The Order of Business is No. 1, motion regarding the address to the House by Mr. Gay Mitchell MEP on Thursday, 24 January 2013, to be taken without debate on the conclusion of the Order of Business; No. 2, motion regarding the address to the House by Ms Mairead McGuinness MEP on Tuesday, 29 January 2013, to be taken without debate on the conclusion of No. 1; No. 3, Taxi Regulation Bill 2012 - Order for Second Stage and Second Stage, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 3 and to conclude no later than 1.45 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed ten minutes, those of all other Members not to exceed six minutes and the Minister to be called on to reply to the debate no later than 1.35 p.m.; No. 4, Water Services Bill 2013 - Order for Second Stage and Second Stage, to be taken at 2.30 p.m. and to conclude no later than 5 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed ten minutes, those of all other Members not to exceed five minutes and the Minister to be called on to reply to the debate no later than 4.50 p.m. Private Members' business, No. 36, motion No. 14, shall be taken at 5 p.m. and conclude no later than 7 p.m.
Order of Business
I welcome the announcement that our MEPs are to address the Seanad. It is important, at a time when we hold the Presidency of the Council of the European Union, to be given a view of the work being done by our MEPs in the European Parliament. Such addresses would be appropriate business to schedule in the future on an annual or biannual basis. People may complain that they do not have much knowledge of what happens in the Houses but the general public surely has very little knowledge of the work MEPs do in Europe. The Seanad could facilitate greater understanding of that work.
I welcome that departure.
On the final day here before we rose for Christmas we debated the Finance (Local Property Tax) Bill 2012, which was passed, with the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan. I and several of my colleagues spoke for our party. It was a detailed debate during which the Minister answered numerous questions and I commend him on the way in which he conducted himself, although I did not agree with many of his points. I have a major concern, however, because during that debate we discussed at length the self-assessment element of the Bill and how people would assess their own homes. The Minister said clearly that it would be up to individuals to strike a valuation and if it was reasonable there would be no difficulties. It was all very helpful. However, over the course of the recess the Government obviously instructed the Revenue Commissioners to announce to the newspapers that they would strike valuations for the 1.65 million dwellings in the State. The Government did not announce this to the House and neither did the Minister when the Bill was before the House. The Revenue Commissioners will write to the Leader, to me and to other colleagues here stating the worth of our houses. This will be done by the end of March. I said to the media over Christmas that I could not understand this and would have no faith in the carrying out of detailed valuations of properties of all shapes and sizes across the country between December and March. More worrying was the fact that the Revenue Commissioners stated it would challenge someone who disagreed - for example, if it valued a house at €200,000 and the owner said it was worth €150,000. Should the Revenue Commissioners find against that valuation, the householder would be subject to fines and penalties. Not once did the Minister mention that in his address here. We went through the Bill in detail. I asked numerous questions of the Minister specifically about valuations, as did my colleagues, yet this was announced in the newspapers. Obviously the Department of Finance instructed the Revenue Commissioners to get this out over the Christmas period.
Every household in the country will receive a valuation from the Revenue Commissioners by the end of March. Unless there have been 10,000 new staff appointed about whom I do not know, I ask the Leader what confidence he and the Government have that the Revenue Commissioners will be able to make full and detailed valuations of the 1.65 million dwellings in the State between now and the end of March. Why did the Minister not mention that point, which is very important, as well as the fact that people could be penalised and extra charges levied on them, during the course of the debate on the property tax? I am well aware that the Minister for Finance is extremely busy at the moment, and we wish him well in his endeavours. However, over the next week or two perhaps he or the Minister for State at his Department, Deputy Hayes, could find a half an hour or an hour to clarify why this was not mentioned while the Bill was before this House or the other House, and whether it is correct that if someone submits a valuation that is not identical to that of the Revenue Commissioners he or she will be subject to a challenge by the Revenue Commissioners as well as additional charges and penalties, because that is not what we were told in the week leading up to Christmas.
As I did not have an opportunity to do so yesterday, I would like to extend my condolences to the family of the late Shane McEntee and to our colleague, Senator Clune, on the sad loss of her mother.
On another note, I compliment the Leader and the staff of the Seanad on the excellent hearings held in this Chamber in the first week of January by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children, which were well attended by Members of the Oireachtas and members of the public and were well reported. It was a really good use of the Seanad Chamber, as I am sure my colleagues will agree.
Yesterday, many of my colleagues spoke of the need for a sentencing policy in light of the largely suspended sentence handed down in the case of Patrick O'Brien from Bray two days ago. I join in the call for that debate and ask that it be broadened to include the general treatment of sex offence cases within the criminal justice system. Over the past year there have been several worrying cases in which sentences appeared to be somewhat inconsistent and out of line with the normal practice, which is that offenders in serious sex offence cases receive substantial custodial sentences. It is most worrying if there are disputes between individual sentencing judges and the Court of Criminal Appeal which appear to change the nature of a sentence or to render it somewhat different to the normal run of substantial custodial sentences. It is important that victims of sexual abuse are not put off reporting abuse because of sentences or because of cases such as this one. It is important to remember that since 1993 the Director of Public Prosecutions has had the power to appeal unduly lenient sentences, and there have been several high-profile instances in which sentences have been increased on appeal. That is a very important power. We need to debate sentencing policy and we need a codifying Act that brings together all the different piecemeal changes that have been made to the law on, and sentences for, sex offences over the years. The previous Government promised such a Bill and it is in this Government's legislative programme. We see now an urgency to codify the law on sex offences.
We need also to review our criminal appeal system. Anyone with any knowledge of the working of the Court of Criminal Appeal knows how unsatisfactory it is that the court is not placed on a permanent footing. There are frequent changes to judicial personnel on the court and there are long waiting lists before the court hears appeals, particularly appeals against conviction and sentences. This case highlights several issues and I join with others in expressing my concern about it and in calling for a debate on the broader issue of the trial of sex offences.
Several times in the past I have expressed my concern about wasting paper and the fact that we should be moving towards a paperless society. I draw the attention of the House to Jeremy Hunt, the Secretary of State for health in Britain, who today will announce an NHS development for making patients' records accessible to the patients. He reckons that this will save in the region of £5 billion in one year. Even better, it will save billions of hours of nurses' time because, instead of having to handle all the paperwork, they can retrieve something by touching a few buttons. Every citizen will be able to access his or her own records. Apparently in Europe only 4% of citizens can access their own records. The fact that Britain is moving in this direction is a reminder to us of what we could do if we were able to save even a fraction of that sort of money here. We are having great difficulty, for example, in deciding whether we can pay for new pharmaceutical techniques and inventions that will save lives, including for people with cystic fibrosis, because we do not have enough money. We can save that money if we move in this direction, but it needs enthusiasm and a Department of Health that will move in this direction. It also means that the Government as a whole could do the same. I have been critical of how slow we have been here to do away with paper and still it comes in.
I was concerned when I read in the newspaper today that there are only three people on the Food Safety Board. It advertised last March, almost 12 months ago, for other members and received applications but the jobs have not been filled. Food safety hit the headlines last week. Apparently, for the board to meet there must be a quorum of four people, yet there have been only three for the past year. I do not know how the system works but it seems to me there is a real need for the Minister in charge of that body, who I assume is the Minister for Health, to do something about filling the gaps and making sure that happens.
It seems to take so long. There is frustration for others looking at what happens in government when they see how long it takes to get things happening, and that is only one example. I have had my own frustrations with the Construction Contracts Bill, which we passed through the House two years ago and which, hopefully, will become law before Easter this year. However, it has taken so long and I do not understand why. I believe there should be two movements: one, to get rid of paper, to move to a paperless society and move into technology and, two, to recognise the importance of time when getting things done.
I wish to raise the matter of the new report published by a cross-Border forum on young men and suicide. Myself and the Leader of the Seanad, Senator Maurice Cummins, spent the weekend on a cross-Border forum on trafficking and prostitution. There are good reports coming from the cross-Border groups including, in particular, this report on suicide. I am not involved in the forum. Dr. Noel Richardson is the lead author of the report and it was in the news again this morning. It is being published today. The report has shown that the rate of young male suicide is the highest in the European Union. We all know that it is a serious problem but this is particularly the case in Ireland for young males. The rates for other types of suicide are at the average, although there is nothing average or normal about suicide. However, there is a public health issue and a moral requirement on us as politicians to act and to ensure that we try to do something about this situation.
There are 12 recommendations in the report. One relates to male machismo and so on and that is an issue. Early intervention with children is important and we need to say to males in particular that it is okay for a man to cry and to express his emotions. I am calling for the Seanad to take a lead on this issue and to invite in the authors of the report on a cross-Border basis, North and South. We should also invite the various organisations to the Seanad.
You can take that up with your representatives on the Committee on Procedure and Privileges.
Does it not have to be agreed by the Leader that the House is open to such a suggestion?
That is a matter for the House afterwards. You can bring it to your leader.
There is another group worth mentioning, namely, the men's shed movement throughout the country. This is a new organisation for men. I call on the Leader - if this is the proper avenue to go down - to address this. I want it to actually happen. Sometimes when one raises things on the Order of Business it takes a long time. This is an urgent issue. Senator John Gilroy has raised the issue of suicide as well.
He is the leader of the other rebels.
You are over time.
We are both singing off the same hymn sheet. The report issued today brought the matter to the fore again because Ireland has the highest rate in the EU.
Will the Leader give an indication of when he would be prepared to take No. 36, motion 12, which is about the devastating war in the Congo? He indicated that he believed there was a possibility to put forward and pass an all-party motion early in this session. The motion has also gone through the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade.
I add my voice to those who have raised the issue of suicide. It is a critical issue and it is devastating. We have among the highest rates of suicide in Europe of which we are aware. When I was younger we did not know this because it was concealed and it was, socially, a stigma. It is important that this be brought out in the open and the stigma removed. I suggest that it would be useful if some Government agency, or perhaps His Excellency, the President, who has had very useful consultations with young people, called together all these groups. I have discovered in recent years that there are a number of groups dealing with the issue of suicide, including Save Our Sons and Daughters, SOSAD, and Pieta House.
It is possible to detect the early symptoms and indicators of suicidal intentions, many of which I would not have thought of before I consulted with these groups. They include actions such as giving away a souvenir football, a jumper or a pair of ballet shoes or telephoning friends far away and so on. At that stage we must intervene or, as a friend, parent or relative, go in and say "Are you troubled?" If the person is not, then all one gets is a rebuff but one is unlikely to get a rebuff and it would show concern. It is important that we, as a community and a society, address this very tragic problem because it represents a permanent solution to what is almost invariably a temporary problem.
I rise to express my concern with regard to some aspects of employment law as it stands. It seems that in the current economic climate the rights of employees are often overlooked and neglected. I say as much in the context of a situation that is evolving in Athboy, County Meath, at a hotel called the Old Darnley Lodge. The staff at the Old Darnley Lodge were informed last Wednesday, with one hour's notice, that they were being laid off. The operators of the hotel, the management, have not been in contact with them and are unable to be contacted despite the fact that the staff have not received any clarification about redundancy, holiday pay, hours owed and other entitlements. I call on the Leader to facilitate a meeting and for the Minister to come to the House to discuss employment law in general and perhaps this case in particular. I am also calling on the management of the hotel and Mr. Séamus McEnaney-----
Senator, as you well know, we do not name people on the Order of Business or in the House. Please refrain from it.
I apologise for that. I am calling on the former manager of the Meath football team to contact employees and clarify the situation.
I support the comments of Senator Gilroy. I remind the House and the Leader that this year is the centenary of the 1913 Lock-out, which was a seminal moment in the struggle for workers' rights in this State and throughout the island. It is unfortunate and a scandal that in 21st-century Ireland there are still situations in which workers are engaging in sit-in protests to demand basic rights. Much of the responsibility falls back on the employers, some of whom are unscrupulous and some of whom are walking away from their responsibilities and not paying staff wages or money due. We have seen this with HMV workers and those at Vita Cortex, Lagan Brick and, in the Leader's constituency, Waterford Crystal as well. We could all give many examples from recent years and a further example has been given this morning by Senator Gilroy.
We should examine the employment rights legislation. Part of the problem relates to the issues of redundancy payments, minimum notice pay, unpaid leave and unpaid wages. All of these are entitlements workers have under the insolvency fund. The problem is that it takes months for workers to get their wages. In most cases or in normal circumstances employers would pay the workers and claim the money back, but many employers are walking away from that responsibility and workers are left high and dry and must wait months for their payments. There is also an anomaly whereby if the company does not officially go into receivership, workers cannot even apply under the insolvency fund.
There are two issues. First, we should have a debate on employment law because there is also the issue of how the State is treating junior nurses. There will be a presentation in the audiovisual room today on that issue. Second, we should find some way to mark the centenary of the Lock-out and perhaps invite one of the trade union leaders to address the House this year. It is important for the House to find some way to mark and acknowledge the significance of the 1913 Lock-out and the seminal moment that it was in the struggle for labour and employment rights in the State.
I join my colleagues in offering my condolences to the family of the late Shane McEntee, with whom we worked very closely. It was very sad to be at his funeral on Christmas Eve. I also offer my condolences to the family of Senator Deirdre Clune following the death of her mother.
We heard the proposals of Kerry County Council some days ago on rural pubs and drink-driving. I do not condone drink-driving by any means.
Something must be done for people who are isolated in their homes, do not get an opportunity to get out or cannot travel to their local pub. Something must also be done for the local pubs. I have been contacted regularly by publicans in towns and villages in the north west who have made substantial investments in their properties by refurbishing them and, as a result, are paying substantial, increased rates. This also applies to restaurant owners and it opens up the whole debate. We should look again at the issue of rural transport and ways of encouraging people to come out because it would be good for those who are isolated in rural areas and it would also be good for towns and villages and keep the pub trade alive. As we move forward into the year of the Gathering, we should remember that those who are isolated in their homes have great stories to tell and would be great ambassadors if we received visitors. In the same context, the incidence of suicide is a major problem, as mentioned by some of my colleagues. This measure would help some of those who are isolated.
I concur with my colleague Senator Feargal Quinn that it is vitally important that the Government fill the current vacancies on the board of the Food Safety Authority.
In 2008 I published a policy paper on what we could do to deal with the issue of suicide in the new Ireland. At the time there was no doubt we had a very high rate of suicide among young men. The economic crisis has had very serious consequences for young people, particularly young men who cannot find employment and have financial difficulties. There is a serious level of stress among men in their twenties and thirties because of the economic crisis. I have organised a conference which will take place on Saturday week in the Rochestown Park Hotel in Cork to address the question of what we can do to deal with the issue of suicide in tough economic times. One of the key speakers will be Dr. John Hillery, the famous psychiatrist and former Fianna Fáil candidate in County Clare, who will speak about resilience. As Senator Cáit Keane said, there is no doubt that being able to speak about one's problems is extremely important. It is also important that people are not criticised for feeling suicidal or suicidal ideation. It seems that many are beginning to understand this point. Many people who have read my policy paper have told me that they tried to commit suicide in the past. I formally invite all Senators and the young people in the Visitors Gallery to attend the conference in Cork on Saturday week to discuss the question of how we can deal with the issue of suicide in tough economic times.
Will the Leader invite the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine to the House to clarify where the 11 million burgers that have been withdrawn will end up? According to a newspaper report today, the ABP Food Group does not know how the burgers will be destroyed or where they will end up. In the same report Professor Patrick Wall, a food specialist at UCD, refers to the fact that he attended a food hunger conference last week at UCD and then had to comment on a country like Ireland destroying 11 million burgers which were edible. I am sure everyone in this Chamber would have no problem with eating one of them. Obviously, we must give due recognition to the issue of food quality, but why, in a country like Ireland where people are marginalised, students are in receipt of food baskets and people cannot afford to heat their houses, are we throwing away 11 million burgers which could be used? If people have an issue with horse meat, the burgers could be exported or offered to food agencies throughout the world. It is a disgrace, in this day and age, when figures indicate that 900 million people throughout the world are hungry, that we have sent a message that we will not eat this food because of a cultural aversion to eating horse meat. If one goes to France or other European countries, one will see horse meat on the menu. The Minister should either set down a marker or do something proactive in this case and give the burgers to whoever wants to tender for them. I am sure there are many who would be quite happy to avail of this food.
Yesterday I raised the issue of the HMV voucher scandal and the fact that many of the chain's customers who had bought gift vouchers as Christmas presents were left with vouchers which were completely worthless. I have pointed out that there may be breaches of the criminal code involved which warrant further investigation by the authorities. On that basis, I have written to the Director of Corporate Enforcement and the Director of Public Prosecutions to ask them to investigate the circumstances of this case and take whatever action they may deem fit in order to rectify the problem. I wish to set out the legal position. The fact of the matter is that those with HMV gift vouchers are not just ordinary creditors like banks and Revenue, among others, but enjoy a stronger legal position as the company is merely a trustee of the money that has been paid over by unsuspecting customers. These customers must be treated as having such rights and reimbursed forthwith. In the circumstances, I have also written to the receiver in Ireland, Deloitte, to request that it honour these payments which were made in good faith by the customers of this business. I also reiterate my call for the Minister with responsibility for consumer affairs, Deputy Richard Bruton, to come to the House to discuss and debate the legality or otherwise of what has been done to the many thousands of unsuspecting customers by this unscrupulous business and whatever steps are necessary to strengthen our legislative armour in this regard.
I support Senator Feargal Quinn on the issue of using paperless systems to do business. The best example I can give in this regard is from Denmark where people have a patient medication card which is like a Visa card. Paper prescriptions are not handed out. Rather, prescriptions are placed in an electronic file. Patients can take their cards to the pharmacist who can read the prescription. In Ireland and the United Kingdom, as I understand it, 27% of prescriptions from hospitals cannot be understood or are misread because of the way they are written. Having prescriptions on computer and allowing pharmacists to access the electronic file would be a far more efficient system. In Denmark the saving made was €1.8 billion in the management of the health care system. This measure must be fast-tracked in our health system, in which regard I fully support Senator Feargal Quinn.
The Irish Cancer Society recently published a study indicating that in disadvantaged areas and areas of high unemployment women were 49% more at risk of developing head or neck cancer, while men were 32% more likely to develop lung cancer. The study highlighted the need for a structured education programme on health care in these areas. I call on the Leader to invite the Minister for Health to come to the House to discuss how we can work with the Irish Cancer Society in dealing with this issue. The Department of Health and the HSE must be proactive in dealing with it. It is very much an education issue and a question of highlighting the risks people are taking with their lifestyles. It is worth repeating that the risk for women in these areas of developing certain cancers is 49% higher, while for men, it is 32% higher, a huge difference. This is an issue that must be tackled immediately.
I ask the Leader for a debate, as soon as possible, on the report being launched today on suicide, which highlights the fact that the incidence among young people here and in Northern Ireland is directly related to austerity measures and the recession. The two nations with the biggest increase in the incidence of suicide are Greece and Ireland, where the increase has been very substantial. While no one doubts that the Government is trying to do its best in the context of national recovery from the recession, it is incumbent on us to remind ourselves regularly in these Houses that things like the promissory note and the payment of €3.1 billion to the IBRC are on-the-moon stuff for people on the street who are struggling to eat and pay bills.
I am conscious of the level of coverage of the Personal Insolvency Bill 2012 which puts the banks in complete control, but it will be practically useless in delivering for people on the ground. Banks are already offering debt forgiveness and debt write-downs for certain businesses. Whether through public interest directors or directly with the banks, we need to legislate to ensure debt forgiveness and debt write-downs are available to real people on the street because the debate on promissory notes and better deals on sovereign debt is taking place on Mars or the moon for the genuine citizens of Ireland who are struggling. We do not need the moon stuff; we need to help people on Earth, on the ground and the streets.
I offer my condolences to the family of the late Minister of State, Shane Shane McEntee, and acknowledge the enormous courtesy, generosity and dedication he showed as a Minister of State and public representative.
Senator Feargal Quinn spoke about the Food Safety Authority of Ireland. I have serious concerns about the failure to fill vacancies on the board of the authority. I ask the Leader to arrange for the Minister for Health to explain to the House why the vacancies continue. We are all aware of the need for good scrutiny and standards in food production and food processing. The food chain has become ever longer and more complex because of the use of technology and, as shown by the recent burger difficulties, the need for scrutiny was never greater. However, the board to which the Food Safety Authority is answerable does not exist. This is not a fair or reasonable way for the authority to conduct its business. I am puzzled by the comments made by Mr. Goodman on testing. He was reported as stating: "We are talking about DNA testing and DNA will pick up molecules and something in the air," which suggests there is something wrong with the testing process. I applaud the work of the Food Safety Authority in this area, but a major problem has arisen at a time when it does not have a board. Perhaps the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine has a function in this regard, but I call for a discussion with the Minister for Health in the first instance.
I support Senator Michael Comiskey in his comments on rural pubs. We need to examine the issue of rural transport to develop some scheme whereby pubs and other places which people attend for entertainment would co-operate to provide transport. As has been noted, people are isolated, an issue we could usefully discuss in this House with a view to developing ideas for an economic solution to the daily difficulties encountered by people living in rural areas. Vintners and publicans need to start thinking outside the box. Perhaps different forms of entertainment could be made available in pubs rather than focusing purely on the sale of alcohol. Obviously, however, many like to go to the pub to enjoy a few drinks. I recently asked for tea in a pub and was stared at as if I had ten heads.
At 11 p.m. the Senator would be a barman's worst nightmare.
It might be worthwhile providing alternative beverages for people when they are out. It is not all about getting drunk.
Senator Cáit Keane spoke about the shocking report on suicide. We are all aware of the statistics. Senator David Norris referred to the need for urgency, which is missing from the debate. We need to address the issue in a serious way in the coming year. Early intervention is something we cannot discount and we have to look out for our colleagues. We have learned in the most horrendous way about the importance of looking after one another. In the case of young men who are the subject of the report, it is more difficult. Females are more inclined to be emotional and it is more acceptable for them to be so, but when a man is emotional, he is seen as having something wrong with him. The stigma needs to be removed for all workers. We need to look after one another across society and watch out for the signs because they can be apparent.
The Senator is over time.
I am rarely over time, but I am passionate about this subject. Early intervention needs to be considered because it is a matter that needs to be addressed with urgency in the coming year. I hope the Leader will take time to arrange a debate on it.
I draw Members' attention to the 11% of cystic fibrosis sufferers who are being deprived access to a new ground-breaking drug which would significantly improve the quality of their lives. The drug's outrageous price of €235,000 per year begs the question of whether the cost of its research and development is being front-loaded onto the people who need it urgently. I ask the Leader to find out from the Minister for Health the net cost of the drug, bearing in mind that the sufferers of cystic fibrosis who availed of it would be less of a burden on the health service. What cost do we as a people put on a life?
On that note, I join other speakers in asking what we are doing, as a Government and a country, on the issue of suicide. When I attended the Donegal people of the year awards the other night, I was told that 12 young people from the county had committed suicide in recent months. Apart from speaking about the issue, as a Government, we have not done anything to address the issue. In regard to drink driving and the issue of rural isolation, I have witnessed cases of single men who cannot go to the pub and whose best friend is a bottle of brandy or Jameson. This can result in the loss of their self-esteem and they might eventually take their own lives. We need to treat suicide as seriously as we treat road safety by appointing somebody like Mr. Noel Brett as head of a national suicide authority to deal with the issue from the ground up.
I raise the issue of abuse, specifically cyber abuse. Over Christmas a clip posted on YouTube came to my attention. It is commonly known as the KPMG girl clip. A young girl who clearly had had too much to drink was being goaded by a bunch of fellows. It was filmed on an iPhone and posted on YouTube for the sole purpose of demeaning her. The fellows abused the girl in this instance. She was obviously intoxicated. I am disappointed that I even have to raise the matter because I am giving fuel to the story. When somebody is being filmed, if he or she is shown in a negative light, his or her consent should be required before the piece can be posted to the Internet. Otherwise it is an invasion of privacy. I call on the Leader to arrange a debate with the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources on the matter. I do not know this girl or her family, but I hope she has good familial support because we are speaking about the issue of teenage suicide.
On too many occasions, suicide is the worst-case scenario when pressure like this builds up and affects young people. I think it is important. This country should lead the world in regulating the Internet. As we move onto next-stage broadband, 4G broadband will be available practically everywhere. I really feel annoyed that this young girl was abused by fellows who are getting away with this scot free. They were the lowlifes in this incident. We certainly need to do something about it. I am not sure who said earlier that we have done nothing about suicide other than talk about it. It is time for some action.
Hear, hear. Two privacy Bills have been drawn up - my Bill and the Government's Bill. The Senator could push his own party on this legislation.
I wish to pass on my sympathies to the McEntee and Barry families on their recent bereavements.
I would like to welcome the introduction of the new driving licence system. The system, which will bring us into line with the EU, comes into force today. However, I want to take issue with the centralisation of the system within the Road Safety Authority. I would like to ask the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport whether the authority has the capacity to carry out this work. Will this be another case of work of this nature being subcontracted? Has this system been proof-tested? Does the authority have all the resources it needs to issue these licences throughout the country, as it will be required to do, in effect, from September of this year? Are we about to witness another SUSI scenario? I have to take issue with what is being done because it is another example of responsibility for a local government function being given to a centralised body even though the existing system was working very well. When the Minister is brought to the House, I would like him to clarify whether the new system will affect the small amount of additional business that the current system generates for rural pharmacists across the country when local people go into such businesses to have photographs taken for driving licences. If this is the case, I would like a change to be made to the new system. Rural pharmacies, like all small businesses in rural Ireland, are doing everything they can to ensure they survive. My office in Carrick-on-Suir is two doors down from a pharmacy. Those who go into that pharmacy to get photographs for passports and driving licences provide a major part of its business. If the Minister intends to take this business away by imposing restrictions that require these photographs to be taken centrally, I suggest that such restrictions should be removed. I am looking for clarity on the issue.
I loved the way Senator Darragh O'Brien told the House this morning that one would swear the Revenue Commissioners were valuation people. The truth of the matter is that we have plenty of time to deal with this issue. As the Senator knows, the Revenue Commissioners will issue an information booklet to every house in March of this year. While it will include an indicative guide, nothing will be set in stone. Of course it will be open to house owners to disagree with the guide. I am sure they will do so in many cases.
What will happen when they do so?
One will be able to place one's own value on one's house. The house owner will know the value of his or her own property better than anyone else. There are very competent valuation people in estate agencies in every town in the country.
One can call Sherry Fitzgerald Coghlan.
Nobody will make a mistake in this regard.
It is not an exact science.
With respect, we have plenty of time to deal with this issue after March.
No, we do not.
Why did the Minister not mention it?
The value of a house is its price on the day of the auction - nothing else.
I am sure the Leader will have plenty of time to deal with this after March. We should await the booklet that will be published then.
I would like to speak about the adverse effect that bank charges are having on start-up businesses. I have seen a document that outlines the charges that have to be paid by a new business that wants to install a Visa machine. A once-off registration fee of €175 has to be paid. The business will be charged between 25 cent and 35 cent per transaction, with an additional 2 cent per authorisation. There will be a minimum monthly charge of €30. The business has to sign up to a 48-month contract. That is where there is a big problem. If the machine is not working in a certain business and is removed, the business has to continue paying for it until the 48-month period has elapsed. Further fees of 50 cent per cheque and €4.50 per €1,000 lodged also have to be paid. This is having an adverse effect on businesses, especially small businesses. As the charges mount up, they become quite substantial by the end of the month. The banks are no longer private entities. They are owned by the people. I once said to the Minister for Finance that he is the gaffer with regard to the banks, given that the State owns up to 95% of some of them, but he did not agree with me. Something should be done about this problem in the interests of job creation. This issue is of relevance to the Minister, Deputy Bruton, in that context. This is an important issue because now is the best time for those who have business ideas to start up in business. They have to jump a high wall at the outset. The Government should intervene by directing the banks to reduce such charges, especially for people starting out in business. It is quite severe to charge 35 cent per Visa machine transaction. I would like us to debate this matter and I call on the Minister for Finance to do something about it.
There has been a lot of talk this morning about suicide prevention. It should be acknowledged that many people in this House, particularly Senator Gilroy, have done exceptional work in this area. We are now dealing with a national emergency. Suicide in this country is now at crisis level. We need a very intensive response from the Government. It is heartbreaking to attend the funerals of beautiful young people who have died as a result of suicide. I would like a Cabinet sub-committee with sole responsibility for dealing with this country's suicide epidemic to be established as a matter of extreme urgency.
The sub-committee should report back to the Houses of the Oireachtas on the steps that are being taken to resolve this issue.
There has been some discussion about rural pubs this morning. I would like to call on the people of Ireland to develop a community co-operative system to help people who live in isolated rural areas to get to the pub. Perhaps their neighbours could get involved in a system of rotation similar to that used in the designated driver scheme, whereby a person will stay off the drink in order to be able to drive others home from the pub at the end of a night out. Why can this not be extended to facilitate those who would like to do something for their communities by bringing people to and from the pub? Why do the drinks companies not engage in some sort of promotion to encourage the citizens of this country to keep an eye on their neighbours in this way? When Senator McAleese's wife was President of Ireland, a scheme was organised to facilitate people who were willing to bring their older neighbours to matches. We should establish a similar system to encourage neighbours to bring older people to the pub and thereby give them the social outlet they so desperately crave.
I will conclude by speaking about the driving licence system. My understanding is that scanners throughout the country are not working. I understand that the scanner in the main tax office in Ennis is not working today. The system is not working. I am afraid we will have a repeat of the SUSI scenario.
SUSI is a disaster.
I strongly support everything that has been said this morning about the problem of suicide. I support the call made by my colleague, Senator Conway, for the establishment of a Cabinet sub-committee on this issue. The House should lead a national conversation on the whole issue of suicide. Our public consultation process would be a good vehicle for initiating such a conversation. We all know of the devastation caused by suicide in families and communities. In recent months, we have all seen in our electoral areas the havoc that is being wreaked on families by the curse of suicide.
There are so many support groups mushrooming throughout the country that I wonder whether we need to adopt a more co-ordinated approach. Having this public consultation session in Seanad Éireann would present an opportunity to invite some of these groups and support agencies in order that we can help the Government in compiling an action plan to deal with this epidemic. It has rightly been said more than twice as many lives are lost through suicide than on the roads. Although one life lost on the roads is one too many, we have made significant progress in that regard. There does not seem to be the same urgency, however, in dealing with the issue of suicide, despite the fact the Government is putting significant moneys into mental health services. I, therefore, appeal to the Leader to organise in the near future a public consultation session to look at the issue of suicide and mental health problems.
Senator Darragh O'Brien raised the issue of the EU Presidency and referred to the invitations extended to our MEPs. This is a good initiative and an ideal opportunity for our MEPs to address the Seanad in their areas of responsibility. That will happen throughout the six months Ireland will hold the Presidency and I hope we will have a very good attendance of Members to question them on their areas of responsibility.
I also intend that we will get more involved in discussing EU directives, an issue addressed in the House on several occasions. Given that we are not going to be provided with staff from the Houses of the Oireachtas, I am looking for the co-operation of all groups in order that we can pick out and work on some EU directives and report back to the House on the details. As we will have to deal with them from within our own resources, I am sure I will have the full support of all Members in that regard.
Senator Darragh O'Brien also raised the question of the property tax. Senator Paul Coghlan responded that Revenue would issue guidelines. As it is certainly an issue and it is likely there will be problems, we will have the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, or the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, in the House at a later stage to address the issue.
Senator Ivana Bacik continued the call made yesterday for a debate on sentencing. We will try to arrange it.
Senator Feargal Quinn, supported by Senator Colm Burke, raised the issue of the wastage of paper, with particular reference to the possibility of accessing medical records. As Senator Feargal Quinn mentioned, the potential savings are enormous.
Senators Feargal Quinn, Michael Comiskey and Susan O'Keeffe raised the question of positions not being filled on the board of the Food Safety Authority of Ireland. I will certainly make inquiries of the Minister as to when these positions will be filled. I am very surprised that they have not been filled, given that they were advertised almost 12 months ago. I will come back to the House on the issue.
Senators Cáit Keane and David Norris, among a number of others, raised the question of suicide, with specific reference to the Men's Health Forum in Ireland all-Ireland report, published today, Young Men and Suicide, which finds that suicide is a major cause of death among young males on the island. One of its key findings is that there can be no quick-fix solutions in tackling the extensive and complex causes and risk factors underpinning the statistics for young men because the causes and risk factors are so diverse and intersecting. Dealing with the current high levels of suicide and deliberate self-harm is a priority for the Government which is taking action, despite what some Members said. Reach Out, the national strategy for action on the issue of suicide prevention, recognises the youth as a high risk group and outlines a number of specific actions to be taken. Consequently, the HSE's National Office for Suicide Prevention has developed a wide range of initiatives aimed specifically at supporting young people who are suicidal and also at supporting their peers in recognising and responding appropriately to signs of emotional distress and suicidal thoughts. A wide range of awareness and training programmes are available to deal with issues to do with mental health and suicide prevention. These include SafeTALK to train participants to become more alert to the possibility of suicide in their community and other training programmes such as Reach Out, ASIST, Taking Control, MindOut and STOP Suicide. The Government is working on a number of aspects, while the Departments of Health and Education and Skills have been working closely with the HSE and the National Office for Suicide Prevention to develop guidelines for mental health promotion and suicide prevention in post-primary schools. These guidelines which have recently been finalised are based on national and international evidence and best practice and adopt a comprehensive and whole-school approach to mental health and well-being. It is proposed that they will be launched in the very near future. When they are introduced, we can perhaps arrange a debate to coincide with their introduction. I take on board what several Members have said and we will have a debate on the issue as soon as the guidelines are outlined.
Senators John Gilroy and David Cullinane spoke about the rights of employees. I certainly agree that employees should receive their full entitlements and be treated with decency and respect, particularly when they are losing their jobs. If there is a need for the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Richard Bruton, to tighten legislation in this regard, it should be done. I will certainly invite him to the House to discuss the rights of employees and employment law.
Senator Michael Comiskey and several other Senators mentioned the plight of elderly people living in rural areas, the need for further rural transport services and communities to come together to assist the people concerned. While I cannot condone drink driving under any circumstance, I certainly agree that communities and many publicans throughout the country have provided transport for pub customers. However, there is a further need for communities to get together to help those who do not have the means of getting to other community activities, given that the pub is not the only outlet for community activities in such areas.
Senator Lorraine Higgins referred to the issue of HMV vouchers. I am glad that she has acted on behalf of the many people who have such vouchers, including me. If there is a breach of the criminal code, I am sure it will be highlighted by the Senator.
Senator Colm Burke raised the issue of savings with specific reference to the waste of paper. The Senator also mentioned the need for a public education programme though the Irish Cancer Society and the HSE to highlight cancer figures, particularly in disadvantaged areas.
Senator Marc MacSharry called for a debate on the issues of suicide and debt forgiveness. Senator John Kelly raised the question of the cost of the new cystic fibrosis drug which is one that could be tabled for discussion on the Adjournment in order to obtain the details from the Minister.
Senator Michael D'Arcy spoke about the very serious problem of bullying, particularly cyber bullying. I am aware of the specific case mentioned by him, which was appalling. There is definitely a need for proper regulation in this area.
I will invite the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources to come to the House to address that problem. We had a previous debate on cyber-abuse but we should have a further debate on it.
Senator Landy raised the issue of road safety. Other Members mentioned the new licence. I suggest Senator Landy write to the Minister and I am sure he will get answers to the detailed questions he raised. If that is not successful, he could table a matter on the Adjournment.
Senator Sheahan raised the issue of bank charges and the fact that they are hindering the setting up of small businesses at a time when we should be incentivising small and medium-sized enterprises to expand. I will certainly bring the matter and the Senator's comments to the attention of the Minister for Finance.
The Leader might have intended to give me some information about Private Members' business.
I will come back to the Senator on that issue, which we will deal with in due course.