The Order of Business is No. 1, Protection of Children's Health from Tobacco Smoke Bill 2012 - Report and Final Stages, to be taken at noon and conclude not later than 1 p.m., and No. 2, statements on an update on the situation in Ukraine, to be taken at 1 p.m. and conclude not later than 2.30 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes and the Minister to be called on to reply not later than 2.25 p.m.
Order of Business
There are many songs about water, one of which goes "Water, water, everywhere and not a drop to drink".
Is the Senator going to sing it?
If I knew all of the words, I would. There appears to be an ongoing spat between the Government parties on the question of water charges. The Taoiseach was in the House last evening and we all welcomed his presence in the Chamber. I commend him for coming.
Why would he not come?
I am sure it was appreciated by Members on all sides of the House. It is right and proper that Taoisigh should visit the House on a regular basis. The Taoiseach talked about honesty and truth and seeking and telling the truth in the context of the terms of reference for the tribunal. I commend him for at least providing figures which gave the population some indication of what it might face in terms of water charges from 1 October through to January. However, questions have arisen and they have been presented by the Labour Party. In fact, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Brendan Howlin, is quoted in the newspapers news as saying no deal has been done on water charges. The figures provided by the Taoiseach appear to be based on the subsidy the Government is allowed to give, coupled with the amount of money that will be generated, but there will still be a shortfall.
The question remains, particularly some weeks ahead of the local and European elections, as to what exactly people will be paying come the end of this year. This really is the nub of the problem because it appears on the face of it as though the figure given by the Taoiseach may not be the figure with which one eventually will end up. It might be considerably more, primarily because only 25% of households in the State will be metered and it appears as though the remainder will then be charged not based on the size of the house but using some sort of system that has yet to be devised. Moreover, it appears as though such a system may result in those in the lower income levels paying as much or perhaps more than those who, as someone observed, live in Sorrento Terrace, Dalkey. I am sure the Labour Party, among all parties, would not wish to endorse such a policy, and therefore, it is time for the Minister, Deputy Phil Hogan, to come back before the House. He should clarify, obviously not today but sometime between now and the end of next month, what precisely is going on in respect of water charges.
While he is in the Chamber, he might also revisit a debate Members had last week. Although it was held under the terms of a motion pertaining to SI 105, that debate also should have been about SI 9, which the Minister did address. I appreciate that a communications problem on Fianna Fáil's side - I put up my hands in this regard - meant it did not include the wording "SI 9" in the motion leading to the debate on SI 105. The Minister answered some but not all of the questions involved and since then, I have received representations from a variety of people, including a representative of the Irish Association of Self Builders. He stated the association was astonished that the Minister, Deputy Hogan, had mentioned that self-builders and that organisation had been kept informed and had participated in the formation of the regulation, when in fact he had not met the association at all. That person also wishes to know, as do I, the reason the Minister has given architects, engineers and surveyors a monopoly of certifying and getting money for each new house and house extension of more than 400 sq. ft. This will add thousands to the cost of a self-build project and while this may not be an issue in urban Ireland, it is an issue in rural Ireland. It is yet another indication to me of the anti-rural attitude the Government has adopted since it first came to power. It will now prevent people in rural Ireland from building their own houses because it will add considerably higher costs to those houses.
That is not true.
I reiterate what I said at the time, that I support fully the new building regulations. It is long past time they were introduced and I commend the Minister, Deputy Phil Hogan. He appears to me to be the nearest thing to a Fianna Fáil Minister when it comes to having the vision thing. He has the vision thing and I appreciate that because he is someone who-----
He is someone who, when he gets an idea into his head, proceeds with it without fear or favour. However, in this particular instance, I suggest that the Minister is wrong. It is time he revisited SI 9 to ensure those who wish to build their own houses under certified conditions will continue to be allowed to so do.
While Senator Paschal; Mooney spoke for my good friends opposite in Fianna Fáil, it is no harm to remind Members that Fianna Fáil has a recurring problem in dealing with its amnesia. I remind Members opposite that Fianna Fáil signed up to a four-year programme in 2010 and agreed with the troika that it would transfer water services to a water utility and that there would be a charge for which the indicative figure at the time was €400. As I understand it, although nothing has been signed off by the Government in this regard, the indicative figure at present is only approximately €240. Consequently, I believe Fianna Fáil should revisit what happened.
Moreover, Members must remind themselves of the cost of providing water through the taps, piping and everything else. At present, 40% of water produced is leaking into the ground. Any government must be responsible - the present Administration is extremely responsible - and this problem must be and will be sorted out as part of the overall package. Equally discussions are continuing on how water service charges will be made affordable. Circumstances will apply in some instances in which families will not be able to afford it and there will be exemption limits. As all this is yet to be made available, Members opposite should not panic. The Government is on course, everything will be agreed and everything will be acceptable. In addition, Fianna Fáil Members should remember that it signed up to a great deal more.
In the light of the peak of friendship in relations between Ireland and the United Kingdom after the highly successful visit by President Higgins to the United Kingdom last week, I seek a debate on Northern Ireland in which I ask the Deputy Leader to invite the Tánaiste to participate. It is important that this time the momentum of goodwill is not lost. The relations between our Head of State and Queen Elizabeth, to whom Orangemen and loyalists profess their loyalty, could not possibly be better. Moreover, the working relationship between the Ceann Comhairle and the Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly, Mr. William Hay, working on the North-South Interparliamentary Association, is most cordial. Indeed, the Donegal parade at Rossnowlagh has been a model for such parades for quite a while. As we again approach the marching season, Northern Ireland does not need to have its trade and tourism disrupted by it. Members should seek to bring forward policy initiatives that would take out the tension from the marching season. This would be a good time to do it. The Tánaiste should facilitate the House and the Deputy Leader should ask him to come in.
The second matter I wish to mention is the raising by the Minister for Finance of the option of a quick sale of National Asset Management Agency, NAMA, assets. It is among a number of options, and the quick sale of these assets has many attractive aspects. Non-performing assets would be transferred to new owners and a fall in asset price could stimulate the economy. Holding onto assets in the hope that asset prices might pick up at some stage delays the recovery of this economy. The ghost estates should be sold, for example. While they may be built in the wrong places, people can trade off longer commuting distances and get a bargain there. As Senator Feargal Quinn and I have observed, upward-only rent reviews also delay the recovery. It is not desirable to have NAMA hanging around for decades longer than it is needed, as happened with the old Land Commission. Consequently, the option of asset sales and the fall in asset and property prices should be perceived as a way in which to stimulate the recovery, which is under way. While this could be a major boost to it, holding onto assets forever and holding onto NAMA for a long time, as was done with the Land Commission, will delay the recovery of the economy.
First, in response to Senator Paschal Mooney, let there be no doubt that the Tánaiste has made the position clear. The Labour Party is only too well aware of the fact that one quarter of households in Ireland will be metered and it will not be signing up to any water charges system that does not take into account fairness, equity and ability to pay. This point should be made.
I am greatly reassured.
On the issue of Irish families currently living in hotels because they have nowhere else to live as they are homeless, I welcome the announcement by the Leader the day before yesterday that Members would have a discussion with the Minister for Social Protection on 28 May to consider the role of rent supplement in this debacle. All Members are only too well aware that in the urban areas in particular, one cannot access properties at the rent supplement limit and that rent supplement is a serious factor in homelessness in Ireland today. However, I note that 2014 marks the tenth anniversary of the introduction of the Residential Tenancies Act, which was the occasion of a sea change in legislation in Ireland to protect tenants and give them security of tenure in the private rented sector. It has come to my attention, particularly in the past six months, that there has been a significant rise in the number of what I would describe as spurious evictions on the grounds that an owner wanted to sell the property concerned or because the owner's son or daughter wished to live there. These all are based on the fact that some landlords - not all - are able to get more money out of someone else. What is happening at present is that people's security of tenure is being undermined severely. I seek a debate on the issue of regulation and security of tenure in the rented sector today. It is a serious matter to see people coming home to find their clothes in black sacks outside the door and being evicted for nothing other than economic reasons.
I support what Senator Paschal Mooney said about water charges. It is critical. The position in Roscommon is that there is definitely water - water, water, everywhere - but not one drop to drink because the supplies are contaminated with cryptosporidium.
How is the Senator managing in the western Dáil bar?
How are we to charge for water when people cannot drink it? Meters are being installed in houses in Boyle where people have to boil water and also in Castlerea where the water is unsafe to drink. An interim plant has been put in place in Roscommon town through the work of local councillors who have been very active on the ground. They were successful in having the interim plant put in place in the town which has relieved the pressure. Approximately 19,000 people do not have a supply of drinkable water. What is going on is a scandal. I sympathise with Labour Party Senators, although I do not feel all that sorry for them. When they call to doors, they run away, as from reports I have received I understand they are getting a very bad reception on the doorstep. The fact that the Government has gerrymandered constituencies such that it will have all of the seats on the eastern coast will ensure it will have some survivors. Fine Gael councillors are in a very-----
Objection. It is outrageous to suggest any political party has gerrymandered constituency boundaries.
The Labour Party has.
That is absolutely outrageous.
The Labour Party decided to-----
I ask the Senator to withdraw his remark.
No, it is official policy.
I ask that the remark be withdrawn. It is outrageous. An independent electoral commission sets the boundaries. The Senator's accusation is outrageous.
Senator Terry Leyden to continue, without interruption.
On a point of order, I am not competent to make a factual comment on this case, but I am sure the Senator will remember the very remarkable gerrymandering that was given the name "Tullymander" in memory of the Labour Party Minister who had organised it.
That is not a point of order. Senator Terry Leyden to continue, without interruption.
I thank Senator David Norris for reminding me of that fact. I knew Jim Tully well.
On a point of order-----
Is it a point of order?
Yes, it is. An independent electoral commission sets the boundaries. It is outrageous and a slur on the Government parties and this House for the Senator to make those accusations.
Will the Senator, please, resume her seat? Senator Terry Leyden should proceed.
It is also a slur on the independent electoral commission.
The Tullymander helped to have Fianna Fáil voted in.
I knew Jim Tully well; he was a fine man.
That is not relevant to the Order of Business. Does the Senator have a question for the Leader on the Order of Business?
By the way, if the Government wanted to have an independent commission to draw up constituency boundaries, it would not have the Secretary General of the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government draw up the plans or the technical people-----
Does the Senator have a question for the Leader on the Order of Business?
The Minister knew what areas were in and interfered in the matter.
Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?
The point I am making is-----
The point the Senator is making is irrelevant.
There is nothing to fear but fear itself. Even with all of the gerrymandering they are still going to lose their seats - thanks be to God.
Will the Senator, please, resume his seat?
On a point of order-----
I call the Senator on the Order of Business.
Senator Terry Leyden is out of order and I am very disappointed with him.
The truth will prevail.
The Senator should not cast the first stone.
The Senator to continue on the Order of Business, please.
How many of them are true socialists?
I refer to the welcome announcement made this morning by the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Ruairí Quinn, that €15 million would be made available for the school book rental scheme capital fund available to all primary schools. I have been a strong supporter of cutting school costs for parents. In my role as a member of the Joint Committee on Education and Social Protection, I have advocated this position at our meetings and also with the Minister. The €15 million was originally to be allocated to primary schools that did not have in place a book rental scheme, but following lobbying by me, as I had received representations from many schools which had initiated their own book rental schemes, the fund will now be made available to all primary schools, which is something to be welcomed in these economic times. The roll-out of this allocation will give recognition to the hard work done by schools with book rental schemes. By aiding the schools with book rental schemes and helping others to create new ones, we will ease the back to school cost burden on many parents and provide much needed assistance for schools through this worthwhile endeavour. I am delighted that 13 primary schools in my constituency have been allocated a total of almost €300,000 to support the setting up of book rental schemes. This is another good effort by the Government to reduce the cost of education for parents.
I agree with Senator Aideen Hayden on security of tenure, which is very important. I am astonished as, I suppose, an elderly man that once again in this country we are seeing evictions, but it is not just evictions of tenants. Last Friday, as I was leaving the office, I was contacted by people who were in distress. They were occupying the premises of an auctioneering company which was selling off, by private treaty, repossessed farms. I was given information which indicated that criminal damage was being caused to a property by the receiver and his agents and that the Garda had charged another party for allegedly causing criminal damage and assault in the taking of possession of the farm in County Tipperary. I have photographs of a house on the property which was burned down. I have photographs of a horse which was brutally killed and had one of its hind legs removed, apparently with some kind of hacksaw. Angle grinders were used to gain entrance to the property. I am referring to a widow who lives on her own and such behaviour is not appropriate. It is a disgrace. I asked the Garda if I could enter the premises without infringing the law because, as a law-maker, I could not publicly be seen to break the law and it stated it was all right. I expressed my sympathy to the young man in charge of the office because he was just an employee, but the directors' attitude was not helpful. They just brushed past and I am told they laughed at the people in distress outside. I ask for a debate on evictions, in which we could take in the very serious points made by Senator Aideen Hayden, but we need to examine the question of evictions throughout the country because it is appalling that this is happening.
As we approach the Easter period, I would like to end with some good news. The Committee on Procedure and Privileges unanimously supported the suggestion that Pope Francis be invited to come to the House. Seanad Éireann concurred with it unanimously. I notice a report in the newspapers which states Peter Robinson, First Minister of Northern Ireland, stated: "If a Papal visit takes place it is largely a matter of what basis he is coming on. If he is coming as head of state then clearly, as with any other head of state, I could meet the Pope." That is remarkable. I cannot imagine a previous circumstance in which a member of the DUP indicated publicly that he would be prepared to meet and welcome the Pope. Although this suggestion may be progressing slowly, the Seanad has initiated it and I hope it will play some role in the process, although we should not exaggerate it. I understand there is a possibility that the Vatican Embassy will be reopened with a resident ambassador in the comparatively near future. If that is the case, we will have clear contact between the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Vatican. Whether one believes, or, like me, is not a member of the Roman Catholic Church, everybody would get a bounce from the presence of this remarkable, spiritual man who has a vision that encompasses not just the interests of his own flock but also the welfare of humanity as a whole.
The Senator has his own good direction.
I thank Dr. David Robert Grimes, physicist at Oxford University, for his excellent opinion piece in The Irish Times yesterday. He notes that UNICEF estimates that immunisation saves 9 million lives a year and has eradicated smallpox and made polio a thing of the past, among other huge advances. Many here will know survivors of the disease who are living with post-polio syndrome, from a time in Ireland when immunisation was unheard of, yet there are still those who are in denial and refusing to have their children immunised against the most prevalent and dangerous diseases. Whether through ignorance or genuine fear, they are putting their children and the population as a whole in danger. Measles is a good case in point. Without delving into the science in too much detail, to protect infants and others who cannot avail of the vaccine, the general populace must have an immunity level of approximately 94%, but we are nowhere near it.
The incidence of measles is on the rise. Dr. Grimes noted that in 2011 there were 26,000 cases of measles in Europe, resulting in nine deaths and nearly 7,300 hospitalisations. One outbreak in west County Cork in 2012 infected more than 50 people, with a staggering 88% of those infected never having received a single dose of the vaccine. Potentially life-saving vaccines are not being administered as they should be, with potentially very serious consequences for the population as a whole. I ask the Deputy Leader to facilitate a debate on the matter with the Minister for Health.
I ask the Deputy Leader for a debate on the proposal for free GP care for those aged under six. Despite everybody's best intentions for reform in the health service, it is worrying that we are going ahead with a political gimmick in making free GP care available for those aged under six. It is not supported by the GPs and they have not been consulted on it. They are advising against it for a variety of reasons, yet we still intend to press ahead. This is happening at a time when we are inundated with distressed elderly people being subjected to reviews of their medical cards and in many instances losing discretionary cards. This requires very close examination before we press ahead with it. There have been many GP meetings throughout the country. Their criticisms represent more than vested interest and we should listen to them.
I agree with Senator Paschal Mooney on the concern nationally about Irish Water. There is concern about the cost and confusion. This outfit is now established. While most people agree with the principle of those who can do so paying something towards their water infrastructure, we have set up this super-quango and in the interim all national capital works have ground to a halt. For example, there is a scheme in Sligo known as the bundle scheme, where Tubbercurry, Strandhill and Grange are waiting for wastewater treatment facilities. Everything is ready to go, but because Irish Water is now in control of such schemes, it has come to a complete stop. The time to secure a single connection for a rural dwelling seems to have gone back by several months. These are legitimate concerns that need to be addressed.
As for the accusation that Fianna Fáil signed up to this, that or the other in the past, I was never in government and never signed up to anything. Even if I did, I listened to the people who indicated by taking 53 seats from the then Government that they did not approve of what it was doing. It must be stupid in the extreme for a government not to learn from the mistakes of a previous one when the public spoke so clearly against what it was doing. Just because somebody happened to do something in the past and played for the same team, it does not require me nor any of my colleagues to do anything today. We cannot play last season's matches again this season.
Fianna Fáil is good at playing the game though.
I join Senator Mary Moran in welcoming the funding that has been made available for the schoolbooks scheme in primary schools. It is a very practical way of supporting parents and children in schools and reducing the cost of schoolbooks and the cost of going to school. More importantly, it introduces efficiency. We have long complained about the waste of schoolbooks and the number of schoolbooks that cannot be recycled and so on. Because both new schools and existing schools will benefit from the money being made available I trust that those schools with an existing scheme will endeavour to assist those schools, if required, in setting up new schemes so that best practice can be followed by those schools.
I am a member of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and Marine, which has been discussing this week the problems facing fishermen who specialise in shellfish and who lost pots during the recent storms. We have been talking to the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Marine about improving the compensation scheme that was put in place. There are various problems with the scheme, not least that the number of pots fishermen are allowed to seek is quite low and the need for receipts, which are very difficult to produce, particularly for pots that have been in their possession for a long time. Some of these fishermen are struggling after some months. While the compensation scheme is welcome, it needs some improvement. Perhaps we could also raise the matter with the Minister in this House because while a small number of fishermen are involved, for them it is their livelihood. Some of them are unable to go out and fish and because they have no cashflow they are unable to buy any replacement pots. If they could do that they would get the compensation returned to them, but they have no cash in their pockets to do so. Thus, the scheme is welcome but it is flawed. It would be good to have a debate on it.
When we consider that this is the 100th anniversary of Cumann na mBan, we can see that equality eludes us still. This can be compared with the commemoration for the 100th anniversary of the Irish Volunteers in the Garden of Remembrance, broadcast live on television, at which the President spoke and there was a guard of honour. The commemoration for the 100th anniversary of Cumann na mBan was on a Wednesday. The President did not speak at the event, nor did any Minister. The chairman of the Glasnevin Trust was the main speaker. One would have to say that equality eludes still when last year for the first time in the history of the State a bridge over the River Liffey-----
Senator Mark Daly to continue, without interruption.
I am sorry, Paul; I did not hear you.
Through the Chair, please, Senator.
I was interrupted again, Paul.
Senator Ivana Bacik is the Deputy Leader today. I ask Senator Mark Daly to speak through the Chair. Does he have a question for the Deputy Leader?
For the first time in the history of the State a bridge over the Liffey was named after a woman, a member of Cumann na mBan. Considering Dublin is quite an old city, that in itself is a disgrace. I propose an amendment to the Order of Business to include our motion that the Government name previously unnamed roads, buildings and parks after Cumann na mBan and its members. I ask Members on both sides of the House to consider how many public buildings, parks and roads are named after women. They would be very hard-pressed to name five. Equality eludes us still. Given that the Deputy Leader would support it, perhaps she would press for what has happened in other counties, including in Carrick-on-Suir and Carrick-on-Shannon, where, following motions from this party, it has been proposed that public parks and housing infrastructure be named after Cumann na mBan. That is happening in Cork and Kerry, where the President's wife will open a park in honour of Cumann na mBan.
I also call for a debate on emigration and employment. A report by UCC shows that up to 60% of those who emigrate are leaving employment. When the Government claims it is creating jobs, the reality is that emigration is creating jobs, because 60% of those leaving are leaving jobs and those jobs are being filled by others. Thus, it is not a recovery; it is just a recovery by emigration.
I support Senator David Norris's request that Pope Francis be invited to Ireland. He has been a positive influence on the Catholic Church since his election as Pope. He has been very reforming and it would be positive for us to have him come to the country.
I also support Senator Marc MacSharry's reasonable request for a debate on the proposed introduction of free GP care for those aged under six, about which there are concerns. I would go a step further and suggest that we could have a public consultation in this House. Obviously we would not want to duplicate the work of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children. However, I believe it would be useful. We have seen how this Chamber can be useful in public consultation. It may be an opportunity at this stage to air concerns that various interests have on the issue.
I wish to raise an agricultural issue that I would not normally raise, but it is one that has great potential for the economy overall.
During the week the Irish Dairy Board reported an 87% increase in pre-tax profits for last year, up €10.6 million to €22.8 million. The company's turnover was also up 5% in 2013, rising to €2.12 billion. This is just the beginning because when the milk quotas, which have been in place since 1984, end in April next year it is estimated that there will be a further increase in production of up to 50%. This will lead to the creation of a potential income of €800 million for daily farmers and a value of €1.3 billion for the agrifood sector. There is a major opportunity for us to open up previously untouched markets. Work is being done to increase the market in places such as the Middle East, Asia and west Africa. The Minister, Deputy Simon Coveney, is a regular visitor to the House, and we could discuss and debate this positive story in the House in the near future.
Although I welcome the fact that the Minister, Deputy Simon Coveney, has commissioned a report on fluoride, I wish he would not waste our money on that report because I am not paying water charges if I am going to be medicated without my permission. We are all being mass medicated and the Irish citizen has not been educated about this. From a cost perspective, 1.6 million litres of water per day must be fluoridated, and we all know how much is wasted because we need to improve our water system. A 2003 report conducted in the last town in Switzerland to fluoridate its water, Basel, found only 0.1% of the water was being drunk by humans, with the rest going into the environment. Even in small amounts fluoride is very damaging to water systems.
Coming back to the Minister, Deputy Simon Coveney, and the last speaker, we should think of our agriculture, food business, export success, the end of milk quotas and our grass-fed beef. Then we should think of 1.6 million litres soaking into our rivers and environment and being sprayed on our plants. A proper study has never been done on the effect of fluoride on our environment. It is time to stop this and save the money spent on the expert fluoridation group. What does the rest of Europe know that the Irish expert group on fluoridation does not know? This must stop.
I second the amendment to the Order of Business tabled by my colleague Senator Mark Daly. It would be opportune to commemorate the founding of Cumann na mBan 100 years ago and I regret that the Government has not taken the initiative. These women dedicated themselves in a selfless way to achieving Irish independence. There is a great debate on the need for more women to be involved in politics. Rather than seeking artificial means of achieving that, one way to do it would be to highlight the contribution these women made, which gave not only the women but the men in these Houses the opportunity to take their place in an independent Irish Parliament. The dismissive, arrogant way the English Government and politicians are treating Scotland indicates what would be happening if we had not achieved our independence 100 years ago and were pursuing it now. We should value those women and properly commemorate them by ensuring buildings and public roads are there as a permanent reminder of their selfless sacrifice for this country. I am very happy to support the amendment.
Could we arrange for the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Alan Shatter, or his successor in the event that the Labour Party and the Government ever recover their moral fibre, to come here to discuss the issue of the report by the Competition Authority in 2006 which sought that competition be injected into our predatory legal fees system? Access to the courts is available only to the very wealthy. Those who participate in the profession get obscene amounts for very little effort and work. It is unconscionable that it has not been tackled, given the IMF recommendations, one of which was to ensure competition in our legal profession. The fact that we still pay people €200,000 to €500,000 per year from public finances when hard-pressed taxpayers and those on social welfare are paying the price shows the lack of political commitment to dealing with these very unfair issues which must be addressed if we are to have a more just society.
I agree with Senator Paschal Mooney's comments on the excellent debate here last night with the Taoiseach on the terms of reference of the commission of investigation. As the Senator said, it was good to see the Taoiseach here and we would like to see him here more often. He has been here much more often than the previous Taoiseach, Brian Cowen; it is probably a fair comment. It was an excellent debate and clarified a number of issues about the important commission of investigation.
It is an unfair comment.
Senator Paschal Mooney also raised the issue of water charges. This morning, the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, made clear on "Morning Ireland" that no decision had been made, nothing had been signed off and Labour Party Ministers in particular felt they had not received enough notice or information to come to a decision on the method of charging. The figures given are average figures, with an average meter charge of €240. My colleague, Senator Paul Coghlan, pointed out that this is less than the average set out by the Fianna Fáil four-year programme in 2010, which proposed an average charge of €400 and stated that it would transfer water services to a water utility.
We wait with great interest.
As Senator Aideen Hayden pointed out, the Tánaiste said the Labour Party would not sign off on any water charge that is not fair and equitable. In particular, we want to ensure that families on low incomes are not disadvantaged unduly by water charges.
It will be a first for the Labour Party.
Senator Marc MacSharry acknowledged, and all of us accept, that there is a water conservation issue and that charging for water will have an effect-----
There is a water quality issue also.
There are many issues around water and colleagues have raised a number of them. We will all benefit from moving to a better and more sustainable water infrastructure. The Government has made figures available that show that the State has been under-investing in water services for years, and we all agree with that. Senator Terry Leyden mentioned that nationally 18,000 or 19,000 people boiled their drinking water every day. That is unsustainable.
That is in Roscommon alone.
I have been given that figure as a national figure. Dublin is struggling to meet capacity requirements. We have had water switch-offs in Dublin and many treatment plants are inadequate.
We use whiskey to purify our water.
I will make no comment on whiskey in the Senator's water.
Is it whiskey in the water or water in the whiskey?
The State has been underspending for decades. It has spent an average of €300 million per year while the true cost of meeting the national requirements for water and wastewater treatment plants and for upgrading infrastructure would be more than €600 million.
How will the Government deal with the shortfall?
With water charges.
Senator Ivana Bacik to continue, without interruption.
Give her a chance.
Senator Paul Coghlan has pointed out that there is a great deal of wastage and a great deal to be done. May I speak without interruption?
Senator Ivana Bacik to continue, without interruption.
I listened with courtesy, although it was difficult sometimes not to interrupt my colleagues on the other side.
I am just a little excited about it. I apologise.
I know the Senator is a little excited with the holidays starting this evening.
Please allow the Deputy Leader to speak without interruption and reply to all the questions raised on the Order of Business.
We had an extensive debate on the establishment of Irish Water and the concept of a water charge and we have been told the Government will make a decision on that in due course but that there was not enough information available to make that decision at this week's Cabinet meeting.
I am happy to seek a debate with the Minister after Easter when the Cabinet decision has been made, but the Leader has pointed out that we have had extensive debates on a measure to which Fianna Fáil signed up when in government.
I take issue with Senator Paschal Mooney's rather clichéd charge that the Government has an anti-rural bias. Every party in opposition during the years has stated the Government has an anti-rural bias. There is no truth in it and we should scupper the notion.
The Government parties will not win a seat in Roscommon.
Members should allow the Deputy Leader to reply to questions put.
As someone who grew up in rural Ireland, I reject any notion that the Government is anti-rural Ireland. It is nonsense.
It has changed since.
Senator Paschal Mooney magnanimously acknowledged that Fianna Fáil had referred to the incorrect statutory instrument during Private Members' time. If he wants to have a debate on the matter, he should put forward the correct statutory instrument next time and, of course, we will have a debate on it.
Senator Paul Coghlan referred to Fianna Fáil's amnesia about water charges. There has, as yet, been no sign-off by the Government, as the Minister of State, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, made clear in her interview on "Morning Ireland".
Senator Sean D. Barrett called for a debate on Northern Ireland with the Tánaiste. We will look to arrange such a debate. It would be good timing to have it in advance of the marching season.
The Senator also raised the question of the transfer by NAMA of non-performing assets and referred to the need for NAMA not to hold onto assets forever as this could delay recovery. This is acknowledged, but there is a difficulty with flooding the market. NAMA is conscious of the fact that there must be a judicious approach to the disposal of assets.
Senator Aideen Hayden referred to water charges and called for a debate on security of tenure in the rental sector and the regulation of rental properties. I am well aware, particularly in Dublin, of the serious implications for many families living in rental accommodation, for which landlords have hiked up the rent without giving much notice and in such a way as to make it unaffordable for families. This is a serious matter and I am glad that the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton, will speak about the rent supplement issue. We will seek a separate debate with the Minister of State, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, on regulation and security of tenure in the rental sector.
Senator Terry Leyden referred to water charges, but I will pass over his comments about the local election constituencies. Suffice it to say, Senators Aideen Hayden and Mary Moran dealt with that issue and it is outrageous to suggest the independent electoral commission was in some way biased in its approach.
Who drew up the plans but the Secretary General of the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government?
That is utterly wrong.
We cannot have independence if we are relying on civil servants.
The Senator has already spoken.
I know all about it.
I did not interrupt the Senator. When the leader of Fianna Fáil, Deputy Micheál Martin, made a comment about this issue after the conference, he was utterly contradicted by the members of the independent electoral commission.
They would say that.
The Senator should allow the Deputy Leader to reply.
Senator Mary Moran welcomed the announcement made by the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Ruairí Quinn, of the allocation of €15 million for the school book rental scheme for all primary schools. I join her in welcoming the measure which is hugely important. The cost of primary school books is very high and difficult for parents to meet. People can no longer pass on books because they are in workbook format and can only be used by one child. That is a real problem with school publishers.
Senator David Norris supported Senator Aideen Hayden in seeking a debate on security of tenure. He also referred to the serious matter of evictions. If he has information on the serious criminal offences he disclosed to us, it should be reported to An Garda Síochána, as I think he has done. Any information he has available should be handed on. He also referred to a visit by the Pope and the Committee on Procedure and Privileges. We have already covered that issue at the committee.
Senator Hildegarde Naughton thanked Dr. David Robert Grimes for his article in The Irish Times on immunisation and called for a debate with the Minister for Health on the vaccination programme. I agree with her in her point about the dangers of the non-immunisation of schoolchildren and the increased incidence of measles. Like her, I was concerned about the outbreak in west Cork in 2012. Too many parents are relying on the concept of herd immunity and not having their children immunised. We need a public education campaign to remind them of the huge importance of immunisation.
Senator Marc MacSharry called for a debate on free GP care for children under six years. It is welcome that the Cabinet finaly agreed to it this week. We will have a debate on the legislation which is due to be brought before the House before the summer, according to the Minister of State, Deputy Alex White, who has invited consultations with GPs, many of whom are objecting in a way that does not recognise the major benefits the scheme will have for parents. It is also a milestone on the way to providing universal health care for all, to which the Government is committed. It is an important reform that will move us away from the inequitable two-tier health structure we have inherited. Colleagues interested in the point should look at the study published in The Irish Times health supplement by Professor Tom O'Dowd of Trinity College Dublin which contradicts some of the claims made by GPs at public meetings. They suggest they will face an enormous hike in the numbers of visits as a result of the introduction of the free GP scheme. The study by Professor O'Dowd shows the increase in the numbers of visits will be far lower than what they suggest. I urge all colleagues to look at the study which was published yesterday.
Senator Susan O'Keeffe spoke about the school book scheme and I agree with her. She also called for a debate with the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine on a compensation scheme for shellfish fishermen who lost pots in the storms. She referred to some flaws in the scheme. We can ask the Minister to attend as he is receptive to requests to come to the Chamber. It may also be appropriate to table the matter for discussion on the Adjournment if it concerns a specific point about flaws in the scheme.
Senator Mark Daly proposed an amendment to the Order of Business, although I am not clear to what it relates. He spoke about a motion on the Order Paper and I am not sure if he is looking to have it debated today. The motion calls on the Government to name currently unnamed public buildings, roads or parks after Cumann na mBan or a member of it. I agree with the spirit of the motion and that it would have been nice to see more done to commemorate the 100th anniversary. I was sorry I was unable to attend, because of business in this House, the event at Glasnevin Cemetery which the President attended. This is not a matter for the Government but local councils which deal with the naming of public parks and roads. I commend Dublin City Council for recently passing a motion to name the new bridge after Rosie Hackett. It is the first bridge in Dublin to be named after a woman, one who was active in the independence movement. It was an initiative taken by citizens, many of whom were involved in the Labour Party, Labour Women and Labour Youth. I commend them for taking it. The motion is problematic because it deals with a matter that is not one for central government to deal with.
Can the House ask the Government to call on the local authorities to deal with it?
The Senator may wish to reword the motion which may then attract all-party agreement.
Senator Mark Daly is being mischievous, as ever.
He may be a little mischievous.
He is from Kerry, after all.
In the spirit of commemorations, I have asked the Leader to commemorate in June this year the 750th anniversary of the first parliamentary gathering in Ireland, held in Castledermot, County Kildare. It is referred to on the Oireachtas website and colleagues interested in commemorations may be interested in it.
Senator Mark Daly called for a debate on emigration. The job creation figures which have been referred to in the House many times are positive and contradict the Senator's assertion that the welcome downturn in unemployment is due to emigration. It is not; there is net job creation.
Senator Catherine Noone referred to a visit by the Pope and called for a debate on the provision of GP care for those under six years of age. We will have a debate on the legislation. Public consultation has been scheduled for Tuesday, 6 May. Senator Katherine Zappone has communicated with us about that event, on compliance with international human rights instruments, particularly the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and all colleagues are encouraged to attend. I do not think we will have time before the summer recess to engage in another public consultation exercise which takes time to set up.
Senator Catherine Noone also mentioned the Irish Dairy Board. We might invite the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Simon Coveney, to speak about the positive figures from the board and the possibility of finding new markets for our dairy exports.
Senator Mary Ann O'Brien referred to fluoridation. I have dealt with the matter of water charges. We can ask the Minister to come to the Chamber to discuss the issue. The Senator welcomed the fact that there was to be a review of fluoridation, an issue on which we had a full debate in response to a motion tabled by Senator David Norris.
I hope we will have a full debate on the outcome of the review that has been announced, which again will be in the context of a transformation in the maintenance of water infrastructure and the provision of water services.
Senator JIm Walsh also referred to the motion, which I have dealt with. He called also for the Minister for Justice and Equality to come to the Chamber to discuss legal fees. The Government has taken action already, as the Senator probably will be aware, by not only introducing the Legal Services Regulation Bill 2011 which is progressing through the Oireachtas but also in requiring a reduction in fees when the State is the client. I am familiar with criminal legal aid and the fees in that area have been greatly reduced. Action has been taken already on this issue.
I wish colleagues a happy Easter.
On a point of clarification, does Senator Mark Daly wish to deal with No. 44, motion No. 5?
In the light of the Deputy Leader's suggestions, I will withdraw the motion and have it reworded. I hope the motion will then get Government approval and that the Government will call on local authorities to name buildings after members of Cumann na mBan.