The Order of Business today is No. 1, motion re the report of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges on the adoption of new Standing Order 103N and the amendment of Standing Order 90, to be taken on the conclusion of the Order of Business, without debate; and No. 2, Gender Recognition Bill 2014 - Committee Stage (resumed), to be taken on the conclusion of No. 1.
Order of Business
We agree to No. 1, without debate, which is to facilitate the banking inquiry. People worked together on that.
I wish to bring two matters to the attention of the Deputy Leader. Can we arrange a debate on pension provision in this country? I listened with great interest to her party leader, the Tánaiste, Deputy Joan Burton, announce another report into how to improve pension provision. I agree with her that less than 50%, there or thereabouts, of people in this country make provision for their pension. However, one can understand the reason when this Government has taken €2.5 billion out of the pension pots of people who went to the bother of actually saving for pensions and when it did more to undermine pension provision than any other Government in the history of the State when it brought forward the State Airports (Shannon Group) Bill 2014 to butcher airport employees' pensions and take benefits from people who are legally entitled to them.
Having said all of that, I would like to look to the future which is about how we can improve pension propositions available currently. The Tánaiste has some ideas which I have read in media reports and it would be worthwhile for us to arrange a debate in the future - it does not need to happen next week – where we can feed into that. I do not think another expert report will do much. I will not labour the point but the Tánaiste and this Government have much making up to do in regard to restoring people's confidence that if they save for a pension, they get what they put in.
I bring to the attention of the House quite a dangerous and, I do not mind saying, sinister incident, although some of these Socialist Party protesters and Sinn Féin pseudo-protesters have a problem if one actually says "sinister". I refer to what happened to my colleagues and the colleagues of those opposite last night in Fingal County Council. Councillors who had attended a council meeting, along with staff of Fingal County Council, were prevented from leaving the council car park for two hours. More sinister was the type of selection these protesters used. They wanted to go after one Independent councillor purely on the basis that he had put down a motion saying that people had the right to protest but that people had the right to work and that those installing water meters should not be treated in the way they are being treated and that they are there to do a job. The protesters asked the Socialist Party councillors to point out that councillor and the Labour Party councillors on Fingal County Council. They were asked by Deputy Paul Murphy's crew – he was obviously busy yesterday and detained elsewhere – to point out the Labour Party members and, along with the Sinn Féin lot, they then decided who would be let out of the car park and who would not be let out. That is an absolute disgrace.
These scumbags, which is all they are, blocked people-----
That is unparliamentary language.
I am sorry. It really infuriates me because while they are perfectly entitled to protest, and Sinn Féin members of Fingal County Council said it was a peaceful protest, they did not allow people to leave the car park for two hours to get back to doing what they had to do. Socialist Party guys tried to seek out the Labour Party councillors so that abuse could be hurled at them, as was hurled at my own colleagues. The local authority has no role whatsoever in water charges or water rates. One Independent councillor, Mr. Jimmy Guerin, who tabled a very reasonable motion was singled out by this bunch of thugs for abuse.
Senator, that is unparliamentary language. Do you have a question for the Deputy Leader?
I bring this to the attention of the House because it is obviously going to be a trend across the country. If a councillor or a public representative tables a motion at a meeting with which this bunch of people does not agree, they will stop him or her going about his or her business, protest and do the devil and all.
People are entitled to their own opinions but I would say to the protestors, Deputy Paul Murphy's crowd, Éirígí and all these other people, that people are entitled to disagree with them. However, we are getting into a really dangerous situation, which I deplore. I ask the Deputy Leader to join with me in deploring those actions which took place in Swords yesterday evening.
I agree with Senator Darragh O'Brien that what happened at Fingal County Council is an attack on democracy. Councillors in Kilkenny had to face the same thing recently in regard to a central access scheme. When they left the chamber after debating the issue, they were verbally assaulted and attacked, and some of them actually had to get into cars to be escorted from the council premises.
With regard to the issue Senator O'Brien raised about pensions, I would like to remind him what party caused the crash in this country-----
The Senator does not understand.
No. People lost pensions. They invested in bank shares-----
What about the radioactive Bill?
Maybe the Senator could talk about farming or something.
Senator O'Neill, without interruption.
With regard to a bit of good news, I would like to welcome the announcement that Irish beef will be on the US market within the next couple of weeks. Hopefully it will give a spur to this trade-----
I hope Larry Goodman is paying his taxes.
I hope that this American trade will continue and prosper.
On another issue, I ask the Deputy Leader to contact the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Minister, Deputy Charlie Flanagan, in regard to the Baha'i religion and the persecution it is facing in Iran at present. The Baha'i religion is the largest minority religion in Iran, where there are 300,000 Baha'i people. Since the early 1980s they have been denied third level education. In 1984 they set up their own institute of higher education but it has been closed down at least six times by the Iranian Government. Education is not a crime and everybody is entitled to education. The issue of a minority being treated like this by Iran has to be dealt with. I ask that the Deputy Leader contact the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Minister to raise the issue either at EU level or UN level. As I said, education is not a crime. The Baha'i people are being persecuted in Iran for their beliefs and it should be raised at a higher level.
I congratulate the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly, on publishing the consultation paper on the establishment of an electoral commission in Ireland. We know it is late and that the current Government promised substantial political reform four years ago. However, I believe the House should congratulate itself for the debate it had a couple of weeks ago, where it was announced that the Minister, Deputy Kelly, would publish this. We should bear that in mind and try to make sure an electoral commission that is fit for purpose for a 21st century democracy is established before the general election.
In supporting my colleague, Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell, I want to put the House on notice regarding the establishment of the public water forum pursuant to section 7 of the Water Services Act 2014. We have published a motion on the Order Paper around that because it is something that has been promised. It came out of a late debate and is one of the main reasons I voted for the water services charge, along with the fact I agree with water service charges. I am putting this House on notice that we want the Minister to appear before the House as soon as possible to outline the roadmap regarding establishing this very important public water forum in advance of any of the metered or unmetered bills that will be issued in April.
The Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Bill has been published and will be debated in the Lower House this week. At 4.30 p.m. today we have a briefing for all Senators on the Bill but, again, there are issues with it. This is probably one of the more important Bills to come before us in the lifetime of this Seanad yet the Government and the Minister have ignored the proposals coming out of the joint Oireachtas committee following pre-legislative scrutiny. There is no point having pre-legislative scrutiny when key issues are not included in the Bill. I am very unhappy about it and I intend to bring it up strongly on Second Stage and Committee Stage when it comes to the Seanad.
The Title of the Bill is the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Bill yet there is no definition of "low carbon" included, there is no independent advisory body, which was one of the key recommendations coming out of the committee and is something I and some of our group will be supporting, and there is nothing around the timely publication of the report on the Bill to which I referred.
I must disagree strongly with my good friend, Senator Darragh O'Brien, whom I greatly admire. An attempt is being made to demonise Deputy Paul Murphy, who is a duly elected public representative. People should be able to disagree, but why call it "verbal abuse"? Come on. Has the Senator any idea what I went through over 30 years? I went through death threats and filthy abuse. I laughed at them. People should grow up. They are adults and should be able to take verbal abuse. I do not say it is pleasant or always appropriate, but it is not the bloody third world war.
The police knocked on the doors of those they arrested before dawn - at 7 a.m. - getting people out of their beds.
Is that good?
That is what happened in Munich and Nuremberg and Berlin.
Come on. Who is being dramatic now?
Senator Norris, without interruption, please.
It is happening now at the instigation of Ma Merkel. I have no time for this kind of action. They had every opportunity-----
On a point of order, is Senator Norris condoning the imprisonment of a member of the Government in a car?
That is not a point of order.
Frankly, I would imprison the whole bloody lot. It was not imprisonment. For heaven's sake, being delayed in a car for a couple of hours is not imprisonment. I know a little about prison. I used to visit people in prison and know the conditions they were in. This incident was nothing like that. Grow up. The Germans should grow up too.
The man from Syriza raised the question of the outstanding debt - the €180 billion or so the Germans squeezed forcibly out of the Greek banks at the end of the war - and asked for it to be repaid and was told there was nothing to repay. The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung said Greece brought this situation on itself whereas Germany, at the debt conference in 1953, had completely clean hands. Hello? There were two world wars and approximately 30 million or 40 million people were killed. I do not know the exact number. Let us have some realism. This country should be ashamed of not supporting the Greeks. They are right to call for a debt conference.
We gave them €350 million.
The €350 million would get lost in a hole in a tooth in this game. It is what is provided for the roads in County Clare.
The second issue I wish to raise concerns the Ruhama campaign, Turn Off the Red Light. Ruhama is a plague formed out of the order of nuns who instigated it, who were in charge of the Magdalen laundries. One must temper one's listening to them.
Does the Senator have a question for the Leader?
I put this question directly to the Leader. Where is the other side in the Ruhama debate or in the debate on same sex marriage? We have this little tit of a yoke - the Iona Institute. Nobody knows where it gets its money from. It is financed from pizzas in America. We have every academic crank and a few half-baked gay men on it, always talking against gay marriage and about the necessity for equality. Where is the equality with regard to criminalising the purchase of sex, when we know damn well it has not worked in Sweden and is a disaster-----
The Senator is way over time.
I ask the Leader to arrange a debate in due course with the Minister for Justice and Equality on the operations of the Courts Service. Last week, my colleague, Senator Denis Landy, raised concerns regarding reforms that intimated the courthouse in Carrick could be lost or closed as part of rationalisation. I have good news for him. There is a courthouse in Port Laoise he can have. It is located on the town's main street, in a building that dates back to the 17th century. It is a totally unsuitable building and location. Last Thursday, in what can only be described as mayhem, a mass brawl broke out on the main street in Port Laoise, involving up to 60 people, and brought the town centre to a standstill for a couple of hours. Two car loads and more of gardaí had to be despatched to quell what was a mini riot on the town's main street. The town is already struggling in terms of business, without having to cope with that kind of conduct and behaviour.
We have appealed to the Minister in the past to relocate the Portlaoise court house to a more suitable, safe, secure and appropriate location.
I know that the Department of Justice and Equality has plans to build a much-needed new Garda station for Portlaoise which is long overdue. I suggest that as the Department tries to acquire a suitable site for said Garda station, it should co-locate a new courthouse on the same site, in an appropriate and safe setting. Senior citizens, mothers with buggies and others cannot go about their normal daily business in the town because of the level of anti-social behaviour and intimidation taking place on the main street of Portlaoise, which reached new heights - or lows - last Thursday when a mass brawl broke out and brought the main street to a standstill. The main street is no place for a courthouse in a modern society.
I have often raised issues relating to rural Ireland in this Chamber as we have seen the continuing withdrawal and reduction of services in the context of the closure of one-teacher schools, Garda stations, post offices and so on. The latest issue is the crisis that will develop, if left unchecked, in the library service. Several local authorities across the country have already passed motions condemning the proposals for mergers and so-called "efficient rationalisation". Whenever I hear efficient rationalisation linked to population, I immediately start shuddering at the prospect of the negative impact on vast swathes of this country which do not meet the criteria in that regard.
The background to this, which I raised on the Adjournment with the previous Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government last summer, is that the libraries development committee of the Local Government Management Agency set up a strategic working group to review library services. The review determined that efficiencies could be achieved through a shared-services approach. It suggested that some new shared services should be established for library authorities and that a proposed minimum population target of 100,000 would be an appropriate basis for determining a library shared-services structure which would be in line with the local government efficiency review report of 2010. Who decided that the figure would be 100,000? More than likely it was someone up here, in the Custom House, who probably would not know what rural Ireland looks like, let alone have ever visited it. By putting a figure of 100,000-----
The Senator is scaremongering again. This is typical Fianna Fáil-----
I am not scaremongering.
He is scaremongering.
Please allow Senator Mooney, without interruption.
I am talking about the facts which were contained in the Minister's own reply. I can put that reply on the record of the House again for Senator O'Neill-----
I know exactly what the reply was.
The Minister said that seeking efficiencies is not about a diminution of library services in County Leitrim and in associated counties. Tell that to the people of Ballymote in County Sligo who are now under threat of losing their library, on which thousands of euro of taxpayers' money was spent only three years ago. That library is now threatened with closure as a result of these so-called efficiencies. What is the Government going to do next? It has shut down the Garda stations, the post offices, the one-teacher schools and now it is going to attack a service which is used by some of the most vulnerable people in our society-----
The Senator is way over time.
-----the county library system. It is a shoddy decision by this Government. If there is any compassion left in this Government then the Deputy Leader will accede to my request for a debate on this issue. I wish to table an amendment to the Order of Business to call on the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government to come to the House today to discuss the future of library services, as outlined in the strategic report, as well as the adverse impact on the lives of those living in rural Ireland. I ask that such an amendment be put to the House and that the Minister would come before us to explain his actions.
Given all of the travails relating to the Narrow Water Bridge, I am very pleased that a recommendation to grant planning permission for a ferry service between Greenore in County Louth and Greencastle in County Down was made at Thursday's meeting of Newry and Mourne District Council. This is a tremendous boost to the area's tourism prospects and provides a much-needed link between two areas of outstanding natural beauty, the Mourne Mountains in County Down and the Cooley Mountains in County Louth.
It will stretch the tourism trail from Newgrange right up through Dundalk, Carlingford, Omeath, Kilkeel, Warrenpoint and on to Newcastle. This is a game changer.
I am glad of the support of Senator David Cullinane, a great Border man himself. I ask the Deputy Leader to invite the Minister of State with responsibility for tourism, Deputy Michael Ring, to the House to outline how the links between Fáilte Ireland and the Northern Ireland Tourist Board can be recalibrated to reflect this new situation.
I welcome the work of journalists in dealing with the HSBC bank's facilitation of large scale tax dodging. Margaret Hodge, MP, the chair of the Westminster Public Accounts Committee, said that Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs has been far too lenient in taking up battles against corporate tax avoidance. The famed French economist, Thomas Piketty, said the offshore industry is a major threat to our democratic institutions and our basic social contract. I ask for the Minister for Finance to report to the House on the tax avoidance industry here, to state how much of it is connected with the IFSC and to set out the dangers the development of this industry poses to the Exchequer given our experience on previous occasions with the DIRT inquiry and financial institutions. They owe us better than to be part of the international tax avoidance industry. It is something we should debate in the House.
I agree with Senator Sean Barrett and commend the work done by the various journalists in a truly international collaboration which showed the strength of joining together the forces of investigative journalism to allow monumental work to be undertaken. As someone who worked for "Panorama", I know exactly the kind of commitment that takes, particularly in taking on large organisations, including corporations like HSBC. It is not an easy task. What the journalists have revealed is disturbing and Senator Sean Barrett is right to call for a debate to consider how we can ensure we are not caught up in it. Unfortunately, one cannot legislate for individuals who may choose to avoid and evade paying their taxes, but we certainly can be seen to have more than a passing interest in it.
I also take the opportunity to commend the work of a Sligo man, Mr. Pat Spellman, who Members may have seen on the recent television programme on obsessive compulsive disorder, or OCD. As an ordinary individual, he took it on himself to set up a self-help group, which is the only one of its kind in Ireland. It is a very difficult condition to have, but he has provided enormous support for people and shown great generosity of spirit. If we are to have a debate on mental health issues, I ask the Deputy Leader to include OCD as it does not get enough attention. While it is not as common as other aspects of mental health, it has a devastating effect not only on the individuals who have the condition, but also on their family members. It also affects people's capacity to find and hold work. I commend Mr. Spellman on his work and ask for a discussion of OCD and the way it is coped with in the community as part of a wider debate on mental health.
I second Senator Paschal Mooney's proposed amendment to the Order of Business. I appeal to the Deputy Leader to arrange for a debate in the House on the debt burden and the debt conference for which many people are calling, not just in Ireland but across Europe. In his responses in the past two weeks, the Leader has given the Government's policy position on this, which is fair enough notwithstanding that I do not agree with it. What we are calling for is a debate, however.
It strikes me as quite bizarre if we are afraid even to have a debate on the issue in either the Dáil or Seanad given the high level of indebtedness this State has so I again ask for this debate.
I also raise the arrest of a Deputy and two councillors in the early hours of Monday morning. We have just had a discussion on the HSBC clients, 360 of whom were Irish. As we know, potentially huge levels of tax evasion took place. We know that many bankers, politicians and others who were cheerleaders for the property bubble and the crazy policies that led to the collapse of our economy are the people who are responsible for that. Not one of them has been held to account. On the day a report about massive tax evasion by the elites and the wealthy was published, three anti-water charges protesters were arrested. I do not agree with the nature of all of the water charges protests that have taken place but it was heavy-handed to say the least for 20 members of An Garda Síochána to arrest a Member of the Oireachtas and two councillors. At the same time, people are walking around who got away scot free with collapsing the economy. It is frustrating for citizens and it is wrong and appalling.
I want to get back to the first issue, which is a debate on the need for a debt conference.
I highlight the fact that today is Safer Internet Day, which is an EU-wide initiative to make young people in particular more aware of the dangers posed by the amazing resource that has revolutionised all aspects of our lives, business and commerce. There is a need for constant vigilance to ensure that young people in particular are protected from some of the vile material that is available on the world wide web. Many young people and adults seem to be totally unaware that material put on social media can be shared universally so a split-second decision to upload something can come back to haunt them in years to come. It is important that parents and teachers take time to make children aware that anything shared on the Internet is public property. I am told that the new craze of selfies, which I would not be into, can give rise to very serious incidents of bullying and other forms of abuse. Modern technology is fantastic. It gives access to huge amounts of information but also huge amounts of dis-information and a lot of very sordid material. As we all know, children cannot be protected all of the time but they must be educated in how to use the Internet safely and to be aware of the dangers and some of the vile material that is available on it. We are all very conscious of criminality and the scams we come across on a daily basis. I am asking the Leader for a debate in this House on how we can raise awareness among the general public about the dangers of the Internet - the criminality, the scams and the sordid material that is there - so that we can ensure that the children of the nation are protected against the worst excesses of what is available on the Internet.
It is to the eternal credit of the Irish people that in spite of the very severe austerity measures we have had, they have not resorted to anti-social behaviour which, as we have seen, is so damaging in other countries. There is certainly no justification for the manner in which the Tánaiste was treated, which was quite despicable, and certainly no justification for the manner in which the city councillors were treated because it was anti-democratic. Having said that, there is a very strong perception abroad that the manner in which a Member of the Oireachtas and two councillors were arrested in the early hours of the morning by between six and 12 gardaí in one or more cases has left a big question mark.
We are all well aware of arrests that take place for much more serious crimes than those alleged in these cases. It would be a matter of one or two gardaí turning up to arrest the person or the person in question going to the local barracks by appointment. We have seen that with some major figures.
The Garda Síochána is one of the finest police forces in the world. The Garda serves us well. The Garda puts up with a good deal of abuse, physical and otherwise. We must be careful that the message we have seen on television does not in some way indicate that a Member of the Oireachtas and two councillors are treated differently because of a water protest. I have registered to pay my water charges. I never advocated that people should go down that negative road. There is always a tipping point and we need to be careful that we put the lid on this issue of the past few days. Let normal procedures apply. Let due process apply as well. Let us be careful of the histrionics. From my experience contrived histrionics always backfire.
I join with Senator Mullins in highlighting Safer Internet Day. Vigilance is definitely called for. With the amount of trolls and the number of unidentified people online who are willing to lash out abuse willy-nilly, this is something we need to watch. It was very disturbing to discover recently that bullying is now more common online than it is in person or in schools. It is important to raise awareness on this very pertinent issue.
I wish to raise another issue briefly, childhood obesity. I was shocked by new research conducted in the US by the centres for disease control and prevention, revealing that 40% of children born in the years 2000 to 2011 would develop Type 2 diabetes in their lifetime. That figure is alarming. It is alarming that Ireland could be on course for such an epidemic with one in four Irish children being classified as overweight or obese. Studies have shown the same parts of the brain light up with alcohol as with sugary drinks. Parents would not allow their children to smoke a cigarette or drink a glass of wine. It is imperative that society adopt the same attitude to daily consumption of sugary drinks. The obesity crisis in Ireland is now affecting children as young as three and four years. According to the Growing Up in Ireland study-----
Is Senator Noone looking for a debate on this issue?
Yes, I am always seeking to raise this issue.
The Senator can make those points during the debate.
I have been speaking for about 30 seconds.
Ireland's only dedicated childhood obesity treatment programme at Temple Street hospital has had a 400% increase in referrals of children under five year in just one year. More recent findings by another group show that children under 15 years are showing early signs of heart disease and the build up of plaque in their arteries. This is very frightening. I would welcome a debate.
Time seems to fly when I am on my feet.
Absolutely. I call Senator Quinn.
I will do my best to stay within 30 seconds.
On a number of occasions I have asked for a debate on fracking, that is a process to take gas from way down under land or sea. There was a very interesting debate yesterday in the House of Lords and it is worthwhile reading some of what was said. One month's work leads to 25 years of gas flow from a tiny box of tricks that can be hidden behind a hedge.
I know it is only 1 mm wide and it goes down 1 km into the ground. The benefits, however, that have come from this are enormous but it has not been debated here in Ireland. Some people have even been scared of having the debate. I am not saying shale gas is correct but we, at least, should have a debate on this matter.
I will give some figures from yesterday's House of Lords debate on shale gas. It is more reliable than wind, cleaner than coal, more flexible than solar, cheaper than nuclear, safer than biofuels and less land hungry than hydro. The reduced fuel costs that come from this have been of significant benefit to the United States economy. It has given the economy of many individual states a boost while reducing the cost of importing oil. I accept the price of oil has gone down dramatically but shale gas has been of immense benefit to the US.
I am not sure we have even touched on the debate here. All it needs is one or two voices to say we do not like the thought of shale gas and we do not want it to ensure we do not even have a debate on it. I urge the Deputy Leader to find time to ensure there is a debate on this issue. I know Senator Mooney is not at all enthusiastic about this and that is why he has come back into the Chamber to say something about this. I would happily have that debate with him.
I know where Senator Quinn wants fracking. He will not have it in County Leitrim. He can have it in Dublin 4.
Unfortunately, Senator Mooney has already spoken on the Order of Business.
I welcome the announcement this week by the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Heather Humphreys, of funding of €624,000 for the upgrade and protection of heritage buildings under the structures at risk fund 2015. This fund is used to safeguard heritage structures in private and civic ownership. Continuing the scheme this year will allow individuals, heritage trusts, community councils, Tidy Towns groups and local authorities to work together to take positive action to protect heritage buildings and structures in their areas. Heritage is an incredibly important asset for tourism and the pride and enjoyment of local communities and visitors alike. By continuing to support best practice in the conservation of protected structures, we can preserve our built heritage for present and future generations, as well as boosting our attractiveness as a tourist destination while contributing to local employment.
I welcome this announcement and hope heritage trusts, community councils, Tidy Towns groups and local authorities will take advantage of this available funding for their respective areas.
I support the calls by other Members for a debate on the subject of Internet safety for children. I am not sure whether such a debate with the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources should include the Minister for Education and Skills because this area covers a wide spectrum of our society. It is an area on which we are really and truly ignorant. Most Members will have a child or grandchild under 18. What effects do computer screens have on our children? What is the difference between a child reading a Kindle or reading a book? What are the effects on one's child's values, confidence, self-esteem and behaviour when using social media and posting pictures of themselves on it? What is the effect on a child's self-perception when social media pictures make them ask themselves if another girl is that little bit more beautiful or thinner than them or a boy wonders if another boy is more muscular than him? Then, of course, there is the vile hard pornography that every child these days, unfortunately, gets to see which parents will never know about.
We must have a debate on Internet safety to raise awareness of the issue and educate ourselves - the older generations - because the future of our young human beings and citizens is at risk while none of us really knows with what we are dealing.
In response to Senator O'Brien, I agree that we need a debate on pension provision. I am happy to look for that. I also agree with his comments on the intimidation of councillors and staff at Fingal County Council. I was horrified to hear about it. I heard some reports on the radio, but had not been aware quite how sinister is was until the Senator spoke. To identify and single out individuals seems particularly reprehensible and anti-democratic and I am happy to join him in deploring it.
Senator O'Neill spoke in similar terms about that intimidation last night and generally on an increase in anti-democratic protest. Not only is it anti-democratic and intimidating, but it undermines people who are legitimately engaging in peaceful protest. It is wrong for all kinds of reasons. Senator O'Neill also welcomed the fact that Irish beef is back on the US market. That is good news, which we could all agree is very welcome. He also asked me to contact the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, about the persecution of the Baha'i faith and its members in Iran. I am happy to raise that issue with the Minister. It might also be raised with him by way of a debate on the Commencement, but I am certainly happy to write to him in those terms.
Senator Mac Conghail congratulated the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly, for publishing the consultation paper on the electoral commission. This is a welcome step. We could all very much welcome this long-overdue reform. He also supported Senator O'Donnell on the establishment of a public water forum. I agree with Senators Mac Conghail and O'Donnell on the importance of the forum and the need for its establishment without delay. Senator Mac Conghail also spoke about the climate action Bill and mentioned his briefing this afternoon. Along with many others, I attended the Stop Climate Chaos briefing in Buswells earlier today and hope to make the briefing later. There may be improvements to be made to the Bill that has been published, but it is long overdue. Even the Green Party in government with Fianna Fáil previously could not get it through. It is very welcome to see it finally get to this stage and all of us who have environmental concerns would be delighted with that.
One does not often hear, "even the Green Party."
Senator Norris commented on the arrest yesterday of a number of individuals, including one Deputy. I do not want to get involved in discussing that. It is important that we do not in any way look like we are politicising what is in fact an ongoing criminal investigation. That is all I intend to say on it.
Senator Norris also spoke on Syriza and on Greece. The Irish Government is supportive of any resolution to help the Greek people. We would all like to see that. The Irish taxpayer has already invested approximately €350 million, as Senator O'Neill has said, as part of the Greek programme.
Senator Whelan asked for a debate with the Minister for Justice and Equality on courthouse closures. We will look for that. He also referred to worrying developments in the street in Portlaoise. That is certainly of concern.
Senator Mooney spoke about a crisis in the library service. I am very happy to look for a debate on that. It is an issue that is also close to my heart. It is a matter of great concern if we are seeing any downgrading of library services. Clearly, it is generally a matter at local authority level, but we should look for a debate on that in this House, and I will seek one soon.
I am very grateful to the Deputy Leader.
Senator D'Arcy referred to the ferry service from Greenore to Greencastle in County Down. The Senator has raised similar issues on many occasions and I am happy to invite the Minister of State, Deputy Michael Ring, to speak about ensuring there are strong links between Fáilte Ireland and the Northern Ireland Tourist Board. It is important that we ensure those links are strong, to maximise tourism across the island.
Senator Barrett spoke on the Swiss bank accounts and the revelations in the newspapers about those. Like Senators Barrett and O'Keeffe, I commend the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, which worked on exposing this issue. I agree with Senator Barrett in that we should invite the Minister for Finance to speak to us about the impact here. Revenue has reported that there have been a number of investigations and 20 settlements to date related to the data, so one can anticipate that it would be good to hear the Minister for Finance reporting on that.
Senator O'Keeffe again commended the journalists and also Mr. Spellman, the founder of an OCD support group. He is seeking a debate on mental health issues and OCD. We certainly agree to that.
Senator Cullinane seconded Senator Mooney's amendment but I have already addressed that and the importance of that debate. The Senator is also seeking a debate on the proposed debt conference. I can look for that. In the Dáil this evening there is a debate on a Private Members' motion on European debt, so it is a debate worth having in this House as well. I have already commented on the arrest yesterday, I do not intend to comment further.
Senator Mullins spoke about Safer Internet Day. It is good to see it highlighted. Other colleagues, Senators Noonan and O'Brien in particular, also spoke about Safer Internet Day and sought debates on awareness-raising on this issue. Those are important debates to have.
Senator Ó Murchú spoke on the issue of anti-social behaviour, again referring to some of the earlier points and to the Garda. Senator Noone spoke on Safer Internet Day and also looked for a debate on the issue of obesity. There is a worrying rise in childhood obesity. As a mother of small children I am concerned, as everyone is, about this issue and would be happy to look for that debate. Senator Quinn looked for a debate on fracking and I thank him for raising the issue of the House of Lords debate. I was not aware of that. Like the Senator, I would like to have the debate about fracking and about other issues.
I would like to have one too - I would shoot him down in flames.
Is Senator Mooney threatening Senator Quinn?
I did not hear what Senator Mooney said, perhaps it is just as well. Senator O'Neill advises me that the issue might be best addressed first by the joint Oireachtas committee. It is really the sort of area where we would want to hear experts who would put different sides of it. To have a debate on the report from the joint Oireachtas committee might be the better way to approach it. It is certainly an issue on which I would like to see more up-to-date information presented.
Senator Brennan welcomed the announcement by the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Humphreys, of funding for heritage buildings and the positive consequences for local employment. We would all join in that welcome.
Finally, Senator O'Brien supported the other speakers on raising the issue of Internet safety and seeking a debate. The Senator is quite right in saying it falls between a number of Ministers, and mentioned the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources and the Minister for Education and Skills. I would say perhaps also the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, and maybe that is where we should start. I agree that we need to look at Internet safety for children and young people using the Internet who are under 18. As parents and as legislators, we might want to address it in that context first.
Senator Paschal Mooney has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business, "That a debate with the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government on the future of library services in rural Ireland be taken today." Is the amendment being pressed?
No. I am satisfied with Senator Bacik's response on that issue. I would like to withdraw the amendment and hope that the Deputy Leader will be successful in having the Minister, Deputy Kelly, come before the House this week. Otherwise I will proceed.