Minister to come before the House to discuss the issue in general terms early in the new year.
I thank the nine Senators for their contributions to the Order of Business. I welcome Senator Clifford-Lee back to the House following her excursions during the by-election campaign and wish her well in her future endeavours. She raised an important matter earlier that needs to be highlighted more frequently. She is correct that domestic homicide has not received the same level of attention as gangland crime, and I stand with her regarding the starkness of the figures presented in the report today. As somebody who sits on the joint policing committees for Cork city and county councils, I welcome the fact that divisional protected service units will be established in Cork. It is important to reaffirm the commitment of the Government and of all of us - I hope universally - to the promotion and support of victims of domestic violence, which has a devastating effect. The Government has been proactive on the matter, taking a range of legislative decisions and passing a suite of Bills. In addition, An Garda Síochána continuously works to improve its specialist services and there has been a significant allocation of funding for the matters raised.
On the point the Senator made in respect of Hammond Lane, all of us want to see the issue resolved and it is a priority for the Minister for Justice and Equality.Up to €80 million of capital funding has been made available from the Department for a new children’s court complex. It is important the Office of Public Works and those involved in the Courts Service sit down to conclude the negotiations. The points made by the Senator this afternoon are important, in particular the issue of mediation and people being able to discuss their affairs in the privacy of a secure environment. I am happy for the Minister to come to the House to discuss this matter.
Senator Craughwell referred to the new Finnish Prime Minister, Sanna Marin, who will be installed today at the age of 34, the youngest Prime Minister in the world. We wish her every success in her tenure. The decision of the Finnish Government is a wonderful acknowledgement of the role of diversity, inclusion and gender. She was a former member of a city council in Finland and has proved her mettle as a politician of repute. It is important we promote women in all aspects of political and civic life.
The Cathaoirleach and Senator Norris referred to the sad passing today of Paul Anthony McDermott. On behalf of the Fine Gael side of the House, I join with the House’s words of sympathy to his family on his sad and young passing. He was an insightful and bright mind. His ability to cut to the quick of a matter, whether it concerned legislation or another legal matter, was one from which we all benefited. We send our sympathies to his family.
Senator Norris also referred to the passing of Professor John Gilmartin and Randal MacDonnell. We also extend our sympathies to their families. I did not know them but we offer our sympathies to them as well.
Senators Craughwell, O’Mahony and Humphreys referred to the issue of the FAI. It made for sad reading at the weekend to learn of €55 million of net liabilities being exposed. It is a gargantuan mess. Those of us who are sportspeople are concerned by the effect this will have on the FAI brand and, more importantly, grassroots football which is supported by many thousands of volunteers, week in, week out. Senator Humphreys referred to football in disadvantaged areas. It is important that young people in disadvantaged areas do not suffer because of this. The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, gets much criticism in this House. To be fair to him, his decision to withhold the money and find a mechanism by which that money can be diverted to grassroots football is one we should support. It is disappointing that the FAI will not attend the sports committee tomorrow. Equally, however, what is Sport Ireland doing? It is the oversight body of the FAI. This €55 million deficit did not just happen last week or the week before. It has been going on for some time. It is important we have proper oversight. Those of us involved in sport at grassroots level recognise the importance of funding, fundraising and trying to keep a club going. Last week, a rugby club in Kildare was threatened with being put out of business because of insurance costs. Many of us in this Chamber are involved in our own local clubs and sport. It is important Sport Ireland is also held to account for the oversight role it plays. None of us can condone or support what is happening in the FAI at corporate level. It is just not good enough.
Irrespective of who we listen to, there needs to be proper accountability and transparency. We should all remember that with the €2.9 million of Government money or other moneys going into the FAI, it is not the persons involved but the organisation which benefits. That is why probity with other people's money is important. Senator Craughwell referred to a letter with which I am not familiar. The Cathaoirleach said the matters are sub judice. It is important regional development officers are not affected.The development of the game at grassroots level is important. Women's soccer is the fastest growing sport in the world. We must continue to support and encourage it. It is not good enough that the women's national football team has to tog out on a portakabin or bus, or that they must go cap in hand to get jerseys or gear from someone. That is why it is important that we draw a line here, getting answers but ensuring that the future of the FAI is secure so that we can promote all aspects of Irish football.
Senator Gavan raised the very important matter relating to staff of Virgin Media being able to have representation at union level. I make no apology for saying that they should not be treated as they are. I am not entirely familiar with what he spoke of although I have seen some articles. I read that the company was looking for 65 redundancies, and in the end it was 40, as part of collective bargaining, although it may not be collective bargaining. The honest answer is that I am not sure but I do stand up for the right of people to be able to join unions so that they can protect their rights and entitlements. That is something that I will never recoil from. It is disappointing that this is happening and I do not support it in any form. The Senator is right. It will not be featured on "The Tonight Show" tonight, there will be no discussion on it, and Ivan Yates et al will make their usual comments, which we have come to expect of them. However, what is important is that people's right to join a union, to be protected, to have their pay and entitlements, and their right to collective bargaining are looked after. I stand with the Senator on that.
Senator Black referred to the presentation on endometriosis in the audiovisual room. She will be aware that the Government has formed a women's health task force. Women's health is very important to this Government and it has been prioritised in many things the Government has done. Proper education is important, not only from health and medical professionals but also in our education system. I hope that endometriosis will be part of the work of the task force. It is not only in the Republic of Ireland that there are issues around this but also in Northern Ireland and Britain. Some very high-profile women have gone on the public airwaves to discuss it. Education will create awareness.
Senator Joe O'Reilly referred to timber-framed and durable timber buildings. I support his call on this, particularly looking at the change in regulations around taller buildings, including office blocks and public buildings. I would be happy to have a debate on this with the Minister. It might be a combination of Ministers, namely, Deputies Eoghan Murphy, Bruton and Doyle.
Senator Ó Domhnaill raised the issue of aquaculture licences in Ballyness Bay, County Donegal in the context of 14 of 18 licences being awarded and one or two not being awarded. I do not have the information on this to hand. I know licensing is a very vexing area. It is about ensuring that jobs are created, protected and enhanced. I take his point. He had a Commencement Matter on this recently and if I can have the Minister before the House before Christmas, I will. However, it will probably be in the new year.
I wish the Cathaoirleach well in his full health now he is back. He is on temporary light duties. He gave us all a bit of a fright, as I said last week. I hope he is taking notice of the advice of people such as the Minister of State, Deputy Moran, and others to take it easy. This is a marathon, not a sprint. We are glad that he is back and we hope that he will take it easy. We will guide him back in gently and try not to give him too much heartache on this side of the House anyway. It is good to have him back.
A woman very close to me, otherwise called my wife, said it is like trying to get a greyhound to go slow. I am not very good at it.
I welcome to the House friends and neighbours of mine, Martin and Monica O'Mahony, from Kilcoe, west Cork. To my eternal regret, Martin was one of the people who first enticed me into politics in 1985 and I will never forgive him for it.His good wife, Monica, worked with my wife for many years. They are very welcome. I think it is their first visit to the Chamber. All the other guests are also very welcome. I have to acknowledge my neighbours.
I forgot to mention Senator O'Mahony's reference to the Public Health (Alcohol) Act. My information is that the issue is linked to the Scottish decision, which I think has been approved by the European Union. I would be happy for the Minister to come to the House. The Senator has raised a very important matter on the issue of the sale of alcohol.
Senator O'Mahony has been very vigilant on this. The newspaper advertisements indicate that alcohol is being sold as a loss leader to encourage people to buy alcohol. The price of spirits is quite stark. I will have the Minister come to the House as soon as possible and I apologise to the Senator.