Order of Business

The Order of Business is No. 1, Garda Síochána (Amendment) (No. 3) Bill 2014 - Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken at 1.15 p.m.

The Taoiseach says he is worth €3,500 per week.

It is not enough.

It is 40% less than Brian Cowen got.

And what about Bertie Ahern's pension?

I am sure it sounds incredible to someone on the minimum wage of €8.65 per hour, or on social welfare or struggling to make ends meet in the middle classes. He was stealing a line from Jennifer Aniston who, when advertising a shampoo, said she was "worth it". No doubt she earns considerably more than the Taoiseach but a person on the minimum wage earns one tenth of what the Taoiseach earns. Is the Senator defending the €3,500 per week earned by the Taoiseach?

No, and the Members on the other side of the House should examine their consciences.

I am glad to hear that the Senator is not defending the Taoiseach's €3,500 per week or saying that he is worth that. Is that right?

The Senator is choosing to misinterpret, as ever.

The record will show it that the Senator said it. The Taoiseach says he is worth €3,500 per week but he was put into office because he promised to end cronyism and fix the health system. He said he would end the disgrace of waiting lists and the accident and emergency crisis. He made all those promises but did not deliver on them, yet he says he is worth it. I am not too sure anyone on social welfare will agree with him and I am glad that Senator Paul Coghlan does not agree with him either.

That is the Senator's view.

I am sure the elderly and other vulnerable people would not agree he is worth it either.

I ask the Leader whether we should have a living wage as opposed to a minimum wage. I also wish to ask a question about Irish Water. It is clear that Irish Water is insolvent. Normally the economists of Ireland cannot agree on anything and if one were to put them end to end they would not come to a conclusion. However, if one in three people is not going to pay his or her water bill, the economists will surely agree that Irish Water is insolvent. I asked the Minister, in this House, whether the Government had actually carried out an impact assessment on the changes they had made to Irish Water and I put it to him that it would be insolvent. He did not have an answer. I ask the Leader to ask the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government if he agrees that Irish Water is now insolvent because one in three will not pay his or her water bills.

I welcome the establishment of the Low Pay Commission which will have its first meeting today. I am sure everyone will wish to join me in wishing chairperson Dr. Donal de Buitléir and the eight commissioners the very best of luck in the hugely important work they will be doing. The Tánaiste spoke about the 95,000 new jobs created since the depths of the crisis and said that 3,300 jobs were being created every month, a record of job creation that is well ahead of target. Many others, including me, have already spoken on that subject this week in the light of the good news we have heard and positive developments in the shape of rapid falls in unemployment, particularly long-term unemployment.

Senator Mark Daly spoke about the minimum wage. The Tánaiste reminded us that the work of the Low Pay Commission could, in time, form the basis for a living wage for Ireland. In the meantime, it will ensure that the minimum wage is an issue which independent experts, employers and workers' representatives look at together. The commission will adopt an evidence-based approach and will operate on a rolling basis in order that its recommendations can be adapted as economic circumstances change. That is hugely important. This commission will ensure that low pay will stay front and centre in the public debate and that there is a greater emphasis on ensuring the jobs we create are well paid and decent. I remind colleagues across the floor that the Government restored the level of the minimum wage. It was a Labour Party commitment, one of the first commitments of the Government. The minimum wage had been lowered by the other side.

The Senator sounds like the Greeks.

Let us not forget who has the commitment to ensuring that low pay is tackled in an evidence-based and effective manner. I welcome the immense personal commitment of the Minister of State at the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Gerald Nash, to the Low Pay Commission. We should all wish it well on its first meeting today.

It is another quango.

I also welcome the announcement that the Department of Health is bringing forward legislation on assisted human reproduction and surrogacy.

Undoubtedly, it has been some time in development. Last year the justice committee held pre-legislative hearings on a different version of the Children and Family Relationships Bill that also encapsulated provisions on surrogacy. The latter will be included in a new Bill on assisted human reproduction more generally, which is welcome. I look forward to the debate in the House on it.

Will the Leader arrange for a debate on diversity in school enrolment and admission policies in the light of the Supreme Court's decision this week in the Stokes case and the interesting commentary by my academic colleague, Dr. Darius Whelan, in today's edition of The Irish Times in which he pointed out some of the issues that the Supreme Court did not consider, notably the European Convention on Human Rights? It would be good for the House to debate the promotion of diversity. I am conscious that legislation forthcoming from the Minister may deal with the outcome of the decision.

I will dissociate myself from Senator Mark Daly's remarks. I deprecate-----

I did not associate the Senator with them.

Senator David Norris to continue, without interruption, please.

I do not know why the Senator is dissociating himself from comments with which I did not associate him.

That is such a fatuous piece of rubbish. The Senator is just squawking away like an old hen.

If that is not the kettle calling the pot black.

Senator David Norris to continue, without interruption.

I will just ignore Senator Mark Daly.

The Senator knew what to expect from him.

I am dissociating myself from the remarks.

I think you-----

Senator David Norris to continue, without interruption, please.

He is repeating what he just said.

That kind of cheap populism is worthy of the worst of the red top newspapers. The Taoiseach is worth every single penny and this kind of attack by politicians on one another brings the entire profession into disrepute. What does he get? Some €12,000 per month, €144,000 or €150,000 per year. He is running the country, making decisions that affect it and the well-being of every citizen and dealing with middle-range business people who have considerably more than him. There are people employed by the Government who earn considerably more than him. It is a nonsense to start carping at the amount of money the Taoiseach earns. Of course, one can say someone on the minimum wage would take the figures badly and so forth, but that has always been the situation. There are gradations. By establishing the Low Pay Commission, the Government is doing something to address the situation over which previous Governments sat and did nothing. I applaud this.

I do not agree with the Government's financial policies but to paraphrase Shakespeare, we are so far gone in gore or whatever it is that returning "were as tedious as go o'er". We are on a course. It appears that it will be successful within its own limits. Let us stick with it. Do not change horses mid-stream and do not have politicians endlessly attacking one another. The popular media will do that for us. They will go for wages, income and all the rest of it. I deprecate this. I work hard. Everyone in this Chamber does. We earn the money that the citizens have decided is appropriate for us. The Taoiseach has taken a cut of 40%. What more does Senator Mark Daly want from him or us? It is ridiculous for politicians to attack one another when there are serious problems confronting the country and when, in the scale of business, the Taoiseach is getting a reasonable income for a very onerous job, for all the worry and for confronting all of the problems that he and the Government inherited. I do not agree with him, but I commend him.

The Senator has gone way over time.

He is an excellent man and has a firm hand on the tiller. That is what we want in this country.

I concur with Senator David Norris. It is important that we acknowledge the work that our elected representatives do nationally and locally.

I wish to raise the issue of capital investment by the HSE. The HSE has submitted a request to the national capital steering group for funds to build a replacement accident and emergency department at University Hospital Galway, UHG. The department handles more than 67,000 patients annually but was only built for half that number. Of those admitted, only approximately 25% require admission. By and large, they end up on trolleys. Similar situations obtain in other areas of the country. Notwithstanding the bed blocker issue that delays the discharge of payments, it is clear that UHG's accident and emergency department is not large enough to cope with the demands placed on it. I welcome the HSE's submission.

I support Senator Hildegarde Naughton's call for investment in UHG's accident and emergency department. Its facilities are not fit for purpose. The sooner the investment is provided, the sooner those who need the services that we would all like to see for Galway and its surrounding counties will get them.

I welcome IDA Ireland's recent announcement of a five-year Ireland strategy, which aims to attract 80,000 foreign direct investment jobs and a 40% increase in investments. These ambitious targets will bring total direct employment by overseas companies to 209,000 people by 2019, its highest level ever. The strategy will deliver a wide range of economic benefits to the people of Ireland. IDA Ireland aims to win 900 additional projects in the next five years. This will be based on an ability to respond to clients' needs efficiently, effectively and ahead of the competition. We in this Chamber must applaud IDA Ireland for its work and commend the work being done by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and our embassies which are playing a key role in getting the success story of Ireland's recovery out to the international community. During St. Patrick's week there will be a significant opportunity for Ministers and our ambassadors to sell the country further. I hope to see more benefits being reaped during the remainder of 2015 and coming years.

This week the Irish Hotels Federation held its annual conference in Ballyconnell, County Cavan. A great deal of positive news on the tourism front came out of that meeting. There are indications of a strong resurgence in the hotel sector around the country, as suggested by the number of hotels that have been bought in the past 12 months.

There was also a great deal of praise for the continuation of the reduced VAT rate of 9%, rightly so. We on this side of the House have supported it. According to the economist, Professor Alan Ahearne, I understand that the reduced rate has generated more than 30,000 jobs in the tourism sector. As such, we should be steady as we go. I hope the Government maintains the 9% rate. In this regard I seek a review of the hotel sector outside of Dublin and the main areas. Hotel numbers are buoyant and occupancy rates have increased considerably in Dublin, perhaps more than in any other part of the country. In the regions, however, and particularly mine in the north west, there has traditionally been a lower number of visitors. While I am not necessarily asking the Government to intervene, there should be incentives to encourage people to disperse around the country, for example, free vouchers or another type of link-up with hotels.

I endorse Fáilte Ireland's comments at the conference. Despite the fact that there is buoyancy in the hotel sector in Dublin particularly, there have been some price increases. There was no indication at the meeting that the sector would go in a different direction, but I hope it is not tempted by the increased buoyancy in the tourism market to increase prices beyond what is acceptable, thereby destroying an internationally fragile commodity, namely, tourism.

People switch and change their minds on a regular basis. I understand city hotel prices here are the third lowest in Europe and I hope that will continue. I compliment the Government on the initiative it took and urge it to maintain the 9% VAT rate because tourism in Ireland generally but in the west, in particular, is a bedrock of the economy. If tourist numbers drop, people in my region suffer the most economically. I am glad to say, however, that the trend seems to be turning in our favour.

As ever, Senator Mark Daly earns top marks for hypocrisy.

I am not earning €3,500 per week, but I am glad that the Senator agrees with me.

The Senator makes great play of agreements, but he should not draw attention to the disagreement on his party's Front Bench. I ask how much agreement he finds within his own party.

Is the Senator still talking about the Taoiseach's salary?

Please allow Senator Paul Coghlan to continue, without interruption.

Senator David Norris summed it up so well.

Macbeth did it better.

The Government is doing good work on the issue of the minimum wage with the low pay commission and so forth, as outlined by Senator Ivana Bacik. We are making an honest, determined and right effort to set the standard. Furthermore, up to 95,000 new jobs have been created by the Government. We are doing everything possible to strengthen and nurture the recovery which is still a fragile flower. That is the only way forward and the only way we will be able to provide stability. If we do not have political stability, we will not have economic stability. As Senator David Norris said, let us not change course; we are moving in the right direction, slowly but surely.

I congratulate Senator David Norris. If we had more people like him in politics, there would be less aggro. It is good when politicians recognise and acknowledge the reality, whether they are in opposition or in government. The Senator is showing the way in that regard and others could learn a good lesson from what he said. Cheap populism lets everybody down, as he said.

The Taoiseach is the only one in the past 20 years who has taken a pay cut. His salary has been reduced considerably. I am not sure of the exact percentage - it could be 30% - but I will check and revert to Senator Mark Daly on the issue. Every civil servant has taken a pay cut. Every Minister and Deputy took a pay cut of 10%, for example.

I congratulate the Minister of State at the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Gerald Nash, on the launch of the low pay commission today. As Senator Ivana Bacik pointed out, one of the first things the Government did on taking office was raise the minimum wage. I have asked the Minister of State to include child care workers within the remit of the commission. Funding for child care services has increased massively in recent years, but this is not reflected in the pay of workers in the sector.

I call for a debate on telemedicine. Doctors have urged the Government to intervene and discourage health insurance companies from offering telemedicine, or online GP consultations, to their customers. We all know how effective modern communication technologies such as Skype are, but I do not know enough about telemedicine to determine whether the Government should intervene. The new service being offered is being provided by GPs registered in Ireland. However, just because they are registered in Ireland does not mean that they are based here. I would like to have a thorough debate on telemedicine, including a discussion of the potential benefits and pitfalls from the perspective of GPs and the insurance companies. Looking at it from the perspective of it being a one-off or first-stop option, it looks to be a great idea. It is a new service being offered by VHI and Aviva. The idea that one can consult a GP from the comfort of one's home is welcome, as long as it is safe. Is there anything to be feared from this service? That is the question GPs are asking. I, therefore, seek a debate on the matter.

While I acknowledge that the unemployment rate is declining, I point out to Senator Cáit Keane and others that 1,600 people are emigrating from this country every week. We cannot just accept the public relations spin and gloss over such statistics. Of the 1,600 emigrating every week, 800 are Irish, while the other 800 are from abroad.

Did I say anything about emigration?

According to the CSO figures for last year, 1,600 people were emigrating from Ireland every week, which is a frightening statistic. We need to talk urgently about why so many Irish people are leaving the country, many of whom actually have jobs. Why are they leaving? I would like to have that issue discussed. The culture of austerity and negativity is driving people away. We need people like the Greek Prime Minister and Minister for Finance. They are being ridiculed in the British and Irish media, but they will fight their cause at the highest level. We need leaders like them who have the fire and the passion to lift the spirits of the people. That is why 1,600 people are leaving our little country every week and most of them are not coming back. Last autumn the ESRI published a report which found that many of the mothers of the young people who had emigrated were suffering from depression.

I question the figures given by Senator Mary White. The level of emigration was down by 20% last year. To say 1,600 people are leaving the country weekly gives the very wrong impression. At least half of that figure is accounted for by the normal population flows one would expect in a given year. The number of Irish people leaving the country, while appallingly high, is not 89,000 but approximately 40,000. The figures given by Senator Mary White give a very misleading impression.

I call the Leader.

Please allow the Leader to respond.

The unemployment figures are coming down because people are emigrating.

Senator Mark Daly has a habit of putting his foot in it and he has certainly done so today in talking about the Taoiseach's salary which is 40% lower than that of the last two Fianna Fáil Taoisigh. The Taoiseach is earning €100,000 less than the last two Taoisigh from the Senator's party. Instead of criticising the salary of the Taoiseach, the Senator should have chosen a different subject.

Senator Mark Daly was just looking for a cheap headline.

The Low Pay Commission was the issue I raised.

The Senator was talking about austerity.

Senator David Norris was 100% right. Senator Mark Daly was just looking for red top tabloid headlines from the tripe we had to listen to from him about salaries.

For those on the minimum wage, the Taoiseach is earning ten times the salary-----

(Interruptions).

If somebody on the minimum wage was listening to somebody on ten times his or her salary, he or she would not think the Taoiseach was worth it, not when he was cutting social welfare payments and the fuel allowance.

Please allow the Leader to continue, without interruption. The Senator should allow him to reply to the issues raised on the floor of the House.

The other subject Senator Mark Daly had the gall to raise was the minimum wage. Fianna Fáil told the Government when it took office that it could not do anything about the minimum wage or change anything the troika had done. The first thing the Government did was increase the minimum wage. The Senator ought to start picking his subjects with a little more care. It is just as well that he is not in that seat very often and that he has only been given the opportunity to occupy it a couple of times. He is making a mockery of Fianna Fáil with his comments.

The cuts made in the last budget affected those on the minimum wage far more than the top earners. That is a fact.

The Leader to continue, without interruption, please.

Senator Mark Daly is making a mockery of his party with the issues he has raised on the Order of Business today.

Senator Ivana Bacik made reference to the Low Pay Commission, which starts its work today.

We all welcome the fact that the commission is up and running. Senator Cáit Keane asked that it examine the child care sector. I am sure that is one of the sectors that will be included in its deliberations.

Senator Ivana Bacik welcomed the surrogacy proposals made by the Department of Health. I am sure we will discuss the heads of the Bill, if not the legislation, in the autumn session.

The Senator also sought a debate on schools admission policies. As she rightly stated, the Minister for Education and Skills has indicated that legislation will be forthcoming on this matter. Therefore, we will have ample time to discuss it.

Senator David Norris looked at the political reality and stated we needed a firm hand on the tiller. He mentioned this yesterday also. Although he has difficulties with many Government policies, he believes it should be returned on the basis of the work it has done in the past four years to put the country on the road to recovery and secure that recovery.

Senators Hildegarde Naughton and Michael Mullins outlined the difficulties being experienced in the accident and emergency department of University Hospital Galway and welcomed a new submission from the HSE on investment in a new department because the current unit is not fit for purpose, given the increased numbers attending. I am sure the submission will be received favourably by the Government.

Senator Michael Mullins also welcomed IDA Ireland's new strategy. Its forecasts for the next few years are encouraging. The Senator lauded the work our embassies and ambassadors were doing to promote trade. Recently the Irish ambassador to the United Kingdom stated the work of ambassadors had changed so much over in recent years. Previously, they would have dealt with foreign matters but now they are much more involved in the trade sector and promoting Ireland as a good place in which to do business. That is paying dividends for the economy.

Senator Paschal Mooney referred to the need to remain competitive in the hotel sector. He is correct in that regard. He lauded the Government for retaining the 9% VAT rate, which has proved to be beneficial for hotels and the tourism and hospitality sectors. According to CSO data published today, the number of persons employed in the accommodation and food services sector stands at 138,400, which represents an increase of 1.2% or 1,600 in the seasonally adjusted figures compared to the corresponding period in 2013. The tourism sector is a good news story and we can do even better in the coming years, but I take on board the Senator's comments that we need to be ever mindful of competition and that prices need to be pitched at an appropriate level.

Senator Paul Coghlan responded to Senator Mark Daly and outlined that the Government was doing everything to secure our recovery. He noted that, as any economist would say, political instability would bring economic instability. Political stability brings economic stability, as has been the case in the past few years.

Senator Mary White mentioned the high percentage of people emigrating who, as she rightly pointed out, had jobs. They are leaving because the taxation system is killing them. Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin voted against the increase in the standard tax rate band from €32,800 to €33,800 in this year's budget in both Houses.

Why are all the doctors and nurses emigrating?

The Senator cannot have it both ways. Fianna Fáil is a high tax party. The Government is trying to bring taxes down to keep young graduates at home and ensure they will not be subject to the marginal tax rate, which is €32,800 or €33,800 this year. I hope, following the next budget, the threshold will be increased again. That is the way to retain graduates. Taxation is the reason many of them emigrate.

Senator John Gilroy rightly pointed out that emigration figures were way down on previous years and long may that continue. Emigrants are returning from Australia and now companies are travelling there on recruitment drives to bring Irish people back.

The statistics show that they are not coming back.

The Leader to continue, without interruption.

Many of them will come back because of the stability we now enjoy. The country is in recovery; please God, it will continue to recover in order that we can get these people back. Fianna Fáil drove them out of the country, but we will bring them back.

The Leader did not answer the question about Irish Water and I demand an answer. He did not answer the question about the Taoiseach and his wage of €3,500 a week, while those on the minimum wage get nothing.

Order of Business agreed to.
Sitting suspended at 12.40 p.m. and resumed at 1.15 p.m.