Order of Business

The Order of Business is No. 1, statements on European Union Affairs, to be taken at 11.45 a.m. and to conclude no later than 1.30 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes in each case, and the Minister to be called on to reply to the debate no later than 1.20 p.m.; No. 2, motion re Standing Orders in respect of Oireachtas inquiries, to be taken at 2 p.m. and to conclude no later than 3 p.m., with the contributions of all Senators not to exceed five minutes in each case and the Minister to be called on to reply no later than 2.55 p.m.; No. 3, Road Traffic (No. 2) Bill 2013 - Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken at 3 p.m. and to conclude at 4.30 p.m., if not previously concluded; Private Members' business, motion No. 8 of No. 47, re homelessness, to be taken at 4.30 p.m. and to conclude no later than 6.30 p.m.; and No. 4, statements on the youth guarantee implementation plan, to be taken at 6.30 p.m. and to conclude no late than 7.30 p.m., with the contributions of Senators not to exceed five minutes in each case and the Minister to be called on to reply no later than 7.25 p.m.

What is the current position with regard to the Pyrite Resolution Act 2013, which was passed by both Houses in the week leading up to the Christmas recess? When does the Minister plan to implement the legislation and establish the resolution board on a statutory footing? Our job in respect of this matter is done. However, it is 5 February and people are wondering whether a decision has been made with regard to the date on which the Minister will formally establish the board in order that it might begin to accept applications. Will the Leader outline the up-to-date position on this matter?

Immediately after the Christmas recess I requested a debate with the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Varadkar, on sport and the funding and development thereof, particularly in the context of national organisations. Is the Leader in a position to provide an update on that matter?

The Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach, Deputy Kehoe, will be coming before the House later for the debate in respect of No. 2 on the Order Paper, which is a motion relating to Standing Orders that govern Oireachtas inquiries. I do not believe that the hour allocated will be sufficient for that debate. Is there any indication as to whether the Seanad will be represented on the banking inquiry? The motion sets out the Standing Orders that will apply in respect of the committee that will carry out the inquiry. There are flaws in the motion and these must be debated, as must the remit of the inquiry. I am of the view that there is expertise available in this House which should be used in the context of the inquiry. My party's Whip has not been contacted by the Government Chief Whip regarding the membership of the committee. Perhaps the Government Whip in this House, Senator Paul Coghlan, has been in contact with the latter. The Senator is very well got with the Minister of State, Deputy Kehoe.

The Senator is having great fun.

As stated previously, Senator Paul Coghlan is probably the only Member of this House who could serve on the inquiry because he is the only one of us who has not been critical of the banks during the past four or five years.

Easy now. The Senator should not get carried away.

We all want a proper inquiry. The hour that is being allocated for the debate on the motion is not sufficient. We have a number of questions that we want to put to the Minister of State and Government Chief Whip, Deputy Kehoe, and I ask, therefore, that the time for the debate be extended.

Has the Leader received an update from the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, with regard to a debate on what the Government calls the local property tax but which is not a local property tax? There are four local authorities in Dublin. The local authority in my area is Fingal County Council. Some €40 million has been budgeted for by way of collection of local property tax for 2014 but not one cent of that money will go to the local authority. In addition, there have been cuts to the Government subvention. This is not a local property tax and people are not paying for local services. I raised this matter previously and I ask the Leader to arrange for the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, to come before the House in order that he might take questions in respect of it. People are most concerned that they are paying what this Administration terms a local property tax, the money from which is going into central government coffers. That is not acceptable.

I am sure others will want to join me in commiserating with everyone who has been affected by the appalling weather during the past 24 hours. The pictures from Cork and other places that were affected are extremely dramatic. ESB crews have been out in all weathers trying to restore power and many householders and business owners have been trying to protect their properties from the floodwaters. I welcome the Government's announcement regarding the provision of €15 million for emergency flood relief. It is clear that more long-term flood prevention measures must be considered, particularly in Cork city. Some places were not as badly hit during this round of flooding but with further storms forecast, concern is high among those who live in the areas that have already been affected.

Will the Leader arrange a debate on an issue that is being considered by the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality - it was mentioned in the House by a number of colleagues last week, namely, community courts? The joint committee is currently conducting an investigation into the possibility of adopting a community court system in Ireland that would be modelled on the system which obtains in New York city. It heard from a range of experts last week, including some individuals from the US who described their experience of the operation of community courts. As the Leader noted previously, the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Shatter, was present for the full two hours of the joint committee's debate. I would really like the Seanad to debate the report of the joint committee as soon as it is published. In that context, I welcome the Government's proposal to scrap the court poor box scheme, which has come in for huge criticism as a result of the inconsistency of its operation. That is another matter in respect of which the Seanad might engage in a debate.

Many colleagues have commented on the amount of time for which the Seanad is sitting this week. The Leader provided a robust response and referred to the difficulty involved in having business sent here from the Dáil. As soon as it becomes available, we should debate the Constitutional Convention's report on Dáil reform. The convention spent the weekend considering that matter and the very issue to which I refer, namely, the difficulties involved in getting business onto the floor of the Dáil and the subsequent logjam which results in problems with such business being referred on to the Seanad. The convention has made three key recommendations in respect of the following: granting the Opposition more power to introduce legislation, which would immediately result in increased throughput; ensuring greater independence of committees - this really relates to accountability but it is important that the committees should be mentioned in the Constitution, which is not currently the case; and introducing measures to increase the independence of the Ceann Comhairle - again this would involve changing the way in which the Ceann Comhairle is referred to in the Constitution - and ensure that he or she will be elected by secret ballot of the Members of the Dáil and that he or she will have greater powers in the context of the setting of business in the Lower House. The introduction of such measures might lead to more legislative business-----

I do not think the current Ceann Comhairle needs any more power.

-----being disposed of by the Dáil and referred to the Seanad. The lack of business coming through from the Lower House at present is extremely frustrating for the Leader.

For the second day in a row, I find myself in the unusual position of supporting a call made by Senator Bacik. Rather than being a paradox, the Seanad discussing the issue of Dáil reform would be both important and constructive.

I wish to raise the issue of the continuing incarceration of artist and peace activist, Ms Margaretta D'Arcy, in Limerick Prison. Ms D'Arcy will start the fourth week of a three-month sentence on Friday. I understand she might be transferred to the Dóchas Centre in Mountjoy in the coming week. Ms D'Arcy is 79 years of age and has serious medical problems, including Parkinson's disease and cancer. Despite this, she is indefatigable when it comes to highlighting the fact that this Republic continues to pursue an ambiguous foreign policy. When we look back at our own history, we can be quite emphatic about the moral rights and wrongs we, as a society, committed. What about the current position? We should all have been opposed to the use of Shannon Airport by the US military. In that context, I should have said and done more. I call on the Leader to arrange a debate on the use of Shannon Airport by the US military in order that we might highlight the ridiculous scenario which obtains.

The State will be found seriously wanting if it does not engage in a proper investigation of US military flights in and out of Shannon. It will also be found seriously wanting if it continues to ignore the publicity surrounding the imprisonment of Margaretta D'Arcy. As Mr. Denis Halliday, former assistant secretary general of the United Nations, is on record as stating, we have a moral obligation in respect of this matter. He also pointed out the precedent that exists in the context of protesters demonstrating against the use of Shannon by the US military and stated that individual citizens of any country have international duties and responsibilities that transcend national domestic obligations of obedience to local law when it undermines the values and provisions of international law.

I am not sure if I would be as courageous as Margaretta D'Arcy but I take this opportunity to express my solidarity with her. She is determined not to sign a bail bond and the Government will not release her, even on humanitarian grounds.

Is the Senator seeking a debate?

I call on the Leader to send a note from the Seanad to the Minister for Justice and Equality seeking Margaretta D'Arcy's release from prison. We should be ashamed of ourselves in respect of this matter. If an artist and peace activist such as Margaretta D'Arcy was jailed in China, North Korea, South Africa or Burma, a debate would be held in the House.

While I agree with the contribution of Senator Mac Conghail in respect of Margaretta D'Arcy, particularly in the context that it is inhumane that a 79 year old lady who is suffering from illness should continue to be incarcerated, it must be noted there are wider issues in respect of the Shannon Airport controversy.

I remind the House that the Minister for Foreign Affairs under a previous Government secured written assurances from the United States Administration that persons who were subject to extraordinary rendition, as the practice was known, were not being transported through Shannon Airport and nothing illegal was taking place at the facility. Notwithstanding this assurance, the controversy remains a live issue. It is incumbent, therefore, on the Government to clarify precisely the current position regarding the allegations being made by those who are protesting at Shannon Airport.

Will the Leader ask the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, to come to the House to clarify the Government's intentions in respect of the flooding crisis? Today's newspapers provide a comprehensive list of approximately 300 cities, towns and villages which could potentially suffer from flooding. I was surprised to learn that my home town of Drumshambo and other towns in Country Leitrim, including Ballinamore, Carrick-on-Shannon, Mohill and Manorhamilton, feature on this list. While I appreciate that Drumshambo is close to Lough Allen and the lough's waters occasionally extend close to the town, we have not experienced crisis flooding in living memory. The plan published in the press raises serious questions and I ask that the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, come before the House to clarify the position as regards potential flooding in the towns, cities and villages listed and outline the Government's plans in this regard.

On the failure to appoint hospital consultants, when the rules applying to consultant contracts were changed in 2012 I stated the new structure would not work. I have been proved correct as a number of vacancies for hospital consultants remain unfilled, including a consultant post in paediatric urology in Dublin, specifically to deal with children with spina bifida. This post has been vacant for more than 18 months and is unlikely to be filled in the immediate future because of the structure of the contracts being offered. Will the Leader ask the Minister for Health to come to the House to debate this issue? It is time to change the offers being made to consultants. We must realise that we are competing in a world market for medical consultants. I understand that two thirds of the consultant posts advertised in the past 12 months have not been filled. If we change the structure immediately, it will still take 12 months to fill all current vacancies. In addition, a number of consultants are set to retire in the coming months. This matter should be given priority and addressed immediately. I ask the Leader to raise the matter with the Minister.

I support the call made by Senator Mac Conghail for the Seanad to act in the case of Margaretta D'Arcy. The day after Ms D'Arcy was imprisoned I sought legal advice on the matter. I understand it is within the gift of the Minister for Justice and Equality to issue a temporary release order, although he has stated that it is up to Ms D'Arcy to sign the bond. I wrote to him asking him to consider ordering her temporary release as he has the power to do so.

I have a question for the Leader on financial matters. When the Seanad returned last month I raised the issue of tax avoidance by corporations. I call for a debate with the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Eamon Gilmore, on international taxation strategy and Ireland's development policy. These issues should be examined side by side. Who better to debate these issues with the House than the Tánaiste, who is a member of the Economic Management Council and the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade? The Department of Finance issued a document recently entitled, Ireland's International Taxation Strategy, in which it argued that we should adopt a whole-of-government and coherent approach to the two policy arenas of taxation strategy and development policy. This means supporting taxation strategies that do not result in a reduction in taxation benefits that countries in the developing world would enjoy if multinational corporations were not avoiding some of the taxation implications of their presence in those countries. An Irish Aid document published recently under the title, One World, One Future, also argues that we should take a coherent approach to international taxation and aid policy. I ask the Leader to invite the Tánaiste to the House to debate these issues.

I welcome the landmark decision taken by the Scottish Parliament yesterday to pass legislation permitting same-sex marriage.

I raise a case that arose yesterday in the Dublin Circuit Family Law Court involving a mother of three children who made an application to the father of one of her children for an increase in her maintenance payment on the basis that she had obtained two loans in the previous year from a moneylender, including one of €1,500 to cover the costs of Christmas. In a 12 month period, the woman was due to pay more than €800 in interest on this loan. The judge asked her what was the logic of a person with her means borrowing €1,500, to which she replied that she either borrowed the money or her children would have gone without. Every one of us consistently and regularly encounters people who are in similar circumstances. I am meeting people who are in rent arrears and are borrowing from moneylenders to ensure they are not evicted from their homes.

I was shocked to learn from a recent Central Bank report on licensed moneylenders that it is perfectly legitimate to charge interest rates of 300%. The justification made for this practice was the high risk attached to this type of debt, despite evidence showing that the default rate on this type of debt is very low. The reason for the low risk is partly that these debts are repeatedly rolled over, loan after loan, in what effectively amounts to a life sentence to moneylenders. People also borrow from unlicensed moneylenders and many have been subjected to violence and various threats. I ask for a debate on the issue of access to credit for people on low incomes or social welfare. The debate should include a discussion on the remit of the credit union movement, especially in respect of people on low incomes. A number of proposals have been made on this issue by the Opposition, including by my party when we were in opposition. I would like the debate to consider all such proposals, as some of them had exceptional merit.

I thank the Leader for agreeing to arrange a debate on flooding as quickly as possible. The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Phil Hogan, or the Minister of State with responsibility for the Office of Public Works, Deputy Brian Hayes, should discuss with us the impact of the floods in counties Cork, Galway, Kerry and Waterford. Last night, Waterford city was saved from the worst of the floods and the mayor, Councillor Cummins, whom the Leader may know, took a very active part in ensuring the flood defences were fit for purpose. Nevertheless, some damage was done in certain parts of the city. Many coastal villages and areas, including in County Waterford, have also suffered significant damage in recent days.

We must address two issues, namely, the long-term issue of climate change, including the increase in rainfall that is unfortunately predicted to become a permanent feature of our weather, and the issue of whether our flood defences are capable of withstanding the weather conditions we will face in the coming years. We need to consider long-term solutions as well as the short-term problem of providing support to businesses and households. The solution lies in ensuring there is a proper partnership between local authorities and the Department. Senators could play a useful role in this regard by consulting members of local authorities and passing on the relevant information to the Minister when the House debates flooding next week.

I propose an amendment to the Order of Business to defer until tomorrow the one-hour debate on the youth guarantee. We should have arranged this debate for Thursday at the start of the week. I am not sure if the reason was connected to the availability or otherwise of a Minister. I disagree with the Fianna Fáil Party on this issue. While I accept that Ministers should be present for debates, I disagree with the House deciding not to sit on a Thursday because Ministers are not available. In such circumstances, it would be preferable to hold the debate without a Minister present because in terms of optics, it is wrong not to sit.

We should be turning up for work and doing what we are paid to do, which is to raise important issues affecting the people of this State. I appeal to the Leader to ensure we do not end up without Thursday sittings over the next three weeks. I know he is doing his best. It would be wrong to have more weeks like this week. We should not do it.

I would like to speak about the neknomination phenomenon. I know it was raised in the House yesterday. In this context, I would like to call for a debate on advertising standards. We have seen the problems that can arise when young people who are easily influenced are brought to clubs. As we know, seven people were injured in a crush at Copper Face Jack's on Harcourt Street last week. I would like into read in the record of the House the details of an advertisement that has appeared this week for another club on Harcourt Street. Can I name the club, a Chathaoirligh?

Senators should refrain from advertising on the Order of Business.

I will read it without mentioning the name. The advertisement states:

We Neknominate you!

We're challenging you to take part in the Nek Championships this Friday night in [the name of the club].

50 Free pints at 11pm. The five fastest pint drinkers win a limited year long membership Key Ring.

Neknominate your friends below for free entry and a free pint and a chance to win a membership.

I do not think this kind of advertising should be allowed. We need to have a debate in this House not only on the advertising of drink and clubs, but also on the overall question of advertising standards in this country. Young and vulnerable people are being affected. I sympathise sincerely with the Byrne and Cummins families, who lost loved ones tragically through neknominations over the last week. I ask the Leader to organise a debate on advertising standards in this country.

I would like to join other Senators in thanking the Leader for arranging a debate on the flooding crisis. Like my colleague, Senator Mooney, I was amazed to read the OPW report, as published in today's Irish Independent, which suggests that 300 towns and villages are at risk of flooding. Two of the towns in question, Ballyconnell and Cavan, are in my own county. It is a very real risk. I hope the Leader can bring the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, to the House as soon as possible so that we can find out more about the Government's plans for the current flooding crisis and the potential future flooding to which I have referred.

I ask the Leader to invite the Minister, Deputy Rabbitte, to the House to discuss the issue of mobile phone coverage, which I raised here a number of weeks ago. This problem has increased dramatically since the G8 summit in Enniskillen last year. It seems to have spread throughout the country as well. My phone coverage cut out 11 times this morning as I travelled along the M3 on my way to Dublin.

The Senator might need to buy a new phone.

Was he speaking on a hands-free phone?

It is sometimes a relief not to have phone coverage. This is an important part of this country's infrastructure. The difficulty regarding phone coverage should be investigated. I would be grateful if the Leader could bring the Minister, Deputy Rabbitte, to the House so that we can talk to him.

The Senator was leading a protest against masts.

I certainly was not. Unlike some Kilkenny people, Cavan people pay their phone bills.

I support Senator O'Neill in his condemnation of a nightclub that is encouraging the abuse of alcohol by young people. We spoke about this issue in the House yesterday. We need an urgent debate on the number of deaths of young people that have resulted from alcohol abuse. The overall abuse of alcohol by young people is reaching crisis proportions.

I wish to refer to an optimistic report that was published by Deloitte in recent days. Nine out of ten chief financial officers of various companies throughout the country who were surveyed said they believe the Irish economy has returned to growth, or will do so during the coming year. They also believe that exports, gross domestic product, foreign direct investment and employment levels will increase this year. It is to be welcomed that people who exercise a great deal of control over the spending of various organisations have such an optimistic outlook. Despite the rebound in confidence, Irish business remains concerned about the tight credit situation, which is continuing to restrict business growth. Some 19% of the chief financial officers believe new credit is difficult to obtain from Irish banks. Some 33% of them believe it is difficult to obtain credit from foreign banks. I ask the Leader to organise a debate with the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation so that we can get an update on the 2014 Action Plan for Jobs and discuss the availability of credit to businesses that are seeking to expand or are struggling to survive.

Ba mhaith liom aontú leis na smaointí atá curtha chun cinn ag na Seanadóirí Mac Conghail agus Zappone maidir le Margaretta D'Arcy. It is a scandal that Margaretta D'Arcy is still in prison after a number of weeks. I am calling for her full release, rather than a temporary release. She should be heralded as somebody who has fought for human rights in this country.

I welcome the debate on the issue of flooding. It is appropriate that Ministers were in Limerick and Cork in recent days. They still have not reached Connemara, mind you. I think we might have to give them a roadmap if they are to come and see the damage that was done in Connemara a number of weeks ago.

It is not acceptable that the damage done in Connemara has been under-estimated. I would like the Leader to give consideration to ensuring the role of insurance companies, an issue which has been raised in recent days, is covered during that debate. I understand that Governments in other countries have put in place types of insurance cover to support people in areas that are affected by floods and natural disasters. Perhaps the Minister could be briefed that we will be raising these issues when he comes to this House to discuss the flooding issue. I have come across many people whose private property - fishing equipment, etc. - has been damaged and they have no recourse. Many people are concerned that the insurance companies will not renew their insurance.

I would like to second the amendment to the Order of Business that has been proposed by my colleague, Senator Cullinane. I am totally appalled that we will not be sitting tomorrow. Last week, I requested a debate on the ambulance service. The Leader mentioned to me at the time that requests had been made for debates on approximately 12 health issues. He said I would be put at the end of that list. It is totally unacceptable that the Leader cannot get anybody in to listen to a debate, even though we have a Minister for Health and the two Ministers of State in the Department of Health. In total, we have 15 Ministers and a plethora of Ministers of State. Debates in this House are often attended by a Minister or Minister of State whose brief has absolutely nothing to do with the issue in question. The Government needs to hear the message from the Seanad that we should be sitting tomorrow and every Thursday. We are here to do a job. It is simply not acceptable that Ministers and Ministers of State are not coming in for the debates that the people of this country are asking us to have on issues that are very serious to them. This message needs to go back to the Government. I am not laying the blame at the Leader's door. I am blaming the current Government for this unacceptable state of affairs.

I agree with what Senator O'Neill had to say about the inappropriate behaviour of the proprietor or manager of a nightclub. Conditions in this regard should be written into the terms of licences when that type of work is going on.

I appreciate that we will have a debate on housing later this afternoon, but it would be remiss of me not to acknowledge the announcement regarding bank borrowers that has been made by AIB today. It has said it intends to try to write off some of the mortgages of people who can afford them.

I would like to draw the attention of the House to the announcement made yesterday or the day before by the Minister, Deputy Shatter, regarding the changes he intends to make to the court poor box system. The system in question, which has been in operation since before the foundation of this State, operates at the discretion of judges. In 2012, over €2 million was allocated to various charities at the discretion of judges. The Law Reform Commission recommended in 2005 that this system should be placed on a statutory basis. It has taken nine years for that to happen. Mrs. Justice Catherine McGuinness has made the same recommendation.

The Law Reform Commission recommended it. It is a good fund but it is necessary for it to be put on a statutory basis. I am asking the Leader to arrange a debate on it because one of the recommendations in 2005 was that a committee be set up to advise on how this fund is operated. It is necessary and very many good charities have benefited from it although retired Mrs. Justice Catherine McGuinness said some of them were questionable. A committee should be set up, as was recommended by the Law Reform Commission. I compliment the Minister for Justice and Equality for putting it on a statutory basis but I do not want to see it go into a central administrative fund and be added on to the lottery or something like that because it is a good fund. People are kept out of prison and will not have a criminal record. Their rights are protected.

I raised an issue last week which was not exactly dealt with. Given the torrent of issues that arose, it was one that was somehow skipped over but I would like to remind the Leader of it. A medical journalist and practitioner contacted me to state that following a piece he had written in a national newspaper in which he was, as are many people - I understand there are two sides to the argument - critical of the apparent policy of the HSE to alter its practices with respect to the issuing of medical cards, although I know it is denied that there is such a policy, he received a legally threatening letter from a public relations spokesman of the HSE. This is entirely inappropriate. There should never be a situation where lawyers or public relations people acting on behalf of a publicly funded body that is answerable to the public as individuals and through the press and Parliament can state that the reputation of that body is such that it would need to be defended by legal means or legal threats. I do not believe anybody should be forced to back down from a position they have taken against the corporate body under such a threat. It is entirely different if a named individual has his or her reputation in some way sullied. They have appropriate means of redress available to them. It may be appropriate that such redress in circumstances where they have been acting on behalf of their public body is funded by the public. However, the body itself should not be immune from criticism. The way for a body to deal with criticism is to set the facts out as it sees them and let the public decide in a democracy or if the criticism is valid, act on it and make the necessary corrections in public policy.

I am very troubled by this development. In previous contributions here, I have said that I believe there should be no public relations companies working anywhere in the public service. The public servants should do their own public relations and act on their own record. Their record should speak for itself. Senior public servants, civil servants and officials of Government agencies should in rotation have responsibility for dealing with queries from the press and the public. It is singularly inappropriate that public money is spent in this way.

I propose an amendment to the Order of Business to ask one of the many very honourable Members for Mayo, the Taoiseach, to attend the Chamber today to clarify his intentions with respect to Seanad reform. I found myself in a welter of confusion when I read the contents of the various contributions made in the Dáil during Leaders' Questions yesterday. It appears the Taoiseach is telling us that the Government deserves praise for being the first Government to implement the seventh amendment to the Constitution voted for by the people in 1979. I remind him that he never intended to implement the seventh amendment. He intended to abolish the entire institution. He was given what all of us believe was a resounding mandate, not a walloping, to reform the Seanad to make it a Chamber based on universal suffrage. I formally propose an amendment to the Order of Business to extend to him a very polite invitation to come in today and perhaps clarify some of the issues he brought up yesterday.

Senator Bacik raised two very interesting and important items this morning. The first was the community courts about which the Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality had a very interesting session last week when, unfortunately, we were very busy here and many of us were unable to attend. I was very taken with the advice and arguments of Judge Michael Reilly, our inspector of prisons, who attended with other experts. They gave very interesting views and it was very informative. The Minister attended the entire session and offered some views as well. As I said last week, that is worthy of debate and I look forward to our justice people leading on it.

Senator Bacik mentioned the question of the court poor box. I have never understood the legal basis for it, although I was subject to it once and I am not complaining. It appears that there is none. It gives the appearance of making District Court judges fund raisers. There were jokes about them being patrons of this or that charity because some of them allegedly had favourites. I am pleased the Minister has decided to bring in legislation governing the matter.

I second the amendment proposed by Senator Crown.

The issue of flooding has been raised by colleagues today and yesterday. The Leader has promised a debate, which is warranted under the circumstances. My prime issue, which was touched upon by Senator Colm Burke yesterday, is that of the availability of insurance for those whose properties have been flooded, an issue I have raised here before. As we speak, there are huge tracts of commercial premises and estates in certain towns and cities, regardless of whether they are in Clonmel, Skibbereen, Bantry, Cork city or Limerick, that cannot and will not get insurance in the future. That is most regrettable.

This is above politics. Whatever debate we have here, we must address the situation regarding these people getting insurance. They are paying commercial rates and water charges and are tax-compliant, yet because an event happens once or twice a year through no fault of their own, they cannot get insurance in the future. When the debate takes place, I ask the Leader to include the issue of where these people are to go. The fact that insurance companies close the door because one is flooded once or twice is most annoying and frustrating, be it in Cork city, Bandon, Clonmel or Sligo. The insurance industry must not be allowed to get away with it. Politically, we have been allowing it to get away with it for the past ten or 15 years so it is about time this House cried "Stop". The Leader has promised a debate and I respect his intention but if progress is not made in this regard, I will call for a vote on this and raise it in future. The insurance companies are effectively saying in these instances, "In saecula saeculorum, forget about these premises, they will never again be insured". After the flood relief efforts are undertaken and the barriers are put in, be they in Fermoy, Mallow or Bandon, will they be able to get insurance? I doubt it. This is a significant and thorny issue and I will certainly not let it go away. Could the Leader ensure that this is at least included when we are debating the issue of flooding?

I concur with what Senators O'Neill, Keane and Mullins said regarding the night club referred to. It is very well known which night club is involved but we cannot mention particular establishments. It has very clearly encouraged irresponsible and dangerous drinking by young people. The name of the event "Messy Mondays" speaks for itself. I raised this issue yesterday so I will be brief. It goes back to the debate I have requested. We should have a constructive debate where we have some idea of the strategy the Minister of State will propose and what the legislation is likely to contain when it comes to minimum pricing and all these other issues that are being discussed on an almost daily basis in this House and outside it.

I wish to raise the issue of online gambling and a potential tax on it.

Legislation is ready to be introduced in the House. I ask the Leader when it will be before the Houses of the Oireachtas. It is clear this House has the capacity to debate it. The rate of 1% tax being suggested is minimal, considering the significant profits made by the likes of Paddy Power and Boyle Sports. Paddy Power currently generates three quarters of its profits online and the Exchequer is not getting any cut of those profits. Approximately €1.6 billion per year is gambled online in Ireland which suggests that the Exchequer could be in receipt of €16 million every year. This income would be very welcome. It would not be desirable to see these companies moving out of the jurisdiction but there is scope for a larger percentage and a rate of 2% tax should be considered for online gambling in particular.

It is reported that this week the IMF will declare that the Central Bank is, "materially non-compliant in its supervision of foreign banks". Parliament in its role as the watchdog must be concerned. Our banking problems started when the German authorities assumed that the DEPFA Bank was being regulated by us and we assumed that it was being regulated by the Germans. The Germans paid up but it did serious reputational damage to this country. We missed out on what was going to happen subsequently. Parliament is a watchdog and we need regulatory and reputational issues to be tackled. We must ask who regulates the foreign banks. The dispute between the IMF and the Central Bank needs to settled as quickly and clearly as possible.

Alcohol abuse and its normalisation by young people appears to be out of hand. The former Minister of State, Deputy Róisín Shortall, was making great progress in dealing with this issue. I do not believe that the same progress is being made under the current Minister but it needs to be. Like other speakers I am particularly concerned about the craze around Necknominations. It has always been known that the combination of alcohol and peer pressure is a problem but this has been exacerbated by the effects and visual impact of social media and it has become a lethal combination. It has been blamed for some deaths.

I ask the Leader for a debate on the impact of social media on young people's behaviour, and to include alcohol abuse in that debate. I refer in particular to the impact on children and teenagers. When the words, "social media" are mentioned, there can be quite a barrage of abuse from people who use it but the concern must be for those who are vulnerable to peer pressure.

I welcome the move by AIB yesterday to provide structured write-downs for co-operating home owners. I call on other banks to follow suit. It is good news at last. I asked for a Minister to come to the House to discuss mortgage solutions and this issue should remain a priority on our agenda. One in every five persons with a mortgage is in arrears. There is no business scheduled for Thursday and this is the type of debate that should be included in the schedule.

I ask the Leader if he could arrange for the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources to come to the House to clarify his comments that debate can be robust, heated, personal and sometimes even hostile if one enters the public arena. He said that one cannot expect that the Queensberry rules will apply. Unfortunately, those comments were made last Friday when on the same day in a national newspaper, David Quinn revealed some of the e-mails he has received. One example reads: "If you're reading this, kill yourself. End your shitty existence on this planet and let humankind move on from your bigoted, homophobic and sexist bullshit".

Has the Senator a question for the Leader?

Yes. The e-mail continues: "Please don't take what I said lightly. End your life-----"

Senator Walsh, what has this to do with the Order of Business?

I will ask the Leader a question once I put this e-mail on the record of the House.

It does not need to be put on the record of the House.

The e-mail continues: "I would not think twice about kicking your f***ing face in ... I hope you die a horrible death".

Has the Senator a question for the Leader?

I ask for a debate about freedom of speech which is essential in a democracy. It is not only those comments in the e-mail but the other night in a programme, Susan Phillips said she was getting hostile and hateful e-mails. A gay man-----

The Senator should refrain from naming persons outside the House.

-----who opposes gay marriage, who believes that marriage is between a man and a woman, has received death threats.

Has the Senator a question for the Leader?

I have a question for the Leader. Can we have a debate on freedom of speech with the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources? Can we deal with these dangerous, vicious elements in the gay ideological movement? I appeal to those more reasonable voices-----

(Interruptions).

On a point of order I have to object to that. There is no such thing as a gay ideological movement.

Senator Walsh, you have made your proposal.

There is no such thing.

Senator Walsh is making himself ridiculous.

I call for the more reasonable voices within the gay groups and particularly GLEN, which I have always found to be responsible, to condemn this type of activity. It is totally unacceptable and is clearly intended to intimidate or prevent people from engaging in open debate on a matter of social re-engineering.

I support Senator Crown's call for a debate on the Government move for Seanad reform - the supposed reform. The suggestion is also supported by Senator O'Donovan. This is the opportunity for the Taoiseach to come to the House and to say that as the Taoiseach he can make the difference by doing what has not been done before.

However, all he is doing is putting into operation something that we, the people of Ireland, agreed to in 1979. Therefore, much more could be done. One person, one vote, should be the future for Seanad elections. It can be done easily. Senators Crown and Zappone have proposed Bills which allow for this change. We must urge the Taoiseach to proceed in this area and this is the ideal opportunity to do so. The subject was raised yesterday in the other House and it also reached the Cabinet.

I refer to a Bill on the provision of defibrillators in busy places which has been adjourned. This week a Bill was passed in Manitoba on the same matter. They have looked at what we planned to do here but they have put it into law. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Health to come to the House. He did not seem to have any objection to the Bill but it has been put on the long finger, as are so many other things. Let us get that finger moving.

I accept the ruling that my Adjournment matter for this evening on the role of An Post and the Minister in the closure of post offices, has been ruled out of order. I ask the Leader to ask the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, to come to the House to discuss the closure of rural post offices such as the post office in Bunbeg in my constituency. I will ask the Minister to explain An Post's public service obligation policy.

Another issue which needs to be discussed is the fact that the Minister has allowed this country to lose €13.5 million of EU funding for rural broadband services which was announced in 2011.

The Minister decided he did not want to draw down the money. He gave a reply to a parliamentary question indicating he had consulted with all the providers. I can confirm today that he consulted with none of them because I have contacted all of the providers who have confirmed there was no consultation. Ireland loses €13.5 million or €17.5 million when the co-funding is taken into consideration. This is another example of European moneys being lost to this country. At this time when we are looking for additional European moneys for flood relief works, we need answers to these questions. I ask the Leader to facilitate bringing the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, who on a good day can be very flippant with the facts, to the House to explain why he has overseen the loss of more than €13.5 million from rural broadband.

Senator Ó Domhnaill has raised a very important point. I previously informed the House that the EU had to contact the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport over moneys that were not drawn down, a matter raised in The Connacht Tribune and in other places. It is important for the Government to give an account of its stewardship in the area and outline how well we are doing in drawing down all possible resources, particularly those that can stimulate growth and investment in rural areas. I come from a rural area and go home to poor quality Internet services. It is a critical issue and one the Government has not taken sufficiently seriously over the years. It is not possible to talk about stimulating investment and growth in rural areas without also talking about the need to improve broadband services.

I welcome the debate to which Senator Walsh has most recently contributed. Every organisation has its proponents of ideas who are respectful and there are others who are rude, bullying and intolerant, as we saw in the abortion debate on all sides of the issue. I always respect the way that GLEN conducts its argumentation. It is always respectful and focused on the issues and arguments. I would welcome if GLEN were to make its statement and disassociate itself from what was said on the Brendan O'Connor's programme.

We are not discussing the content of RTE programmes.

That would be a welcome development because what we really want to promote is civility.

Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

Yes. Does the Leader agree that civility in debate from all sides is critical?

I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine to come to the House. He was here recently here to debate Pillar 2 funding and he spoke in general terms about the requirement for farmers to refund overpayments of the single farm payment. He spoke in general terms about farmers having used the maps the Department had supplied. I would like the Minister to come and answer the following questions. Who is to blame for the overpayments? Second-----

The Senator can make those points during the debate.

-----will there be penalties as well as repayments? What is the average repayment? What will happen where the Department itself inspected the land on which such overpayments were given? Who is to be blamed for that? Will the farmers be responsible for that?

The Senator can make those points during the debate.

Will the repayments be retrospective? The Minister should come to the House and not just deal with the matter in a general way as he did last week-----

I call the Leader of the House.

-----but address the specific issue of overpayments and the many concerns farmers have.

Senator Darragh O'Brien asked when the Pyrite Resolution Bill would be enacted. I understand that the pyrite board was established on 7 January and all the information regarding the pyrite remediation scheme is available on pyriteboard.ie. So it is operational.

I thank the Leader.

The Senator also called for a renewed debate on sports funding. I have asked the Minister, Deputy Varadkar, and the Minister of State, Deputy Ring, to come to the House to debate the issues. I have not had a positive response yet. I have also received a number of requests regarding the horseracing and greyhound racing industries. While reports have been commissioned on both, we can feed into that debate. The Minister of State, Deputy Tom Hayes, will come to the House next week to discuss the matter, so we will have an input prior to the reports being published next week.

The revenue from the property tax will go to local authorities, but I will ask the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, to come to the House to speak to us on the issue.

Senator Darragh O'Brien also asked for further time for debate on the renewed Standing Orders. The Minister of State, Deputy Kehoe, is in the Dáil until 1 p.m. and he has commitments afterwards. I will amend the Order of Business to start the debate on Standing Orders at 1.45 p.m. rather than 2 p.m., as I mentioned initially. That will give some additional time and if we need further time on it we can have it at another time.

Senator Bacik offered her sympathy to those affected by the flooding. I join her in complimenting the local authority workers, the Garda, the emergency services and communities on the wonderful work they are doing throughout the country. Senators Bacik, Keane and Paul Coghlan spoke about community courts and the court poor box. They called for a debate on the recommendation of the Law Reform Commission. I believe that report is complete at this stage and we can have a debate on that report. Senator Bacik also called for a debate on the findings of the Convention on the Constitution on Dáil reform. Last week, I said that when the convention's final report is complete, Mr. Tom Arnold is prepared to come back to the House to discuss that report.

Senators Mac Conghail, Zappone, Ó Clochartaigh and others spoke about a lady imprisoned in Limerick. I gave a very comprehensive reply on the issue two weeks ago and I do not wish to repeat what I said on the matter.

Senator Mooney and several other Senators asked that the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, would come to the House to discuss flooding issues. I hope that the Minister of State can come to us next week. He is spending his time actually dealing with the response to the flooding and is very aware of the situation in all parts of the country. He has answered debates in the Dáil, including Topical Issue debates and has answered Adjournment Matters on the topic. He has said he will certainly try to make time in a very busy schedule next week to come to the House to listen to Members' concerns. He is actually dealing with the response to the flooding at the moment.

Senator Colm Burke spoke about the appointment of hospital consultants and a number of vacancies throughout the country. He called for a debate on changing the pay structure. I will certainly ask the Minister to come in and address that matter.

Senator Zappone raised the issue of tax strategy and Irish Aid, a matter she raised last week or the previous week. I have expressed a wish that the Tánaiste would come to the House to discuss that issue. I hope we will have a response from him and that he will be able to come in.

Senator Hayden spoke about the interest rates charged by licensed moneylenders and the access to credit for people on low incomes. Those are worthy items that should be addressed in the House. We would need the Minister for Finance to come to the House to debate that matter.

Senator Cullinane spoke about the business of the House and debates, which Senator Ó Clochartaigh also raised. I gave a very comprehensive reply yesterday and I do not wish to repeat that reply.

Senators O'Neill, Keane, Mullins and Noone spoke about advertising standards and in particular an advertisement for a nightclub.

Clearly the marketing strategy is working when we have people speaking about it in the House this morning.

The Minister of State, Deputy White, and his officials are working on a framework policy to deal with the issues surrounding the alcohol problems so evident in our society. However, there is a vast amount to do on other issues in the Department. The Minister of State said he would come to the House and give us an update on his work in the next two weeks or so. I hope to have the debate then.

Senator Wilson commented on mobile telephone coverage and the difficulties in his area of the country. This ties in with the question of broadband and the fact that Senator Ó Domhnaill has mentioned that no consultation with providers was carried out by the Minister. I will bring the matter to the attention of the Minister and try to get a response from him.

Senator Mullins commented on the positive and optimistic outlook for growth and recovery in the economy offered by several economists. He called for a debate on the Action Plan for Jobs and access to credit for businesses. I have asked the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Bruton, to come to the House. He indicated that he would be available on the third week in February but I now understand he is no longer available at that time. We will have to revert to him to ascertain when he can come in to deal with this important issue.

Senator Crown raised the issue of a medical practitioner receiving a threatening letter from a public relations company.

Will the Leader take the point of information please? It was not a public relations company, it was a public relations employed spokesman of the HSE.

I suggest that a formal complaint should be made by the medical practitioner to the Minister on the matter. It should be dealt with in that way.

Senators Crown and Quinn raised the question of Seanad reform. I listened to part of the debate in the other House yesterday. Some rather ill-informed comments we made by some Members in that House. Many of them still do not know what happens in the Seanad or what are its functions.

Senator Quinn made a point on the defibrillators issue. My office contacted the Department of Health yesterday regarding the defibrillators Bill. As soon as I have an update on progress I hope we can have the Bill forwarded to Committee Stage.

The heads of the Bill on Seanad reform were initially to be brought to Cabinet this Tuesday. They will now be brought to Cabinet next Tuesday. At issue is giving effect to the result of the 1979 referendum. When the heads of Bill have been passed by the Cabinet we will be in a position to discuss them in the House. I understand the heads of the Bill will come to the House and the committee.

Senator O'Donovan spoke on the issue of insurance for flood victims, an issue raised by Senator Burke yesterday. I hope we can have that discussion with the Minister of State, Deputy Hayes if he is in the House next week.

Senator Noone raised the question of online gambling. Two Bills are due - one is with the other House at the moment - the Gambling Control Bill and the Betting (Amendment) Bill. I am unsure which, but it is probably the Gambling Control Bill that deals with the question of online gambling and how it will be addressed. I am in full agreement with Senator Noone that the 1% levy which has been proposed is far too low. I understand the United Kingdom is introducing a tax later in the year. There may be some effort to co-ordinate both jurisdictions when introducing such a tax but it is long overdue. It is a major problem in the country and it will get far worse.

Senator Barrett posed the question of who regulates foreign banks and suggested that we should address the issue. I hope the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, will be able to come to the House in early course and we can address it.

I have addressed the matter raised by six Senators yesterday, also raised by Senator Healy Eames this morning. She welcomed the structured write-down of debt by Allied Irish Banks. Senator Walsh raised the same question last week, if not yesterday, and I have addressed it.

I have referred to the question of defibrillators and Seanad reform raised by Senator Quinn. Senator Ó Domhnaill called for the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Rabbitte, to address the issue of the closure of post offices and rural broadband. I will raise the issues with him.

Senator Mullen urged that respect of other people's views from all sides of all debates is of paramount importance. We should all respect other people's views irrespective of what they are or whether we agree with them. In respect of farm payments, the Minister was in the House only recently and addressed many of the points raised by Senator Mullen.

I asked the Leader if he had any contact in respect of Seanad representation on the future banking inquiry.

I had a letter. I understand it is the responsibility of the committees that will make nominations. It will be the responsibility of the committees themselves.

Senators are not precluded. Is that the case?

From what we know at present, Senators are not precluded. I had a copy of that letter to read out to the House last week. I will bring it in on Tuesday next.

Senator David Cullinane has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That No. 4 be deleted from today's Order of Business." Is the amendment being pressed?

It is. I asked for it to be taken tomorrow.

We cannot decide tomorrow's business today.

Amendment put:
The Seanad divided: Tá, 10; Níl, 30.

  • Barrett, Sean D.
  • Crown, John.
  • Cullinane, David.
  • Healy Eames, Fidelma.
  • Mac Conghail, Fiach.
  • Mullen, Rónán.
  • Ó Clochartaigh, Trevor.
  • Reilly, Kathryn.
  • van Turnhout, Jillian.
  • Zappone, Katherine.

Níl

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Brennan, Terry.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Clune, Deirdre.
  • Coghlan, Eamonn.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Comiskey, Michael.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • D'Arcy, Michael.
  • Gilroy, John.
  • Hayden, Aideen.
  • Henry, Imelda.
  • Keane, Cáit.
  • Kelly, John.
  • Landy, Denis.
  • Moloney, Marie.
  • Mooney, Paschal.
  • Moran, Mary.
  • Mulcahy, Tony.
  • Mullins, Michael.
  • Naughton, Hildegarde.
  • Noone, Catherine.
  • Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
  • Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
  • O'Keeffe, Susan.
  • O'Neill, Pat.
  • Quinn, Feargal.
  • Sheahan, Tom.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.
Tellers: Tá, Senators David Cullinane and Trevor Ó Clochartaigh; Níl, Senators Paul Coghlan and Aideen Hayden.
Amendment declared lost.

Senator Crown has moved an amendment to the Order of Business, "That a debate with the Taoiseach to clarify his intentions in relation to Seanad reform by taken today." Is the amendment being pressed?

Amendment put:
The Seanad divided: Tá, 23; Níl, 26.

  • Barrett, Sean D.
  • Byrne, Thomas.
  • Crown, John.
  • Cullinane, David.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • Healy Eames, Fidelma.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • Mac Conghail, Fiach.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • Mooney, Paschal.
  • Mullen, Rónán.
  • O'Brien, Darragh.
  • O'Donovan, Denis.
  • O'Sullivan, Ned.
  • Ó Clochartaigh, Trevor.
  • Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
  • Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
  • Quinn, Feargal.
  • Reilly, Kathryn.
  • van Turnhout, Jillian.
  • Walsh, Jim.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.
  • Zappone, Katherine.

Níl

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Brennan, Terry.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Clune, Deirdre.
  • Coghlan, Eamonn.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Comiskey, Michael.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • D'Arcy, Jim.
  • D'Arcy, Michael.
  • Gilroy, John.
  • Hayden, Aideen.
  • Henry, Imelda.
  • Keane, Cáit.
  • Kelly, John.
  • Landy, Denis.
  • Moloney, Marie.
  • Moran, Mary.
  • Mulcahy, Tony.
  • Mullins, Michael.
  • Naughton, Hildegarde.
  • Noone, Catherine.
  • O'Keeffe, Susan.
  • O'Neill, Pat.
  • Sheahan, Tom.
Tellers: Tá, Senators John Crown and Feargal Quinn; Níl, Senators Paul Coghlan and Aideen Hayden.
Amendment declared lost.

The Leader has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That No. 2 be taken at 1.45 p.m." Is that agreed? Agreed. Is the Order of Business, as amended, agreed to?

Question, "That the Order of Business, as amended, be agreed to", put and declared carried.