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Seanad Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 4 Feb 2014

Order of Business

The Order of Business is No. 1, motion regarding the European small claims procedure, referral to committee, to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business without debate; and No. 2, statements on the charity sector to be taken at 3.45 p.m. to conclude no later than 5.45 p.m., with the contributions of the spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes, all other Senators not to exceed five minutes, and the Minister to be called on to reply to the debate no later than 5.35 p.m.

On 23 January we debated storm damage and flooding, which preceded the events of this weekend. The Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Costello, took that debate. I have great regard for the Minister of State on a personal level but he had no answers for us whatsoever. He said so on the day. The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Hogan, who took the debate on the Bill before that debate and the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Brian Hayes, are the Ministers responsible for this area.

If anyone checks the Official Report they will see that the Minister of State, Deputy Costello, said in response to me and other Senators that he did not expect to answer questions here on that issue. That is not acceptable. I asked specific questions which are still relevant, to know whether the Minster of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Brian Hayes, or the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Hogan, has met the European Commissioner for Regional Policy, Mr. Johannes Hahn, and whether the Government intends to apply for additional funding under the EU solidarity fund that the previous Government used in 2009.

I do not know why Senator Gilroy is jumping up and down. Maybe when he is in Europe he can talk to-----

The Senator should address the Leader.

We will not hold our breath for that.

I thank the Senator for the vote of confidence.

Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

It is a very serious issue.


It is in this regard first.

The Senator, without interruption.

Frankly, there was no point to that debate on 23 January because no answers were given and there has been no follow-up. I got more answers in the ante-room from the officials than I got from the Minister of State. I do not blame him for that but, as it is not his portfolio, why was he here? He came in here to read a statement. That is the first point.

The Taoiseach is intimating that we will apply under the EU Solidarity Fund. If the Taoiseach is aware of the conditions attaching to the fund, however, he will realise the application will not be successful because the level of damage is not sufficient for the country to apply for it. In addition, on the day the Government announced the emergency fund of €45 million, 20 January, I asked the Minister of State, Deputy Costello, whether that was separate to the normal annual funding of the OPW for coastal erosion and flooding measures. I got the answer from the official that, no, it is not separate and that the annual OPW budget for this is being put into that €45 million emergency fund, so any work that was going to happen during the course of the year is in that fund already. The Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, then announced on Monday an additional €10 million fund to assist people who have been flooded over the weekend in Limerick, Cork and the north west. We all know that is not sufficient. Is the €10 million he is referring to part of the €45 million or is it a separate fund under the Department of Social Protection?

To have all of these questions remaining unanswered tells me the Government in this instance does not know what is going on and does not know where it is going to apply for funding or who is responsible for it. Unfortunately, we are going to have other weather events over the next few days and the situation is going to get worse. To seek the answers that I asked-----

The Senator is over time.

I am just finished. On 23 January, when I asked specific questions, the Minister of State, Deputy Costello, gave a commitment that he, through the officials in the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, would come back and answer those specific questions. That has not happened. Because of that, I am proposing an amendment to the Order of Business today that the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, or the Minister, Deputy Phil Hogan, would come into this House for one hour only to answer specific questions with regard to how we are going to compensate people and remediate and improve our flood defences in the short term, and to answer the questions I put to the House on 23 January that remain unanswered.

First, I wish our colleague, Senator Feargal Quinn, well. I understand today marks an important anniversary in that it is his 21st year in the Seanad. I know all of us will want to join in those good wishes to him.

I also support the call made by my colleague, Senator Averil Power, on Thursday for a debate in the wake of the reports of the RTE payout to the Iona Institute and other named individuals. I believe she was calling for a debate on free speech in light of that. I was delighted to attend, with Senator Power and Senator Norris, a protest on Sunday against censorship and homophobia, at which approximately 2,000 people attended. The Minister, Deputy Rabbitte, put out a very important and useful statement about this on Friday when he spoke of the need to ensure that recourse to defamation laws does not have a chilling effect on the conduct of public debate around LGBT rights, in particular in the context of the lead-up to the forthcoming referendum on marriage equality. It is important that any of those who hold themselves out as commentators on issues like this, including ourselves, would appreciate that debate in this arena can be robust and, on occasion, hostile in a democracy, and we must be able to take that. What we have seen over recent days and what has generated great public concern has been the emergence of a sort of chilling effect through threats of libel in the course of the debate.

In that context, I also very much welcome that the European Parliament has today voted for an EU roadmap against homophobia and discrimination and is calling for an action plan to combat homophobia along the lines of the strategies already in place for discrimination on the basis of disability, gender equality and Roma integration. I believe that recognises the very serious issue that homophobia remains for LGBT people throughout Europe, with people in many countries still experiencing unacceptable levels of harassment and discrimination. We need to remember that in the context of the debate we have been having here.

I second the call from Senator Bacik in regard to that kind of debate and I look forward, I am sure, to Senator Norris adding to that with his great eloquence. I very much support that.

I have a question for the Leader but I first want to welcome reports yesterday that the Minister, Deputy Burton, succeeded in resisting cuts of €440 million to welfare spending. I congratulate her on this.

The cuts were successfully resisted because her Department's research showed they would disproportionately affect those on lower incomes. This is a good way to do business. The Minister is pursuing a vision for reform. Although she has made some decisions I disagreed with and voted against, I acknowledge the tough job she faces.

I call for a debate on an issue which the Minister, Deputy Burton, was first to place on our agenda, namely, the idea of introducing a living wage in this country. She put forward this proposal based on the formerly experimental and now mainstream operation of that mechanism, on a voluntary basis, in the United Kingdom. It has been a very successful initiative, with 80% of employers expressing the view that it has enhanced the quality of their employees' work. In addition, absenteeism is down 25% and staff turnover has declined. A living wage is a benchmark based on clear and plausible evidence for an adequate living standard and is a response to income inequality. Unlike a national minimum wage, a living wage is an evidence-based rate of pay. I participated in a seminar last week led by the Vincentian Partnership for Social Justice where economists and social policy experts got together to begin considering how a living wage for Ireland might be calculated. It is an idea that is very worthy of pursuit, especially as the economy begins to pick up. It could be an instrument for ensuring people on lower pay have an adequate standard of living when other boats start to rise. It might even function as a helpful redistributive mechanism which would operate within the context of business as well as in the public sphere. The time is right to invite the Minister to the House for a debate on the concept of a living wage and how we might contribute to its formulation as a practical possibility in this country.

I join colleagues in calling for a debate on homophobia in a context where an attempt is being made to close down that debate. It is disgraceful that RTE has shown such a Gadarene rush to pay up on this issue. I wonder about the legal advice the State broadcaster was given, because I very much doubt it was clearly in the line which RTE took. As a taxpayer and television licence payer, I would like to know why my money is being given to these people. I know they will not co-operate with the Standards in Public Office Commission, which is extraordinary. I know they are controlled by a company called Lolex Limited which was founded in 2006. I would like to know how they achieved their status in society.

Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

I have already asked it and will continue asking it. They are self-appointed and are answerable to nobody. They have consistently misrepresented scientific papers and been rebuked by the authors of those papers. They did that at the Constitutional Convention, of which I am a member. It is amazing to me that they are allowed to bully people.

Is this relevant to the Order of Business?

It is very relevant. I have asked the question and I prefer not to be interrupted.

I take this issue extremely seriously. I sat in this Chamber and listened to colleagues on these benches tabling motions that were effectively apartheid in nature. Had I been a Roman Catholic, a black person or a Jew and anything remotely like that was attempted, the person would have been fired out of this House straight away. Would the Cathaoirleach and colleagues like to imagine how it felt for me to sit here and hear valued colleagues suggesting that I should not be allowed to purchase cake decorations, weddings invitations and so on, that I should be denied the service of a hairdresser, as if I needed it? People should take this issue seriously. This country is rampant with homophobia, including throughout the media. There are decent people in the media who are terrified to open their mouths. I hear all the time about the liberal D4 conspiracy, the Dublin media and so on. Where the hell are they? Where were they when I was being crucified? Where are they when Panti, a remarkable man, comes out and tells the truth?

We might have an opportunity now of turning the spotlight on the Iona Institute. I am asking the Leader the same question I asked of his deputy, on which occasion I did not get very far.

The Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Rabbitte, just equivocated with the usual old blather from one side of his mouth and then the other. Will the Leader instigate some degree of research into the Iona Institute? From where is it getting its money? Why does it not co-operate with the Standards in Public Office Commission, SIPO? Who made it an institute? In Britain, it would be legally prohibited from using the word "institute" because it is self-appointed.

Senator, you are over the time.

Fine, I am over time but, as I said on Sunday, the homophobes have had 2,000 years on the stage and I believe we are entitled to a few words now and again.

Yesterday morning in Cork I spoke to a number of business people whose businesses have been ruined by the flooding that affected the city centre the previous night. I was in Limerick later that afternoon and I spoke about it to the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes. I was impressed with his response. However, he must now match the urgency of his words with the urgency of his actions. I invite him to Cork to see, at first hand, the devastation of much of the city centre and to explain to the business people what he plans to do. Many of the businesses in the city centre that have been affected have been unable to secure insurance since the last flooding four or five years ago. I call on the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Hogan, to intervene and ensure that some of the hard-pressed businesses, which have been going through a very difficult time recently, are given some type of rates break at this time. The Minister, Deputy Hogan, is the man who can deliver such a thing. The scenes in Cork and Limerick yesterday were pitiful, but I call attention to the quiet dignity shown by the people in the area. It is very commendable.

The local authorities must continue to do what they can. Sandbags should be made available immediately today because there is a severe risk that Cork city centre will be affected by flooding again tonight. We must put a strategy in place in the immediate term to offset the worst effects of the anticipated flooding.

I second Senator Darragh O'Brien's proposed amendment to the Order of Business with regard to flooding. I agree with Senator Gilroy about the tragedies we have seen throughout Cork and Limerick, with businesses and people put out of their homes. This is replicated nationwide. As I said a couple of weeks ago regarding the other storm, we must not lose sight of the fact that there are cases throughout the western seaboard. To give an example, in Bundoran and south Donegal, rock armour was thrown around as if by a juggler in a circus ring. It was phenomenal. It was thrown into car parks. The many surf schools that operate all year round cannot get to where they carry out their business, so there is an employment issue too. In Strandhill and Rosses Point in Sligo two golf courses are at risk because of substantial erosion that has been exacerbated as a result of the recent storms. According to the front page of The Sligo Champion today, in west Sligo the McDermott family are completely cut off from their house because of the amount of rock and debris thrown up by the ocean. This is replicated on the coastline all along the western seaboard. Obviously, there are very serious concerns in Cork and Limerick about businesses and people out of their homes, but the north west is also affected.

The bottom line is that the minor works scheme, even if it is €250 million over the term of this Government, is not sufficient to deal adequately with this issue. We must get more funds. Whether they must be diverted from other areas, and I know they are scarce at this time, or we get them from Europe, they must be secured and these coastal communities must be dealt with. Clearly, the type of rock armour used in this country is not sufficient for the modern weather challenges with which we are presented. We have seen that with the flood supports in Limerick and Cork against the Shannon and the Lee and with the coastal supports against the Atlantic Ocean inflicting the full brunt of its power on Donegal, Sligo, Mayo and other communities.

Today is World Cancer Day. As we speak, the European Cancer Concord is launching a cancer bill of rights. It will be introduced and launched by Professor Patrick Johnston, a cancer specialist at Queen's University. Three people die from this disease every minute. There were 14 million new cases globally last year and 24 years hence there will be one fatality every ten seconds. We are losing the battle with cancer. This would be an appropriate time to review our national cancer control programme, which has celebrated some successes but which remains flawed in tackling this battle, particularly for the people who happen to live north of a line from Dublin to Galway.

We have heard a great deal about neknomination in recent days. I take this opportunity to sympathise with the Byrne family in Carlow, the members of which were so courageous in coming out publicly - so soon after the death of their loved one - in order to warn people about this phenomenon. It is not just young people who are partaking in this craze. Parents are also involved, which is shocking. Will the Leader request that the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Alex White, come before the House to discuss this matter? On several occasions I have asked that the Minister of State appear before us in order that he might explain why it is taking so long to deal with the issue of cheap alcohol. Out of curiosity I watched a number of the neknomination videos on Facebook and many of the dares - if one wants to call them that - did not take place in pubs, where drinking occurs in a controlled environment. Much of what is happening is related to the sale and ready availability of cheap alcohol. This is a major issue. I do not contribute to the Order of Business that often but I seem to refer to the same issue on each occasion I do so. Will the Leader ask the Minister of State, Deputy Alex White, to come before us, as a matter or urgency, and indicate when the Government is going to take steps to deal with the sale of cheap alcohol?

I support the calls made by Senators Bacik and Zappone earlier, and that made by Senator Power last week, for a debate on homophobia. Last Saturday night, Rory O'Neill - also known as Panti - made an extraordinary statement from the stage of the Abbey Theatre which, as of today, has amassed 80,000 views on YouTube. However, the national broadcaster and other broadcasters are afraid to show the footage of the event. Rory O'Neill did not mention any names when bearing witness in the context of his own experience of oppression but the fear remains among broadcasters and other media outlets in the context of disseminating his comments more widely. Thank God for social media in this instance because it allows for witness to be borne with regard to oppression. Rory O'Neill suggests that we are all a little bit homophobic. I would include myself in that regard. We must be aware of our use of language, in the context of how it can undermine and cheapen relationships, and of the need for respect. I call on the Leader to accede to the calls from colleagues for a debate on homophobia.

On 12 October 2011 and 18 April 2012, our group brought forward Private Members' motions on the connection between human trafficking and prostitution. On 27 June 2013, the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality recommended the introduction of a law to ban the purchase of sexual services. The Chairman of the joint committee, Deputy Stanton, stated:

The Committee finds persuasive the evidence it has heard on the reduction of demand for prostitution in Sweden since the introduction of the ban on buying sex in 1999. It concludes that such a reduction in demand will lessen the incidence of harms associated with prostitution and – particularly in view of the predominance of migrant women in prostitution in Ireland...

Is the Senator seeking a debate on the matter?

I call on the Leader to arrange for the House to consider the joint committee's report in order that we might continue the debate on this matter. I am aware that there are Senators who disagree with me in respect of this issue.

There certainly are.

I had the pleasure and privilege of being involved in the work done by the joint committee in the period leading up to the compilation of its report. We would like that report to be considered and debated by the Seanad in order that we might keep the issue alive and hear the views of those on both sides.

I support the call made by colleagues for a debate on homophobia. I was fortunate to see Rory O'Neill's "Noble Call" speech in the Abbey Theatre on Saturday night. As Senator MacConghail noted, there is a clip available on YouTube and I recommend it to those who have not seen it. The Senator also noted that this reflects the good side of social media. It was heart-rending to watch a man describe how he felt intimidated just standing at a bus stop. I recommend the YouTube clip as evidence of why everybody in this country should have free speech and why people should not be afraid to speak out. Senator MacConghail deserves to be commended for giving Rory O'Neill the opportunity to speak on Saturday night.

I too, raise the disturbing phenomenon known as neknomination. This word first entered my vocabulary at the weekend as I had no idea what this frightening practice was previously. I commend the family of the young Carlow man, Jonny Byrne, who died at the weekend, specifically his father and brother, on speaking out and pleading so eloquently for the practice to stop. Given our relationship with alcohol, the need to engage and educate society on sensible and safe drinking practices has been a key theme in recent years. Neknomination is a game with real and serious consequences, as we saw in the cases of two young men at the weekend. If allowed to continue, the practice will claim more lives. I am concerned by the response of Facebook and other social media outlets which have stated there is nothing they can do. Much more can be done to stop this phenomenon. I commend the Union of Students of Ireland on the launch on Sunday last of its Break the Chain campaign, which calls on young people to stand up and break the chain by refusing to give in to peer pressure.

Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

I ask that the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Alex White, come to the House to provide a timeline for the approval by the Government of the heads of the public health (alcohol) Bill. This legislation must come before the House as a matter of urgency.

I welcome the holding by the Royal Irish Academy of a symposium on bicameralism today. I hope the House will be able to debate the papers and proceedings from this meeting when they are published. Senators Paul Coghlan and I have been to the wicket already. Senator Maurice Manning is acting as an umpire and Senator Zappone will speak later at this highly commendable endeavour.

I am concerned about the operations of the single euro payments area, SEPA. David Murphy has reported on RTE that the Government is expected to collect €700 million less tax in January than originally anticipated as a result of the introduction of the new SEPA system, although we may make up the shortfall in February. Mr. Murphy stated that transactions which used to take two or three days in banks now take seven days, with processing times expected to fall eventually to between three and four days. It is strange that we joined a system in which transactions take twice as long to process as was previously the case. I ask for a debate on why on earth we joined SEPA.

I join Senator Gilroy in expressing concern about the flood damage in Cork. Twelve months ago, I raised the possibility of establishing a central fund for flooding with the insurance companies. If someone has the unfortunate experience of being injured in a road traffic accident where the other driver is not insured, the motor insurance bureau will provide compensation to the injured party. It is interesting to note that property and business owners in the United Kingdom who cannot obtain insurance cover for flood damage are able to draw from a specific fund in the event that their properties are damaged by flooding. I understand all the UK insurance companies contribute to the fund. We should consider the establishment of a similar mechanism. Insurance companies are refusing to provide cover for properties that may only have been damaged by flooding once in the past 30 years. This is causing problems for businesses and householders. I ask the Leader to invite the relevant Minister to the House to debate this issue and ascertain how we can move forward, including the possibility of the Government introducing amending legislation. Flood defences are necessary but we must also ensure that property owners who take the risk of running businesses are given adequate protection.

I support the proposed amendment to the Order of Business. I concur with Senators who described last week's debate on flooding with the Minister as most unsatisfactory.

Unfortunately, the Minister did not have answers to many of the questions that were asked. The emergency funding of €45 million that has been made available is completely inadequate to deal with the damage that has been caused by flooding in some parts of the country, including counties Galway, Cork, Kerry, Waterford and Limerick. Dwellings have been damaged, livestock has been lost, businesses have been destroyed and land has been made unworkable. In some parts of the country, it has been described as the worst flooding in living memory. While every cent is valuable - it will be good news for the local authorities that will be able to distribute money to those who need it - the proposed allocation of €45 million is simply not enough. We need to do more.

I would like to refer briefly to the fact that this House will not sit on Thursday. It is unsatisfactory that this House is being punished for the Government's failure to get its act together. We do not have legislation to enable us to sit. Senators have called for discussions on a range of issues in recent weeks. We could easily debate some of those issues on Thursday if the Government could provide the relevant Ministers. Flood damage, on which Senators have called for a debate again today, is an example of such an issue. We could discuss the forthcoming whistleblowing legislation. Just one hour has been set aside for tomorrow's debate on the youth guarantee, which is of fundamental importance to young people. Senator Mac Conghail has called today for a debate on prostitution and the purchase of sex. We could consider many other issues, including alcohol consumption, homophobia and collective bargaining and trade union recognition, in this House on Thursday. We will be a laughing stock again on Thursday even though it will not be our fault that this House will not be sitting. It is appropriate to raise this unsatisfactory arrangement with the Leader here today. I cannot see why the Leader cannot get Ministers to take statements on any or all of those issues on Thursday. I am not happy we are being told again that we are not sitting because there is no business. It is simply not good, in the context of Seanad reform and how we do business in this House.

It is more than regrettable and lamentable that we are sitting for just one and a half days this week. This House seems to have form in this regard. It is totally unacceptable that we sometimes work for just one and a half days earlier in the session, only to have four-day sittings and late-night sittings with rushed and guillotined legislation in Christmas week and in Easter week. Along with Senators Whelan and Landy, I openly canvassed against the grain for the retention of this House.

We had the support of many others.

The three musketeers.

Thankfully, the people bought into this. We promised change in this House. We said we would do business in a different way. When the people voted to keep this House, it was incumbent on the Government to structure business in an orderly way and to make sure legislation comes through this House in an orderly fashion. We should not be sitting for one and a half days one week and for four days the following week.

I agree with Senator Cullinane, who mentioned six urgent matters we could discuss in this House on Thursday. I will mention three others. Reference has been made to the neknomination phenomenon, which is afflicting the young people of today. We have already lost two people. This is winding down, but my information suggests that something structurally worse than "neknomination" is coming through. It is important that we deal with these issues in this House before that happens.

We should also be discussing the plight of mortgage holders who are insolvent. We have insolvency legislation that applies only to those who can afford to buy into it. This is a serious matter for thousands of people in this country.

I would like to conclude by calling on the Leader to organise a debate on the proposed bylaws that will increase the charges that have to be paid in respect of boats moored on our canals and waterways. The deadline for submissions to the Minister on this issue was yesterday. He will now decide how to implement the bylaws. At present, the charge for mooring a boat is €126 a year. The proposed new charge is €3,500 a year, which is absolutely outrageous. Between 300 and 400 people are mooring on our canals and waterways. Most of them are retired couples from England who are receiving small English pensions. This proposal will drive them off the water and back to England. They are contributing hugely to local economies throughout this country. I ask the Leader to arrange a debate with the Minister on this matter.

I do not want an Adjournment debate. There are too many people in the House who would agree with me on this. There needs to be a broad debate with the Minister. As was already said, I compliment Joe O'Connor, the president of USI, for his intervention on the neknomination issue.

I also commend Joe O'Connor on his statement in this regard.

I ask the Leader of the House to arrange for the Minister for Education and Skills to come to the House to outline the Government's reaction to the decision of the European Court of Human Rights, ECHR, on 28 January 2014. This majority decision - 11 to six - related to the case of Louise O'Keeffe which she courageously fought for 15 years. She fought it through the courts, including the High Court and the Supreme Court, and they all turned her case down. The ECHR in Strasbourg has concurred with her. It is interesting that the acting judge from Ireland, Mr. Justice Peter Charlton, was on the minority side and opposed the decision of the majority. He was acting for Judge Ann Power-Forde who had to stand aside in this case because of some previous decisions or situations, and rightly so. It raises many issues. The Tánaiste spoke about it on Sunday and the Minister for Education and Skills spoke about it yesterday. There does not seem to be any coherent Government response to this case. The State has a responsibility to children and did not act in a proper manner. It is very easy for the State to say that it washed its hands and that it was the responsibility of the board of management, the local clergy who appointed teachers and the bishop who was a patron of the school. In this regard, the State paid for the teachers and inspectors were visiting schools, yet they could not and did not detect the abuse that occurred in this particular school in Dunderrow in Cork. There are many cases throughout the country where children were let down by the State. I commend the decision of the court in awarding damages to Louise O'Keeffe but it will certainly open the floodgates. There will be numerous claims against the State and it could cost as much as the Residential Institutions Redress Board. I would like a debate here with the Minister for Education and Skills to find out exactly what the State proposes to do in this regard.

I join colleagues in calling for an update from the Minister of State with responsibility for primary care, Deputy White, on the progress of the public health (alcohol) Bill in light of the neknomination craze of the past week or ten days. I join in extending sympathy to two families who have been bereaved as a result of it. Many people have been very quick to criticise and blame Facebook for this but I will not do so. We cannot blame technology. As a society, we need to examine seriously our relationship with alcohol and start to promote a much more responsible attitude to alcohol consumption. It is frightening to think that 1,000 people per year - three times as many as are being killed on our roads - die as a result of alcohol abuse. A total of 2,000 beds in our acute hospitals are being occupied every night by people with alcohol-related problems. I saw some figures from a survey conducted recently across Europe on drinking habits among young people as young as 15 or 16. It showed that young people in Ireland consume 30% more than the EU average. In that study, Irish students reported that in the 30 days prior to the survey, 48% of them had consumed alcohol, 40% had more than five drinks in a single drinking session and 23% had one or more episodes of drunkenness. We have a major issue to confront as a society. I hope that the legislation will address issues such as pricing, structural separation in supermarkets to make it less enticing or convenient for people to purchase alcohol, sponsorship and marketing. The low cost of alcohol has already been referred to in the House today.

In light of all that has been said about the lack of business to be conducted in the House over the next week or so, we should set aside several hours in the next weeks to address this critical issue of national importance confronting many families across this country.

We had a good debate last week - perhaps not long enough - on the floods. Although the flooding does not seem to have improved after it, I do not know whether the debate caused even more flooding. We must ask whether the responsibility for the floods lies with ourselves when one considers the planning permissions given over the past 20 years to enable development to take place on land that was certainly unsuitable. This may not be the cause of some of the recent very severe floods but it must be a consideration. It may be tempting not to find time to have a further debate on this issue but it is worthy of debate as more wet weather and flooding is anticipated at high tide this evening.

Senator Barrett raised the matter of the single European payments area. I have been hearing about this for years and we have been looking forward to its introduction. We hear now that it may not provide anything like the opportunity we thought to speed up payments across international borders.

The House will have a debate on Europe tomorrow. The European Union has expressed an opinion on the right to vote for expatriates. Britain will not permit expatriates to vote in British elections once they have been in exile for 15 years and the EU has ruled against it. We need to debate this issue and tomorrow's debate would be an opportunity to do so. This is a short sitting week which suggests to me that we should use this time to debate a number of issues that would benefit the community as a whole.

On World Cancer Day and despite all the challenges, I wish to pay tribute to the work of safefood and RTE who through the "Operation Transformation" programme in recent years have brought to life the idea of living and eating more healthily. It is a great community-based activity which in the true sense of public education encourages us to have better eating habits and to take more exercise. Some of us in this House, including myself, might benefit from such a transformation.

I ask the Leader if tomorrow at 10.15 a.m. he might lead the men of this House out to the Merrion Square gate of Leinster House because we are organising a photograph to encourage men to stand up against domestic violence against women. It is part of the Man Up campaign which was launched last year. As public representatives it would be terrific to see as many of the men of both Houses at the gate to support what can only be described as one of the worst situations we face in Ireland, the number of women and their children who face domestic violence every day. At any one time, 12,000 women are in situations of domestic violence. The support of the Leader and of male colleagues would be most appreciated.

I wish to comment on the abuse of alcohol which has been raised in the House on many occasions for as long as I can remember. We usually have such a debate in the wake of a fatality. I have commented on this fact before that it takes a fatality at the weekend and then we have a debate. At any time it is a tragedy for parents to lose a young child but it is harrowing to watch parents on television trying to make sense of what has happened. Their pride and joy goes out for a night's entertainment and later they hear the dreaded knock on the door to tell them that the young life has been snuffed out as a result of the abuse of alcohol.

The Taoiseach and the Ministers have come out promptly to condemn this abuse but we know the same debate and concerns will be expressed over and over again. The main reason for that is that we are not prepared to tackle the dread and the terrible malaise that goes with the subject of alcohol abuse. Members will remember the debate we had on the ban on smoking in public places. There was an outcry initially about that but everyone now agrees it was the right thing to do. Smoking was a major health issue and we know that to be the case. We also know that if one were to debate that issue with people now they could not even remember the opposition to that ban when it was brought in. The same fundamental approach needs to be taken to this issue, although not in respect of the banning of alcohol in public places. We need to bring in legislation to deal not only with the low pricing of alcohol but with this issue which is causing anti-social behaviour, threatening people's security and, above all, resulting in the loss of young lives.

The same issue applies to alcohol advertising. There should be no glamorising of drink - it is as simple as that - be it in advertising or in programmes. We can remember a time when people were seen smoking in every film we watched or in a studio during the broadcasting of a programme. That no longer happens. That practice went quietly and it is now finished. The exact same thing must happen with the glamorising of drink. I ask the Leader to ask the Minister to come into the House for a broad-based discussion not only for us to express our concerns but to see what we can do to prevent what is happening. I am shocked every time I watch BBC programmes that show camera footage of what happens on the streets after people leave nightclubs. It would outrage people. That is where we are at with this problem and we must do something about it.

I wish to thank the Leader for organising a debate on the recent flooding incidents last Thursday week. I thought it was a very suitable and informative debate, although I would have preferred if the Minister, Deputy Hogan, or the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, had been in attendance but the Minister of State, Deputy Costello, who was in attendance, certainly took our views on board. The flooding that occurred after Christmas was a west of Ireland issue, initially affecting County Clare the worst and then its neighbouring counties. However, this is now a national issue. It requires a national response. All areas along our rivers or the shore have now been affected.

We saw many news reports last night of areas of the country, including the Leader's city of Waterford, that have been destroyed by flooding. We now need an emergency national response - a short-term, medium-term and long-term strategy - to deal with this new reality. There are people in Limerick city, Clare and other counties who are now homeless and who have no insurance as a result of what has happened. Flood insurance is not available to many people and damage caused as a result is not covered by many of the insurance companies operating in this country. The Government will have to step in and repair these people's homes and make emergency funding available in order that they can rebuild their homes and move back into them.

In addition, the Government will have to put short-term measures in place to ensure that those houses are not flooded again. It will have to come up with a long-term strategy to deal with the new reality of the threat of flooding throughout this country. That will have to be done in association with the European Union because we simply do not have the money to do the necessary work to prevent a repeat of what has happened. Now that it is a national issue, a further debate should be held on it in this House. Hopefully, we will see many more Members contribute to that debate than contributed to the earlier one when the Leader gets around to organising it.

I congratulate Senator Quinn on his 21st anniversary as a Member of this House today. Like Senator Barrett, I was present for some of this morning's session on bicameralism at the Royal Irish Academy. While I must confess I had never heard of it before, I was delighted to learn something of Tristram Shandy and the Mill's principles regarding difference and separateness, which are very important matters. Our former colleague, Dr. Maurice Manning, made a very interesting presentation; they were all very interesting. I have asked for the papers and it would be useful to circulate them among Members.

I am sure we are all concerned about the judicial appointments review committee's submission to the Department of Justice and Equality as part of its consultation regarding the judicial appointments process. It used strikingly strong language in stating that the current system is "demonstrably deficient" and that the system must always attract high calibre candidates. While all members of the Judiciary have been appointed under the present system, they also point out that "the relative success of the administration of justice in Ireland has been achieved in spite of, rather than because of the [present] appointment system". The committee proposes that the merit principle be enshrined in legislation and it has called for a judicial education system. We would all agree with these points, which would be the useful subject matter for a debate in this House-----

Not when the Government is appointing and dis-appointing-----

----- as would the Smithwick report, which debate I have already requested. The judicial appointments review committee pointed out that there have been seven adverse changes since 2008 to the pay and pension provisions of members of the Judiciary. That may be why so many of these learned judges are due to retire by a certain date, which is sad. One who comes to mind is Mr. Justice Peter Kelly. He has been such a stalwart in how he has cleared his desk and operates. There are others, of course. It will be a sad day for the country that we will lose so many in such a short space of time, resulting in so many inexperienced judges on the benches in the near future. While they are all experienced and learned people-----

The Senator would make a good judge, himself.

-----this is-----

Is the Senator seeking a debate?

Of course; I have said that. With respect, it is a very serious matter. I would recommend it for a debate as well as a debate on the Smithwick report, separately.

I agree with what other Senators have said about Neknomination regarding the IT aspect of it, and also personal responsibility, peer pressure and ensuring that the chain is broken.

Senator O'Keeffe spoke about diet. I am sure some Senators saw a television programme last night about how age related macular degeneration can be reversed with diet. The Taoiseach opened a fine new building for the world renowned research centre in Waterford Institute of Technology in 2012, which is proving to be successful. In Ireland we spend more than €133 million annually on age related macular degeneration and we need to focus on prevention rather than cure. Some 4% of people in their 40s suffer from it, 9% of people in their 50s, 23% of people in their 60s, and 45% of people aged over 70. That means that nearly half the population is suffering from this by the time they reach 70 at a time when our population is ageing. We are looking at a health budget that is widening every day. The Minister for Health has been invited to the House to discuss another subject. When he comes, we should add this matter to that debate. Prevention is 100 times better than cure. The research in the Waterford Institute of Technology has shown the benefit of eating green vegetables and a good healthy diet. We should add that to the debate when the Minister comes in, given the condition's prevalence in Ireland.

I wish to raise two issues relating to the justice portfolio. When will the coroners Bill come before the House?

Could we ask the Minister for Justice and Equality to come to the House to discuss the possibility of making it compulsory for pedestrians and cyclists - three cyclists have been killed already this year - to wear reflective jackets in areas where there are no footpaths or lighting? As it stands, I had a run-in with this over Christmas. I met a man who walks the roads and wears a long dark coat. God forbid any poor driver might come along and be unfortunate enough to be involved in an accident. I put it to the man on two occasions over Christmas that I would bring him a reflective jacket. He said that he had three of them at home but would not wear them. It is okay because the person who will get knocked down by a car at 25 mph will be killed, but the person driving the car will have to live with that for the rest of his or her life. I believe it should be compulsory for people walking and for cyclists in areas where there are no footpaths or lighting to wear reflective jackets. I call on the Leader to arrange a debate on the matter with the Minister for Justice and Equality.

There are so many issues we could speak about today from flooding to neknominations to the amount of time the Seanad is sitting this week. However, I will refrain because other Senators have mentioned them.

I pay tribute to Kerry Group, which last night announced that it is handing over the site of the former Denny plant to the people of Tralee. It is a generous gift and gesture from Kerry Group. We all know that Kerry Group is a fantastic employer in Kerry and other places. I congratulate the company and I hope the people of Tralee will benefit greatly from whatever they decide to do on the site.

I wish to compliment and criticise RTE in the one go. I compliment the station on the programme regarding the death of several infants born at the Midland Regional Hospital, Portlaoise. However, what annoys me about the matter is that it always takes until the media bring something up before we have our investigation. The matter was reported to the Minister for Health of the day and no investigation took place. I know the people concerned are at the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children and that the Minister is there as well, but surely we should have an investigation the minute someone reports something like this, rather than letting it go on for years and then try to carry out an investigation afterwards.

I wish to criticise RTE over an advertisement I saw last night. I will be lodging a complaint with the Advertising Standards Authority for Ireland and I have contacted Age Action Ireland about it as well. I am unsure if other Members have seen the advertisement by Energia regarding getting rid of a grandfather because he costs too much. It is demeaning to grandparents and insulting, to say the least. Everyone knows that grandparents have a vital role to play in people's lives, especially in lives of their grandchildren. To depict grandparents as an expense or a nuisance is terrible. Could we have a debate on the standard of advertising in the country?

I rise to raise an issue that I am constantly raising at the risk of being a killjoy in the House. I am referring to happenings in the past week relating to the practice of neknominations, which have their roots in the United Kingdom and Australia. Unfortunately, they have been imported back to the country by our young emigrants. We are all understandably concerned at the developments here. There have been suggestions from various quarters that Facebook and other social media should step up to the mark and ban them. Remarkably, it seems that Facebook is of the view that the practice does not actually breach its conditions, which is frightening in itself.

This leads me to the wider discussion that is needed and, as far as I am concerned, could not be had often enough in the House in respect of society, namely, attitudes towards alcohol and our need to reassess Ireland's relationship with alcohol by reviewing things such as minimum pricing and the segregation of alcohol. However, we need a wider debate on society and how on earth we, as a society, can educate young people in the dangers of over-drinking.

We have never been so connected with social media, and yet so completely disconnected on this issue. Like others, I call for a debate on the progress that the Minister of State, Deputy White, is making on the public health (alcohol) Bill.

I concur with Senators White and O'Keeffe on the issues they raised. There is a worrying report by a UN agency which warns that new cases of cancer are set to rise by 50% by 2030. The study claimed that cancer deaths will likely rise from-----

Are you looking for a debate?

Yes I am. The study claimed that cancer deaths will likely rise from 8.2 million to 13 million, as the world's population grows. This goes back to the question of nutrition.

You can make those points during the debate.

Bear with me for one moment.

You are over time.

The Senator is way over time.

I am not way over time. Everyone was over time today as far as I can see. I would like to call for a debate on nutrition as well as on alcohol.

First, I welcome what Senator Coghlan said. I do not think it would be any breach of the separation of powers if we were to have a debate about the way judges are appointed and the operation of our Judiciary. This is a Government that has both appointed and disappointed judges. It would be timely to have a debate about the separation of powers and about the way our judges are appointed.

It is often said that we should save for a rainy day. These days people clearly understand the origin of that phrase. It is clear that we did not put enough money aside for the rainy day, the stormy day or for floods, and I echo those calls for rapid and increased intervention by the Government in that area to assist coastal communities, with particular emphasis on small businesses. I raised this in the Seanad before. The European solidarity fund has been reduced from €1 billion to €500 million, following agreement by the member states, at a time when the size of the fund should be increasing. We should also have a debate about the fact that while only public facilities are capable of attracting compensation from the EU, there may be a need to extend it to cover those who have sustained private losses. That is very serious and it is interconnected with jobs and with growth in our communities.

I would welcome any debate about equality and what that means. I also must say that RTÉ could have saved the public money if the requisite apology had been forthcoming. That is a serious matter. I certainly think that the payments by RTÉ were a welcome development in the cause of promoting a civil debate where people stop bullying each other for having a different point of view.

-----that would be wonderful.

I wish to bring up the same issue that has been raised by several Members, namely, the recent neknominations craze which has swept Ireland and which regrettably has resulted in the loss of lives. It is imperative that the Government responds to this issue, given that it straddles a number of Departments. It seems that increasing YouTube and Facebook hits is the aim of the whole phenomenon but it goes against all evidence-based data which indicates that this kind of behaviour has to stop. It is appalling that Facebook, YouTube and other social media outlets will not take down these videos. What these children are doing is akin to self harm. There is no evidence to suggest that some of these people are not under 18. It should be of concern to all legislators here and we need to get the various Ministers to come together with a joined-up approach. We need to look at the Department of Health, the Department of Justice and Equality, as well as the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources. Unless we do so, we are shirking our own responsibilities to the Irish people.

Senator Brennan, did you indicate that you wished to speak?

Ní bheidh mé ró-fhada. From 1 April, heavy goods vehicles from the South will have to pay £1,000 for using roads in Northern Ireland. Coming from an area where many HGVs and hauliers traverse the Border on a daily basis, this is a significant additional charge on them. If they miss the deadline of 1 April, it will be £10 per vehicle for every day they cross the Border.

I am concerned about it. I think it will put the small haulier, who may have two or three jobs in his company, out of business given that in the region of 500 to 600 HGVs from Great Britain come through our ports per week and do not have to pay similar charges.

We should have a debate on the issue. It should be tit for tat. We pay in Great Britain, France and Germany. When travelling in reverse there should be a charge on HGVs from Britain to this economy for using our roadways.

While almost 30 members contributed to the Order of Business, we do not have 30 members present at this stage.

The question of storm damage was raised by Senator Darragh O'Brien and several other Senators. The Government intends to exhaust every possible avenue with the European Union to try to access funding. With regard to the debate in the House on storm damage two weeks ago, the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Phil Hogan, was to come in and address that debate but he was called away at short notice and the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Joe Costello, took the debate on his behalf. Members had called for the debate and it was organised at quite short notice. That was the reason the Minister of State, Deputy Joe Costello, agreed to come to the House for the debate. I thank him most sincerely.

The flooding in Cork, Limerick, in my own city and county, in Wexford and in many other areas is devastating for all the people involved and our heart goes out to them, but they need more than sympathy. There is a need for greater financial assistance to be made available. There is also a need to address the issue on a long-term basis in respect of planning for the future. The Minister is on record as saying that the €45 million that is available this year is simply not sufficient. As the responsibility rests between the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government and the Office of Public Works for various aspects of the provision and repair in relation to flooding, I will endeavour to have the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Brian Hayes, or the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Phil Hogan, come to the House to address this very important matter given that many areas have suffered devastation in recent weeks. If the high tides and south east gales persist, there is a danger of further problems, not only in the next few weeks but into the future, and that will have to be planned for.

Senators Ivana Bacik, Katherine Zappone, Fiach Mac Conghail and others raised the issue of LGBT rights and addressed a matter raised by Senator Averil Power last week. In that regard we can certainly have a further debate on homophobia in this House. The House has been to the forefront in debating the issue and will continue to do so and will not be prevented from doing so. We will certainly try to arrange for a further debate on the matter.

I should say to Senator David Norris that it is not in my remit to investigate any organisation. It is not my responsibility to initiate an investigation into an organisation.

Senator Katherine Zappone acknowledged the work of the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton, and called for a debate on a living wage in Ireland. I will certainly invite the Minister to come to the House. As the Deputy is aware she will be in the House tomorrow for an hour for statements on the youth guarantee implementation plan.

Senators Gilroy and MacSharry also raised the storm damage.

Senators Henry, Moran, Mullins, Noone and others commented on neknominations. Society must adopt a more responsible attitude to alcohol consumption. I call on all young adults not to engage in the neknominations craze and not to apply peer pressure when it comes to drinking. Many Members called on the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Alex White, to come to the House to discuss the public health and alcohol Bill. It is taking time to prepare that legislation but I will ask him to come to the House to give us an update on the issue.

Senators Barrett and Quinn referred to the SEPA and perhaps that can be raised with the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Donohoe, when he visits the House tomorrow. That would provide an ideal opportunity to raise the matter with him.

Senator Burke called for a central fund paid into by insurance companies for flood damage and perhaps that can be addressed when the Minister attends the House.

Senators Cullinane and Kelly raised the sittings of the House. I said last week during the debate on Seanad reform that Departments will have to address the situation where we have little or no legislation at the beginning of a term and a rush of legislation towards the end of a term. These peaks and troughs have existed for as long as I have been a Member of the House but they need to be addressed. On many occasions, we hear that the Government is responsible and accountable to Dáil Éireann and I cannot demand that Ministers come to the House for statements on any item within their remit. Some Ministers are co-operative but others, for many reasons, have been unable to give the time Members expect.

At this point in time, I envisage the House may only meet two days over the next two weeks as well because of the lack of business. I have no intention of ordering business for three days when two days will suffice. Members have called for various debates. I can schedule all of them on Thursday every week for the next three weeks without a Minister present but if I do that, Members will say they cannot have debates without Ministers and ask what is the point.

I have no objection. Where is that coming from? That might be the view of other parties but it is not ours.

That is the dilemma I am faced with and that is what I have to deal with in ordering the business of the House.

Senator Leyden mentioned the Louise O'Keeffe case, which was raised by a number of Members last week. The matter was discussed for the first time at Cabinet this morning and I am sure when people have had time to examine the findings of the judgment, we may be in a position to debate the issue then.

Senator Quinn raised the flooding issue and I note his comments in that regard.

Senators O'Keeffe, Noone and Keane called for a further debate on living and eating more healthily. Senator O'Keeffe called for support for an event to stand up against domestic violence and I will support that tomorrow morning.

Senator Paul Coghlan spoke about the importance of bicameralism and the seminar taking place today. I note his and Senator Mullen's points about the judicial appointments and the submission from the Judiciary. I do not know whether it is a topic we can debate. We would have to refer to the separation of powers and so on but we will certainly consider it. Senator Paul Coghlan requested a debate on the Smithwick report. I have asked the Minister for Justice and Equality to come into the House to discuss that matter. He has been very helpful to us in the House.

He has come here to debate many issues. He will be here today for the statements on the charities sector. I am sure he will come here soon to debate the Smithwick report and the many other items proposed by Senators.

Senator Keane spoke about age-related macular degeneration and the "Nationwide" programme yesterday, which was very enlightening. Professor John Nolan and the Waterford Institute of Technology are world leaders in this research. The Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children should also address it.

Senator Sheahan asked about the Coroners Bill 2007. I will find out about it because it seems to have been stuck for quite some time on the Order Paper, since before the Government came into office. I will find out when it is intended to progress that Bill. Senator Sheahan also made an important point about pedestrians and cyclists, calling for the compulsory use of reflective jackets. He pointed out that this is especially important on roads with no footpaths or lighting, where one can come across people who are not wearing reflective jackets and it is very difficult to see them. It is common sense to wear them but we will have to address the question of whether they should be made compulsory. I note the Senator's points.

Senator Moloney lauded the Kerry Group's gesture in handing over the site of the Denny plant to the people of Tralee, which deserves congratulations. I note her comments about RTE.

Senator Brennan spoke about HGVs using the roads in Northern Ireland and the additional charges that will accrue to businesses and the danger to small businesses and hauliers. I will bring that matter to the attention of the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport.

Senator Darragh O'Brien has moved an amendment to the Order of Business, "That a one-hour debate on compensation and remediation work arising from the recent flooding and on the work necessary to improve our flooding defences be taken today." Is the amendment being pressed?

In light of the Leader's response that he will seek a further debate I withdraw the amendment.

Order of Business agreed to.