The Order of Business is No. 1, motion regarding the draft Protection of Young Persons (Employment) (Exclusion of Workers in the Fishing and Shipping Sectors) Regulations 2014, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of the Order of Business; No. 2, motion regarding the proposed opt-in to Regulation (EU) No. 603/2013 on the establishment of Eurodac, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of No. 1; No. 3, Protected Disclosures Bill 2013 - Report and Final Stages - amendments from Dáil Éireann, to be taken on the conclusion of No. 2 and to conclude no later than 5 p.m. by the putting of one question from the Chair; No. 4, Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2014 - Second Stage, to be taken at 5 p.m. and to be adjourned no later than 7 p.m., with contributions from group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes; and No. 5, Education (Miscellaneous Provisions) 2014 - Order for Second Stage and Second Stage, to be taken at 7 p.m. and to be adjourned no later than 9 p.m., if not previously concluded, with contributions from group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and those of all other Members not to exceed five minutes.
Order of Business
In November 2010 Fine Gael published a document, Reinventing Government, which states "We want to introduce a new system of public appointments in which positions are advertised". Deputy Leo Varadkar said back then that this is part of our new political plan and at the same time he called for a moratorium on appointments to State boards and public bodies. I call for a moratorium now and ask Leo not to be a hypocrite. He too should stop-----
The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport.
I am calling on the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport not to be a hypocrite because if what is happening now was wrong at the time, it is wrong today. It is blatant, shameful, disgusting cronyism of the highest order. It is jobs for the boys and girls but not many for the girls and should stop. I remind Senators opposite of what is stated in the programme for Government, to which Fine Gael and the Labour Party signed up: vacancies for paid directorships on public boards will be advertised on the website, yet we see evidence of cronyism. Yesterday 64 voluntary and community organisations had their budgets cut and staff were let go. Three staff members were let go from the Irish Deaf Society. That is shameful. Ministers are too busy packing State boards and cutting funding to voluntary organisations; they are cutting funding for those that represent the most vulnerable. This is a stark example of those on the inside versus those on the outside. Why are budgets being cut? Ministerial office holders, like Leo-----
The Senator should refer to him as the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport.
The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport is too busy stuffing State boards. Ministers are not paying attention to their budgets. My colleague, Senator John Crown, has called for the Minister for Health, Deputy James Reilly, to stay in his current position. I would like him to come into the House before he goes anywhere else to explain the shambles in the Department of Health. We have seen the medical card disaster and the budget overrun by €158 million by May this year. We have seen appointments to State boards under the Minister's Department, with one person appointed because he was a good footballer for his county. Surely that is not a qualifying criterion for appointment to any State Board. The Department of Health is in a shambles and as a result 64 voluntary and community organisations have had their funding cut.
In 2010 the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport and the Taoiseach said there would be a new political plan and a democratic revolution - real reform is what they promised. In the past six months only 12 Bills have passed through both Houses, the worst performance of any Government in a generation. Deputy Enda Kenny promised openness and transparency.
He is the Taoiseach.
The Taoiseach promised openness and transparency.
The Senator is over time. Does he have a question for the Deputy Leader?
I seek a debate on openness and transparency. Last Thursday Senator Paul Coghlan promised openness and transparency on the part of the British Government in the case of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings. He might inform the House how he is getting on. Last Friday in The Guardian there was a special report on the Ballymurphy massacre in which ten unarmed civilians were shot in the space of 36 hours by the Parachute Regiment.
Does the Senator have a question for the Deputy Leader? He is way over time.
Yes, I have. I am looking for a debate on openness and transparency. While we can all name Jean McConville, the mother of ten who was abducted and murdered-----
Does the Senator have a question for the Deputy Leader?
Yes; it is related to the need for openness and transparency, on which I am looking for a debate.
The Senator can raise these issues during the debate.
I challenge the Members opposite to name the mother of eight who was shot in Ballymurphy by the Parachute Regiment. When Senator Paul Coghlan is attending the British Embassy tea party this summer, instead of asking for more cake, he might ask for the truth.
I hope I am invited to a tea party, to whichever one the Senator is referring. I am sure he knows all about cronyism. Let it be stated the Government was the first ever to give members of the public the opportunity to apply for positions on State boards. Departments will continue on their websites to invite expressions of interest in vacancies on the boards of bodies under their aegis. This process has increased the pool of talent available and allowed the Government to target specific skills sets in filling vacancies on State Boards.
All Fine Gael members.
Senator Paul Coghlan to continue, without interruption
Unlike all previous Governments, the Government has cast the net much wider in seeking talent to serve on State boards.
From the party membership.
I challenge the Members opposite to name anybody whom they believe is not qualified to fill a position for which he or she has been proposed or is filling on a State Board. I will leave it to the Deputy Leader who I am sure will respond more fully on the issue.
We have talked about the local elections results already.
The local elections are over. We must look ahead.
As the Senator asked and to be helpful to him-----
Will the Senator, please, resume his seat?
-----the Minister, Deputy James Reilly, said some of the people he had appointed-----
The Senator has made his contribution already.
I know, but Senator Paul Coghlan was challenging us to give information. I just wanted to be helpful to Senator Coghlan.
Will the Senator, please, resume his seat? Does Senator Paul Coghlan have a question for the Deputy Leader?
I actually do not. I was going to raise something else, but in view of the interruption, I will deal with it tomorrow.
I acknowledge in the Seanad the passing of one of Ireland's most under-rated writers, the extraordinary Dermot Healy, whom I knew. We met at funerals, wakes and festivals. There is a terrible sadness when a poet and an artist leaves us without a celebration and acknowledgment. Eileen Battersby could not have put it better in The Irish Times today when she wrote that Dermot Healy "began as a fully formed writer". One of the great Irish novels of the 20th century was A Goat's Song which will stand the test of time. Of course, his memoir, The Bend for Home, is his apotheosis. I am sorry for his loss and extend the condolences of the House to his family, his wife and the members of the artistic community who are mourning his loss. The writer, Michael Harding, wrote about him:
He told me once that prose is poetry in the sense that a bird is still a bird when it sits still. And the last image he flung at me, with the glee of a Zen master, his eyes hugging me, his wisdom falling like rose petals from a teacher's hands was this: "If you want to break a dog's heart", he whispered, "throw a stone into the sea."
I ask for a debate with the Minister for Justice and Equality on the direct provision system. Last October the Independent group of Senators proposed a motion calling for an examination to establish whether the system of direct provision was detrimental to the welfare and development of children and whether an appropriate alternative form of support and accommodation could be provided which would be more suitable for families, particularly children. Last week I heard an extraordinary report on Sean O'Rourke's programme by the journalist Brian O'Connell who had spoken to a young asylum seeker who had spent all her life in direct provision accommodation. She was seven years of age. We are rightly concerned about, need a system of restorative justice and answers to many institutional incidents in our recent past, not least mother and baby homes. However, we do not need to be quoted in 20 years' time as Senators who had raised the issue of a dehumanising process and how we had raised children under State control in 2014 and did not achieve anything. In this context, I welcome the announcement by the Minister for Justice and Equality yesterday that she would move swiftly to create a single asylum applications procedure so as to speed up the process and shorten the time people spent in the direct provision system. It is also bizarre, technocratic and Orwellian that the Ombudsman for Children is excluded from investigating such cases, while the Government's special rapporteur on child protection, Dr. Geoffrey Shannon, has said "the specific vulnerability of children accommodated in the system of direct provision has the potential to create harm by the particular circumstances of their residence, including the inability of parents to properly care for and protect their children and damage that may be done by living for a lengthy period of time in an institutional setting." When will the House make an impact to improve the lives of these young children?
Is the Senator looking for a debate on the issue?
I do not want to wait for another 20 years.
I express some concern about the wording of No. 1, a motion on the draft protection of young persons in employment regulations. We all support the motion and nobody supports it more staunchly than the Deputy Leader. However, the title of the draft regulations contains the words "Exclusion of Workers in the Fishing and Shipping Sectors". Fishing is an extremely dangerous activity, as we know from the mortality statistics, while shipping involves people being away from home. Perhaps we might have a debate on the motion, rather than merely sanction it. I raise this matter because of the Deputy Leader's strong record on the protection of young people and because it is proposed that No. 1 be taken without debate.
Let me clarify the position for the Senator. The draft regulations are to be referred to the Joint Committee on Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation. That is all that is proposed in the motion.
I thank the Deputy Leader. I am happy to hear it.
On a happier note, I congratulate Mr. Jean-Claude Juncker on becoming President of the European Commission with the support of the Taoiseach. There are interesting links between Ireland and Luxembourg as two small countries in the European Union. During the occupation of Luxembourg the arch duke joined the Irish Guards regiment of the British army and participated in the liberation of his home country in that uniform. Wearing shamrock on St. Patrick's Day is common to both small nations. Three of his grandsons also served in the regiment. I look forward to warm relations between Luxembourg and Ireland and hope Mr. Juncker will look after the interests of smaller countries within the European Union.
Yesterday was Mr. George Hamilton's first day as Chief Constable of the PSNI. He attended a seminar on restorative justice in west Belfast. I wish him well on his appointment and for continued warm relations between the PSNI and An Garda Síochána.
When Senator Mark Daly reduces the deaths of people in the Northern Ireland conflict to a mere counting game, it is something of which he should be absolutely ashamed. If that his type of republicanism, not mine. It is the type of republicanism in which no decent minded person would ever indulge, but that is not the issue I wish to raise. I refer to mental health issues.
I asked the Senators opposite for the mother's name.
Is it the names of Francis Quinn, Hugh Mullan, Joan Connolly, Daniel Taggart, Noel Phillips, Joseph Murphy, Edward Doherty, John Laverty, Paddy-----
Which of them? With which names does Senator Mark Daly want to play games?
Senator Mark Daly reduced the deaths of people to a mere counting game. It is absolutely disgraceful and shameful.
Sinn Féin moved from it years ago.
Does the Senator Gilroy have a question for the Deputy Leader?
I have plenty of questions for her. Sinn Féin moved from it years ago and reached out a hand to its former opponents and enemies. That is not something Senator Mark Daly has even moved towards. It is despicable nationalism; it is despicable republicanism, the republicanism of no decent minded person.
I have raised mental health issues time and again. Many find section 59 of the Mental Health Act 2001 troubling. This matter was raised previously by Senator David Norris. The section provides for the administration of electronic compulsive therapy, ECT, without people's consent, whether they are unwilling or unable to give it. It needs to be repealed. This Minister of State with responsibility for this area has indicated her willingness to repeal the element relating to being unwilling to give consent. The Leader agreed to have a comprehensive debate on mental health issues in September, but it is important to bring this issue to the attention of the Minister of State, as she is drafting legislation to repeal the section.
I would like to follow up on Senator Mark Daly's interesting contribution. With regard to fairness and transparency in making appointments, I refer to a position advertised - an Irish member of the Council of Europe committee for the prevention of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. I hope the media report on this issue. The closing date for the receipt of nominations is 3 July, at noon. The nomination process is interesting. Selection will be based on an examination of the applications received and a short list of the most suitable candidates will be placed before the Minister for consideration. The Minister may, at her discretion, consider and select additional persons not on the list. That is real transparency as far as the Government is concerned. As a member of the Council of Europe, I will maintain a watching brief on the way the position is filled. It has to be filled in a fair and equitable way. The curriculum vitae field does not have a section on the political party to which the applicant is affiliated, whether it be Fine Gael or the Labour Party. That is the usual requirement in how all appointments are made. They must have declined to include it in this application form.
It is for a four-year period and is a very prestigious position.
If the Senator applied, he would be out of here and life would be much easier. I will second his nomination.
Senator Leyden without interruption.
Mr. Seán Aylward, the former Secretary General of the Department of justice, was the outgoing member. It is very important that the right candidate be selected on a fair and equitable basis and because he or she is qualified for the position, not because he or she is a card-carrying member of Fine Gael or the Labour Party. The Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Fitzgerald, can prove she is without blemish on her character if she goes ahead with this appointment properly and chooses the person best qualified. I have confidence that she will.
The Senator is way over time.
The Deputy Leader of the House would be ideally qualified to act and I recommend she apply for it because she certainly will get it.
If the Senator is confident, why do we need a big speech?
The Labour Party is not getting a commissionership. The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Hogan, has been given the job and is on the way to Europe.
The Senator is way over time. He must resume his seat.
I wish him well in his position.
That is irrelevant to today's business.
It is very relevant. It follows up on Senator Daly's statement and I have asked the Deputy Leader to ask the Minister to allow a fair and equitable application process.
I raise the issue of the free travel pass for senior citizens and recent speculation that it might be stopped or withdrawn for some of those of pensionable age in the next budget. The present review of the system is not due to any wish on the part of the Government to withdraw the pass but rather that the Minister wishes to review the operation of the scheme in relation to the avoidance of fraud and the provision of the service via private operators. The free travel scheme permits free travel on most CIE public transport services, the Luas and a range of services offered by more than 90 private operators throughout the country at an annual cost to the Exchequer of €75 million. More than 745,000 customers are eligible for free travel and when spousal and companion passes are taken into account, more than 1.1 million customers have free travel eligibility.
Under the programme for recovery, increases in subventions for private operators were frozen and no new operators were allowed to join the scheme. Given the state of finances at the time, this decision was warranted. What is happening now is a review of the situation as the programme comes to a close. I note the comments by the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Varadkar, that the removal of the benefit is not on the Government's agenda. For the avoidance of all doubt, perhaps the Deputy Leader would invite the Minister to address the House on the matter. I would be happy to put it down as an Adjournment matter if that is a more convenient method of addressing the speculation.
Like my colleague, Senator Mac Conghail, I lament the passing of the poet and novelist Dermot Healy. When such people pass away, a pulse of the nation is gone somewhere into the ether. We do not cherish our poets, playwrights and artists half enough. Their contribution to the country can be greater than and above politics. I lament it even more when I see what is happening to the arts in education. Emphasis is constantly being put on computers and technical education, while not enough money and emphasis is put on artistic education, which can do as much for young people. We have lost a great heartbeat, and we tend to forget that when we get caught up in politics. He was a marvellous writer and a lovely man. He was from Cavan, where I attended school for many years. I knew him well and lament him greatly. He cherished this country. He lived in Sligo, loved it and wrote about it, and it is something special. It is a tragedy that he has passed away.
A young German student was brutally murdered in this country two years ago and his trial was recently heard in the Central Criminal Court. His parents stood with great dignity and eternal sadness as they lost him. He was his mother's only son. The assailant got a sentence of nine years. While I am not one to take on the courts, there is something wrong in society when the punishment does not fit the crime.
A six year sentence was handed down to a person who was importing garlic and people are being brutally murdered-----
Senator O'Donnell cannot comment on individual sentencing.
-----on our streets. I am asking a question. Punishments must fit the crimes. They must be a deterrent to crime - they must be at a level to be a deterrent. There is one murder a week in this country. We have had 62 violent murders in the past year. I request that the Minister for Justice and Equality come into the House. A conversation must begin, through politics, about what we can do to ensure sentencing is a deterrent to crime in terms of future assailants, future violent crime and people having had to leave this country without their children because they have been knifed on the street. I am sick of it.
It is glaringly obvious this afternoon that Members opposite from the Fianna Fáil group cannot hide their hurt, anger, disappointment and probably disillusionment-----
-----at the loss of their greatest vote getter, Brian Crowley. As Trapattoni used to say, "the cat is in the sack" but I wonder is it that the cat has been let out of the sack by the grouping that the former Fianna Fáil MEP, Brian Crowley, has joined?
That has nothing to do with the Order of Business. Has the Senator a question for the Leader?
One cannot but observe-----
I do. I ask the Deputy Leader to request the Minister for Social Protection to come into the House in order that we can have a debate on homelessness. I know of the case of a young man who granted might have a few blemishes on his CV but he is a citizen of the State. He is homeless and while accommodation is provided in a hostel-type building, he will not go there because he has found it is full of drugs and drink and, hence, he cannot receive any social welfare payment because he does not have an address. I believe that in other counties people in similar circumstances are being accommodated by community welfare officers etc., but that is not the case in County Kerry. This young man has no money. He made a good point recently when he said to me, "Tom, if you had not eaten for three days, you would steal too."
That might be a suitable matter for an Adjournment debate.
No, I believe this is a big debate. I request that the Minister for Social Protection come into the House to debate this matter. A debate on homelessness must commence sooner rather than later. It is a serious debate that needs to take place.
In the past few weeks several calls have been made for a debate on health care with the Minister for Health, Deputy James Reilly. We were told by the Leader that the Minister would be in last week----
He could be out soon enough
-----which he was, to take a debate on Senator Feargal Quinn's Bill on private health insurance. Any issue that was raised by a Senator on any side of the House, which was outside the scope of the Bill, was ruled out of order. The debate on that Bill was not the appropriate time to have a proper debate with the Minister for Health on the wide range of issues that are affecting health care. I again call for a proper debate on health care. The issue of the medical card fiasco, which was mentioned already, is still not resolved. There are still people without their medical cards and we have not had a proper resolution of that issue. The budget overrun is just a symptom of what is wrong in the health service. We have a budget overrun but front-line services are under attack all of the time.
We had the cronyism which led to the resignation of the then junior Minister, Deputy Róisín Shortall, hospital beds and wards are closing and have been for some time. Now we have the OECD report which shows that Ireland has fewer doctors. We pay consultants more than the average rate in OECD terms yet we are continuously told by the Minister for Health that the reason we do not have enough consultants is that we do not pay them enough or that they will not come to work in this State for the salaries that are in place. The OECD report, interestingly, shows that in terms of State money consultants in this State get much more than in any state in Europe, which is what we in Sinn Féin have been saying for some time. It also states that we spend less per capita than any other country in the OECD region on health care.
That is why we have a crisis in health care. We are just not investing and spending enough. I come from a school of thought, from which the Labour Party once came, whereby if one wants proper public services one has to raise enough taxes in a fair and progressive way to pay for them. Let us get back to that and have a debate on health care and the problems therein. I ask that the Minister be invited to come to the House for a debate in the coming weeks. I will not table an amendment to the Order of Business. I have flagged the issue a number of times. I hope the Deputy Leader will convey my request to the Leader for a debate to be arranged in the next few weeks. Whether it is the old Minister for Health or a new Minister does not matter. We need the person who has responsibility for health care to come to the House as soon as possible.
I wish to comment on the review of the free travel pass for pensioners, as has been mentioned already by my colleague Senator Hildegarde Naughton. The Government very much values the free travel scheme. The review is being conducted with a view to modernising the scheme; it is not about taking it away. That is not the agenda of the Government. I am glad to say pensioners will be protected in the review of the free travel scheme. We are all aware that issues relating to the misuse of passes, fraud and ID must be addressed. Any suggestion that the Government will remove the free travel pass from pensioners is not a reflection of what is on the agenda, as stated by Senator Hildegarde Naughton. Pensioners who are entitled to it will not have it taken from them. I am happy to allay any fears pensioners may have on the review issue. Those who have travel passes will keep them and those who are misusing them will be found out.
I rise to pay tribute to the Minister for Justice and Equality, who got specific training in this House when she was leader of the Opposition in the last Government. The announcement today that she is taking on board the recommendation of the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality to empower GSOC to do a proper job, among other things, is a positive development. I said previously that even though the principle was good, GSOC was toothless. The Minister is a breath of fresh air in the Department of Justice and Equality. She is committed to restoring confidence in the Garda Síochána and modernising the dinosaur that is the Department as it has existed for many decades. Sometimes I am very critical of Ministers, but today is a day for paying tribute to the Minister, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald. I wish her well and congratulate her on what she has done.
This year and last year I called for debates on farming, fishing, rural decline, sustainable jobs for rural Ireland, and legal services - the legal services Bill has yet to come before the House - and others have called for a debate on health care. These debates have been promised ad nauseam. Given that the House is going into recess within the next three weeks, I demand that these debates take place beforehand if at all possible.
No. 5 on the Order Paper is the Education (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2014. However, this Bill was published only in the past three or four days. It is a Bill on which we could reflect and debate next week or the following week, rather than rushing into it today, which is a mistake. In view of the fact that so many other debates have been demanded, I ask the Deputy Leader, given that it was published on 24 June, to arrange to take the Second Stage debate before the summer recess and the other Stages in the autumn. As it is not an urgent matter, I ask the Deputy Leader to reflect on it. I am making a fair point. I am not being opportunist or antagonistic towards the Deputy Leader.
It could be dealt with in a less rushed fashion, given the fact that many debates have been promised on various issues, some of which I have outlined, but have not been arranged. Some of those promises date back more than 12 months.
I welcome the further reduction in roaming charges today thanks to the European Commission. Ms Neelie Kroes, the Commission's vice president, has done the right thing, as it will benefit tourism and business. In our digital age, it is important that businesses continue to thrive at home and abroad. This is a step towards the realisation of a vision of an interconnected Europe and I encourage the Commission to go further and allow people to use their telephones as if they were at home by the end of the year. This is the Commission's intention.
I wish to raise the issue of water safety, given the two tragic drownings last weekend. The forecast is for good weather. While we are glad of that, water safety is something of which we must all be mindful. One in three drownings is alcohol related. Of the 140 people who died last year, one third had alcohol on board. A large percentage of those in question were under 21 years of age. I put this problem down to the ridiculously cheap drink that is available to young people. One can get a can for 89 cent in Lidl or a 250 ml bottle of beer for 41 cent in Aldi. International surveys shows that, if the price of drink is cut, people buy more. It is not necessarily targeted at them, but this benefits young people who want to purchase drink. I call on the Deputy Leader to invite the Minister of State, Deputy White, to the Chamber as soon as possible to discuss the upcoming legislation, particularly as regards minimum pricing. We are constrained somewhat, as we are waiting to see what happens with the Scottish Government's case in the EU. This is a serious issue and I would appreciate if attention was given to it.
I support Senator O'Donnell's call for a debate on a review of sentencing so that we might have a fair approach. It causes a great deal of hurt and pain when questionable sentences are handed down.
Last Friday, I was delighted to be present for the awarding of an honorary doctorate to European Commissioner Máire Geoghegan-Quinn at NUIG in recognition of her public service, particularly in her current Commission role over research and innovation in which she is widely regarded as having done well. However, I was gobsmacked by the report in today's Irish Independent that, on retirement and without meaning to cast slight on the Commissioner, she will be due a pension of more than €3,000 per week under current rules.
It is an immoral amount of money for any individual.
Some €3,000 per week.
Under our recently released policy document, one pension should be enough for anyone. I call for a debate on pensions, particularly public service ones. What is fair and reasonable? Pensions are a time bomb, but €3,000 per week would make for many travel passes.
The same Commissioner has advised the Taoiseach to move swiftly to lobby hard for a high-value Commission portfolio. I agree. I call on the Taoiseach to be confident and to bat hard for a high-value portfolio, particularly an economic one. Ireland has earned its spot. We saved the EU's banking system. I will throw another name in the ring for the role, one not previously mentioned. He has credibility in Europe.
The Senator is way over time.
It is the Minister, Deputy Noonan.
I move an amendment to the Order of Business to the effect that No. 18 on the Order Paper be taken before No. 1.
A number of people have referred to the free travel pass.
I was glad to hear the positive comments made by the Government's side. We all realise that this particular document is very valuable. Its receipt is a cause for celebration because it is a testimonial to the worth of our senior citizens and an acknowledgement of the contribution they have made to the State, particularly in very difficult times. A lot of them would view the free travel pass as a birthday and anniversary card rolled into one on the occasion of its arrival in their house. I would be very sad if I thought it would in any way be diminished as a result of the review that is due to take place. We should remember that the travel pass gives senior citizens a sense of independence and mobility, which is very important when people are advancing in years. Many of these people live on their own and might wish to visit relatives, or they may have to visit a sick person a long way from home. There are so many cases, and if there are abuses - and I am not too sure what abuses are being referred to - obviously the matter must be examined. However, the basic concept of the travel pass must be protected at all costs.
I genuinely believe - I am not suggesting this is going to happen - that if we start in any way tinkering with what was a very generous scheme when it was first set up, it will make a lot of senior citizens feel very uneasy about their future. I know many people who fall into that category, and the pass makes their lives liveable. I know that is an exaggeration, but it does, in effect. I appeal to the Government to be very cautious in ensuring we do not add extra concern onto the shoulders of people who already have had a lot of disappointments and concerns. All of us in this House, from all political persuasions, want to see the right thing done in this case.
I second Senator Henry's proposal. I also want to raise an issue that I raised back in the spring - costs for hauliers in the Republic of Ireland, particularly hauliers who operate along the Border, because £10 must be paid every time a vehicle enters and exits the North. The same applies to all hauliers in the country, but the cost is of particular importance to hauliers who operate along the Border. I know this because I have been contacted by a number of them over the past week or ten days. The Irish Road Haulage Association was here last week to brief us on a number of issues. Hauliers must pay huge costs due to the price of insurance and diesel, so a £10 fee is an added cost. Some hauliers travel from Donegal into the North and then leave the jurisdiction via Cavan or Monaghan, because they want to go through the North in order to deliver items in other parts of the Republic. Action should be taken and something must be done to help hauliers with their business, because they employ quite a large number of people and move many goods from one part of the country to another. The £10 fee is an unfair cost for them and we must do something to help them out.
I call for an urgent debate to be arranged on the independent commission on electricity transmission, headed by Mrs. Justice Catherine McGuinness as chairperson. The commission was tasked with looking at Grid West and Grid Link in terms of an underground solution. I believe an underground proposal for the west of Ireland route was made subsequent to the setting up of the commission. We have heard today that the commission has washed its hands of the North-South electricity transmission route. It has been thrown out. Unfortunately, that is what we expected, because this was done in the heat of an election, and, as we all know, that is what Pat Rabbitte tends to do during an election.
The Minister, Deputy Rabbitte.
That is what he tends to do during elections. It is the second time this has happened in north Meath. The issue of wind turbines was treated in exactly the same manner. One thing is said before an election but there is a different scenario post-election. This is a really serious issue. The people of the north east have been treated with disdain and contempt and are now effectively second-class citizens. I refer to the people in Cavan, Monaghan and parts of south Meath and west of Navan who are affected by this major imposition on their lives.
We need a full debate on why certain counties are getting overhead lines and other counties, such as those where the Taoiseach lives and counties where a by-election is due in the coming weeks, are getting underground lines. I want an answer to that question and the Seanad is a good forum for a full debate. We need equality of treatment for people in this country.
I agree with the sentiments expressed by Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell about a debate on sentencing. Members of the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality went to Stormont as part of deliberations leading to the committee's positive recommendations on Garda oversight. We met the justice committee of the Northern Ireland Assembly for an interesting discussion. The chief justice comes before that committee on an annual basis and explains the rationale behind sentencing. Members of the Oireachtas committee asked about the separation of powers and the response indicated that if issues arose that could not be discussed, the chief justice said so. That is an excellent suggestion for the House. The Committee on the Procedure and Privileges could consider inviting the Chief Justice to make a statement to the House and have a discussion on justice issues and the rationale and thinking behind sentencing. It would be a useful exercise and is appropriate to Seanad Éireann. It could be considered for the autumn.
I agree with the call by Senator Noone for caution in respect of water safety during the fine weather. It is a splendid country at the moment, people are enjoying themselves and thousands of tourists from all over the world are enjoying the fine weather. I pass on my sympathies to the families that have lost loved ones as a result of drowning and I call on people to be careful and cautious and to treat water with the respect it deserves. I also appeal to people to bring home their rubbish from the beach and not to leave it there. We have beautiful beaches but they are being destroyed every day by people leaving rubbish there. It is not too much to expect people to bring home rubbish and not have local authority workers, who do a fantastic job, working at 6 a.m. needlessly cleaning up rubbish.
It gives me great pleasure to remind Members in the Chamber that Mr. Charles Haughey, when he was Minister for Finance, introduced free travel for older people in 1967. It was a milestone in legislation. The other milestone he introduced was the Succession Act, whereby a man could no longer sell the family home over the head of his wife. Recent press reports, including in The Irish Times yesterday, frightened older people, those over 66 and those with disabilities. My Government colleagues have raised this point and denied it but a senior Government source quoted in The Irish Times stated it was unlikely that additional money will be made available next year. Many of the private transport providers have said they can no longer afford to do it. We hear regular discussions about a less restrictive budget in 2015. Why should the free travel scheme not benefit from this? The House should fully support the campaign of Age Action Ireland entitled "Hands off our travel passes".
This is a neoconservative Government.
Typical Fianna Fáil scaremongering.
Older people are discarded by society because they are no longer of use-----
We should also oppose all the restrictions proposed for Government consideration, including limiting the times when older people can travel. Of course, we are against fraud-----
Is the Senator looking for a debate?
-----but I am looking for the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Varadkar, to tell us, in respect of the report yesterday, that there is no question of touching the free travel scheme introduced by Fianna Fáil and Mr. Charles Haughey.
The comments by Senator White amount to typical scaremongering. The free travel scheme, which is a great benefit to the people of this country, will be retained but the Government must take steps to cut out fraud and that is why people have received letters in respect of identification.
I wish to raise two matters on the Order of Business, one of which has been raised already. I raised this matter last April. I asked that swimming lessons be put on the curriculum at schools. A total of 40,000 students every year receive certificates under schemes run by Irish Water Safety - one of the best organisations in the country - which oversees voluntary water safety at different venues. This means 450,000 children are not benefiting. I ask that the schools, headmasters, principals and so on take up the primary aquatics water safety scheme, a free scheme set up by Irish Water Safety. Children can proceed from PAWS level 1 to up to level 8, which is swimming. This is very important because we have seen incidents recently. I sympathise with the families affected where we have had tragedies in the past two weeks because we have had very good weather. We need greater awareness. I heard on the radio this morning that more than 500 people were rescued last year by our lifeguards, an amazing statistic. If we did not have the people who are well trained by Irish Water Safety and other water safety bodies we would have had far more tragedies.
I call on the Deputy Leader to ask the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine to come to the House to discuss what is at present a crisis in the beef industry. Another major problem is the grid pricing system and it is failing and robbing farmers. Farmers have a better chance of picking the lottery numbers than of knowing the price they will get for their animals when they are sent to the factory.
Senator, are you seeking a debate on the issue?
I am. I want to finish this point. When the factories and farm organisations agreed on a new grid system some years ago it was supposed to benefit all in the industry such that quality would be paid for. Now the factories are using the grid system to their advantage. There are penalties in the same grade. Farmers face penalties for under age, over age and under weight cattle.
Senator, those are issues you can raise during the debate.
Certain breeds are being discounted. The quality assured bonuses are being reneged on. I offer one example. This week-----
Is the Senator seeking a debate?
I am seeking a debate. Under the old grading system, if a farmer had-----
Senator, you are way over time.
The farmer was repaid exactly the same. At present, the cattle are being discounted in some factories by 70 cent on other factories.
Senator, you are way over time.
An R3 grade animal is being discounted by 66 cent.
Senator, resume your seat, please.
An 03 animal, especially a heifer, is being downgraded by 87 cent.
Senator Mullen is next.
Sorry. I want to make one point.
You are way over time.
Senator Mullen is very interested in this.
Senator, you are way over time. We are all interested but you are way over time.
At present an R grade bullock is worth €230 in certain factories and an O grade heifer is worth €287.
Senator, you are way over time. Resume your seat, please.
We need a debate on this immediately.
Senator, resume your seat.
Some colleagues have mentioned the free travel system, the maintenance of which is absolutely essential. There are many ways by which our treatment of older citizens in recent years has become quite shameful, including the elimination of various services and allowances and so on. It seems to me that the free travel system is probably among last remaining examples of evidence that we have some regard for our older citizens and it must remain non-negotiable.
In yesterday's edition of The Irish Times we read that in Denmark high-voltage cables are placed underground in scenic areas and away from centres of population. The writer referred to his home island of Funen and how it is almost free of overhead lines. He stated:
Dig them down; it costs a hell of a lot of money but it is worth it. Pylons are not an issue in Denmark any more.
We heard last week that EirGrid is considering undergrounding options for the Grid West project, but with the veiled threat that it might cost a great deal more. We were told on 7 January by John Lowry, a project manager on the Grid Link project who is working for EirGrid, that the type of power generated and used here means that cables cannot be run underground. How can that be true in the light of what we have learned from Denmark and given what EirGrid is proposing to contemplate? If we are committed to protecting our environment we must place these pylons underground. We need look no further than my Bill, which is on the Order Paper, the Planning and Development (Strategic Infrastructure) (Amendment) Bill 2014.
The fact that the Government has not supported this legislation to date is telling. I will be calling votes on the Order of Business in due course to ensure we can debate this legislation. If we are committed to real representation of the communities that elect us, there can be no doubt that we ought to pass that legislation or very similar legislation.
Is the Senator proposing an amendment to the Order of Business?
Not at this point.
It is a given that the country found itself in a very difficult situation financially and found itself making what have been called difficult choices, clearly choices that were more difficult for some than for others, over the last few years. The two parties in the Government signed up to a programme which was largely based on trying to get the public finances into order through a process of curtailed public spending known as austerity. One of the most painful parts of that, of course, was the decline in spending on the health service to save money and, as a result, a decline in services. That there has been a decline in services is apparent in that waiting lists are longer and staffing levels are lower. I have seen figures of up to 10% for a global decrease in the number of those employed in the health service and 13% in the number of nurses employed in the health service over the last five years. While the pain and decreased numbers have occurred, what savings have occurred?
I recently saw figures, and we are depending on the very frail accountancy processes of the HSE and the Department of Health, which suggest that €14 billion was being spent in 2010 and that the projected figure for this year, when one factors in the various supplements that are made, is €13.8 billion. In return for a decline in service and a drastic reduction in the number of staff there has effectively been no saving of money. How have these resources been spent?
I have a suspicion that if one decides not to replace three nursing posts but when one is desperately stuck to replace them with two agency nurses who cost as much as three nurses, and the same applies to physiotherapists and junior doctors, one has a system where there is still a decline in the service and fewer people in post, but one spends just as much money. Is it possible to get answers to these core questions? What has been the year-by-year spend on the public health service in this country since 2008, what are the staffing numbers during that time and what number of people have been employed on an agency basis? Something does not add up. We have taken the pain in double terms. Patients and staff have taken the pain, but the savings have not been made. Something is badly wrong. This would be a good topic for debate in the House with the Minister for Health. It would be an opportunity to dissect the data, see what has been achieved and give the report card on austerity in the health service over these years.
Senator Daly raised a number of issues and called for a general debate on openness and transparency in a number of areas. If the Senator wishes to clarify tomorrow which Ministers he wishes to invite to the House to discuss which aspects of openness and transparency, we can arrange that. He raised, in particular, the issue of appointments to State boards. As Senator Coghlan pointed out, this Government was the first to give members of the public the opportunity to apply for positions on State boards, a break with the cronyism of the past.
That is not true.
Departments will continue on their websites to invite expressions of interest in vacancies on the boards of bodies under their aegis. This process has increased the pool of available talent. A number of Departments have already made progress in this area. The Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, for example, has made a number of appointments to transport boards that came in via the public expressions of interest. However, all board appointees to date are entirely qualified to serve on their boards and to make a valuable contribution to the oversight of State organisations.
Senator Daly also raised a specific issue regarding the Irish Deaf Society. I was contacted today by somebody from the society about this issue and the closure of the advocacy service of the Irish Deaf Society, Deaforward. I am very concerned to hear about it and I have asked for more information on it.
The Senator also raised the Dublin and Monaghan bombings, Ballymurphy and so forth, but perhaps he would clarify tomorrow what debate he seeks and what Minister to invite on those issues. Senator Coghlan replied about the State boards, as I said.
We all join with Senator Mac Conghail in expressing condolences to the family of Dermot Healy and in paying tribute to his immense contribution to our poetic and cultural life. A beautiful poem by Dermot Healy is published in The Irish Times today to mark his passing. Senator Mac Conghail also asked for a debate with the Minister for Justice and Equality on direct provision. I will be happy to request that.
That issue was the subject of a number of recent debates in the House. I was present at the Integration Centre yesterday for the launch of the ESRI's annual monitoring report on integration in Ireland, at which the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Fitzgerald, made a very important speech about moving to a single unified system of application for leave to remain in Ireland. The purpose of such a system would be to streamline the current process, which has really been allowed to drift. That is the difficulty. Direct provision was initially introduced as a temporary, short-term measure to ensure that people involved in the asylum-seeking process would have shelter, food, etc. It is clear, however, that people are spending far too long in the direct provision system. Senator Mac Conghail referred to the terrible story of a child who has spent all seven years of her life to date within the system. Clearly, that is wrong. It is a dehumanising process and many Senators have commented on this matter in the House previously. I hope that during the remainder of this Government's term of office there will be a distinct effort to tackle this problem. Senators should join together on a cross-party basis to encourage the Minister in the approach she is adopting, which is designed to ensure that action is taken to reduce the amount of time people - particularly families with children - are obliged to spend in direct provision. Other matters arise in this regard in the context of the Ombudsman for Children. On previous occasions, for example, I referred to the lack of access to child benefit for children in direct provision. The Government will be obliged to tackle a number of different aspects of this issue.
Senator Barrett referred to a motion that is being taken without debate. If they read the Order Paper, colleagues will see that both motions being taken without debate involve the referral of matters to the relevant joint Oireachtas committees for debate. The Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality will debate the motion relating to Eurodac tomorrow. Senator Barrett also congratulated the new President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, and called for warm relations between Luxembourg and Ireland. He also called for warm relations between the PSNI and the Garda.
Senator Gilroy provided a vigorous response to Senator Daly on the spirit of true republicanism and I echo his words. Senator Gilroy also sought a debate on electroconvulsive therapy and section 59 of the Mental Health Act 2001. That is a matter on which the House has sought to take action in the past. We should engage in a debate on mental health in September and try to move matters forward. We came close to amending section 59 of the Act previously but, unfortunately, moves in that regard did not come to fruition.
Senator Leyden referred to the Irish nomination to the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture, CPT. I thank the Senator for his suggestion that I put my name forward. I must inform him that I have no intention of applying for the post.
We will nominate the Senator, despite her wishes.
Senator Sheahan suggested that Senator Leyden might put his own name forward.
An excellent choice.
I have every confidence in the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Fitzgerald, in making the appointment to this important position in a transparent manner.
Senator Naughton and others referred to the free travel scheme. I wish to clarify the Government's position on this matter. There has been a huge amount of scaremongering about the review of the scheme. However, the Government has made clear that it fully appreciates the importance of the scheme and the value it provides to the hundreds of thousands of people who use it. The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Varadkar, and the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Burton, have made clear that they do not envisage any changes to the benefits received by people under the scheme. The purpose of the review is to consider the current operation and future development of the scheme and to examine a number of issues, particularly the control of fraud. I am sure we would all support the latter. I must point out that the previous Fianna Fáil Government, in its National Recovery Plan 2011-2014, capped funding for the free travel scheme at €77 million per annum. This means that the cap in question predates the current Government, which has proven to be a difficulty. The number of people eligible for free travel has increased each year since 2011 and, as a result, the Department of Social Protection has imposed a freeze on the amounts paid to private companies. That is why such companies have been involved.
The Minister must speak to the private companies.
The Minister, who is going to examine the report of the working group-----
Senator White is suffering from selective amnesia.
-----has made clear her commitment to the scheme, as has the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Varadkar.
Who was the senior Government source who commented on this matter yesterday?
That should pre-empt the scaremongering in which people have been engaging in respect of this matter.
Senator O'Donnell referred to the death of Dermot Healy, arts and education and sentencing. Like her, I was hugely impressed by the dignity shown and inspirational words spoken by the parents of a young German student who was murdered in Ireland and whose killer was recently sentenced. I would like the House to engage in a debate on sentencing because I am of the view that it would be a good exercise. However, the sentences handed down in individual cases are a matter for the courts. In 1993 the Oireachtas introduced legislation by means of which the Director of Public Prosecutions, DPP, was provided with the power to appeal any sentence imposed on the grounds of undue leniency. That is an important mechanism to review sentences where an issue in respect of leniency arises.
Senator Sheahan requested a debate on homelessness with the Minister for Social Protection. We can certainly seek such a debate in the autumn. The Minister will be coming before the House tomorrow to deal with the Social Welfare and Pensions Bill. The Senator also sought a debate on an issue relating to a particular individual, which, I understand, may be the subject of one of the matters on the Adjournment.
Senator Cullinane requested a wide-ranging debate on health care, particularly in the context of funding and recruitment difficulties within the health service. I will be happy to ask the Leader to facilitate such a debate.
Tomorrow we will debate three health Bills, including the ground-breaking Bill providing for universal health care for children under the age of six years which I hope will be supported by all sides.
Senator Terry Brennan referred to the free travel scheme. I believe I have dealt with that issue.
Senator Denis O'Donovan paid tribute to the Minister for Justice and Equality in respect of the radical policing reforms being proposed by the justice committee which are reflected in the heads of the Bill on GSOC oversight she has seen approved by the Cabinet today. I agree absolutely with the Senator that these are important reforms for which I hope there will be cross-party support in the House, as was the case at meetings of the justice committee. The required reforms became very clear to us in the hearings we had with representatives of GSOC, the Garda Inspectorate and other bodies. It is very important that better oversight be provided for.
Senator Denis O'Donovan also referred to the education Bill that we are to consider this evening. I agree with him that it is not ideal to have a Bill debated in the House so soon after its publication and gather the reason is the lack of ministerial availability later in the week. He also mentioned the need to have debates on farming and fishing. I have been provided with a list of the debates we have had. We have had quite a few wide-ranging debates on a series of such topics, apart from specific debates on agriculture Bills or issues such as greyhound racing. The most recent was on 22 January with the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Simon Coveney, in which only nine Senators spoke. There were statements on CAP reform in October 2013 and again only nine Senators spoke. There was also a debate on the CAP in October 2012. I am happy, however, to ask the Minister to return to the House for another such debate and he is always very willing to do so. He is one of the Ministers who attends most regularly.
Senator Catherine Noone welcomed the reduction in roaming charges agreed to by the European Commission. We all agree with it. The Senator also commented on water safety in the wake of the dreadful tragic drownings of two children, which are absolutely devastating for the two families involved. We all send our condolences to the bereaved families. The Senator also referred to alcohol pricing and asked for the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Alex White, to come to the House to discuss this issue and Government policy thereon. We can certainly look for such a debate.
Senator Fidelma Healy Eames asked for debates on the issues of sentencing and pensions. We can ask for them.
I am happy to agree to Senator Lorraine Henry's amendment to the Order of Business to allow the Intoxicating Liquor (Amendment) Bill 2014, No. 18 on the Order Paper, to be taken.
Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú referred to the free travel pass. I have dealt with that issue, particularly the Fianna Fáil doublespeak thereon.
Senator Michael Comiskey referred to the cost for hauliers of insurance and moving in and out of Northern Ireland. Perhaps this issue might be raised as a matter on the Adjournment as it might secure a debate or a ministerial response more swiftly than calling for statements.
Senator Thomas Byrne called for a debate on the commission chaired by the former Supreme Court judge, Ms Catherine McGuinness, the electricity commission and EirGrid. We can certainly seek a full debate on it once the report is published.
Senator Martin Conway called for a debate on the issue of sentencing and asked for the Chief Justice to be brought before the Seanad. We can certainly put it to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges. We would have to examine the matter in the context of our constitutional framework, but it is an interesting model. The Senator also referred to issues concerning water safety and litter on beaches. We all concur with him in that regard.
Senator Mary White referred to the free travel pass scheme. I have referred to that issue.
Senator Pat O'Neill referred to free travel and including swimming lessons in the curriculum. I believe they are included in the curriculum for second class pupils in national schools. As part of the national physical education programme, all students take swimming lessons every week. However, I agree with the Senator on the need to roll out the Irish water safety scheme to ensure children are also trained in water safety and rescue methods in water. As he did, I pay tribute to the work of lifeguards who rescued over 500 people last year.
The Senator also sought a debate on agriculture. We have such debates regularly with the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Simon Coveney, whom we can certainly invite to come to the House again.
Senator Rónán Mullen referred to the free travel scheme and sought a debate on the review of EirGrid and the subject of underground cables. We can seek such debates.
Senator John Crown referred to the health budget and called for a debate on it and certain figures. I have a briefing document in this regard and the Senator will be well aware of many of the figures. To be clear, the Government is committed to introducing the most comprehensive and radical reform of the health care system. This was a major matter of policy proposed by both the Labour Party and Fine Gael before the last general election. As part of it, we will see a new system of universal health insurance introduced, with strong financial incentives through the introduction of the money-follows-the-patient principle. This is a new funding model, as the Senator is well aware. The reforms being introduced in the health system are in the context of an increase in the population, demographic changes and an ageing population. There has been population growth of 8% since 2008 and a €3.3 billion reduction in the budget since 2008, as well as large staffing reductions, about which the Senator spoke.
The reforms we have seen have saved the taxpayer over €500 million including, for example, savings relating to the use of generic drugs. We have tackled waiting lists and the issue of patients waiting on trolleys, the number of whom has been reduced by one third in the past two years. For the first time, an out-patient waiting list was compiled in March 2013 while MRSA infections are at their lowest levels since record-keeping commenced.
These are some good news stories from the health service. Even in the boom years, we saw overspending in the health service with, arguably, less efficient returns. Certainly, the Senator might want to seek to table a matter on the Adjournment to address the specific issue of the information sought. However, I can also ask the Leader to arrange a debate on health care more generally, which Senator Cullinane also sought. We will have three health Bills in with us tomorrow while the Health Service Executive (Financial Matters) Bill will be before the House on Thursday. The Minister for Health will, therefore, be in the House for extensive periods this week.
Senator Henry has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That No. 18 be taken before No. 1."