Order of Business

The Order of Business is No. 1, Gender Recognition Bill 2014 - Order for Second Stage and Second Stage, to be taken at 1.15 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes; No. 2, statements on improving the quality of early years education, to be taken at 3 p.m. and conclude not later than 5 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes and the Minister or the Minister of State to be called on to reply not later than 4.50 p.m.; and No. 61, Private Members' business, non-Government motion No. 14 re water services, to be taken at 5 p.m., with the time allocated for the debate not to exceed two hours.

I thank the Leader for outlining the business of the day. As he mentioned, Fianna Fáil Members have a Private Members' motion relating to Irish Water and water services in this country. I ask people to have a look at what the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly, stated in the debate prior to Christmas. This will afford people time to consider what has happened since. Yesterday, Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell, in her inimitable Independent manner, asked a number of questions about the public forum that was to be set up and various other elements that she was promised at the time to ensure she would vote for the Bill. I remind people that it could have been stopped here in the Seanad. The debate might afford her and others who took the soup before Christmas an opportunity to see if the promises they were given have been seen through. I argue that they have not been followed up.

When the Minister for Health, Deputy Leo Varadkar, was before the Seanad yesterday, I looked at issues I raised with him and his predecessor over the year regarding low-paid home help workers. I have highlighted this on a number of occasions over the past two and half years. The Government is in breach of two Labour Court recommendations indicating that home help workers are entitled to 4.5 weeks of pay per year of service in lieu of pension entitlements. The Government stated the money would be paid in 2012, and when it did not have the money - as we could understand - it indicated that it would be paid in 2013, but it was not done then either. It also stated that the money would be paid in 2014, but it was not paid. I raised the issue with the Minister by writing to him on 31 July, but was astonished to find he did not know anything about it. He indicated that he was not aware of the issue. I gave him a copy of the letter and wrote to him again, but I have still heard nothing from him.

There are approximately 15,000 workers affected by this. It is a Labour Court recommendation that as these people have no pension entitlements, a once-off gratuity should be paid. Most of these home help workers, who are front-line staff in the health service, are low-paid workers. The average payment to them is approximately €10,000, with a total cost to the State of approximately €15 million. We are getting a wall of silence on this none the less. If we are serious about the independence of our Labour Court and the industrial relations mechanisms in this country, surely to God the Government should not be in breach of two Labour Court recommendations. It should pay these workers the money due. I propose an amendment to the Order of Business specifically on this matter: that the Minister for Health or a Minister of State - perhaps Deputy Kathleen Lynch, if she is in better form today - come to the House to address this specific issue of home help workers. I have been writing to the Department for two and a half years about it, but I have moved no further towards a solution.

Other colleagues yesterday raised the issue of the Central Bank's proposed new rules for mortgage applications. As many Members said yesterday, they have been widely criticised, particularly the requirement for a 20% deposit. I ask the Leader to arrange a debate in the near future on this issue.

I note that criticism has been made of the proposal by, among others, Mr. Jack O'Connor of SIPTU, and certainly they are seen as far too onerous, particularly for first-time buyers. In that context, I very much welcome reports today that the Central Bank is considering inclusion in its proposals of some sort of different rule for first-time buyers. It would be worth teasing out in a debate in this House the idea that perhaps some sort of higher-level requirement for deposits should be in place, for example, for those seeking to buy for investment purposes or those who are not first-time buyers. Certainly, it seems there are some more nuanced proposals coming forward and I ask the Leader for a debate about mortgage criteria and the proposed Central Bank rules.

I also ask the Leader for a debate on the national dementia strategy. I asked for this previously and the Alzheimer Society of Ireland has been seeking a debate. This is an issue of considerable significance for so many in Ireland, both for carers and for those with Alzheimer's. We might ask the Minister concerned - it is the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch - to come to the House for a specific debate on the strategy.

I ask again for a debate on equality in third level education. Last week I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Micheline Sheehy-Skeffington, who won her case against NUI Galway on equality issues for women lecturers there. A number of us have called for a debate in this House on the issues raised by the case and on the issue of gender equality at third level generally. I note the matter is back in The Irish Times today, with reports that 25 student societies in NUI Galway are backing a campaign for equality for women lecturers. NUI Galway is also looking for an equality review of the sector generally and I would like us to have a debate in this House in advance of it.

I ask the Leader the procedure for withdrawing a motion from the Order Paper, because I am delighted that just before Christmas, at the eleventh hour, the Government stepped in to support the Childline motion that was put forward by my colleague, Senator Ivana Bacik, and mye but supported right across the House. I thank all my Seanad colleagues. This is, yet again, an example of how the Seanad has shown that we can join forces, ensuring Childline continues to offer its services 24 hours a day for vulnerable children and young people across Ireland. I acknowledge and thank the Government, particularly the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, for finding a way forward. I also thank the generosity of the people who primarily fund Childline. It is their generosity that has ensured it remains open. It is a good news story. We have a motion on the Order Paper and perhaps I can be advised on whether I need to move it or how we move that forward. It is a good news day.

I reiterate a request I made in September 2014 that we hold a full debate in the Seanad on the concluding observations of the UN Human Rights Committee. The committee published its concluding observations after the fourth periodic review of Ireland's compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights on 24 July 2014. As I stated previously, a number of the committee's recommendations concern issues on which I and other Senators have spoken and advocated in this House, such as asylum and direct provision, trafficking, the institutional abuse of women and children, symphysiotomy and the need to ban corporal punishment of children in all settings. I believe that there needs to be far more parliamentary scrutiny of Ireland's human rights treaty obligations and the State must be answerable not only to international treaty monitoring bodies but to us all. We are well placed here in the Seanad, with our wide and varying expertise, to offer guidance on how best the State can follow up on and comply with the recommendations. I call on the Leader to hold a debate in this House on the concluding observations of the UN committee.

I welcome the announcement that the Government has agreed the wording of the same-sex referendum to be put to the people in May. It is really a question of choice. I note that a small minority of gay people have stated that they do not want marriage. That is fine. That is their choice. It is a matter of choice for other people. I do not want to get married - it is a bit late and I am long in the tooth - but I want it for other people. It is a question of choice.

I mention this particularly in the light of the courageous announcement of the Minister for Health, Deputy Leo Varadkar, that he is gay. It would be astonishing if this right to marry were denied to a member of the Cabinet.

I also very much welcome the fact that the Government is introducing legislation governing adoption and children's rights. This was the major defect of the Civil Partnership and Certain Rights and Obligations of Cohabitants Act 2010 and it is now being amended, as the then Government promised. That is very good. This legislation deals with a far wider group of people than gay people who wish to adopt their own children, which is obvious daylight common sense. It also deals with, for example, the question of children born as a result of in vitro fertilisation. Those children have their rights, too. These are matters of human rights and people should not get upset and into a dander over them. It is merely recognising the human rights of Irish citizens.

It is also welcome that today we will discuss the Gender Recognition Bill 2014. I compliment my colleague Senator Katherine Zappone on organising a briefing for Members of the Oireachtas today. I welcome very much the fact that this legislation is being introduced in Seanad Éireann - another proof of the value of Seanad Éireann. I hope the Government will listen attentively to the debate here because the Bill, although it is a remarkable advance, raises three specific questions. The first is the astonishing requirement that people should be divorced.

Those questions can be raised when the Bill is debated in the House.

It is important to make the point that the Government should be listening to this.

The Senator can make those points during the debate on the Bill.

It is no harm to make them here. The Government is looking to force people to divorce when the Constitution supports marriage. It is quite extraordinary and leads to all kinds of difficulties such as the four-year delay. Then there is the question of age.

Does the Senator haves a question for the Leader?

Young people - those under the age of 18 years - have these requirements also. Then there is the question of self-definition. I very much hope the Government will be in listening mode and will not consider that the Bill it has presented to the House for Second Stage debate today is perfection and that it will permit the Seanad to fulfil its role for the proper and bettering amendment of the Bill proposed by it.

I welcome the significant number of jobs announced in recent days. Zimmer, a medical device company based in Shannon, has chosen to expand its manufacturing facility, and has chosen Oranmore, County Galway, where it will create 250 new jobs. Galway is well known as being a hub for the medical device sector. The fact that a company has chosen a location such as Oranmore shows the impact of the Action Plan for Jobs in that the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Richard Bruton, is looking to ensure job creation is spread to the regions. Oranmore is ideally placed, in close proximity to the M6 motorway to Dublin and 45 minutes from Shannon. Also yesterday, there was the announcement of 150 new jobs nationwide by Acorn Life, which also has operations in Galway.

I commend the Minister of State, Deputy Joe McHugh, for his announcement yesterday supporting the national Irish language theatre, Taibhdhearc na Gaillimhe. Some €320,000 is being granted to the theatre, which supports jobs in the creative sectors and also the promotion of the Irish language through plays, workshops and exhibitions. This is good news for the arts and for jobs nationally.

On several occasions in the past few years I have raised in the House a case of what I regarded as a grave miscarriage of justice. It is now 74 years since Tipperary man Harry Gleeson was hanged for a crime which he always claimed he did not commit. He was defended at the time by the late Minister Seán McBride. His community strongly believed as well that he did not commit that crime. Looking at the transcripts of the case, it is quite clear that there were serious flaws at the time. Harry Gleeson was a relatively young man who was highly respected in the community and was a great GAA activist at that time as well. Books have been written about the case and many have campaigned for him. I am glad to be able to say that I understand he will be pardoned in the near future, but it would be important if the Minister came to the House and made a statement on this case. There are still members of his family, the community, and, indeed, the following generations who are quite familiar with this case. While the pardon is particularly important and welcome, it has to go a step further than this.

The presence of the appropriate Minister in the House would be helpful. I ask the Leader to arrange this debate in the near future.

I support the points made by Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú. I have followed the case very closely since I was a young boy, and I am delighted the pardon, which is long overdue, will be granted. It was a tragic case and it was very sad that the man was hanged incorrectly. Whether it is appropriate to make statements in the House is a legal matter, but if it can be done, I would welcome it.

I wish to raise the issue of banking charges. People no longer have free transaction banking with the three main banks in the country, which they all promised when they established Internet banking. We now have a cartel in place whereby the banks change their transaction charges in unison. This is causing great difficulty for people, particularly those with small amounts of money in their accounts. Most of the banks now require people to maintain balances of at least €1,500 in their accounts to allow any free transaction banking. In some cases the banks require more. We were promised free banking when the main banks encouraged us to move away from attending counters to do transactions. The counters have been replaced by machines and very few staff work in any bank in the country. I saw recent reports that one of the main banks is speaking about letting go another 70 staff. The three main banks now charge for everything done on the Internet. One of the banks is better than the other two, but they are working together in a cartel. Consumers are being badly treated, and the Central Bank has a role in this as it is supposed to implement a fair consumer system for banking. I call on Leader to bring this matter to the attention of the Minister for Finance in order that he can request the Central Bank to carry out an inquiry into the increase in banking charges in the past five years.

Will the Government consider sending a reprimand to Ms Christine Lagarde with regard to her direct interference in the affairs of this independent Republic? She literally handbagged the Government and treated its members like poodles. She stated she was in favour of the 20% deposit for people buying houses and supported the Governor of the Central Bank, Professor Patrick Honohan. She interfered in the internal affairs of this republic and I resent it very much. We got our independence, the Government stated the troika was sent home last December, and we are delighted with this. She arrived in and treated the Government with contempt. I do not know what the Minister for Finance is doing because the Governor of the Central Bank seems to be laying down policy for the Government on deposits. He is destabilising the entire building industry. There is great uncertainty. Very few builders will build because they will not be able to sell houses if young couples must provide a 20% deposit. It is practically impossible. Will the Leader of the House invite the Minister for Finance to the House to consider what was said by Ms Lagarde to Miriam O'Callaghan on "Prime Time" on RTE, which was broadcast throughout the country? It indicated to the people that we were still being controlled by the troika and the IMF, which I resent very much. The Leader of the House should arrange a debate with the Minister for his response on the area of building.

I second the proposal made by the Leader of the Opposition for an amendment to the Order of Business.

I join Senator Hildegarde Naughton in very much welcoming the announcement by Zimmer of 250 jobs for Oranmore and Acorn Life's announcement yesterday of 100 jobs for Galway city. It is clear the Government's Action Plan for Jobs is working. I am anxious that IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland place greater emphasis on the regional spread of jobs. I come from Ballinasloe, which lost 1,000 industrial jobs in the past decade. I am not satisfied the State agencies are doing enough to attract a major employer to Ballinasloe, which is in the centre of Ireland and on the motorway. Will the Leader organise a discussion with the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Richard Bruton, in the near future on the regional strategy proposed by the State agencies to see how we can ensure the type of regional balance required is achieved in the next two years as the Government plans to put in place initiatives to create 40,000 jobs?

Yesterday Mr. Justice Tony Hunt, speaking at the selection of a jury for what could potentially be a lengthy murder trial, stated he was conscious everyone involved would get paid except those tasked with the most important job, namely, the jurors. He stated the law does not allow him to offer them any recompense. I raised this issue in the Seanad last year following representations from a constituent who was called for jury service for three or four days. This person was unemployed and had to make an 80 mile round trip each day to serve on a jury. The person was not entitled to any out-of-pocket expenses for travel or parking. Those working in the public service and for some companies get paid if they serve on a jury but many others do not.

Is the Senator looking for a debate on the issue?

It is time we had a debate with the Minister for Justice and Equality on this issue. People who serve on a jury and have a most important task to carry out should be covered in some way for their out-of-pocket expenses.

Are Members aware that only nine days are left to make submissions to the reform committee on Seanad Éireann?

We have made ours already.

In the light of the fact no serving Senators are on the reform working group, it is vital that all of us make submissions. I am deeply saddened by the fact the experience in this Chamber has not been brought onto the committee.

Following a recent circular, the geographical area for membership of education and training boards and school boards of management has been restricted to 20 km. While this might work in urban areas, it certainly does not work in rural areas. If I might be so bold as to use the Leader's county as an example, Waterford city has a vibrant further education college and efforts are being made to develop further education in other areas such as Dungarvan. It would mean the expertise of the old Waterford City VEC would not be available to the Dungarvan school for its establishment and driving forward its further education offering. I ask the Leader for a debate on boards of management and the restriction with respect to geographical areas specifically.

Yesterday I was assured I would be given some time during the Fianna Fáil motion this afternoon to discuss health and safety issues arising in the installation of water meters.

I appeal to colleagues across the political divide to support me on the issue of libraries. They are at the heart and soul of our communities, particularly in regional and small rural towns.

Some people who are involved in local government management - quite frankly, I would classify them as bean counters - are trying to make names for themselves by planning to merge library services across whole swathes of the country. I am fearful that the library services in counties such as Laois, Offaly, Longford, Westmeath, Carlow, Kilkenny, Sligo, Leitrim and Roscommon will lose their local identities, their autonomy and their importance in communities. As I think we should work together on this issue, I am not making a political point when I mention that the libraries in Timahoe, which is the village I come from, and Clonaslee in County Laois were closed at a previous time. Seven of the ten remaining libraries in the county are staffed by a single person. Now it is proposed to have staffless libraries. I am not against rationalisation, value for money or new technologies, but I have never heard anything as daft in all my life. A library is not just about books - it is also about people. Library services are provided by people for people. A staffless library would be a soulless, lifeless and useless library that would ultimately close. This is the thin end of the wedge. Libraries are at the heart of our communities. The local library is the last remaining public building in many towns. It is at the heart of social interaction, education and learning and arts and culture in such towns. I appeal to the Leader to ask the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government to come here to discuss the policy on this issue. We need to nip this in the bud by putting an end to this nonsense. Rural Ireland has seen enough closures of facilities and amenities. We cannot talk the talk about preserving rural Ireland while pursuing policies such as this at the same time.

I support what Senator John Whelan said. It is a shame that libraries seem to be the first thing on the chopping block when a few bob needs to be saved. It is something that should certainly be looked at.

Yesterday's Irish Independent reported that toxic sludge is being dumped in waterways around the Border counties, particularly around north Louth, by people who are involved in the illegal fuel laundering business. The Criminal Assets Bureau which I believe tends to be rather conservative in its estimates has estimated that this business is worth between €35 million and €40 million per annum. We are not talking about beans; we are talking about huge money. This business is being run by the Provisional IRA which is still in operation. While it may have opened its arms dumps here and there, it is still ruling the roost in the Border areas and controlling communities through threats and intimidation. I would like to mention an allegation that has been made. It is rather serious for the security of the State, in particular. The Provisional IRA's money laundering gang would put the organised crime gangs in Dublin, Limerick or anywhere else in the ha'penny place. These are the dons. They are the same people who murdered young Paul Quinn in the most brutal and barbaric fashion in 2007. The allegation is that there is light-touch policing going on between the Garda and the PSNI. It is perceived that the reason they are not nailing these people relates to the advancement and protection of the peace process. We need to have a wide-ranging debate on this issue in this Chamber. If these murderers and criminals are operating in a certain fashion and getting away with it, and the State does not seem to be following it up, that certainly needs to be addressed here.

I agree with what Senator Darragh O'Brien said about home care. I do not think we are putting enough emphasis on the need to provide adequate support to people who are in their homes. There is a huge saving in real terms to the State when people are cared for in their own homes. The cost of nursing home care to the State is very significant at the moment. We need to help the whole area of home care to grow. We met some people from the Carers Association this morning. We are not even focusing on the whole area of training. It is extremely important that we debate this issue and highlight some of the deficiencies in this area. For instance, people are being asked to call to a house and spend half an hour there. I know a lady who had to walk four miles to do half an hour of work. She was paid for half an hour even though the amount of time in real terms was far more than that. We need to look at this whole area and make sure we have proper structures and training. Before Christmas, I published the Health (Professional Home Care) Bill 2014 to make sure we have careful home care plans. The Law Reform Commission recommended in 2011 that this should be placed on a statutory footing. I am anxious for the draft Bill I published to be brought forward for debate. That would allow us to have a discussion on this issue in the not-too-distant future. I ask for this to be considered at an early date.

I want to be associated with the job announcements in Oranmore and Galway. This good news was mentioned earlier by others. I live in Oranmore. Job announcements are always good news.

I would like to raise the question of junior certificate reform. Around 350,000 kids will be at home again tomorrow. They are losing time at school. The 27,000 teachers who are striking will not be at work. I am sure the Leader heard, as I did, the president of the Teachers' Union of Ireland, Mr. Gerry Quinn, saying on "Morning Ireland" this morning that another strike day will be organised if necessary. This has to stop in the interests of education and in the interests of children. We are lucky that they can go to school. Both sides, particularly the union side, are entrenched. It appears that they are prepared to stop at nothing, even if it means kids lose out on going to school. I would like to appeal for two things to happen. First, I want the Minister to move to reassure people - parents and students - that an appeals process and a second opinion will be available in the event of a grade dispute. This would ensure no one is losing out if the teacher is doing the assessment. I think the teacher might also feel better about that. Second, I want the unions to be reminded that they cannot always have everything their own way. Our kids matter. Education matters. Learning reforms matter. I have written a piece on this issue in today's Irish Independent. If teachers have to be paid an extra stipend in the interests of introducing good reform, reforming learning and moving kids on to be more independent learners and to negotiate what is good learning with their teachers, so be it, but we should not stop reform.

I apologise for going over time. Will the Leader give us an indication of the timeline for the children and family relationships Bill, which is urgent and important? Complex issues such as donor conception, surrogacy and IVF for straight and gay people will arise when the debate on that legislation takes place. It is a very important debate, because identity always matters, as does where we come from.

I support the comments made by my colleague, Senator Denis Landy, about the cost of financial transactions. In my opinion, access to financial services is a basic human right. When I reflect on the counter charges being imposed by some of the banks, I wonder whether we would be in the position we are in today if some of them had known their customers better going back a couple of years. I think the new regime of charges is particularly ageist, given that older people are more likely to use counter services than younger people, who are more likely to be online. I understand that one bank intends to increase its counter charges by 50%. I ask the Leader to follow up on that.

It is reported in today's newspapers that the Governor of the Central Bank is considering reducing the deposit requirement for first-time home buyers from 20% to 15%. While that would represent a marginally better position, I have to be honest and say it would not answer many of the criticisms that have been made about this move. Overall, the use of loan-to-value ratios in this way is a very blunt instrument that does not take into account the affordability of the mortgage for the individual concerned. I accept that the Central Bank is independent and that this is being done in the interests of having a robust lending framework.

Governor Honohan has made it abundantly clear that he intends to look into his own heart where this is concerned, as opposed to the views of the Department of Finance. While I accept the independence of the Central Bank, this is a wider societal issue and is a matter for the Government. In this country we have had an historic rate of home ownership. I emphasise that all sectors of society have been able to access home ownership, from the lowest to the highest in the land, thanks to measures such as local authority mortgages and tenant purchase schemes, for example. If we step away from the wide scale of home ownership, we will do so at our peril. I ask the Leader to have a wider debate on the issue of home ownership in Ireland and what measures the Government should consider, given that the Central Bank will go ahead with these proposals, to ensure we have access to home ownership in Ireland. It has been proven historically that one of the reasons older people in Ireland today do not experience the rate of poverty that their incomes would lead one to expect, is because they own their own homes. This is a very critical issue for society as a whole.

Last November I tabled a motion calling on the Government to initiate legislation to provide for a constitutional referendum to reduce the voting age to 16 years. Like many people, I was disappointed to hear that the Government does not intend to hold a referendum to reduce the voting age to 16 years, as recommended by the Constitutional Convention. Will the Leader arrange a debate this term on how we can enfranchise young people if we are not willing to make more young people eligible to vote? How can young people be engaged in the political system if there does not seem to be a desire to give them voting rights? I understand that a referendum is not required to extend voting rights for local and European elections and we should explore this option. It is important to have the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government to the House to discuss the issue and how to get a whole new generation of voters engaged with us. It is often said only older people become involved in politics. Anyone looking at the composition of the Members of the Houses would see there is a lot to be desired in terms of the age demographic. I am disappointed that the Government does not intend to hold a referendum on the matter in its term of office nor does it intend to hold referendums on some of the other matters proposed by the Constitutional Convention. It is important that this House should begin this discussion on how young people can be encouraged to engage with the political system and to engage in society in general.

I support everything Senator Denis Landy has said about banks and bank charges. It seems that cartelism is rife in this country, certainly within the banking sector. Oil prices are down at present but in some towns, petrol stations are selling diesel at €1.15 a litre and the competing petrol station is selling it at €1.16 a litre while in another town it costs €1.24 a litre and €1.25 a litre. They are all sticking together within their communities. What Senator Denis Landy says is quite true.

I support Senator John Whelan's points about the library services. I have concerns about the future of the library services. Civil servants are driving everything in this country. They come up with catchy phrases every so often. I refer to the document called Shared Services. Shared services means reduced services. They have produced another document about the fire service called Keeping Communities Safe. The fire service offers an excellent service, and yet keeping communities safe means that the number of firemen on fire and accident call-out is reduced. I am very concerned for the future of all our services. For instance, there is talk of having staffless libraries whereby customers access the library by means of a key card. I can imagine how that might work in an instance where an elderly person goes into a library at midnight that is operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week and where another person decides to follow her into the library and mug her. Has anyone given thought to such a possibility? I was talking to Senator John Whelan and he is correct in his observation that a library is not just about books but for the civil servants it is about balancing the books. We should have a broad debate on all of these issues before decisions are made.

I agreed yesterday with Senator Darragh O'Brien regarding the proposed 20% deposit requirement, which is over the top. I suggested it be reduced to 15% at least. The more important figure is the limit of 3.5 times the combined salaries. This morning I agree with Senators Ivana Bacik and Ajideen Hayden on the matter. In particular, I join Senator jIvana Bacik in asking the Leader to arrange a debate at an early date on this issue because it will have to be decided quickly and we need to add our voices on the matter. Dublin is the primary market in the country, given the population and where the demand is greatest. We are very concerned for young people that they get on the ladder. As Senator Aideen Hayden said, we have a proud tradition of home ownership which I do not think we want to disturb. It would be bad for the stability of society if we were to encourage things in that direction. One will not buy much in Dublin for anything less than €250,000 or €300,000. If Governor Honohan's proposal goes ahead, that would require a deposit of €50,000 or €60,000. This is way over the top, I believe, and it will go against our tradition and everything that we have believed in. I look forward to the Leader's response because I am sure he will agree with me. For that reason, I ask that we have a very early debate on this hot subject.

As Senator Fidelma Healy Eames has pointed out, tomorrow, 27,000 teachers in 730 schools will go out on strike for the second time in as many months. This will affect more than 340,000 students as well as many working families who will be forced to take the day off to look after the young people who are not at school. This is a serious situation which involves proposed changes to the junior cycle. While I credit the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, in going some way towards resolving the impasse, I do not believe she has gone far enough. I completely disagree with Senator Fidelma Healy Eames when she blames the unions. In my view the unions are right on this occasion. This is a serious situation that will cause chaos in the education system if it goes ahead in its present proposed form. Will the Leader, please, use his good offices to try to engage with the Minister and ask her to come to the House to outline how she and her Department have tried to resolve this situation?

I refer to the matter raised by Senator James Heffernan regarding fuel laundering along the Border. With Senator Terry Brennan and others, I raised this issue yesterday. The situation is very serious, not only from a revenue point of view but from a health point of view and a law and order point of view. I wish to clarify what may be some misunderstanding on the part of Senator James Heffernan. There is no suggestion whatsoever that An Garda Síochána or the Customs service on this side of the Border have turned a blind eye. They have invested a huge effort in combating this fuel laundering and the havoc it creates. It is costing Louth County Council, Monaghan County Council, in particular, and my own county of Cavan hundreds of thousands of euro to clean up the sludge left behind by these gangsters. I want to clarify the point. There is no suggestion a blind eye is being turned by the Garda or the Customs service.

However, there is a very serious suggestion a blind eye is being turned by the Northern authorities - by the PSNI and the customs service. Will the Leader ensure the Government acts on this as a matter of urgency?

Will the Leader arrange a debate with the Minister of State, Deputy Simon Harris, who is responsible for the Office of Public Works, because I want to know how registers of protected structures at regional level work? We have a situation in Ennistymon in County Clare where two buildings are allegedly on the register of protected structures. They are known as Blake's and Linnane's and are on the N67, the main connection to the Cliffs of Moher. I found out this morning that the National Roads Authority is supporting the demolition of three or four other buildings and is building a bridge at a cost to the taxpayer of at least €6 million instead of just demolishing what are two derelict buildings and putting in a roundabout, which would cost a fraction of that amount.

We have come out of a bailout in which people the length and breadth of this country suffered enormously. I consider what the NRA is proposing as a scandalous waste of taxpayers' money. Somebody somewhere needs to be accountable for these decisions. What is happening in regard to these two buildings is completely unacceptable. I very much question whether they have any national heritage importance. Serious questions need to be answered on this issue by the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government and the Minister of State with responsibility for the Office of Public Works. Let us start with the Minister of State, Deputy Harris, and invite him to the House to explain how this register of protected structures works and how buildings can be removed from it when they are holding a whole community to ransom and, ultimately, forcing people out of their homes, when they could potentially be purchased through the compulsory purchase order legislation. We are protecting what I would describe as two kips.

The Leader of the Opposition, Senator Darragh O'Brien, referred to home help workers and the Labour Court's recommendations. I am not sure whether he raised the matter with the Minister for Health yesterday, but I will raise the points he made with the Minister.

Senator Ivana Bacik and a number of other Senators referred to the requirement for a 20% deposit for mortgages. Senator Paul Coghlan referred to the cap of three and half times a person's salary for mortgages, which he deemed to be very prohibitive for first-time buyers, in particular. I agree with these remarks. The Central Bank of Ireland has invited submissions, which I am sure many people have made. I am also sure the bank will report quite soon on the submissions made. However, I hope special provisions will be made for first-time buyers as distinct from buy-to-rent purchasers.

Senator Ivana Bacik called for a debate on the dementia strategy, which we will try to arrange. She also called for a debate on equality in third level education.

Senator Jillian van Turnhout acknowledged the Government support announced for Childline and called for a debate on the concluding observations of the UN Human Rights Commission. We will try to arrange a debate on the matter with the Minister for Justice and Equality.

Senator David Norris welcomed the fact that the wording of the referendum on same-sex marriage had been agreed. He also welcomed the Government's proposals on adoption and human rights. I am sure that when the Gender Recognition Bill is discussed today, the Government will listen and, I hope, accept any worthy amendment tabled by Members. I expect that to be the position. It is fitting that the Bill is being taken in this House and I note the Senator's point in that regard.

Senators Hildegarde Naughton, Michael Mullins and Fidelma Healy Eames welcomed the new job announcements in Galway in Zimmer and Acorn Life. Senator Hildegarde Naughton also welcomed the significant funding for the Irish National Theatre Company in Galway which was announced by the Minister of State, Deputy Joe McHugh, over the weekend.

Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú referred to the case of Mr. Harry Gleeson, from more than 70 years ago, and the suggestion that a pardon be granted soon. I will contact the Minister for Justice and Equality and if the announcement can be made in this House, I am sure she will accede to that request.

Senators Denis Landy, Aideen Hayden and John Kelly, among other Senators, referred to changes in bank charges and the cost to consumers. It shows the need for competition in the banking sector because while the charges are different, some have suggested there is a cartel in place. I am one of the old-fashioned people who still likes to do business at the counter in the bank, but it is becoming increasingly difficult to do so. Every time I go into the bank I am reminded that there is Internet banking and of how good it is, but I am resisting it.

Unfortunately, I will be talking to myself fairly soon. The human side of banking is practically gone.

We are dealing with machines all the time now. Talking about machines, the suggestion that some local authority libraries will not have a librarian is absolutely ludicrous. That is going to the extreme.

Will the Leader ask the Central Bank of Ireland to initiate an inquiry-----

I will certainly bring the matter to the attention of the Minister for Finance.

Senator Terry Leyden referred to the Central Bank of Ireland. As he knows, it is independent of the Government. I think Ms Lagarde answered the questions she was asked directly and in a very forthright manner.

Senator Michael Mullins referred to the regional spread of jobs and called for a debate on regional grants. I agree with him in that regard. IDA Ireland is at last and not before time concentrating on the need for a regional balance in the creation of jobs. I am happy that it has reappointed a director for the south east, which post it removed in 1996. We wish the lady concerned very well in her endeavours because the south east has suffered more than most areas during the recession.

Senator Michael Mullins also raised the matter of out-of-pocket expenses for those who serve on juries. It is a very valid point. Perhaps a Commencement debate with the Minister for Justice and Equality might be suggested in that regard. Many people who serve on juries are penalised financially.

Senator Gerard P. Craughwell referred to the commission on Seanad reform and reminded people that there were only a certain number of days left to make submissions. He referred to the membership of boards of management and the restriction of 20 km applied. It is a ludicrous suggestion. A distance of 20 km is far too short and will prevent good people from becoming members of boards of management. I am sure the points the Senator wishes to raise about water meters can be raised during the debate on the Private Members' motion this evening.

I have commented on the issue raised by Senator John Whelan, namely, libraries, a matter also raised by Senators John Kelly, Denis Landy and James Heffernan, among others. I agree with Senator John Whelan and hope to arrange for the Minister to attend the House to discuss the matter.

Senator James Heffernan raised a point that was also raised yesterday on the dumping of toxic sludge and diesel laundering in Border counties which he pinned directly on the Provisional IRA which he suggested still ruled the roost through intimidation. I praise the journalist Mr. Jim Cusack who raised the matter in the Sunday Independent. It must be addressed. I note Senator Diarmuid Wilson's point about how, although the Garda and the Customs service on this side of the Border are active, there is a suggestion their counterparts on the other side are not as active, for whatever reason. I am sure this matter will be addressed in many fora in the coming months, including the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly. I am sure it will also be discussed by the relevant Ministers, as it is not just a serious matter in the counties involved but also for the country and its economy. The amount of money involved is large.

Senator Colm Burke called for a debate on home care and the need for proper structures and training. He has drafted a Bill which I hope will be before the House during this term for a comprehensive debate.

Senators Fidelma Healy Eames and Diarmuid Wilson referred to the reform of the junior certificate programme. Each had a different opinion on how this should be done. It is regrettable that there will be a further strike, as it will pose a major inconvenience for families, pupils and all involved. Further negotiation is necessary and I hope it will be facilitated.

Senator Fidelma Healy Eames also asked for a timetable for the taking of the children and family relationships Bill. We will try to ascertain when the Bill will be brought before the House or whether the debate on it will commence in this Chamber.

Senator Aideen Hayden discussed the matter of mortgage loan caps and the critical issue of access to home ownership which I hope we can have addressed in the coming weeks.

Senator Kathryn Reilly mentioned the referendum to reduce the voting age to 16 years. The Government has decided that it will not be held during its term of office, but I am sure the matter will be discussed and kept on the agenda. There are different points of view on whether 16 year olds should have voting rights, but we will try to facilitate a debate on the matter later in the term.

Senator John Kelly made points about competition in the banking sector, as well as library and fire services.

Senator Martin Conway referred to regional registers of protected structures and called on the Minister of State, Deputy Simon Harris, to attend the House. I suggest this could be a good subject matter for a Commencement debate. Perhaps the Senator might table such a motion.

Senator Darragh O'Brien has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That a debate with the Minister for Health on the pension entitlements of home care workers be taken today." Is the amendment being pressed?

Amendment put:
The Seanad divided: Tá, 15; Níl, 25.

  • Byrne, Thomas.
  • Craughwell, Gerard P.
  • Heffernan, James.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • Mooney, Paschal.
  • Norris, David.
  • Ó Clochartaigh, Trevor.
  • Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
  • Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
  • O'Brien, Darragh.
  • Power, Averil.
  • Quinn, Feargal.
  • Reilly, Kathryn.
  • White, Mary M.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.

Níl

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Brennan, Terry.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • D'Arcy, Jim.
  • Gilroy, John.
  • Hayden, Aideen.
  • Henry, Imelda.
  • Higgins, Lorraine.
  • Keane, Cáit.
  • Kelly, John.
  • Landy, Denis.
  • Moloney, Marie.
  • Moran, Mary.
  • Mulcahy, Tony.
  • Mullins, Michael.
  • Naughton, Hildegarde.
  • Noone, Catherine.
  • O'Donnell, Marie-Louise.
  • O'Neill, Pat.
  • van Turnhout, Jillian.
  • Whelan, John.
  • Zappone, Katherine.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Paschal Mooney and Diarmuid Wilson; Níl, Senators Paul Coghlan and Aideen Hayden.
Amendment declared lost.
Question put: "That the Order of Business be agreed to."
The Seanad divided: Tá, 27; Níl, 14.

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Brennan, Terry.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • D'Arcy, Jim.
  • Gilroy, John.
  • Hayden, Aideen.
  • Heffernan, James.
  • Henry, Imelda.
  • Higgins, Lorraine.
  • Keane, Cáit.
  • Kelly, John.
  • Landy, Denis.
  • Moloney, Marie.
  • Moran, Mary.
  • Mulcahy, Tony.
  • Mullins, Michael.
  • Naughton, Hildegarde.
  • Noone, Catherine.
  • O'Donnell, Marie-Louise.
  • O'Neill, Pat.
  • Sheahan, Tom.
  • van Turnhout, Jillian.
  • Whelan, John.
  • Zappone, Katherine.

Níl

  • Byrne, Thomas.
  • Craughwell, Gerard P.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • Mooney, Paschal.
  • Norris, David.
  • Ó Clochartaigh, Trevor.
  • Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
  • Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
  • O'Brien, Darragh.
  • Power, Averil.
  • Quinn, Feargal.
  • Reilly, Kathryn.
  • White, Mary M.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Paul Coghlan and Aideen Hayden; Níl, Senators Paschal Mooney and Diarmuid Wilson.
Question declared carried.