Skip to main content
Normal View

Seanad Éireann debate -
Thursday, 29 Jan 2015

Vol. 237 No. 6

Order of Business

The Order of Business is No. 1, Regulation of Lobbying Bill 2014 (changed from) Registration of Lobbying Bill 2014 [Dáil] - Second Stage, to be taken at 1.15 p.m. with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes each and other Senators not to exceed five minutes.

Over the past few days, documents have been released to Fianna Fáil under the Freedom of Information Act. Unlike the usual Government spin, laundered through public relations agencies and PR consultants, these documents make for very interesting and stark reading for the public. The documents include a letter from the Secretary General of the Tánaiste's Department to the Secretary General of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, Mr. Robert Watt, which relates specifically to the costs and logistics associated with the administration of the so-called water conservation grant. It clearly outlines what it describes as the Government's revised approach. Two paragraphs have been redacted. God knows what they might say. It is in the public interest that the Government might publish the entire letter.

It is scandalous in the extreme that the Government entered into a plan around 5 November 2014 to try to bribe the people, with borrowed money on which the people will have to pay interest, to get them to sign up to an ill-conceived and badly thought out plan. The latest publication of the documents shows that the Government does not know what it is doing and how to do it but that it intends to waste many tens of millions of euro, borrowed on behalf of the people, to try to do it. The letter talks of “still assessing new initiatives”. We do not see the clarity and certainty that the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Kelly, talked about in his November announcement. The only certainty is that the Government is as disorganised, divided, incoherent and idea-less as ever in the context of delivering water to the people.

So far, we have wasted €700 million of the people’s money. It is unclear how much more will be wasted. However, it is certain from the letter, because it was free from Government spin, that the official in charge of the Department said we do not have the money and resources and we need more. How much more do we need? The situation must not be allowed to continue. Somebody must shout, “Stop”. According to Mr. John Tierney of Irish Water, €2.3 billion is required to upgrade our water infrastructure and quality throughout the country. We have thrown €700 million down the drain and will add at least another €100 million and God knows how much more to back up the Government's incoherent, ill-advised and disorganised approach. Had we spent this money through the local authority network, we would have completed 35% to 40% of the entire upgrade and would have created employment, instead of the wastage. This is a vital issue in the national interest.

The letter talks of spending more money on consultancy, external service provision including legal and procurement costs, postal costs to each household, advertising services, an administrative team and support, a project team and more staff. Where will it end? Does anybody in the Labour Party or Fine Gael have the slightest idea what they are doing throwing money around in the interests of this super quango, Irish Water? I propose an amendment to the Order of Business to invite the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Burton, to the House to answer questions on behalf of her Secretary General on this correspondence today. It is a matter of the utmost public interest.

I ask the Leader for a debate on the Action Plan for Jobs 2015. I welcome today's publication of the action plan, which Chambers Ireland has welcomed. It has been widely welcomed and it is undisputed that the plan is working. Since the first launch of An Action Plan for Jobs at the initiation of the Government's programme, approximately 1,000 actions have been implemented across Government Departments to support job creation. The figures speak for themselves. Since then, an extra 80,000 people are at work and unemployment has fallen from 15% to 10.6%. Although unemployment is still too high, the trend is very welcome and everyone will join in welcoming it. Although when the action plan for jobs was initially launched in February 2012, people thought the target of having an extra 100,000 people at work by 2016 was overly ambitious, it appears we will meet the target early, during 2015.

Now, it appears that we will be meeting that target early, during 2015. The action plan is speaking for itself.

I also welcome some of the specific measures in the announcement today, in particular the regional enterprise strategy to ensure each region will have a target of job creation measures. I know many colleagues have raised concerns that job creation is stronger in Dublin and urban centres than outside cities. It is important to note that there will be a specific stress on regional development. Regional enterprise strategies will include competitive funding initiatives of up to €25 million and that is most welcome. I call on the Leader for a debate on the matter. I know we have had regular debates on jobs and on the action plan but we could well continue in that vein now that we have the new Action Plan for Jobs 2015.

I support the comments made by Senator Norris yesterday on the controversy over Coláiste Eoin in Stillorgan in Dublin. It was reported this week that the school had cancelled or perhaps postponed a workshop on homophobic bullying to be hosted by the voluntary organisation ShoutOut which had conducted workshops in the school previously. The group was told, it seems, without any notice, that the workshop could not go ahead on the basis that the board had decided both sides of the argument should be represented. As Senator Norris rightly said, this is a case of someone's interpretation of the McKenna judgment gone mad. Clearly, there is absolutely no issue about balance when we are talking about seeking to prevent and stamp out homophobic bullying in schools.

We all know the extreme misery caused by homophobic bullying. The initiatives taken by the former Minister, Deputy Ruairí Quinn, initially and others in schools throughout the country to prevent homophobic bullying must be supported. Any suggestion that they could be objected to in some way is of great concern and I support Senator Norris in this regard. I realise we have had a debate before on the national plan on preventing and curbing homophobic bullying and I call on the Leader for further debate to address this serious issue in our schools.

In recent days I have received inquiries from sections of the media about whether I would join an Independent political party or whatever it was. They quoted a statement from Deputy Patrick O'Donovan of Fine Gael suggesting that there are 813,000 reasons people will not join this grouping, namely because they would have to sacrifice their Independent leaders' allowance.

Many Members of this House, to my certain knowledge, have taken a reduction in their income to serve the people. Yesterday, we were looking at the universities. It was perfectly obvious that middle-range academics and administrators get considerably more than Members of this House. I wish to point out to Deputy O'Donovan that these expenses are now fully vouched and passed by the Oireachtas. They are for political purposes and not for personal spending.

The reason I have not joined a political party is that I always campaigned and spoken as an Independent. I have always cherished my independence and I retain my independence. I have no intention at any stage ever of joining a political party. I have to be honest and say I have not been asked, so it is, to a certain extent, an academic question. That is the reason: I have not been asked and my natural instinct is-----

Why would Senator Norris dilute his own brand?

We are open to it.

The Fianna Fáil Whip has said he wants a word with me later.

Senator Wilson is making the request.

Senator, have you a question for the Leader?

I think we should be realistic. We get a comparatively modest income in this House and any expenses are vouched. I think the public should be satisfied with this. I think we should come to an end of this period of sackcloth and ashes for politicians. We work hard and we take a reduction in income to serve the people. I am puzzled by the attitude in some political quarters of flaying ourselves as politicians.

I join Senator Bacik in welcoming the Action Plan for Jobs, published this morning. The initial Action Plan for Jobs launched in 2011 was the foundation on which our economic recovery has been built. In the past four years we have seen over 80,000 more people at work and a considerable drop in the unemployment rate from 15.1% to 10.6%.

The Action Plan for Jobs 2015 is rather ambitious in that it aims to create an environment that will generate 40,000 more jobs this year. There are several laudable features in the plan for this year, in particular the emphasis on the regions and the regional enterprise strategy to be rolled out throughout the country. I support the call for a debate with the Minister on aspects of the Action Plan for Jobs and particularly the regional enterprise strategy.

Certain regions in the country have suffered badly in recent years through unemployment, including the part of the country I come from, the town of Ballinasloe, which has lost more than 1,000 industrial jobs in the past decade. I hope this particular region will be targeted as part of the regional enterprise strategy and that the €25 million funding initiative will encourage stakeholders in each region to co-operate to develop projects to support enterprise and job creation.

Another thing I like is the emphasis on start-ups, in particular the concept of a start-up gathering to be held in 2015. We know what The Gathering did for tourism. I hope a gathering-type initiative will bring together all potential entrepreneurs as well as successful and well-established entrepreneurs to help to generate many new ideas and initiatives. Generally speaking, the emphasis on leveraging all the talent in the country and the national talent skills drive to target a 60% increase in information and communications technology graduates by 2018 is laudable and worthy of support.

The Action Plan for Jobs has an emphasis on the domestic economy and an increased focus on job creation in the domestic economy in every town and village, including measures to support retail and construction, which, as we know, has great potential given the housing shortage. We are probably all aware of tradesmen and craftsmen who are considering a move back to Ireland to take up the new positions that will become available as a result of an improvement in the construction sector and to meet the considerable housing demand.

The Survey on Income and Living Conditions in Ireland is a household survey covering a broad range of issues in respect of income and living conditions produced by the Central Statistics Office. One of the key findings of the latest survey, published last week, was that enforced deprivation was experienced by 30.5% of the population in 2013, up from 26.9% in 2012. Enforced deprivation is defined as a scenario where people are unable to afford at least two basics, such as keeping one's home adequately warm, new clothes or replacing worn out furniture. The advent of deprivation experienced by 30.5% of the population is a significant change in the latest CSO survey on income and living conditions.

In the survey, an analysis of socio-demographic characteristics showed that those living in households with one adult and one or more children have the highest deprivation rate at 62.2%. I am speaking on behalf of Louise Bayliss of SPARK, Single Parents Acting for the Rights of Kids. Single parents are already the most economically vulnerable group in our society. The changes to Government policy to be introduced by the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Burton, in July will make matters even worse. Any lone parent who has a child over the age of seven years will no longer be categorised as a lone parent. Such persons will be moved to the family income supplement or jobseeker's allowance, as the case may be. Lone parents who are full-time carers will lose €86 per week in July if the youngest child reaches seven years of age.

I asked the Leader to invite the Minister to the House to discuss the latest CSO survey on income and living conditions. It is one of the most serious issues in the country at the moment.

The bureaucracy is so tight here in the Oireachtas that I did not get any time to speak on the situation at Aer Lingus yesterday. With the Cathaoirleach's grace, I would like to say that I am totally opposed to the Government selling our 25% share in Aer Lingus.

As public representatives, we have a responsibility to explain the positions we take on different policy issues, particularly ones that are controversial or could do with further explanation in the public domain. There is a great opportunity open to us with regard to the facility that social media offers. It offers a huge number of positives for public representatives but I am afraid it also offers one or two negatives. I ask the Leader to facilitate a debate in the House on the influence of social media on political discourse. It would be an interesting debate and we would glean different insights into the benefits and drawbacks of such engagement.

I welcome the fact that the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Transport and Communications is to have hearings on the sale of Aer Lingus to British Airways. I commend the Chairman, Deputy John O'Mahony. The examination of the sale announced in the House yesterday by the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport involves a review body involving NewERA, two investment banks and one of the big four solicitor firms. What on earth does this group know about aviation? Happily, the Minister has a distinguished record in this field of study. The review body is tilted all the wrong way and it will require the skills of the joint committee, this House and the Minister to outweigh the imbalance in the review body. The review body will try to sell it - that is what NewERA does - and will not look at the consequences.

I welcome the intervention of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland today pointing out the importance of Aer Lingus to Belfast. As I pointed out yesterday, Manchester, Birmingham, Glasgow, Edinburgh and Belfast have been neglected. We are told that British Airways will not continue that policy of neglecting regions when it takes over Aer Lingus. Heathrow is still growing and is growing faster than any of the big airports in the London area. I see this as a threat to the north Atlantic routes where we have 2.4 million passengers. Scotland, which has a larger population, has about 400,000 passengers. That is the British Airways record. We want to be very careful before we get involved with that particular group at the behest of bankers. Speaking about timing, one of the banks outsourced jobs to Texas today, so having it adjudicate on where the Aer Lingus jobs will be outsourced is a dangerous strategy.

I also welcome the statement by the Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, a distinguished Irish-Canadian who gave an address at the Department of Foreign Affairs last night. Mr. Carney was previously Governor of the Bank of Canada. He was honouring the distinguished Irish-Canadian Jim Flaherty, a former Canadian finance Minister. Mr. Carney's message to Germany in particular was that federalism involves duties, responsibilities and obligations on the rich countries who should stop lecturing places like Greece, Portugal and occasionally Ireland.

Senator Norris raised an interesting question relating to the costs of the Oireachtas. It is important that we set out clearly that if we abolished the Seanad and the Dáil in the morning, there would be a saving of €100 million, which in real terms is about two days of social welfare. At the moment, we are paying around €400 million a week in social welfare payments. It is important that we put the service that Oireachtas Members provide and the work they do into perspective. It is easy to be critical but we are very slow to take credit where work is done and a lot of good work is done by all Members of the Oireachtas - of all parties and none.

I will address the recent decision by the Irish Medical Organisation to accept the package put forward regarding the recruitment of medical consultants. It is a very important decision, which I welcome, to accept the package available for new consultants joining the health service. It is important that the HSE immediately prioritises the recruitment of consultants. There are over 200 vacancies in a range of areas in all our hospitals. It is important that every effort is made to get the best people back into our system and to make sure we can provide the service the people in this country require. It is not something that can be addressed overnight because even if a job is offered to someone today, it might be 12 months before it is taken up. We also need to start planning for those who are going to retire from the service over the next 12 months. When I put a question to the HSE at a meeting of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children in October, it told me it could not give me the details of all the vacancies across the country. This is unacceptable. As I pointed out to representatives from the HSE, if they gave me the name of a porter in all 40 hospitals and I telephoned each of them, I am sure they would be able to give me the information. I found it a little-----

The Senator is over time.

It was a matter of concern that the HSE did not have an overall picture of where the vacancies existed. It is important for this issue to be prioritised and that we recruit the good people who are there to provide the service we require.

I second Senator MacSharry's amendment to the Order of Business. I was very disturbed last night to find that the Irish Water debacle is about to come back and haunt us again. Last week, there was an announcement from the European Commission that it had some doubts as to whether EUROSTAT would accept the figures put forward by Government regarding Irish Water. I learned late last night that the Secretary General at the Department of Social Protection has written to the Secretary General of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform setting out concerns relating to resources to administer the only grant in the country people can get without having to do anything to get it. A person does not have to prove anything to get it. The Secretary General's final words were that it is "critical that we advance this project quickly". Clearly, the Secretary General felt that her Department could not administer this grant. A statement was released by the Department this morning saying it might be able to do so. We need an answer to this, therefore, I second Senator MacSharry's amendment to the Order of Business. I regret having to do so.

In respect of the CSO figures released yesterday, I welcome the news that overseas travel increased by 8.9% last year. There were 618,500 more visitors last year compared to 2013, which was the year of The Gathering and a phenomenal year for tourism that we did not think would be surpassed. There were 7.6 million visitors to Ireland last year, which was a wonderful year for Irish tourism. This is a significant increase following the very successful year of The Gathering. The figures issued yesterday confirm that 2014 was the best year ever in terms of the numbers of visitors from North America and mainland Europe. No doubt, overseas tourism is playing a major role in our economic recovery with overall employment in tourism estimated to be in the region of 200,000. The aim of this Government is to increase revenue from tourism to €5 billion per annum and to increase the number of people employed to 250,000.

No doubt the reduction in the airport tax to 0% and the retention of the VAT on tourism-related services at 9% were major factors in the increased number of visitors to our country last year.

I rise to ask the Leader for a debate as soon as possible on the future of Cork Airport.

I am deeply concerned about the deterioration of Cork Airport over the past number of years. During the previous Seanad from 2007 to 2011 the former Senator, Jerry Buttimer, who is now a Deputy, raised this issue on, at least, a monthly basis. The airport has deteriorated rapidly since then. When travelling to Dublin in 2007, 2008 and 2009 I had the option of flying to Dublin Airport with Aer Aran, Aer Lingus or Ryanair. Currently, there are no flights operating out of Cork to the capital city. The number of routes from Cork to Europe have substantially declined and businessmen in Cork, including from the Chamber of Commerce, are deeply concerned about the future of the airport.

I was not in the House yesterday for the debate on the sale of Aer Lingus to IAG. However, the Heathrow slots are of critical importance to the commercial life of Cork city. Often much of the debate on particular issues revolves around the Pale but Cork city and town are also of critical importance. Currently a person wishing to fly from America to Ireland can fly direct from Los Angeles and San Francisco to Dublin. However, if that person wishes to continue on to Cork, west Cork or Kerry there are no connecting flights, leaving him or her having to disembark in Dublin and find alternative means of getting to the south of Ireland. This is a serious issue, one that has been forgotten about in the overall debate. While I accept it will not be possible to have a debate today on the future of Cork Airport, including the attitude of Aer Lingus and Ryanair towards it, I would like the Leader to arrange for such a debate within the next four or five weeks. Despite the fact that some €130 million was spent on the wonderful terminal at Cork Airport it is now like a ghost estate in that there is hardly anybody in it. That is the reality.

Like Senator Mullins I congratulate the Government on the Action Plan for Jobs 2015 which was launched today. I hope it will be as successful as others heretofore and that we will be moving towards full employment by 2020.

On the water issue and the controversy about which some Senators spoke earlier, I heard the Tánaiste say resourcing issues in terms of Irish Water are a routine feature of Government work, particularly in her Department which will provide €85 million in payments per year in that regard and also that that Department anticipates no issues arising in the context of processing the water conservation grant. We hear much about the cost of Irish Water. It is important any savings made by it are also put on the record. It was estimated that the Ringsend plant would cost €350 million. Irish Water has reduced this amount to €180 million, resulting in a saving €170 million on only one project. This means the set up costs of Irish Water are balancing out in terms of savings been made.

Some €700 million has been wasted.

The amalgamation of 34 local authorities into one agency will result in a saving of €1.1 billion over seven years.

What about the cost of all the other quangos?

Does Senator MacSharry wish me to go on?

Not particularly.

Does Senator Keane have a question for the Leader?

I do but it is on a different subject. I always like to put the record straight.

Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?

I do. An important conference on women and economic inequality, organised by the National Women's Council of Ireland, the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission and Oxfam, is being held today. Following that conference, I would welcome a debate in this House on that subject and, in particular, the inclusion of child care workers, who are in the main women, in the context of the low pay commission which is being administered by the Minister of State, Deputy Nash. I ask that the Leader arrange a debate on the issue of women and economic inequality, with particular reference to the inclusion within the remit of the low pay commission of child care workers to ensure their rights are looked after.

The Senator is way over time.

We are all aware that the cost of child care is equivalent to having a second mortgage. For this reason, I want child care issues included.

I would welcome a debate on the regional enterprise strategy. There is little doubt that the launch today of the action plan for jobs is a matter we should be debating here. Much work has been done on this issue by the Joint Committee on Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, the conclusions of which are now coming to fruition in the context of some of the good results coming through. It continues to be the case that many believe the Government can solve all of these problems. However, these problems will be solved not by Government but ensuring that Government removes the shackles and hindrances to enterprise to create jobs.

One of the areas in retail that has been doing well is the pharmacy sector. At a meeting yesterday of the Joint Committee on Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation delegates from the pharmacy sector made a strong case for people with minor ailments not being obliged to visit their general practitioner in the first instance. In their view approximately 40% of all visits to GPs could be avoided if the first point of call for people with minor ailments was the pharmacy. Practically all pharmacies now have private consultation rooms. It appears to me that what the retail pharmacies are doing could solve many minor problems for people and result in a reduction in hospital and GP waiting lists. It is important that people not expect the Government to do everything but do something themselves to help.

It has come to my attention during the past couple of days that 8% of public servants are in receipt of the family income supplement, FIS, which is a worrying statistic. This would suggest that a section of middle Ireland is caught between a rock and a hard place and under severe financial pressure. Government has promised a spring statement in the coming months regarding the economy and equality and ensuring the green shoots we are seeing benefit all sectors of society. I believe this spring statement should focus on middle Ireland, namely, the people who work hard and have suffered enormously in terms of the financial challenges we have faced in recent years. It is important something is done to assist this group of people in exiting from the poverty trap in which they find themselves. Some 20 or 30 years ago one would never have believed that 8% of public servants in this country would require financial support from the State. That this is the case is illustrative of the collapse that has taken place.

I ask that in due course the Leader provide for a debate on creative ways of assisting middle Ireland and people who are struggling, particularly working couples who are paying for everything and get very little. This will be a significant challenge but none the less one that we have to face up to over the next couple of years.

Last week, I made reference to the pending Central Bank changes in relation to mortgages. Since then, these changes have been announced. While I can understand and, to some extent, welcome these changes, they will be an impediment to many people in accessing and affording a home. I ask the Leader to arrange for an early and open ended debate on public and private housing, during which we could endeavour to come up with ideas that could be inputted into a policy formulation that might assist in the current crisis. Affordability of housing should be a priority for Government.

I am not sure the somewhat crude mechanism of the Central Bank is the way to do it. I remember arguing strenuously in 2001, at a time when people were having difficulty in purchasing their own houses, that we should revert to a system that had been in place in the 1980s and perhaps the 1970s. Under that system, one had to obtain a certificate of reasonable value from the Department when disposing of a house. A sophisticated regionally based system could be effective in controlling house prices and relate the lending rate to the certificate of reasonable value as opposed to the market value.

I am appalled that not just the Government but also its precedessor stopped building local authority houses. That was a major mistake and is now being seen as such. We started to lease houses over 20 years and did all sorts of ingenious things which really only served to kick the can down the road. We now have a situation in my own county where people in Wexford town have been waiting for ten years on the waiting list before they have a prospect of being able to access a local authority house. Unless there is capital expenditure on a significant local authority building programme, this crisis will not be resolved. If we look back, we will see that in the 1930s, when Éamon de Valera first came to power and in the middle of an economic war, many of the local authority houses in which many Members were probably reared were built. There is no reason we could not give a fillip to the construction industry in our various areas. There is huge construction unemployment in Wexford. We could also make provision in order that at least one arm of housing policy was being directed and pursued.

I am sorry if I sound like a broken record, but we will need to have a fresh debate on the issue of hospital waiting lists in the aftermath of data and an international comparison being published, both of which emerged during the week. As the Minister for Health, Deputy Leo Varadkar, has correctly and honestly acknowledged, the HSE figures show an unacceptably long waiting list. Clearly, initiative after initiative has failed. This is the long-running wound in the health care system. In every one of the 22 years I have worked in Ireland since coming back in 1993 it has been the ongoing disaster. There is no sign of it getting better; it is just getting worse.

One might say this is a problem which reflects the increasing success of medicine, its increasing cost and complexity and increasing demand on services, but we have comparative figures which show that other countries are doing it much better. As the House will know, I have brought to the attention of colleagues in this and other fora my concerns about some of the metrics being used to collect waiting list statistics. I will not use any pejorative or presumptive term, but I have referred to the possibility that there may have been practices in recording these metrics within the HSE which tended to minimise the length of the wait by not starting waiting lists until correspondence had been received, etc., and of having the dual waiting list phenomenon, whereby people waiting to see a doctor are put on a second waiting list for the procedure, surgery or test that the doctor orders without really counting the totality of a waiting list.

We now know that the problem is bad. Data from the European Health Consumer Index published in the past few days show that not only are we doing very badly and slipping, but we are now lower than Estonia and Slovenia. It is an old song which I have been singing for a while. It is telling that the people who compiled the data for the European Health Consumer Index said they were no longer using government figures. I refer to "government" in the broad public service sense, rather than to to the Government. They no longer use the officially provided figures because they consider they are not credible. They are now using figures which they take from alternative sources, including patient groups.

We have a real problem. We know that the waiting lists are bad and have a suspicion that they may even be worse than is thought from the official figures. They are getting worse in comparison to those in other countries and there is now at least some international scrutiny of the methodology we use for collecting figures which suggests the position may be a good deal worse than we know. I have a certain sympathy for the Minister and the officials on the crisis that emerged in emergency departments. While that will happen from time to time, the problem is that the outlet valve on the other side of emergency departments of beds for patient admissions is so deficient that problems are being caused for elective waiting lists. The beds now being freed up to deal with the high profile emergency room overcrowding issue are one that could otherwise have been used to get people off waiting lists. Four years into the term of the Government that promised as one its core principles the reform of the health service, it needs to be done.

I mention in passing the sad death of a very important person in Irish medicine, Professor Sean Blake, who was originally from Dunbeg, County Clare. He was educated at St. Flannan's College and UCD, had a glittering research career in London and returned to be one of the founding generation of cardiologists at the Mater Hospital in Dublin. He became an international authority on the question of pregnancies complicated by heart disease. There are many hundreds of young Irish adults who partly owe their lives to the fact that their mothers who had heart disease when they were pregnant were taken by him through their illnesses. I record our gratitude as a nation for the work he did.

I support the ringing call by Senator Jim Walsh for a debate on issues related to housing. The housing crisis in many cities and the apparent inability of local authorities to deal with it are very troubling and something that deserve our immediate attention. As a result of rising rents in the residential sector, a family that does not have an income earner is not able to keep up with rising rents. A family depending on social welfare payments cannot rent a two-bedroom house or an apartment going for €900 or €1,000 per month. It is disturbing to have to deal with families who report their problems. They feel frustrated where in some cases they are given the runaround from one authority to another.

I was contacted by the mother of a young family in Galway city where the owners of the small house she had been renting for years wanted to sell it. Her family has been on the county list for seven years and were given a timeframe of ten years to wait for a house. They have children sitting State examinations this year and risk being homeless at this very difficult time or being placed in unsuitable emergency accommodation. Reading through what this lady sent me, one can feel her frustration. She talked about being approached by the landlord who wanted to sell the house in order to give her a period of time to vacate. It was thanks to Threshold that she learned the notice to quit she had been given was invalid. She is confronted by an ultimatum to leave without any comfort from the local authority that she will have suitable accommodation for her family.

This story is not unique. The housing lists in many local authority areas are hopelessly long and the problem is compounded by rising rents. Some of the poorest families are being caught in a trap and we need urgent solutions. Either the Government raises the rent allowance cap or brings more houses into the local authority system. Senator Jim Walsh has raised the point and I support hm fully in the issues he has raised. We must debate the matter urgently.

I support the call of my colleague, Senator Marc MacSharry, for the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton, to come before the House to account for the correspondence to which he referred. As our party's social protection spokesperson, I have raised the issue on several occasions without success. I was not able to get even the most minimal response on how much it would cost to administer the €100 conservation grant. It was obvious that there was something going on within the Department that we were not being made aware of. It reminded me of the former Irish football manager Giovanni Trapattoni who referred, using some strangled language after a match, to the cat being in the bag. The cat is out of the bag on this issue and it shows the half-baked nature of the initiatives forced on the Government in the latter part of last year as a result of universal public protest.

In the light of further job losses in Monaghan with the imminent closure of the Bose plant which will have a devastating impact beyond the county's borders, the issue of job losses at the former MBNA plant has not gone away.

It seems to me that the Government thinks the matter has gone away.

Some 160 jobs were lost immediately before Christmas which has had, and continues to have, a devastating effect on the local community and far beyond the confines of Carrick-on-Shannon. The MBNA plant was a major job creation facility that employed more than 1,100 people at its peak who came from several counties of the north west and the midlands. In recent weeks I keep asking myself how those families feel. They must feel let down by this Government that over the past number of months has continued to spin the notion that there are more and more jobs. These people have lost their jobs but, due to their location in County Leitrim, there is no realistic prospect that the jobs will be replaced. It is particularly sad that these were not ordinary jobs. They were jobs of a particular expertise in the financial sector. Over the past number of years the Government has focused a great deal on providing jobs in the financial sector in the larger cities. In Carrick-on-Shannon there is a dedicated and committed workforce which has a great deal of expertise. The longer this issue goes on, without any possibility of replacement jobs, the greater chance such expertise will be lost to the four winds.

Perhaps the Leader will indicate when the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation will come before the House for a debate. It would afford us an opportunity to question him on his jobs strategy. Statistics indicate that more jobs have been created outside of the Dublin region than in Dublin itself but, at the same time, parts of the country, such as my own and that of the Leader's region in the south east, that has not benefited from the upturn that we have been told is happening in the economy. The people who lost their jobs in Carrick-on-Shannon have not experienced an upturn. They are faced with more financial challenges, bills, debts and figuring out where to find the next few bob in order to put food on the table.

Senators MacSharry, Craughwell, Mooney and others inquired about the water conservation grant. The grant is a good news story and the initiative has been welcomed by many people. The Minister is on record as saying there will be no delay whatsoever in paying the water conservation grant. The Department of Social Protection has issued a statement today that it is still assessing the resource requirements in respect of the new initiatives for the payment system.

It does not know.

The Government is hiding information and that is a fact.

I had the decency to listen to the Senator.

The Leader provoked me and I had to set the record straight.

I ask the Senator to listen me. If he does not want to listen to the facts then there is no point in him being here.

I want the Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection to come in here and answer to the people.

The Leader please, without interruption.

Dealing with the resource requirement issues is a routine feature of the Government's work. The Department processes approximately 85 million payments a year and it anticipates no issues in processing the water conservation grant.

What would the Secretary General of the Department say?

I have outlined the situation and the statement from the Department, as it stands.

The Secretary General-----

Senator Bacik and many other Members mentioned the Action Plan for Jobs and the regional enterprise strategy. It would be fitting to invite the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation to the House. The jobs front is another good news situation, where the Government is concerned.

We should talk about job losses.

I realise what Senator Mooney mentioned. Prior to this Government taking office the IDA ensured that 20% of jobs were provided in the regions and the figure has risen to 36%.

That is not the case in Leitrim, Sligo, west Cavan and Donegal. That might be the case in Waterford and some such places where the senior figures of Fine Gael and the Labour Party hail from. That is not the situation in constituencies like Senator Mooney's and mine.

The Leader please, without interruption. Senator MacSharry has had his say. The Leader is trying to respond to the questions raised on the Order of Business.

The Leader has distorted the facts.

He has not concluded his comments.

Has the Leader concluded his comments?

The Opposition is overdoing the dramatics again.

The Leader has not concluded but he will conclude soon, if I am allowed to do so.

I have quoted that 36% of jobs are now located in the regions, in comparison with 20% in the past. As we know, the employment rate was 15.5% when we took office but it has been reduced to just over 10% now. A lot more needs to be done and is why we have the Action Plan for Jobs and a regional strategy. We will not rest on our laurels. We have and will, by the end of this year, have provided in excess of 100,000 net jobs. I can assure Senators that the figure will be improved upon as the year goes on.

Senator Bacik made a point in response to Senator Norris's comment on the McKenna judgment. I also note her point about the prevention of homophobic bullying which was raised yesterday.

Senator Norris raised an issue of salaries and expenses for Members of the Oireachtas. The records are on the public record and are available for everyone to see so there is no need for Members to comment. Therefore, I do not think there is a need for further comment on the matter.

Senator Mullins mentioned the Action Plan for Jobs. As I said, I will get the Minister for Social Protection in here, in early course, to debate the matter.

Senator White raised the same question she raised yesterday on the CSO Survey for Income and Living Conditions. I shall endeavour to have the Minister in here to discuss the matter, as I mentioned yesterday.

I thank the Leader.

Senator Gilroy sought a debate on the influence of social media on the political system. I will consider arranging such a debate.

Senator Barrett asked a question about the review body to deal with Aer Lingus. The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport is keen to hear the views and input of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Transport and Communications. I can assure Senators that he is willing to listen to all sections involved before making a decision on the issue.

Like Senator Barrett, I note Mr. Mark Carney's observation that richer countries should support countries that are in difficulties. He also stated that Ireland cannot be compared with Greece in anyway in terms of difficulties.

The EU should look after both countries.

Senator Brennan mentioned the significant improvement in tourism figures. The sector is vital for economic recovery. A 9% VAT rate was a major help and the elimination of the travel tax was also a key indicator for increasing tourism numbers.

Senator O'Donovan sought a debate on the future of Cork Airport. I can assure him that his comments were echoed by many Fine Gael representatives who attended a meeting of the Fine Gael party last night. I am sure the same applies to the Labour Party. The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport is well aware of the situation. I will try to arrange another debate with him on the aviation sector.

Senator Keane mentioned the cost savings to be made by Irish Water. As she pointed out, there will be significant savings made at the Ringsend plant and from amalgamating 34 local authorities into one agency to provide water services.

Senator Keane sought a debate on women and economic inequality. I shall try to arrange such a debate with the relevant Minister.

Senator Quinn sought a debate on regional enterprise strategy and cutting red tape. He pointed out the input made by Oireachtas joint committees. I think people forget that committees help, assist and contribute to legislation and the work done by Ministers. Many Members in both Houses do a great deal of work on joint committees which goes unnoticed by people outside of these walls. The Oireachtas Joint Committee on Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation does a tremendous amount of good work. I also note his comments on the work of pharmacies.

Senator Conway referred to the fact that 8% of public servants are receiving family income supplement. I know this is the case as it was highlighted here previously. In the Defence Forces in particular, many members are on family income supplement. I hope the low pay commission will deal with this issue.

Senators Walsh and Mullen called for a debate on housing. There is no doubt that during the boom years, while we had plenty of private housing provided, the building of local authority houses just stopped. That is what happened in the boom.

Fine Gael is running out of road on the old 2011 election campaign. There is a new one nearly started.

That is what happened. The Senator can moan again but he cannot beat facts.

I am not moaning, I am only speaking the facts.

The Leader, without interruption.

People are suffering out here. To be fair, that needs to be addressed rather than making a political show out of it.

Allow the Leader to continue without interruption.

I am only pointing out that the reason there is insufficient local authority housing is that we stopped building local authority houses.

The Government slashed capital expenditure in the last four years.

When is the next re-announcement of the jobs strategy?

The primary issue currently facing the housing market is a lack of supply. There is no question about that, particularly in Dublin and in some other urban areas. Increasing public and private housing supply is a critical issue and the Government's construction strategy 2020 is the blueprint to address this. I am sure the Minister will be quite willing to come in very soon to discuss that strategy, which has been welcomed by the construction industry and everybody involved in housing and indeed by local authorities and people on housing lists as well.

That response is poor consolation for those who have been waiting ten years on a local authority-----

The Leader, without interruption.

Is the Senator going to continue-----

I put my point reasonably.


On the issue of hospital waiting lists, which was raised by Senator Crown, I note his points on the EU health consumer index. Now that the ongoing pay situation has been accepted by the IMO, I am sure that the employment of an extra 200 consultants----

The Senator is in dreamland. We are exporting Irish kidneys because we cannot get transplants in this country.

The 200 extra consultants should help make significant progress-----


I will have no choice but to put the question unless the Leader is allowed to respond.

Do, put the question, sure we are getting no answers.

Senator MacSharry has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That a debate with the Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection on correspondence concerning the cost of administering the water conservation grant be taken today." Is the amendment being pressed?

Amendment put:
The Seanad divided: Tá, 20; Níl, 24.

  • Barrett, Sean D.
  • Byrne, Thomas.
  • Craughwell, Gerard P.
  • Crown, John.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • Healy Eames, Fidelma.
  • Heffernan, James.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • Mooney, Paschal.
  • Mullen, Rónán.
  • Norris, David.
  • Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
  • O'Brien, Darragh.
  • O'Donovan, Denis.
  • O'Sullivan, Ned.
  • Power, Averil.
  • Quinn, Feargal.
  • Walsh, Jim.
  • White, Mary M.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.


  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Brennan, Terry.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Coghlan, Eamonn.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Comiskey, Michael.
  • Conway, Martin.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • Gilroy, John.
  • Hayden, Aideen.
  • Henry, Imelda.
  • Higgins, Lorraine.
  • Keane, Cáit.
  • Kelly, John.
  • Landy, Denis.
  • Moloney, Marie.
  • Moran, Mary.
  • Mulcahy, Tony.
  • Mullins, Michael.
  • Noone, Catherine.
  • O'Neill, Pat.
  • Sheahan, Tom.
  • van Turnhout, Jillian.
  • Whelan, John.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Ned O'Sullivan and Diarmuid Wilson; Níl, Senators Paul Coghlan and Aideen Hayden.
Amendment declared lost.
Question, "That the Order of Business be agreed to", put and declared carried.