The Order of Business is No. 1, Forestry Bill 2013 - Committee Stage, to be taken at 11.45 a.m.
Order of Business
The business of the House started today at 10.41 a.m., even though the Order of Business was due to start at 10.30 a.m. That was not the Cathaoirleach's problem, as there was no quorum, but I understand Standing Orders provide that the House will fall after a certain period of time. I advise all groups who are here, and those who are not here, that this is happening on a daily basis and it is difficult to muster a quorum in order to get the business started. This is something that can addressed through the Committee on Procedure and Privileges, or the parties and groupings could remind Members of Standing Orders so that we can have an efficient start to our business.
I ask the Deputy Leader to follow up on the issue of home help gratuities, which I have raised on a number of occasions over the last three years. In 2009, the Labour Court held that home help workers were entitled to a gratuity of 4.5 weeks of pay per year of service in lieu of their pension entitlements. There were two Labour Court recommendations. In 2011 the Government indicated that it would pay the gratuity in 2012. I have written to the new Minister for Health on four occasions since he was appointed to his position, but all I have received is a series of acknowledgements. Home help workers are low-paid workers and many of them are on the minimum wage. They play a very important role in our health service by helping to ensure that people can stay in their homes. I do not think anyone would want to treat these workers in this way, but I cannot even get a response on the matter. If one considers the situation across the country, one could calculate that the bill for paying what is due to them is probably €8 million. This is a once-off payment. I understand the Minister will be in the House in a couple of weeks' time to deal with health legislation. I ask the Deputy Leader to flag with him my intention to raise this issue or, alternatively, to facilitate half an hour before or after the debate if the issue is not appropriate to the legislation. I have previously raised the issue on the Adjournment, but if the Minister could spare 15 or 30 minutes for a quick debate, we might be able to make progress on it.
I have repeatedly raised the issue of fampridine or Fampyra, the multiple sclerosis drug which since 1 July has not been available to many multiple sclerosis sufferers. The drug gives people back their mobility and independence. I understand the HSE has been assessing a new proposal from the drug company since 22 July. That is a long time.
That was raised as an Adjournment matter earlier this week.
It was raised by Senator Conway.
That was very good of him. I am glad he has come on board, but he probably got the same answer that I got. I have been writing to the Minister on a weekly basis. I ask the Deputy Leader to raise it again and I also intend to raise it with the Minister.
I accept Senator Darragh O'Brien's point regarding the quorum at the start of business at 10.30 a.m. and assure him that I will raise the matter at our group meeting next week. Perhaps, as he suggested, all parties should deal with the issue and put in place a rota, because it is a serious matter. Nobody wishes the House to collapse for want of a quorum in the morning.
I welcome the good news story of the €300 million boost for social housing from the European Investment Bank. This is the first time it has become involved with a social housing programme in this country. It will work with the Housing Finance Agency. It is welcome news, particularly for the capital, given its serious housing shortage. We have a duty to look after people who are most in need. Adequate and affordable housing is a basic need in society. The EIB has a great record throughout the UK and in the Netherlands in this area, but this is its first time to venture into Ireland. The programme, which will last from 2014 to 2017, will provide approximately 2,400 housing units and fund the retrofitting of some existing housing stock. This balance is to be greatly welcomed, particularly for the capital city, with which Senator Darragh O'Brien and all the rest of us will be concerned. The details of the investment will be developed in a short time.
I have a question for the Deputy Leader in regard to the announcement by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform on the revision of the model for ministerial appointments to State boards. As we are all aware, this revision was prompted by the questions raised by Members on both sides of Seanad Éireann about the lack of transparency in the past. According to his announcement, the Minister wants to provide us with a credible, transparent and robust appointments model, and the information will contain a number of things, including terms of appointment, gender balance and other diversity provisions. In specific regard to the terms of appointments, will the revised model provide for comprehensive information and rationales for the remuneration given to chairs and board members? We do not have a comprehensive list of how much State board chairpersons and directors are remunerated. I have a partial list thanks to the research carried out by our great Library and Research Service team over the last couple of weeks, and I happy to offer it to the Minister or his Department. However, we should have a comprehensive list and, more important, the rationale for any diversity of remuneration on various boards. For example, the chair of Bord Bia receives €20,520 and the chair of Horse Racing Ireland receives €21,600, while board members receive €12,600. In the arts sector, the chair of the National Gallery receives €8,978. All of the board chairpersons of arts bodies receive approximately that amount. The chair of the Adoption Authority of Ireland receives €63,000. The Mining Board pays daily fees of €582.97. The Dublin Docklands Development Authority pays remuneration of €20,520 to its chair. I selected these random examples to demonstrate the degree of diversity that exists. I am not necessarily saying that board members on other bodies do not have comparable qualifications or provide comparable amounts of time to their boards.
The biggest surprise in my research is from the Department of Education and Skills, where there is only one board and chair in receipt of remuneration, namely, the HEA at €7,695. No other chairs or members of State boards in the Department of Education and Skills are remunerated. We must raise questions with regard to the rationale for that and the importance of people who contribute their time and qualifications to State boards in relation to education. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, to debate these issues with us prior to the publication of his guidelines. We need comprehensive information on remuneration and its rationale. The Leader must raise with the Minister and his Cabinet colleagues the question of why State boards in the education sector are not remunerated.
I thank the Cathaoirleach for giving me a little extra time. Finally, I ask the Leader if there is any progress on my earlier request for Government time for Committee Stage of the Seanad reform Bill Senator Quinn and I put forward.
I note that the Irish banks have been in Frankfurt in the last few days to discuss the forthcoming stress tests with the ECB. As noted by John Walsh in the Irish Examiner today, the last round of stress tests were far too soft. We need to replace zombie banks with working banks and to get a greater level of economic expertise in there. I express the hope that the stress tests in Irish banks will be brought to a speedy conclusion.
I note and welcome the statement by Dublin Port Company at An Bord Pleanála yesterday to the effect that it does not intend to engage in further in-fill in Dublin Bay, either at Clontarf or Sandymount. Having the Dublin Port Company in harmony with its neighbours is to be commended. It presents the port area and Dublin Bay, including Bull Island, as an amenity and environmental facility for the citizens. That harmony between the port company and the citizens is much to be welcomed. People like Sean Dublin Bay Loftus spent a great deal of their political careers trying to ensure that harmony would break out. It is welcome that the company now sees a better relationship with its neighbours from Sutton right around to Sandymount.
I welcome the announcement that talks are taking place with the EIB on co-funding social housing. We have had a number of reports this week which have focused on housing generally and social housing in particular. On Tuesday, the Governor of the Central Bank opened a consultation process on proposals to restrict mortgage lending. We also had Dublin City Council announce that social housing waiting lists had gone up to 20,000 in its functional area, which is an increase of 3,000. Yesterday, the ESRI asked the Government to spend an additional €500 million in the budget on social housing while today the Nevin Economic Research Institute requested the Government to spend billions, not millions, of euro on social housing construction, arguing that it would help the economy to grow. All of this is welcome.
Housing is in crisis and that can only be resolved by robust construction. However, even if we had shovel-ready projects and bulldozers in the field, it would take 12 to 18 months to create an appreciable improvement in supply. In the meantime, we have a serious problem on the ground, particularly in view of the growing needs of those presenting as homeless. I ask the Deputy Leader to put it to Government that in the forthcoming budget we must commit whatever funds are necessary to deal with the problem of homelessness. Given that so many people on social welfare and low incomes are depending on the rental market in the meantime for their housing, I ask for measures to be put in place to stop exorbitant rent increases taking place. In particular, I ask the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Burton, to increase rent supplement limits to ensure that families can find and keep rental housing until longer-term issues of housing supply are resolved.
While I am happy that we will soon have a debate with the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly, when he announces his strategy on social housing, I would also like to see a debate on rental housing. The reality is that one in five families is living in rental housing and depending on private landlords with little or no security of tenure. Perhaps the Minister of State, Deputy Paudie Coffey, might take that debate.
There is a challenge to small towns and villages right around the country from the closure over the last number of years of post offices. I draw the Government's attention to a development in France where the French postal service, La Poste, has arranged that postmen will not just deliver letters and parcels but will undertake to visit homes, particularly the homes of the elderly, to check gas meters and do other work not associated with the postal service traditionally. The concept is a very good one. A number of local authorities have undertaken to engage with the post office so that postmen have a chance to visit residents and check things like gas meters. I mention it because residents do not pay for the service and any cost is met by councils. We must be imaginative enough to think and challenge the various roles we have. There are certainly criticisms and towns and villages are losing some of the essential elements they have had in the past, including Garda stations and post offices.
We had a very good debate in the House a couple of months ago on defibrillators and their placement around the country in State and health buildings and elsewhere. The Minister accepted the concept but asked HIQA to undertake a health technology assessment. It did that two weeks ago and has said it wants responses back by the end of next week. It is a reminder for us to see what we can challenge and question to enhance the report. The use of defibrillators saves many lives. The figure as to how many provided by HIQA is questionable as it believes a limited number will be saved at a very heavy cost. That can be challenged, but it is not challenged as much as discussed. The whole country should have an input into the report, submissions on which have been requested by the end of next week. It is a very short period, but it is enough to make sure we get that in.
Senator Zappone referred to the work she has done identifying payments to State board members and chairmen. We introduced and discussed a Bill here, which was not accepted, which sought to provide that chairmen and members of State boards should not be paid. The vast majority of people would be willing to undertake work for State boards without pay, although they would obviously get expenses. That is something we should consider, particularly taking into account Senator Zappone's work which shows the varying levels of payments to chairmen and members of State boards.
I welcome the fact that €150 million will be invested by the European Investment Bank in social housing in the State between now and 2017. While the building of 2,400 units is certainly to be welcomed, I hope the Government in the forthcoming budget ensures further significant investment in social housing also takes place.
Yesterday, the HSE published a report entitled Community Health Care Organisations - Report and Recommendations of the Integrated Service Area Review Group. The report sets out how health services outside the acute hospitals will be organised and managed. It involves, among other things, the establishment of nine community health care organisations and the development of 90 primary care networks averaging a population of 50,000 people, with each community health organisation having an average of ten networks to support groups of primary care teams and enable integration of all services for a local population. This will see the reform of social care, mental health and health and well-being services to better serve local communities. This is a very significant development and it would be appropriate to have the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, attend the House as soon as possible to tease out the report to ensure past mistakes are not repeated. I ask the Deputy Leader to organise that debate in the near future.
Aird á tharraingt agam ar chás na n-altraí inniu. I rise today to highlight the issues around the nursing profession and the difficulties in which it finds itself. There has been an exodus of young nurses from the State in the last number of years as they cannot make ends meet while working at their profession here.
SIPTU members are protesting today outside the annual conference of the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Ireland to highlight the refusal by the board to deal with the issue of the increase in the retention fee for members from €100 to €150. This increase comes on top of increases introduced last year. Nurses are concerned because they cannot afford to pay this on top of all the other significant costs they must pay. They have suffered significant financial reductions over the past number of years, including pay cuts, the imposition of levies and the universal social charge, and they say they are not in a position to pay the increased fees to the NMBI.
The broader scenario is that we have a crisis. In the west, we have seen protests by nurses in Galway outside University Hospital Galway regarding their conditions. Positions have been advertised by HSE west for nurses in nursing homes and it is finding it difficult to fill those positions because nurses will not work under the current conditions. We need to face up to this crisis and I would welcome a debate on the future of the nursing profession and midwives here. This would be a useful debate to ensure that we support the nursing fraternity for the future and ensure we have enough people coming into the system who can continue the fantastic job being done in front-line services.
As we speak, the Irish Wind Energy Association is having its annual conference in Kilkenny. This association continues to flog a dead horse and make outrageous and unsubstantiated claims about the thousands of jobs the wind industry will generate or create in rural Ireland, which is, of course, a fallacy.
Will the Deputy Leader facilitate an urgent debate with the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy White, on foot of yesterday's game-changing decision by the European Union and the United Kingdom to build a new generation of nuclear power plants in our backyard? They are so close to us that they might as well be in Dublin. I am not going to debate the merits or otherwise of nuclear energy today. This is an issue for others and for another day. The fact that the European Union has confirmed the nuclear installation, which will cost an astronomical €65 billion and will be subsidised by the British Government to the tune of €20 billion, will go ahead, puts paid to the notion that British consumers or the British Government were ever going to purchase Irish wind energy through the notional export of wind from Ireland. That project has been hanging around on life support for the past number of months, but we can honestly say today that the UK Government has pulled the plug on it once and for all. There will be no export of wind energy from Ireland to the United Kingdom, which has instead taken the nuclear option. This is a significant issue for Ireland and our economy. In effect, we will now import nuclear energy through the interconnector to fuel Irish homes, farms and factories.
We can no longer remain in denial on this. Our new energy policy must take cognisance of what is happening in the United Kingdom, of the amazing and significant decision regarding the Hinkley Point nuclear power station and the fact that in the past three months, despite scaremongering regarding the Ukrainian situation, oil prices have decreased by 16%. The wind industry must cop on. Our policy must stop the mad proposal to build thousands of wind farms across rural Ireland and wind turbines which will end up as rusting hulks on our landscape if we go ahead with this fallacy.
I note Senator Zappone has called for a discussion of the Bill that she and Senator Quinn have sponsored, but I believe that discussion would be too narrow. We need a full discussion, not a discussion of a Bill prepared by legal authorities that have little understanding of how the Seanad works. We need to concentrate on the utter scandal of the situation that will arise tomorrow, when the result of a by-election with a total voting register of 225 is disclosed.
I have been raising this issue for weeks, but none of the media has taken it up. This register is the rotten borough if one wants one, but the Taoiseach, Deputy Kenny, has taken no interest in attacking the issue, although he is diluting the university seats by introducing an electorate of 850,000. Square that - an electorate of 225 as opposed to 850,000. We should be doing something about this.
The other matter I wish to raise is the appointment of Ms Fionnuala Sheehan to the board of RTE. The Oireachtas Committee on Transport and Communications had a secret meeting in July, from which the press and the public were excluded, where it put together a secret working committee to select a nomination. This committee is dominated and directed by Fine Gael. The Labour Party plays a role, but it has been pretty silent on this issue. Ms Sheehan was the chairperson and director of MEAS, the lobby for the drinks industry which is supposed to encourage responsible drinking. MEAS advertises on television with advertisements showing people having an orgy of booze and just a little note in the corner saying "Do drink sensibly" - total hypocritical rubbish.
MEAS is not so keen on secrecy in regard to itself. Even before the passage of this revived-----
Has the Senator a question for the Deputy Leader?
No, I do not, nor must I have one.
I call Senator Gilroy.
Sorry, a Chathaoirligh; I would like to finish making my point. I do not have to have a question. That is not part of the rules of this House.
The Senator is out of time.
He is engaging in argument and being argumentative.
I wish to finish the point I was making. Ms Sheehan says she learned yesterday that the secretary of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, recently sent a report-----
The Senator is stepping on very dangerous ground here.
She learned about it and sent a note to sabotage it, as chairman of MEAS. I hope the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy White, has the guts to reject her. She is a totally inappropriate person to be on the board of a company that involves itself in advertising drink.
That is most unfair to the candidate for that position. The Senator is completely out of order in that regard.
I thank colleagues in the other House and the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs for their agreement on the legislation that went through the Dáil yesterday in regard to banning smoking in cars where children are present. This important legislation shows what can be done when all sides work together, when legislators legislate and when bureaucrats do not prevent us from doing our work.
I also welcome the new US ambassador to Ireland, who has presented his credentials to President Michael D. Higgins. I had the pleasure of meeting Ambassador O'Malley in St. Louis and I believe he will do an excellent job in the time available to him, not only here but in the context of the ongoing peace process.
I must also give credit to our impending Senator, Mr. John McNulty. I should praise him, because he has more interest in our heritage than we might be aware of. He made the journey from Donegal through Leitrim, to Sligo, to Lissadell House, where, I understand, he met the Taoiseach. Apparently-----
The Senator's information is out of-----
We are on the Order of Business. Has the Senator a question for the Deputy Leader?
Will the Deputy Leader clarify whether the phrase "The job is as good as yours" was used? To make such a journey and to claim that he never met him is quite extraordinary.
Has the Senator a question for the Deputy Leader?
I thank the Cathaoirleach for his indulgence.
Members have often criticised Israel here and have been lambasted as being anti-Israel and anti-Jewish. That is not the situation. Just because people criticise a country does not mean they are against it. They might rather be in favour of a peace process in Palestine. Just because Members might criticise the United States, that does not mean they are against the United States.
The Senator is way over time.
Just because a person might question whether an ambassador was aware that he had been invited to a fund-raiser by a political party-----
We dealt with that issue yesterday. The Senator is completely out of order. I ruled on the issue yesterday. Please resume your seat.
-----it does not mean Members have the right to cast aspersions on anyone's character. I ask the Cathaoirleach to look at the record of what was said yesterday and the comments made by Members here who themselves have castigated the British on many occasions.
All I ask of our colleagues across the water-----
Would you cop yourself on?
-----is to release the files on the Dublin-Monaghan bombings.
Will the Senator resume his seat? He is completely out of order.
He should listen to the Cathaoirleach.
Will Senator Paul Coghlan, who seems to be a great friend of the British ambassador, ask him to do so?
Resume your seat.
I call for an urgent review of our existing planning laws and building regulations for one-off houses. It is over 40 years since our planning regulations were reviewed, and it is urgent at this stage. We need a planning regulator to ensure local authorities implement and keep in line with national planning policy. Will the Deputy Leader invite the Minister of State with responsibility for housing, Deputy Paudie Coffey, to the House for an urgent debate on this matter next week? We need to be informed and have a discussion on the Government’s Construction 2020 policy, which is good news for the construction industry and those in need of housing. Local authorities have draft development plans ready for public consultation. Accordingly, a debate on planning regulations and policy would be timely next week.
I support Senator Brennan’s call for a review of our planning regulations. It is over 40 years since they were last addressed and he has raised some important issues.
I concur with Senator Whelan on nuclear energy and it does warrant a debate in the House. We are located close to the island of Britain and yesterday’s decision there on a proposed nuclear power plant has major implications for all of us living so close to that proposed site.
Last Saturday marked the first anniversary of the referendum on the Seanad, when the people rejected the proposal by the Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, and some members of his Government that this House should be abolished. In rejecting his proposal, the people accepted that this House was necessary but in need of reform. I agree with Senator Norris that tinkering around with the election of university Senators is not in itself Seanad reform. We owe it to the people who voted in the referendum to maintain this House to address reform of the Seanad urgently.
I do, however, take exception to Senator Norris's views on the Seanad by-election, votes for which will be counted tomorrow. As the Constitution stands, that by-election is being conducted properly. It is not a rotten borough. I would like Senator Norris to withdraw that comment.
I will not.
That was a political charge, Senator Wilson.
Senator Norris was as eloquent as ever.
It is a political charge that should be withdrawn. Under our Constitution, the by-election is being properly conducted.
Yes, in a rotten borough.
While I agree the borough should be reformed, it is as it is. Whoever is elected will have been democratically elected to this House and, hopefully, will serve the full remaining term.
I agree with Senator Quinn on the provision of defibrillators. HIQA carried out a review and suggested it would cost up to €15 million to have defibrillators located in Government buildings across the country. It claimed it would not be worth the money for the lives such a move would save. If it saves only one life, it is well worth it. We should keep pursuing this particular issue.
Several weeks ago, I raised the serious difficulties relating to the special investigations unit, SIU, in the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and called for the Minister to attend the House to discuss them. At the time I described it as a private hit squad, and I reiterate that.
In the meantime, I am delighted the Minister has disbanded the SIU and put in place a restructured investigations unit which will have, I trust, new personnel and a new way of doing business. Over the years with the SIU, there was bullying both in and outside the Department, planting of evidence and destruction of people’s reputations and livelihoods willy-nilly with no accountability whatsoever. While I welcome the establishment of a new investigation division, there remain serious unanswered questions about the SIU’s past conduct and what will happen to those with outstanding court cases who believe they were seriously wronged by members of the Department. I do not make these statements lightly. I believe there is a moment for the Minister to explain why he has disbanded the SIU, what he hopes to gain from the new investigations division and how those people affected by the SIU’s behaviour over the past long number of years will be helped. There is also a question about the legal costs associated with the many cases that have been brought against the Department via the SIU. Who will pay these costs, which run to hundreds of thousands of euro? Is it the Department or some other agency?
I second my colleague Senator Crown's proposed amendment to the Order of Business.
Senator Crown has not spoken yet.
Senator Mullen has the gift of prophecy.
I apologise. I want to second the amendment my colleague is about to propose.
I wish to verify that I am proposing an amendment.
No amendment has been proposed yet, and one cannot second something that has not been proposed.
I hope the Cathaoirleach stopped the clock. I look forward to hearing another colleague second Senator Crown’s proposed amendment to the Order of Business in due course.
I propose that we amend the Order of Business to bring the Taoiseach to the House to discuss the long-overdue political reform of the Seanad.
Is the Senator proposing an amendment to the Order of Business?
Yes. I am proposing an amendment which Senator Crown will shortly second. If there is one thing to be learned from the McNulty affair, it is the contempt that the Taoiseach and the Government have for the Seanad, notwithstanding the decision of the people. To continue to treat the Seanad as a political pawn, as it has in this affair, blatantly disregards the clear message and consensus that came from the electorate, which was that the Seanad was to be retained as our second Chamber and its functions fully respected as well as developed.
Will the Deputy Leader organise a debate in due course about the forthcoming Second International Conference on Nutrition, which will take place in Rome from 19 November to 21 November? It may be a matter for the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, but it is also one for the Department of Health. Who will represent Ireland at this conference? Up to 167 million children under the age of five are chronically undernourished. Ireland, with its great agricultural tradition and the contribution of organisations such as Gorta and Self Help Africa, has particular points to make and a great role to play in addressing the problem of world hunger, particularly by promoting excellence and improvement in agriculture.
It would be appropriate that we would have a debate on that.
Finally, I remind colleagues of the invitation sent to them about Julia Holcomb's address today in LH2000 about her tragic story involving a late-term abortion.
Could the Senator clarify the amendment he has proposed to the Order of Business?
I propose that we amend the Order of Business and that the Taoiseach come to this House today to address the subject of the long-awaited, long-promised and much-reneged on promise of political reform.
I second Senator Mullen's very intelligent and perceptive amendment. I will speak in defence of seconding it. For people of my generation - those who thankfully grew up at a physical distance of 100 miles from but still very much politically in the shadow of the Northern Ireland conflict - those folks who espoused reconciliation and compromise are unsung heroes who were the true peacemakers. They were the people who were actually advocating peace without ever having advocated war in the first place. One of the leaders of that movement was the late Dr. Garret FitzGerald. For many people of my generation who were not politically involved but just looking at it from the outside, he was a person who embodied many of the best impulses we should see in Irish politics and somebody who tried to move past his own incredibly heavy familial Civil War burden to try to take a more all-encompassing view of what we needed to do to fix our country. Where others were preaching internecine warfare, he preached reconciliation. Where others were preaching one or other version of the sectarian head count they thought should determine the shape of the political structures on or in different parts of the island of Ireland, he tried to work out ways of getting compromises between those who saw those.
Here we are four leaders later. The occupant of the same position Dr. FitzGerald held is our Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny. I mean no offence to any of my colleagues in any other party because I think all of the parties have moved on enormously in the past several years but it is a subject of profound sadness to me to think that his party is locked in a head-and-neck poll with people led by those who were preaching a very different vision ten, 20, 30 and 40 years ago. The Taoiseach bears a very particular responsibility for the credibility of Irish constitutional politics and I must say that he has let it down over the past several weeks by his failure to deal with several critical issues relating to the political reform he promised. It still sticks completely in my craw that we have visit after visit after visit to this House by Ministers who when asked a direct question either do not answer or are economical with the truth. It is very hard for us to criticise others for dishonesty about their history when we cannot look our own Taoiseach in the eye and ask him to be honest about more recent history. For that reason and in the context of the failure to deliver Seanad reform and meaningful political reform, I second Senator Mullen's amendment.
The Senator has already seconded it. Before I call Senator MacSharry, I am sure Members of the House would like to join me in welcoming to the Visitors Gallery the Colombian ambassador to Ireland, H.E. Mr. Néstor Osorio. He is very welcome.
Could the Deputy Leader make arrangements for the appropriate Minister who I presume is the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to come to the House and answer some questions about Irish Water in particular? On this occasion, I am not talking specifically about the charges although they are areas we all want to discuss as usual. We might ask the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to come to the House so that we could discuss with him the schedule of capital projects that would have been planned by the various local authorities in the context of their water and wastewater treatment and the fact that given that responsibility for all of these plans comes under the remit of Irish Water, there is very real concern and a good bit of anecdotal evidence to suggest that projects that were expected to begin in the short term are now very much on the long finger because of the very significant cost base on which Irish Water runs.
In Sligo what is referred to colloquially as the bundle scheme relates to villages I am sure people are aware of - Grange in north county Sligo, Strandhill, which is west of Sligo town and Tubbercurry, which is south of Sligo town and is the country's second largest town. These villages have all been waiting for some considerable period for a new sewerage treatment plan. The previous Government made available a 90% subvention for those programmes to go ahead. They have yet to go ahead. Sligo County Council needs them to go ahead. We are in a position to move on them but it is now the case that Irish Water is long fingering them. The populations of these villages throughout the country face the difficulty of having to pay for water in the first instance. We saw how in the context of the Roscommon-Leitrim by-election, the Government has postponed costs, and rightly so, for the people of Roscommon because they have dirty water. We have substandard sewerage treatment facilities in Grange in north county Sligo, Strandhill west of Sligo town and Tubbercurry in south County Sligo. Now that they are paying for everything, people are entitled to know when these works will be carried out. They were ready to go pre-Irish Water. Now that we have Irish Water, the matter seems to be pushed very far down the list and I would like some clarification on that. I know that a specific case might be more appropriate to Adjournment Matters but I know that there are examples of this in every local authority area and the Minister ought to give us an indication as to who is in charge, what the timetable for events that were planned is and when people can expect work and improvements on the ground.
I agree with Senator MacSharry. I called yesterday for a debate on Uisce Éireann. My major concern is for the consumers to get the best deal possible and they will not get that from a public service monopoly which has already started in a way that certainly does not apply cost-effectiveness across the board and which is merely another quango. This has been exposed in this House by the Minister who was involved in setting it up.
It also worries me that people who are campaigning against water charges and who know they are going to continue are now out of the other side of their mouths articulating and promoting a policy that it should be privatised or part privatised. This is the position of Sinn Féin. The double speak is absolutely alarming - that people would go forward and campaign on one basis and then look to have it privatised so they can distance themselves from the charges. If there is one thing-----
Does the Senator have a question for the Deputy Leader?
I am asking the Deputy Leader for a debate on this because if there is one thing worse than a public monopoly, it is a private monopoly. The issue should be debated fully and some of the pseudo-arguments being put out should be analysed, challenged and disposed of.
I also want to raise the issue that was raised briefly yesterday by one of my colleagues, namely, the issue of the Central Bank making decisions with regard to controlling lending to people who seek to provide a house from their own resources. Obviously, many of us here who did that throughout our lifetimes could not have done it without access to credit. I do not deny that prudence is needed in the area but I feel that the Central Bank has shown itself to be disconnected from promoting a system where people of reasonable and average means will be able to aspire to purchasing a house for themselves. Many people would be put outside it by this particular approach. I think we need a full debate here with the Minister involved during the period during which the Central Bank is involved in consultation. It is easy for people in the Central Bank, who are on high salaries and have never worked anywhere other than the public service, to be making decisions such as this. They have never had to meet the challenges that many working people out there, particularly in the private sector, have had to meet.
I begin by agreeing with Senator Darragh O'Brien's comments on the quorum.
That is a good way to end the week.
Senator Paul Coghlan also supported him in his comments. It is unacceptable that we would be waiting ten minutes, or 11 minutes this morning, to start the business of the House because not enough Senators are present at the start of the business. When the bell rings, Senators should be coming to the Chamber for the Order of Business - there is no doubt about that.
Senator Cummins did bring proposals to the CPP to try to change the start time of the Order of Business to reflect the Dáil start time of 12 noon. This would facilitate Members who are often engaged in committee business, which is scheduled around the Dáil sittings. Those changes were agreed in principle at the CPP but a further CPP meeting needs to take place to agree to implement the change. That may facilitate attendance by more Members. I agree with Senator O'Brien that it is up to all group leaders or Whips to raise this with our own groups in order to ensure Members are in the House in a timely manner. We have a rota in operation in our own group but it is still difficult to get Members to come at 10.30 a.m., or at 2.30 p.m. on a Tuesday.
Senator Darragh O'Brien also asked about home help gratuities and the issue of the payment of gratuities owed. If he could e-mail me the details, I will be happy to write directly to the Minister. I know the Senator has written to the new Minister about this issue and has had no response. The Minister, Deputy Varadkar, is in the House the week after next on the Health (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill but he is also due in the House on 4 November for a general debate on health care. That is probably the more appropriate date to raise the matter with him.
The Senator also raised the issue of Fampyra, the drug for MS patients, which he has raised on a number of previous occasions. I believe all of us would agree it is a huge concern that a drug which appears to have greatly improved quality of life for many people is now on hold, effectively. I am told the HSE received a revised application from Biogen Idec for the drug on Friday, 25 July, and that application is currently being assessed in line with agreed procedures. Although I am aware Senator Darragh O'Brien has been given that answer before, as of 1 October, that is the most up-to-date information I have. Again, if the Senator can send me the details, I will certainly write to the Minister. It is an issue that can be raised with him on 4 November if it has not already been raised. Senator Conway also raised this matter on the Adjournment earlier this week.
Senator Paul Coghlan welcomed the boost for social housing being provided by investment from the European Investment Bank. I believe all of us would agree that is hugely welcome given the housing crisis at present. As Senator Coghlan noted, this is the first time the bank will invest in a programme like this in Ireland, so it is hugely significant and should, when it comes on stream, help to ease the housing crisis.
Senator Zappone called for a debate on the new model of ministerial appointments announced by the Minister, Deputy Howlin, earlier this week, which has received Cabinet approval. I understand the Minister, Deputy Howlin, is going to provide a more detailed proposal in a memorandum to Government next month. We might usefully have him in this House after that on public reforms generally. In fact, I had asked on this issue myself and I know the Leader's office had already, following my request, sought a debate with the Minister, Deputy Howlin, on a revised system of appointments. I am told we hope to secure that debate for November so all the questions can be answered then.
I thank Senator Zappone for putting on record various points about remuneration. I understand very many State boards have no remuneration at all for membership and many people serve on State boards in an entirely voluntary capacity, which also needs to be acknowledged. Of course, semi-States are in a different position. It is a good idea to try to lay out all of that in detail. Senator Zappone also asked about Committee Stage of the Seanad reform Bill and I can certainly make inquiries as to when that is likely to come before us.
I believe we all agree with Senator Barrett that stress tests on the Irish banks should be brought to a speedy conclusion. Senator Barrett also reminded us about the issue of infill in Dublin Bay. We could have a debate on that at some point or it could be tabled as a matter on the Adjournment.
Senator Hayden welcomed the announcement of the European Investment Bank funding. She noted the housing crisis and the increase in waiting lists, particularly in Dublin City Council areas, and that the ESRI and the Nevin institute have today asked for greater investment in social housing. I know Senator Hayden has been seeking a debate on this for some time. She has specifically asked for a debate with the Minister of State, Deputy Coffey, on the private rental sector. I will certainly seek that debate and I suggest the Senator might also communicate directly with the Ministers, Deputies Howlin and Noonan, on her proposals for changes in the budget on measures to reduce homelessness through, for example, controlling rent increases and examining housing supplement payments.
Senator Quinn raised a very interesting and creative idea about the use of the postal service to ensure greater supports for elderly people living alone, and I believe we would all like to hear more about that. He also raised the issue of defibrillators and the life-saving help they have provided.
Senator Mullins welcomed the investment by the European Investment Bank. He also asked for a debate with the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, on community health care organisations and the restructuring of the health care. The Minister of State, Deputy Lynch, is in the House on 12 November to deal with another aspect of her brief, which is suicide and mental health funding. We can ask her to come in on another date to deal with the issue of community health care reorganisations.
Senator Ó Clochartaigh called for a debate on the nursing profession in light of the very worrying recent increase of €50 in the fee, which has been raised with us by nurses and nursing students. I would be very happy to try to facilitate that debate. It might be part of a broader debate or, if we cannot get a specific debate on it, it is something the Senator can raise with the Minister of State, Deputy Varadkar, when he is in the House on 4 November.
As we know, there have been huge changes to the nursing profession in terms of the professionalisation of nursing. We have an excellent school of nursing in Trinity College, if I can give a small plug to that-----
With respect to the nurses, they deserve a stand-alone debate.
I will certainly seek that but, as we are unlikely to get it before 4 November, the Senator could also raise it on that date with the Minister, Deputy Varadkar.
Senator Whelan raised the issue of wind energy, which he has raised in this House before. He noted the game-changer of yesterday's decision on the nuclear plant proposed for Somerset in England. I would agree with him that has huge implications for Ireland and I am happy to seek a debate with the Minister, Deputy Alex White, broadly on energy and in that context.
Senator Norris called for a full debate on Seanad reform and referred to a particular appointment. I do not intend to get into any discussion on the merits or otherwise of any particular individual. However, I thank Senator Whelan for explaining to me that expressions of interest were sought for appointments to the board of RTE and others, the communications committee scrutinised these, as has been reported, and then, having scrutinised CVs at length, the committee made recommendations to the Minister for him to consider. He has until February 2015 to affirm those appointments or do otherwise. I stress that no appointment has been made.
It is all being done in secret.
It is important that we do not abuse parliamentary privilege by casting aspersions.
Senator Daly welcomed the smoking in cars legislation. He also welcomed the new US ambassador and I am sure we would all join in that welcome. The Senator also referred to quite a number of other issues, including a meeting in Lissadell House - I know nothing about that - and Israel and the Middle East. I do not think he asked for any debate and I am not sure if any question was asked in the course of his contribution.
Senator Brennan referred to the planning regulations and asked for a debate with the Minister of State, Deputy Coffey. I know the Minister of State has committed to coming to the House for a debate on planning and the Construction 2020 strategy, which is to take place after the budget. We will follow up on that.
Senator Wilson called for a debate on Seanad reform. Again, I am not sure if the Senator had a question.
I asked when it would take place.
As I said, I will look for a debate on Seanad reform as quite a number of Senators have sought one.
It is much needed and much promised.
I will seek an answer as to when Committee Stage of the Seanad reform Bill is taking place, which was the specific question Senator Zappone asked.
The Taoiseach was very good to meet us once in a year about Seanad reform.
Senator O'Keeffe raised very specific questions in regard to the special investigations unit in the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. She welcomed that it had been disbanded but said that questions remained. Again, that could either be raised directly with the Minister or as a matter on the Adjournment. We can seek to have the Minister, Deputy Coveney, come to the House for a debate on the issue, if that is the more appropriate channel for asking those questions.
Senator Mullen proposed an amendment to the Order of Business to ask the Taoiseach to come to the House. I cannot accede to that today. As I said, I will seek to find out when we will have Committee Stage of the Seanad reform Bill that was put forward by Senators Zappone and Quinn in this House. That is the specific question many people had focused on in terms of Seanad reform. It has been over a year since the referendum result, and it was Senator Zappone who noted that anniversary on 3 October. It would certainly be good to hear what has happened in the interim and what is proposed. I would be very happy to push for a debate on Seanad reform broadly but, in particular, to find out when we will have Committee Stage of the Bill.
Senator Mullen asked a specific question about representation from Ireland at a world nutrition conference.
That request would best be taken up directly with the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine.
Senator Crown seconded Senator Mullen's motion and referred more generally to Seanad and political reform. As I said, we have sought for the Minister for Public, Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, to come to the House for a general debate on the matter.
Senator MacSharry commented on Irish Water. We are going to try to arrange a debate with the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Kelly, on it this term. The Senator also raised particular issues relating to the situation in Sligo and dates of works taking place. That would best be the subject of a direct communication with the Minister or a matter on the Adjournment, given that there are specific issues surrounding specific works.
Senator Walsh also raised the issue of Irish Water and expressed the hope water would stay in public hands. The Taoiseach has confirmed this week that it will remain in public hands. The Senator also called for a debate on the proposed Central Bank controls on lending. We can certainly seek such a debate. Since it is proposed the controls will not take effect until January, there is plenty of time to seek that debate.
Senator Mullen has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That a debate with the Taoiseach on his proposals for political reform be taken today." Is the amendment being pressed?
- Barrett, Sean D.
- Byrne, Thomas.
- Crown, John.
- Daly, Mark.
- MacSharry, Marc.
- Mullen, Rónán.
- Norris, David.
- Ó Clochartaigh, Trevor.
- Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
- O'Brien, Darragh.
- Power, Averil.
- Quinn, Feargal.
- Walsh, Jim.
- White, Mary M.
- Wilson, Diarmuid.
- Zappone, Katherine.
- Bacik, Ivana.
- Brennan, Terry.
- Burke, Colm.
- Coghlan, Eamonn.
- Coghlan, Paul.
- Conway, Martin.
- D'Arcy, Jim.
- Gilroy, John.
- Hayden, Aideen.
- Henry, Imelda.
- Moloney, Marie.
- Mullins, Michael.
- Naughton, Hildegarde.
- Noone, Catherine.
- O'Keeffe, Susan.
- O'Neill, Pat.
- Sheahan, Tom.
- van Turnhout, Jillian.
- Whelan, John.