Order of Business

The Order of Business is No. 1, statements on water sector reforms, to be taken at 4.30 p.m. and conclude not later than 6.30 p.m., with the contributions of all Senators not to exceed five minutes in each case and the Minister to be called on to reply to the debate not later than 6.25 p.m.

Last week I asked in advance of the Government's row-back on water charges, which was welcome, if we could have a proper debate in the House. Why are we taking statements today, while the other House will debate a motion tabled by the Government? Perhaps there is a procedural reason for so doing. Is the reason we are taking statements we have no input to financial matters? Obviously, we cannot vote on the issue either.

The issue of water conservation has gone out the window because under the new proposal a flat charge will be imposed, which is a complete row-back. That means that the setting up of Irish Water has been an absolute waste of money. I remind the Government that when we debated the Water Services Bill last year, and even prior to its introduction, it was advised by independent consultants and many in the Opposition that Irish Water should not be set up as a subsidiary of Bord Gáis Energy, that it should be a separate entity. We can debate all of the issues about future privatisation, charging and wastage during the taking of statements, but I am interested in knowing, perhaps there is a procedural reason, why the Government parties in this House have not tabled a motion on Irish Water, as opposed to blandly taking statements?

As the Leader knows, the Central Bank is accepting submissions on future draft guidelines on mortgage lending. Many individuals and parties will submit their views on the draft guidelines which propose, in effect, that an individual or a couple should have a 20% deposit. It would be worth debating the matter in the House as views on the subject differ greatly. As someone who worked in the financial services sector for the guts of 15 years, I know that it is the multiple of salary used that is the most important element. Having a 20% deposit rate for a young couple or an individual will put owning a house or an apartment out of reach for many. It means that people will need a deposit of €60,000 if they wish to buy a house that costs €300,000. Many individuals are caught in a situation where rents have escalated and their ability to save additional income has been greatly diminished. I understand there must be controls to make sure we do not see 100% mortgages in the future, but we do not need to be disproportionate in this regard. We must not consign a raft of people and another generation to a situation where they will not be able to own their home should they wish to do so. Before people start to talk about what happens in the rest of Europe, including Germany and France where people rent for life, I remind them that we have a totally different culture. Also, in some countries there are proper rent controls which we do not have here. As Members will know, in the city and county of Dublin and many other cities across the State rents have increased by between 30% and 50% in the past year alone. I, therefore, ask the Leader to schedule a debate on the issue at an appropriate time. The guidelines may have been published, but the Seanad still could make a submission on the matter.

We will take statements on water services later, as requested by many colleagues. In the debate, undoubtedly, we will tease out the issues around the package of reform measures announced by the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly, last week which still have a very strong conservation element. As meters are installed, the issue of conservation will come more to the fore. Clearly, the package contains the provision that if metered usage is less than the maximum charge, people will receive credit for same. Conservation will increasingly be an important part of the water services programme as people become more aware of the issue. As every Member is aware, nearly 49% of water leaks from the system are due to the lack of infrastructural investment over many decades. Therefore, we all need to be much more conscious of the need for conservation. I hope we will see increased awareness and I am confident that we will with the new measures.

I thank the Leader for amending the Order of Business last Thursday to have a minute's silence to mark the killing and murder of so many women and children through violence in the home. Many of us participated in the very poignant event held outside Leinster House at 11 a.m. last Thursday.

At the event Women's Aid had arranged for a display of shoes representing women who had been killed as well as their children. That brought home to all of us the need for more action on domestic violence. I call on the Leader to arrange a debate in the new year on the report of the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality on domestic violence which makes some important recommendations for change. I know that the Minister for Justice and Equality is in the process of developing new legislation in this area.

I also call for a debate on third level education. I have asked for one before, but we might include in the debate issues around access to education. I figured it was timely to mention the issue during national college awareness week, which runs this week from 24 to 30 November. The aim is to increase the awareness of the importance of going to college and demonstrate the impact a third level experience can make on individual lives and communities. I am pleased to say this was originally piloted within the Trinity College access programmes. The Trinity access programmes, TAP, continue to play a key role in the campaign, although national college awareness week is now a national campaign. There are events throughout the Trinity campus this week, as well as throughout other third level campuses, highlighting the importance of third level education. The aim is to try to increase the visibility of third level education in many communities. I congratulate all involved in that campaign, particularly in the TAP which have been so successful in Trinity College Dublin.

In the past week or two during a convalescence I have taken to walking around my area, which is the Georgian core of Dublin. What I have seen has absolutely horrified me. I have seen an area of dereliction and waste. If one goes along towards the basin of North Frederick Street and Blessington Street, one can see this and one can see it in the houses behind also. In Nelson Street two houses are burnt out. There are houses in multiple occupation with one family per room, many of whom are new Irish or immigrants. God help them in these circumstances. Many of these buildings are owned, I understand, by former gardaí and so on. They are rack-renting. There are numerous bells on the doors and those involved do not put one damn penny back into the refurbishment of these areas. Off Mountjoy Square in some of the streets there is dereliction as well with mounds of black bags bursting with rubbish. The whole area is suffering from degradation and blight. There is multiple occupancy and curtains are drawn across on a string. There are lines of knickers hanging out. The whole place is extremely distressed. There are two houses on Nelson Street, in particular. I am unsure whether they were the victims of arson but they were destroyed by fire and they have been simply left there. No. 30 North Frederick Street has been derelict with the windows out for years.

I went down and looked at O'Connell Street, the principal street in the capital city. I looked at the building Dublin County Council put up. It is an ignorant appalling building of mass concrete. On the other side of the road was the old Findlater shop. I remember a most wonderfully dignified shop. There are two enormous spaces left by the collapse of a development. We have knickers shops and an amusement arcade. What kind of a street is this for a capital city of a European country in the 21st century? Will the Government consider doing what was done in the 18th century in similar circumstances, namely, establish an authority? It was the Wide Streets Commission in the 18th century. It put manners on the people who owned and manipulated property in the centre of the city. We hear a lot about Georgian Dublin but let us do something for it.

Can we have another debate on the Middle East? We have had a series of significant debates and I believe they have had some small impact on our foreign policy. I received a communication from a Quaker woman who was a student of mine in Trinity College Dublin many years ago. With an ecumenical accompaniment group, she has been visiting the Bedouin village of Nu'eimeh in the Jordan Valley. She met the mayor there and he asked her to transfer this information to the Irish Parliament. The people there are being forcibly transferred with two other Bedouin communities from the contentious E-1 area on the Jerusalem border. They are being transferred into a new city to make way for an illegal development of settlers. It is appalling. This is ethnic cleansing to add to the other international war crimes committed by the Israelis such as the declaration of a blitzkrieg against the people of Gaza as a result of the tragic and regrettable murder of three Israeli youths.

That is collective punishment, as admitted by the Israelis. When will we do something about it?

Yesterday saw the launch of the Coca-Cola Zero bikes scheme in Galway. It was the first launch of the scheme outside the successful scheme in Dublin city. I commend the Government for investing €5.1 million in the scheme which will be rolled out to Limerick and Cork in the near future. This is of huge benefit not only to local people but also tourists. It is anticipated that there will be 750,000 trips in the first year of the scheme. This means that there will be fewer cars on the roads and fewer emissions. It will also promote healthier lifestyles. The launch in Galway will be a great addition to the city, with bike stands at Eyre Square, the Spanish Arch, the cathedral and the Claddagh. The scheme will eventually be rolled out to other areas such as Salthill and the Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology, GMIT. This is hugely beneficial for commuters and tourists in the area.

Will the Leader arrange a debate on the progress of the National Asset Management Agency, NAMA, or lack thereof, as the case may be? Almost six years after its establishment it would be fruitful to have a debate on its current position, where it is going, what the future holds, what money it has made and what it ultimately hopes to achieve. I raise this issue after a person from a rural area, an elderly woman, contacted me about it. She saw a house being advertised for sale by an auctioneer. In good faith, she put down a deposit in line with the asking price and, also in good faith, sold the house she was occupying, as it was totally unsuitable for her as a single person. Eighteen months later, she is no further down the road. I made a formal complaint to NAMA and also complained to the auctioneer who said he was making no progress. In this situation a person wished to buy a house, put down a deposit and, on that basis, sold her existing property. However, she has been living in rented accommodation for the long period since. This is grossly unfair. A person from NAMA agreed with the sentiments I outlined, but it appears that the developer who was taken into the NAMA process is pulling the strings. The elderly woman in question is not the only one in this situation; there are 12 others. However, I am acutely concerned about her because of her situation. The few bob she had saved to buy a new house has been eaten up by the rent she is paying. It is appalling.

I am also concerned about the general situation with regard to NAMA, the appointment of receivers and their links with developers. It is a little like the old days and the three-legged races we held during carnivals. There appears to be a very successful "coaxiorum", as it is called in west Cork, about which I am deeply concerned. There should be more transparency and a debate in this House might shed some light on the current position and where NAMA is going. If it is treating ordinary citizens in the manner in which this lady is being treated, it is not what I thought it was set up to be. It is a monstrosity of a company that owns huge tracts of land that are worth billions of euro. It has a duty to sell it and a duty to the citizens of Ireland. In this instance, which is not the only one, it is falling short of its humanity and duty, both morally and legally, to the people of Ireland.

This is my first opportunity to condemn in the strongest possible manner the mindless and senseless vandals who climbed to the top of Carrauntoohil to cut down the high cross. It was also an invasion of private property; it is private property, even though the owners do not mind people climbing it. The vandals also stole the plaque which had been erected by Beaufort Community Council in 1976. One of the people who helped to put it there is a great friend of mine and many other Members, Councillor Danny Kissane. Beaufort Community Council is incensed, as is everybody in Killarney, County Kerry and throughout the nation. There have been numerous offers of help, thank God, to have it re-erected as quickly as possible. I am assuming that more than one person was involved as an angle grinder had to be carried up the mountain to dismantle it. Luckily, it can be re-erected and, as I said, there are numerous offers of help in that regard, including from Liebherr Container Cranes Limited in Killarney and the people who work in it.

It is an important landmark on the top of that mountain and many people who climb it like to be photographed on it as proof they made the climb. Please God, it will be re-erected, but why anyone would do such a dastardly deed is beyond comprehension. I hope society is not going down that road. I do not know what is behind it, but I condemn it in the strongest possible terms.

The Employment Appeals Tribunal today awarded €80,000 each to three staff at one of the embassies in Dublin for the dreadful way they had been treated. They were working 15 hours a day, seven days a week for €170 a month. That follows a case last year in which the Labour Court awarded €46,000 to another embassy worker. The Migrant Rights Centre commented on the case. It stated:

It is shameful and unfair that she has been denied access to her rights. This is a persistent problem, but the Department of Foreign Affairs is still dragging its heels.

Knowing the credentials of the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade in these matters, I wonder if there is a case to ask him to publicise what "diplomatic" means and does not mean in this country in the way of treatment of staff.

Before I call Senator Michael Comiskey, I welcome to the Visitors Gallery Dawn Purvis, a former Member of the Northern Ireland Assembly. She is very welcome.

I call on the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation who has responsibility for the Consumer Protection Commission to ask the commission to examine the alleged price fixing among factories in the price of beef. This issue was referred to by Commissioner Hogan in Brussels last week. It is vitally important, now that we have come to a resolution of the beef issue between farmers and beef factories, that we look at the factories and determine if the alleged price fixing is taking place, thereby allaying the fears of farmers who are producing beef.

I am very disappointed with the decision by Ulster Bank to close its branch in Manorhamilton. It is closing 14 branches across the country, but it is very disappointing for the people of Manorhamilton and north Leitrim in particular to lose the Ulster Bank branch which has been located in the town for more than 100 years. There was a lack of consultation with the people because many people in the area, farmers in particular, have been using the bank into which their single farm payment was paid. Payments to Health Service Executive workers were also paid into this bank, but there was little consultation between the customers of the bank and its management on this closure, which is very disappointing. I urge the people in the surrounding area to use the services of the other two banks in Manorhamilton, the credit union and the post offices because it is important to consolidate the business and keep it in the area.

I ask the Leader to arrange for the Minister for Justice and Equality to come to the House in order that we might debate the costs of and services offered by coroners throughout the country. The House may be aware that the costs with regard to the salaries and other charges relating to the coroners are footed by the local authority in each area, which is a substantial amount of money, particularly for the smaller local authorities that have a low revenue base in terms of commercial rates and so on. In some smaller counties it can be up to €250,000 a year. In line with our embraced principle of subsidiarity in terms of being European and all these responsibilities, it would be more appropriate for the Department of Justice and Equality to pick up the bill for this area. I am sure the Minister for Justice and Equality would not be jumping up and down at the thought of doing that, but it is unfairly levied on local authorities and the smaller ones, in particular, simply cannot afford to bear those costs. It is an issue we could usefully debate at an early date.

Given the previous submissions I have made in this House on farm inspections, I note with interest that the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine is producing a charter of rights for farmers. I am disappointed that we have not been given an opportunity to make statements on this issue given that I, in particular, have brought up a number of issues that were brought to my attention by farmers in Galway east who have been subjected to inspections. These concerned how they have been treated and breaches of procedure and rules in terms of natural and constitutional justice. This charter is window-dressing to try to sort out the problem. It will achieve nothing and certainly will not deal with the situation. The farm inspection process should be put on a statutory footing if we are to give real rights to farmers. Simply giving guidelines rather than introducing laws is toothless. Boundaries have to be created within which everyone - farmers and inspectors - know what is and is not acceptable behaviour and practice. On that basis, I call for a debate in the House on the formulation and introduction of rules, legislation and procedures for farm inspections.

First and foremost, I agree with my colleague, Senator Darragh O'Brien, regarding a debate on mortgages, rent controls and so on. I have spoken about this before and I do not intend to go any further on it now other than to ask that it be considered and brought forward as quickly as possible.

I want to ask the Leader about an important item and ask that he not tell me it is an Adjournment matter. The issue is the withdrawal of funding for the non-Gaeltacht islands. Some €600,000 is all that is required to keep these islands going. I had a discussion this weekend with the secretary of a company on one of the islands, who gave me an idea of the work he does. One of the recent jobs he had to do, at 5 p.m., was to re-laminate a mortuary card for a wreath for a funeral. Five minutes later he was on the telephone to the Minister, organising a €1.5 million grant for work on the island's harbour. The islands involved are Inishbofin, Inishturk, Clare Island, Bere Island, Sherkin Island, Dursey Island, Whiddy Island, Long Island and Heir Island. The types of service involved are youth services, services for the elderly, playgroups, after-school groups, waste management and community employment and training schemes - I could go on and on. I believe we owe the islands the justice of discussing this withdrawal of funds given that they are a unique part of our heritage.

People might ask why a Senator based in Dublin is interested in the islands. My father, God be good to him, put the lights on every island off the west coast of Ireland when they were gas lights. He put gas fridges in every house on every island off the west coast. I would hate to think some of those islands would finish up depopulated as a result of the withdrawal of a miserable €600,000 which, in the grand scheme of things and given what we are spending on water services, broadband and so on, is a mere pittance. I ask the Leader to consider a debate in the House in order that we can focus attention on this funding.

I join Senator Paul Coghlan in condemning the mindless act of vandalism on Carrauntoohil. Unfortunately, we are seeing far too many of these types of theft and acts of vandalism around the country. At some stage, we need to have a debate on civic pride and how we can restore it and how to ensure valuable and important monuments such as this are protected and preserved.

I urge the ASTI and the TUI to call off the strike that is planned for 2 December in regard to junior cycle reform. I make my call to enable further discussions on an element of the proposed reform, given that many people have been calling for this to take place for the past 30 years. Most of us would feel the Minister has moved on significantly from the proposals put forward by the former Minister, Deputy Ruairí Quinn. As we know, 60% of marks in the junior cycle will be based on an examination at the end of the third year, while 40% will be based on school-based projects and portfolios. It was a key demand that a State certificate would be issued at the end of the third year. The union leadership has endorsed a day of strikes, but the members - the teachers in the various schools around the country - have not been asked to vote on the revised proposals. Parents and students have welcomed the proposals put forward by the Minister, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, as have the school management bodies.

Education Training Boards Ireland has urged the unions to give their full support to implementation of the much needed reform of the junior cycle programme. It has now considered the many concerns raised by teachers and it is clearly in the best interests of students. A strike next week would be of huge concern and cause disruption to students and parents and would not be in the best interests of anybody. I urge the teaching unions, even at this late stage, to pull back and enter into further discussions on possibly fine-tuning some of the proposals brought forward by the Minister.

I ask the Leader to provide time for a debate in the House on farm and industrial safety, given the appalling loss of life we have seen in recent weeks on farms. At the weekend two men lost their lives owing to a tractor tyre. While the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Simon Coveney, has taken the issue of farm safety very seriously, having another opportunity to promote the issue even further would be desirable.

I am grateful that Senator Michael Mullins has raised the issue of the forthcoming proposed strike by teaching unions over junior cycle reform. It provides me with the opportunity to indicate in the House that Fianna Fáil supports the principle of external assessment and opposes internal assessment. I commend our colleague in the other House, Deputy Charlie McConalogue, who pushed the Government into making these reforms.

It was not just him.

Senator Paschal Mooney to continue, without interruption.

I did not suggest it was an exclusive effort, but as our spokesperson, he fought the fight from the outset to ensure the junior certificate would be recognised as a State examination. He also pushed actual reform not along the lines suggested by the former Minister, Deputy Ruairí Quinn, but in the manner which has now been accommodated in a compromise by the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan. However, she has not gone far enough. Senator Michael Mullins called for further negotiations, but my understanding is that the teaching unions are wide open for further negotiations and that the ball is in the Government's court. It is the Government that has made the proposals, but it has failed to go far enough. I say this to the Senator and anyone else. There is outright opposition to the principle of internal assessment.

I commend an article by Fintan O'Toole in The Irish Times today to Members who are interested in this subject. He points to the flaws of internal assessment. I will not go into the detail, but it opens up a variety of scenarios, not least the question of favouritism by teachers or the possibility that a school might watch a neighbouring school to see how its marking was going to ensure they attracted more pupils by adjusting accordingly. This is wide open to exploitation and not in the best interests of pupils. Parents are not totally supportive of the Government's proposals, although I am not at all surprised that the parents' representative grouping has indicated its support, given that it is funded by the Department of Education and Skills. It would, would it not?

In essence, the door to negotiation is open as far as the teaching unions are concerned. Fianna Fáil is not in favour of strike action which would be premature at this stage. I agree with Senator Michael Mullins that the motion put to union members when the decision on strike action was taken did not include the proposals that have been adopted by the Minister in the past couple of weeks. I plead with her to come out again and go further as this issue will not go away. The unions, a large proportion of parents and pupils are opposed to internal assessment One of my colleagues said at our party meeting this morning that he was at a school in his constituency yesterday when the matter was raised not by teachers but by the pupils. I call on the Minister to take another step further and abolish internal assessment. We could then move on to ensure pupils have a properly focused junior certificate examination.

I call for an urgent debate in the House on proposals by the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government to de-zone large tracts of land around the country, most notably in my county and particularly in Roscommon town. These are the same officials who are dictating to local authorities that allowed for the zoning of these lands in the first place. One case in Roscommon town involved a man who had received planning permission for 166 houses on zoned land. He spent €250,000 in bringing services to the site. At the height of the crash he realised that it was not feasible to build 166 houses because there was no market for them. He decided to extend his planning permission for a further five years. That planning permission is up in less than 12 months, his land will be de-zoned and he will be out of pocket to the tune of €250,000, which is terribly unfair. There is no need to de-zone land because the market will decide the level of demand. We urgently need a debate with the Minister to see whether we can come to some arrangement. Perhaps zoned tracts of land for which people have received planning permission should be left zoned.

I do not want to get involved in the question of the teachers' dispute, although I know that around the world, there are so many areas, countries, provinces and states where teachers are demanding the right to assess their pupils. I want to talk about education. I attended the awards for the leaving certificate applied. This is a reminder of the leaving certificate applied, which is now 19 years old and has done a fantastic job. I fear that the Government is not allocating the leaving certificate applied the attention that it needs. The leaving certificate applied is a different leaving certificate inasmuch as it values the other abilities and not just academic abilities. These youngsters - when I say "youngsters", I mean older teenagers - have achieved the ability to succeed, even though they might not be very academically bright. At the age of five, six, ten or 12 years they were regarded as not being very bright and were told to stay at the back of class. Suddenly, at the age of 15 or 16 years, they discover that they have huge talent and ability, gain in confidence and show that confidence.

The reason I mention this isue is that there are jobs that are vacant. I have just come from a meeting of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation at which we spoke about the fact that there are 7,000 vacancies. There were 7,000 vacancies two or three years ago, but these are 7,000 different vacancies. The reason is that sometimes we do not train people to do exactly the right thing. I believe we can train them. There are many examples in which this has been done very well. Springboard is just one example of a system under which people with one particular skill that is no longer needed move to acquire a different skill. These 7,000 vacancies are not the same 7,000 that were available in the past, but they are available and we can concentrate our efforts on filling them. As we are doing some of what is required, let us make sure we do an awful lot more. It would be worthwhile concentrating on this issue.

I welcome the announcements made in Cork on Friday. A €50 million development was begun, with the foundations being laid. The interesting thing is that it involves 175,000 sq. ft. of office space and even before the foundations were laid, 60% of this office space had been taken up and will be occupied within the next 16 months once it is completed.

It is of concern to see that today's edition of The Irish Times referred to a cost of €326 million for employing agency staff in the HSE. The vast bulk of that money goes towards nursing staff and medical doctors. It is wrong that we have allowed this to happen. In the past three years I warned against the way we have been offering contracts in the HSE but little or nothing has been done by the executive. The six-month roll-out of contracts continues. It will start again on 7 January 2015 and there will be more problems with filling vacancies. Last week, a consultant informed me that last year there were 11 junior doctors in a particular specialty in a hospital but that this year there will only be three. It is time we started examining this issue. Three reports have been published on it in the past 12 months, but there is not one shred of evidence that any of their recommendations have been or will be implemented by the HSE. A serious debate on what will be offered as terms of employment for those working in the health services in two, three and five years time is long overdue. Will the Leader ensure it will be held at the earliest possible date?

I welcome the statements to be taken today on Irish Water and thank the Leader for arranging this debate.

Several weeks ago the Minister for Health attended the House for comprehensive statements on health care. I am sure the Leader will have seen yesterday’s newspaper reports on how waiting times in some hospitals have gone up. Surprise, surprise, in the south east, the waiting times are the highest in the State. At University Hospital Waterford, in the city from which the Leader and I come, people are waiting much longer than the promised 12 months. The Government’s policy is that no adult patient should wait more than 12 months for a first-time outpatient appointment. In the south east, however, 6,300 patients wait longer than 12 months, one third waiting longer than two years and some waiting up to four years. These long waiting lists include orthopaedics, ophthalmology, cardiology, general surgery, pain management, dermatology and many other treatments. The reason for this is University Hospital Waterford has been chronically underfunded, losing beds, doctors, consultants and other staff. This has not happened at this hospital alone but in others. These waiting time figures show the conservative targets set by the Government are simply not being met. An arrangement was put in place for orthopaedic patients in the south east to travel to Cappagh National Orthopaedic Hospital to have full treatment there. Most were not seen, however, at the hospital. For those seen and told they would have a full care package provided by Cappagh, it never happened in the end. They were all sent back to Waterford and put back on the waiting list, resulting in serious pressure on that department in Waterford hospital. Will the Leader arrange for the Minister for Health to explain these waiting time figures, statewide, to the House and, specifically, why the south east is underperforming in this regard with University Hospital Waterford having the longest waiting times in the State? It seems to be the same old story for Waterford of lagging behind in resources. Will the Leader arrange that debate as soon as possible in order that we can have a constructive debate with the Minister on what resources are necessary to ensure people do not have to wait for hospital appointments? At the very least, patients in the south east deserve to be treated within 12 months. This is Government policy, but it is not happening. It is the Government’s fault.

I would like to get back to the issue of strike action. Tomorrow, Senator Terry Brennan will present a Private Members’ motion on sports capital grants. Today, it is appropriate we congratulate the wonderful young lady Katie Taylor who struck gold for the fifth time in the World Amateur Boxing Championships. This young lady has grown up in front of our eyes, under enormous pressure in the past six years, to win six European championship medals and the Olympic gold in London two years ago.

God only knows how many national gold medals she has won during that period. I do not believe any other Irish sportsperson has ever won so much glitter to wear around her neck. The only other person who comes to mind is another member of mná na hÉireann, the great Sonia O'Sullivan from Cork. This wonderful country of ours is again punching above its weight in sport. Week after week, month after month and year after year, the headlines are all about our great sporting success. Only last weekend, the Irish rugby team recorded a great success in beating Australia in Lansdowne Road and the wonderful young golfer, Shane Lowry, made it into the top 50 in the world rankings. I am not forgetting the great success of Rory McIlroy. All of these sportspersons have been supported by taxpayers over the years and we can take credit for the support provided to them by the Irish Sports Council. Sport is worth its weight in gold. Sportspersons take the rough with the smooth and get on with it through thick and thin and years of dedication, commitment and sacrifice. They never complain and know what it takes to do the business. Katie Taylor is a national treasure. I hope that when she arrives home in Ireland in three hours and 20 minutes, thousands of people will be at Dublin Airport to greet her. I only hope we will recognise this young lady some day by erecting a statue in her honour. Two years from now, she may become the first Irish sportswoman to retain an Olympic title, matching the feat of Dr. Pat O'Callaghan in 1932. Well done to her.

The House should have an early debate on the teaching profession and the value society places on teachers. There is no doubt a successful society needs a successful system. We rely on teachers, in collaboration with parents and students, to deliver such a system. This morning, I listened to Professor Pasi Sahlberg speak on "The John Murray Show". Professor Sahlberg will visit Galway next week as a guest of a conference I am hosting in the National University of Ireland, Galway. He spoke about the value of the teaching profession in Finland and noted that it was held in such high regard that it is the most sought after career among young Finns. In this country we constantly rub teachers up the wrong way and treat them poorly.

We must allow teachers to speak for themselves, as trade unions do not always serve them well.

No one said "Hear, hear."

With all due respect, the unions are trying to encourage mediocrity among teachers. Since when were all doctors or teachers the same? Junior certificate reform is creating serious problems and teachers are to strike next Tuesday, fundamentally because they do not feel valued. Another serious issue coming down the line is the introduction by the Department of Education and Skills of a new model for the delivery of special educational needs resources. Last night I attended a meeting of 200 people hosted by Lisheenkyle national school. Teachers and parents expressed deep worry about-----

Is the Senator seeking a debate on the matter?

I would like to finish my point. They were deeply worried about resources being stripped from their children with special educational needs. Professor Pasi Sahlberg stated this morning that 30% of children in Finland are provided with special educational needs supports as soon as they start school. It should be no surprise that Finnish schoolchildren perform so well. I implore the Leader, on behalf of the House and society, to arrange a debate on how we treat teachers because they touch everyone's life.

I would like to be associated with the congratulations extended to Katie Taylor by my colleague, Senator Eamonn Coghlan. To be the best in the world at anything for five years in a row is a magnificent achievement.

On Irish Water, on which there will be statements today, given that metering costs have overrun by €100 million to date, by what amount will they have overrun by the time all of the metering work is completed? Whoever was responsible for estimating the costs involved should be sacked. I will speak about the issue later.

Will the Leader ask the Minister for Justice and Equality to make representations to the Pakistani Government on behalf of Asia Bibi who has been in prison for the past four years for the crime of blasphemy. I find it very offensive that in any country anywhere in the world somebody is serving a custodial sentence, not to mention, as this lady is, under a death sentence which, thankfully has not yet been carried out, for the punitive crime of blasphemy. In her case there were very serious grounds for believing, even if one believed erroneously that blasphemy was sufficient grounds for a civil prosecution, that she did not commit it. This House has been keen to make representations to foreign diplomats about injustices for which it believes their governments are responsible. We need to bring this one to the attention of the Pakistani authorities.

As I desperately need the Minister for Health to come to the House today, I am proposing an amendment to the Order of Business. I want him to explain how it is that two days ago we saw statistics indicating that 50,000 people, approximately 1.25% of the entire population, were on waiting lists in the health service for more than one year. I have been back in Ireland for 21 very odd years. The reality is that this would not be considered even remotely acceptable anywhere else in the world, that people are on a waiting list for more than one year, yet we have people on waiting lists for two, three and four years for some services. In the past we highlighted problems with waiting lists to gain access to life-saving obesity services and surgery. There has been an increase of approximately one eighth in the number of grade A officials in the HSE in the past 12 months. While we are beginning to see some easing of the moratorium on hiring as nursing and physiotherapist numbers are down, we are still hiring more bureaucrats. That is the reason I ask the Minister to come to the House to deal with these issues this week.

I support Senator Paul Coghlan on the damage caused by vandals to the cross at the top of Carrauntoohil which, as part of the Oireachtas charity walking group, I had the pleasure to climb. It is nice to have a photograph taken at the top which is identified by the cross. It is a shame vandalism had to occur at the top of it.

I wish to raise a European taxation issue. A PwC report at the weekend highlighted Ireland's effective corporation tax rate as being 12.4%, 0.1% away from the official figure of 12.5%. For business, this means that what one sees is what one gets. Businesses across all sectors pay, more or less, the same effective rate. In other words, this proves what many of us already knew that our corporation tax is transparent and fair. This is a point which needs to be emphasised and made clear to our European neighbours. Other countries that compete with us and are concerned about our rate of corporation tax, as well as elements within the country such as the Socialist Party, in order to score political points, have attempted to suggest multinational corporations are not paying corporation tax. As proved in the report, this is incorrect. Ireland's corporation tax rate is fair and transparent. Other nations envy our success.

The Socialist Party wants to see that success end. If we compare other nations, some of which are praised by the Socialist Party as so-called fair tax nations, we can see that France, although it has a stated corporation tax of 33.3% has a real rate of 7.4%, according to the report. That is a hefty gap of over 25 percentage points between what France states a corporation will pay and the average that it actually pays. In Ireland there is no such gap. There is no litany of loopholes or a bureaucratic bible that one must ram through just to set up a business. That is why Ireland is such an attractive location for business. It is an important point that is worth raising.

I absolutely agree with the congratulations to Katie Taylor who is an excellent ambassador for Ireland, women and Irish sport. I am not surprised that so many people on the Government side seem to see her as a patron saint these days. To judge by the shifting of offices going on within Fine Gael, they will be doing very well to get to five years in a row. In recognition of Katie's achievements, people on the Government side are looking on enviously at the prospect of five years in a row.

I wish to second the amendment to the Order of Business proposed by my colleague, Senator John Crown, to the effect that the Minister for Health attend the House.

I also endorse what he said about Asia Bibi, a simple labouring person who dared to speak up for her faith and now finds herself sentenced to death in Pakistan. It is really important that Ireland speak up for people who are persecuted for their faith and beliefs, wherever they are in the world. Christian minorities in particular are under terrible pressure in the world today.

I ask the Leader to arrange for the Minister for Finance to attend the House to address the widespread confusion around a particular proposed change to capital acquisitions tax in the Finance Bill. Section 82 which provides that money paid by a parent for the support, maintenance or education of a child will not be considered as a gift or inheritance for tax purposes where it would be considered normal expenditure of a person in the parent's circumstances and is reasonable having regard to the financial circumstances of a parent. It is proposed to change this and cap it in order that payments by a parent to an adult child above the €3,000 annual small gift exemption threshold could be liable to tax. I realise that the Revenue Commissioners are concerned about abuses, but frankly these new limits would mean that adult children who are not under 25 years and in full-time education would no longer be able to argue that a wedding or holiday gift was a way for their parents to support or maintain them. Once the gift is over a certain value, therefore, tax bills could arise. So-called dig-outs given to adult children in financial distress would attract the Revenue Commissioners' gimlet eye. The new proposed limits are a sledgehammer to deal with a perceived problem.

The Senator is way over time.

It is generating widespread confusion. Will a parent who covers the cost of a wedding reception now have to declare this to the Revenue Commissioners? I would be grateful if the Minister could attend the House to provide some clarity on this matter.

I take the opportunity to congratulate Nóirín O'Sullivan on being appointed the first female Garda Commissioner in the history of the State. She is well deserving of it and is a very capable woman. She joined An Garda Síochána in 1981, rising through the ranks of sergeant, inspector, superintendent, chief superintendent, assistant commissioner, deputy commissioner and now Commissioner. The last year or two has been a difficult time for An Garda Síochána. With her experience and proven leadership capacity, however, she will be able to deliver on a programme of reform and modernisation for An Garda Síochána.

I was monitoring the debate on the junior certificate and I am very much with the teachers on this matter. I can bring a certain perspective to the debate because for many years I marked junior and leaving certificate examination papers at the highest level. It is a difficult job which requires a great deal of skill and training. If someone is a good teacher it does not necessarily follow that they will be a good exam marker. I knew many teachers who bailed out halfway through marking conferences in the Department's offices in Athlone because they realised it was not for them.

It is very unfair and a huge ask for teachers to be responsible for marking up to 40% of the total score of an individual pupil, without as much as a thought being given to how they should be trained for it and brought into the loop in terms of how one does these things. It is not as simple as a teacher saying, "I will give that pupil a 30% assessment mark and give this pupil something else." One must be able to prove and stand over it. It is a non-runner, especially up to a figure of 40%. I would like to see negotiations continuing between the Minister and the teachers. It is an issue that will not go away. For the overall good of and the integrity of the examinations system, I would like to see further change and, to say the least, a reduction in the percentage awarded in the teacher assessment in school.

The Leader of the Opposition, Senator Darragh O'Brien, spoke about conservation and metering. It is certainly a very important matter, on which I am sure we will have a very comprehensive debate this evening. Conservation is very important because we have found out that when metered there were about 22 houses in the country from which there was a leakage of over 1 million gallons of water a day, sufficient to supply a town as big as Gorey. There is, therefore, a need for metering and conservation which are still very much part of the Government's policy. I am not aware of any motion on this matter, but we will have legislation on it in the House before Christmas to copperfasten the proposals to be made by the Government next week. We will debate that legislation when it is brought before us in the next few weeks.

Senator Darragh O'Brien also called for a debate on the draft guidelines of the Central Bank on mortgages. We will try to facilitate a debate on the matter. As the Senator said, the consultation process is in progress and if I can arrange it, I will have the Minister come to the House to debate the matter.

Senator Ivana Bacik raised the issue of violence against women in the home and called for a debate on the report on same of the justice committee. I will try to arrange that debate early in the new year.

The Senator also called for a debate on access to third level education. This is a debate other Members have sought and I will try to have the Minister for Education and Skills come to the House to discuss the matter.

Senator David Norris spoke about the condition of several rental properties and dereliction in Dublin, particularly in the inner city. I would have thought it was a matter for Dublin City Council to address, but I agree with many of the Senator's sentiments about dereliction in many parts of the capital city.

The Senator also called for a debate on the situation in the Middle East. The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade will be in the House next Thursday for a debate on the issue.

Senator Hildegarde Naughton welcomed the new bike scheme in Galway and the benefits that would accrue from the point of view of tourism and health and well-being.

Senator Denis O'Donovan called for a progress report on NAMA and an update on its activities, in regard to which he mentioned a number of instances. I will try to have the Minister for Finance come to the House to discuss the matter.

Senators Paul Coghlan, Michael Mullins and Catherine Noone condemned the cutting down of the high cross on Carrauntoohil. I am sure it will be restored without further delay by the community in County Kerry.

Senator Sean D. Barrett spoke about the treatment and exploitation of staff in an embassy here. I agree totally with him. Such exploitation should not and will not be condoned. I am delighted about the awards the three ladies received which were well justified.

Senator Michael Comiskey complimented the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Simon Coveney, whom he wished well in his efforts to solve the problems encountered in dealing with the beef crisis. He also commented on the closing of 14 Ulster Bank branches nationwide and the problems that would accrue for local communities as a result.

Senator Marc MacSharry spoke about coroners' costs and asked who would pick up the bill. As he said, up until now local authorities have been paying it. The costs are sizeable for some local authorities and I am aware that we have had a Coroners Bill on the agenda for several years. I will try to ascertain the current status of that Bill and note the Senator's points in that regard.

Senator Lorraine Higgins raised the issue of farm inspections and called for the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Simon Coveney, to come to the House to address the matter. The Minister will be here in the next week or two to discuss the issue of sustainability in farming and there might be an opportunity to address the matter of farm inspections at that point.

Senator Gerard P. Craughwell spoke about funding for non-Gaeltacht islands and the withdrawal of funds amounting to €600,000. I will raise the issue with the appropriate Minister - I presume the Minister of State at the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Joe McHugh, but I am not sure - and try to get an answer for the Senator.

Senator Michael Mullins, among others, called on the ASTI and the TUI to withdraw strike threats arising from the proposed changes to the junior cycle programme. Members have expressed different opinions on the matter and the call for the teacher unions to ballot their members. I imagine the unions would state they had a mandate from their members in this regard. Ultimately, it is very important that both sides take stock and negotiate an amicable settlement. Senator Paschal Mooney also commented on the issue of junior cycle reform.

Senator John Kelly commented on the zoning and dezoning of land. That is a matter for the local authorities, although I agree with him that where people have spent so much money on the development of land, this should be taken into consideration.

Senator Feargal Quinn lauded the benefits of the leaving certificate applied programme and emphasised the need for further training and upskilling to fill up to 7,000 job vacancies. We all agree with him in that regard.

Senator Colm Burke discussed the €50 million investment in office space provision in Cork and the fact that over 60% of it had already been or was about to be taken up. There are several other good news stories on the jobs front in the Cork region. The Senator also raised the issue of the employment of agency staff in the HSE and highlighted the need to implement the recommendations made in various reports.

Senators David Cullinane and John Crown raised the issue of hospital waiting lists. Senator David Cullinane highlighted the number of people - 6,300 - in the south east, particularly in Waterford, who had been on waiting lists for over one year. I agree with him that this is far too many. As Senator John Crown mentioned, there are 50,000 people in this position nationally. There are vacancies for up to 23 consultants in University Hospital Waterford, which is certainly one of the reasons there are such long waiting lists. Another is the number of DNAs - persons who do not attend their appointments, of whom there are thousands - as a result of which others are suffering. This has not been highlighted sufficiently in Waterford or nationwide. Those who do not turn up for their appointments should be aware that they are depriving others who may need an appointment. They should notify their consultants and the clinics involved if they cannot make their appointments.

Senator Eamonn Coghlan, among others, congratulated Katie Taylor, probably one of our greatest ever sportspersons. It is appropriate that the Senator, another gold medalist, should sing her praises.

Senator Fidelma Healy Eames called for a debate on the teaching profession and said teachers would go on strike because they felt unwanted. I do not think that is the reason they will go on strike. I will seek to have the Minister for Education and Skills come to the House to debate this subject, in addition to the other education matters that have been raised.

Senator Terry Brennan raised the issue of water metering costs. I am sure he will make the points made in the debate that will take place after the Order of Business.

Senator John Crown called on the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade to make representations to the Government of Pakistan to seek the release of a lady. I will speak to the Minister about this, but as he will be in the House on Thursday, the Senator may wish to make his points then. I note his points on waiting lists and the increase in the number of what he calls bureaucrats in the HSE.

Senator Catherine Noone referred to the report of PricewaterhouseCoopers on corporation tax and noted that it emphasised the transparency in the system.

Regarding Senator Rónán Mullen's contribution, it is difficult to achieve five in a row in any walk of life, but we must wait and see. Regarding changes to capital acquisition tax, the Finance Bill is being debated in the other House and will be brought before us in the coming weeks, at which stage there will be ample opportunity for him to raise the points he wishes to make.

Senator Imelda Henry congratulated the new Garda Commissioner, Ms Nóirín O'Sullivan, on her appointment. The Commissioner will have a very difficult task in many ways and I am sure we all wish her every success in her new position.

Senator Ned O'Sullivan raised the issue of junior cycle reform and emphasised that the marking of examination papers was not as easy as people thought. I note his points in that regard.

Senator John Crown has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That a debate with the Minister for Health on the statistics which show that more than 50,000 people have been on health service waiting lists for over one year be taken today." Is the amendment being pressed?

Amendment put:
The Seanad divided: Tá, 19; Níl, 26.

  • Barrett, Sean D.
  • Bradford, Paul.
  • Byrne, Thomas.
  • Craughwell, Gerard P.
  • Crown, John.
  • Cullinane, David.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • Healy Eames, Fidelma.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • Mullen, Rónán.
  • Ó Clochartaigh, Trevor.
  • Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
  • Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
  • O'Brien, Darragh.
  • O'Donovan, Denis.
  • O'Sullivan, Ned.
  • Quinn, Feargal.
  • White, Mary M.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.

Níl

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Brennan, Terry.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Coghlan, Eamonn.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Comiskey, Michael.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • D'Arcy, Michael.
  • Gilroy, John.
  • Henry, Imelda.
  • Higgins, Lorraine.
  • Keane, Cáit.
  • Kelly, John.
  • Landy, Denis.
  • Mac Conghail, Fiach.
  • Moloney, Marie.
  • Moran, Mary.
  • Mullins, Michael.
  • Naughton, Hildegarde.
  • Noone, Catherine.
  • O'Brien, Mary Ann.
  • O'Neill, Pat.
  • van Turnhout, Jillian.
  • Whelan, John.
  • Zappone, Katherine.
Tellers: Tá, Senators John Crown and Rónán Mullen; Níl, Senators Ivana Bacik and Paul Coghlan.
Amendment declared lost.
Question put: "That the Order of Business be agreed to."
The Seanad divided: Tá, 25; Níl, 18.

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Brennan, Terry.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Coghlan, Eamonn.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Comiskey, Michael.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • D'Arcy, Michael.
  • Gilroy, John.
  • Henry, Imelda.
  • Higgins, Lorraine.
  • Keane, Cáit.
  • Kelly, John.
  • Landy, Denis.
  • Moloney, Marie.
  • Moran, Mary.
  • Mullins, Michael.
  • Naughton, Hildegarde.
  • Noone, Catherine.
  • O'Brien, Mary Ann.
  • O'Neill, Pat.
  • van Turnhout, Jillian.
  • Whelan, John.
  • Zappone, Katherine.

Níl

  • Barrett, Sean D.
  • Bradford, Paul.
  • Byrne, Thomas.
  • Craughwell, Gerard P.
  • Crown, John.
  • Cullinane, David.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • Healy Eames, Fidelma.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • Mullen, Rónán.
  • Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
  • Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
  • O'Brien, Darragh.
  • O'Donovan, Denis.
  • O'Sullivan, Ned.
  • Quinn, Feargal.
  • White, Mary M.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Ivana Bacik and Paul Coghlan; Níl, Senators John Crown and Rónán Mullen..
Question declared carried.