The Order of Business is No. 1, Children First Bill 2014 - Second Stage, to be taken at 11.45 a.m. and adjourned not later than 1.45 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes and those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes; No. 2, Children (Amendment) Bill 2015 [Seanad Bill amended by the Dáil] - Report and Final Stages, to be taken at 1.45 p.m. and adjourned not later than 2.30 p.m., if not previously concluded; and No. 3, Environment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2014 - Report and Final Stages, to be taken at 2.30 p.m.
Order of Business
I propose an amendment to the Order of Business that No. 70, motion No. 20, be taken without debate before No. 1. It relates to Taiwan and follows on from a resolution made on 22 May 2013.
I wish everybody a good rest over the summer recess. We have done quite a deal of work in the Seanad in the last session and it has been important work. I have been disappointed with the response from the Government to the Seanad reform proposals. I believe the Leader will agree that is a matter we need to get a handle on in the new term. To be fair to him, he has driven many positive changes in the running of the Seanad in the past four and a bit years. I found it very unfortunate that the Taoiseach decided in this context to meet the leaders of the parties as opposed to leaders of the parties in the Seanad, including the Leader. We are the ones who are working in the House and can certainly apply our experience to improve how things are done, particularly in the area of EU legislation.
I ask for a further debate on the commemorations that will take place next year. We have had debates on the issue previously, but I seek a debate with particular reference to families whose relatives were 1916 or War of Independence veterans. As the Leader knows, the Department of Defence does not issue replacement medals, which is unfortunate coming up to the centenary. I know the reason, but I have received many requests from families who have noted that all the Department will issue are certificates of military service.
That is something in itself, but many families have misplaced or lost 1916 service medals or War of Independence medals over the years. Given the centenary, the Department should consider issuing a new medal to relatives who no longer possess the family medals they previously had in order that they can wear them with pride next year on the centenary of the 1916 Rising.
One of the most urgent things we must do when we return is have a full, frank and honest debate on policing and Garda resources. Garda resources are at an incredibly low level. My brother-in-law will be passing out in Templemore tomorrow with the second batch of recruits and I wish him well. I am delighted there are new recruits. However, one must consider figures such as the 115,000 warrants currently outstanding. In addition, new Garda vehicles are being purchased for stations where there are not enough gardaí to drive them. That is not sustainable. We should have a debate on policing in early course on our return in September prior to getting into the budget and the real battle of the next general election. We probably will only have two to three weeks in September in which we can get some business done. After that, it will be a case of the budget and the general election.
I wish everybody well over the summer recess in whatever they are doing. I hope those who are taking a break will enjoy it and to those who are not, I wish them the best of luck on the canvass, although not quite so much good luck to those who are not members of my party. However, I hope everybody will enjoy himself or herself.
That was a slightly grudging good luck wish from Senator Darragh O'Brien.
I condemn the dreadful suicide bomb attack in Turkey yesterday, apparently by a member of ISIS, in which 30 young socialist activists were killed while they were trying to plan the rebuilding of the city of Kobane which had previously been overrun by ISIS militants. Following the dreadful attack in Tunisia, it is yet another attack that conveys to us the real threat of ISIS and that extremist terrorism. There is a big debate taking place in Britain about ISIS and how to counteract that threat within Europe. We should also have that debate in this House when we return.
On a brighter note on our last day, I welcome three recent initiatives of the Government. The first is the Bill on victims' rights which was announced last week and which we will debate in the autumn. It will provide for some welcome developments. For the first time it will place victims' rights in the criminal justice system on a statutory footing, which is hugely important. Among other things, it will enable victims of crime to track the sentences of offenders in the particular case in which they have been involved. That is very welcome.
I also welcome the announcement by the Minister for Justice and Equality that Ireland will take in 600 migrants from Syria and Eritrea. I hope their asylum claims will be processed very swiftly in order that they can be welcomed to our shores.
Although it is not a Government initiative, I welcome the recommendation that the minimum wage be increased. I hope it will be taken on board in the budget in the autumn. It is hugely important to see that recommendation being put forward by the independent body established by the Government. It follows the positive and important reforms in our industrial relations system which the Minister of State at the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Gerald Nash, has been promoting, particularly the legislation on collective bargaining. I welcome this.
I wish all colleagues a restful and restorative break. I will not moderate or qualify it.
The Senator is always for equality.
I wish everybody on both sides of the House a restful break. Even if we do not return yet as a reformed Seanad, I hope we will return as a reinvigorated Seanad.
I note with concern the report by Professor Alan Barrett on the national economic dialogue. He points to the considerable contradiction between people arguing for extra spending and being unwilling to pay for it. That is what got us into trouble previously. It is an echo of the past. In Dublin Castle last week, 140 people from unions, business, farming and the voluntary sector met. All of them want more and, presumably, this House is meant to borrow the money. Nobody is coming up with suggestions on taxation. Seamus Coffey, the other economist concerned, said there was little agreement about how the extra taxes would be raised.
Regarding low pay, the family income supplement is the instrument we use to combat low pay and it should be part of this package, in addition to the minimum wage that has been mentioned. It is being neglected. I often wonder why advocates for more income redistribution in Ireland rarely refer to family income supplement. It appears to be a blind spot, but it could be very important in helping the incomes of low income people who are at work.
I welcome the resumption of diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba. As Ireland is friendly with both countries, it is most welcome.
I thank the Cathaoirleach, the Leader, the secretariat, the ushers and all those who help to serve this House. We are indebted to them. I hope we will return to this building. There are some stories that we will be moved because it is a fire hazard and so forth. I have been in some of the other buildings with the banking inquiry, but this is the best debating Chamber in Britain or Ireland. I hope it stays that way and if there are repairs to be done, I hope they will be done as quickly as possible.
I condemn the unprovoked attack in our capital city this week on a visiting English family. The man was attacked simply because he was smiling. We try to make our visitors smile, but he was attacked on O'Connell Street. Can one imagine the mentality of the people who would do that? My family suffered an attack on the same street over 20 years ago by half a dozen thugs who, thankfully, came out the wrong side of it. I am proud to say that. However, this is happening too often in our capital city. The attacker in the latest case was accompanied by a beggar who was obviously begging for money and the visitor did not cough up. The visitor was attacked because he was smiling. I passed two beggars in two different parts of the city on my way here this morning. I cannot understand how it is allowed to continue on a daily and weekly basis. They stand or sit on the same streets. I was not attacked. I believe there should be a greater Garda presence. One can see and identify the people concerned. One is not expecting to be attacked but one can identify these beggars and thugs. It is also happening in many of our towns throughout the country. There is begging and attacks, particularly at weekends. It must be condemned outright.
I second the proposal by Senator Darragh O'Brien that No. 70, motion No. 20 on the Order Paper be taken without debate before No. 1. I also welcome the re-establishment of diplomatic relations between the United States of America and Cuba, but it is most unfortunate that the Senate has vetoed the appointment of the ambassador in Washington from Cuba. It has the embassy opened, but it will not have an ambassador. It is an awful insult to the President of the United States that he cannot have an ambassador approved from Cuba to the United States. I presume the American ambassador will be approved in Cuba. It is 54 years since the breakdown in diplomatic relations happened under Eisenhower. On "Morning Ireland" this morning the friends of Cuba complimented the leader of Fianna Fáil, the first European Minister for Foreign Affairs to visit Cuba despite the veto by the United States of America. It showed that Fianna Fáil has an independent approach to international affairs. It should be noted from the Order Paper today that this is a fact. I congratulate Deputy Micheál Martin on his courage and having the courage of his convictions to visit there.
Regarding wishing everybody well for the summer, I have read that there is a possibility the Seanad might not meet again in this building after the summer recess.
I suggest we move to Farmleigh and that there should be a separation of both Houses of the Oireachtas. The Dáil can stay in its Chamber and as I have no particular wish to sit there for two days, we should move to Farmleigh. It has good facilities and good parking. I was never invited there but from what I see on the television it is very nice.
Is the Senator proposing an amendment to the Order of Business?
It is a matter for the Board of Works.
It is just my personal opinion. The Leader of the House may wish to stay here or he may want to come into the Dáil Chamber as a Deputy, which would be nice. I read in the newspapers that we may sit two days in the Dáil, Thursday and Friday. We are the last people to be informed of these things and somebody, such as the chairman of the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission, should have the courtesy to inform the Members of this House what the plans are for this building in order that we do not have to read it in the Sunday Business Post. I protest at the way we are being treated.
The Senator is over time.
When I was here as a Minister of State, the Seanad sat in the antechamber for a period of time.
On our last day I wish to say I am delighted with the report card Senator Darragh O'Brien gave the Government today. It was honest and his recognition of all the work the Government has done and is going to do-----
The Senator should have gone to Specsavers.
I do not think Senator Denis Landy was listening to me.
Does Senator Denis Landy have a question for the Leader?
I have loads of things to say. Senator Darragh O'Brien has gone up in my estimation massively.
Does the Senator have anything relevant to say?
I will be spending my time in Ireland on a staycation, but I will be relying on the geographical knowledge of my colleagues around the country to take me to the various boreens where councillors live. I hope Members will support me.
As there are only 56 to go, it will not take the Senator long.
The Senator must not launch a campaign on the Order of Business.
I am delighted with the leaked announcement that the Government is moving towards increasing the minimum wage. It will mean an awful lot to a large number of workers. I cannot get over the crocodile tears from ISME and other organisations who state the sky will fall in on top of them if they have to give somebody an extra 50 cent an hour. What about IKEA, which has gone one better? It is about time workers were recognised in this country and got not just a minimum wage but a living wage, which is what my party is trying to and will achieve.
I wish everybody a good summer and look forward to meeting Members when we return.
I join the leaders of the other groups in wishing everybody a happy summer. I hope they get some rest, too. As people will be campaigning as we are six or seven months from an election, it will be a busy time for those who are candidates, as well as for those who are not.
I wish to raise the issue of support for people with disabilities. The Disability Federation of Ireland has launched its pre-budget submission which makes some very reasonable proposals and calls on the Government to invest more in services supporting people with disabilities. The document is entitled, No Recovery Without Us. It puts into sharp focus the need to reverse many of the very harsh cuts which were put in place. The Government will state these were justified because of the economic crisis and the challenges the Government faced in the past four years when adjustments had to be made to the public finances. We on this side of the House disagreed and came up with alternative proposals but the Government said there was no further choice. We are now told some extra income is available to the State and the Minister for Finance and we need to use whatever flexibility and added income there is to give back to those who are most deserving and most in need. Calls to reverse the cut to the respite care grant, to increase the disability tax credit and to grant medical cards based on medical need are reasonable. This is an important issue but when we come back after the summer recess we should have a series of alternative pre-budget debates with the key Ministers, the Minister for Finance and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform in order that we can discuss all the submissions we are getting on a daily basis. There was a very expensive photoshoot in Dublin Castle when people were invited to hear debates on the budget, but we cannot seem to have them in this Chamber.
Did the Senator go to it?
I did. It was a wasteful exercise as this is the place in which to have such debates. I ask that they be held after we come back.
First, I thank all the staff in the House for their dedication and commitment to their jobs and the assistance they give to each one of us throughout the year.
I have a question on the role of access officers in local authorities. Today is 21 July 2015. Seven years ago a family, who have contacted me in the past 12 months, received a letter from Cork City Council advising them that work would be done on their house to accommodate their daughter who has both an intellectual and a physical disability. Today is the seventh anniversary of the letter and not one piece of work has been done to the house. The child is now 20 years old and I have referred the matter to the Ombudsman as it is a disgrace. On the one hand, we talk about disabilities but, on the other, we have no joined-up thinking on how we co-ordinate services for them. The local authority is passing the buck. The Disability Act 2005 set out that each local authority must have an access officer to deal with these issues but many do not have an officer in place and are in breach of the Act. It is a matter we need to discuss when we come back after the break. It can no longer go on like this. We have been passed from one department to another with no one taking responsibility. I have a number of these cases and have referred them to the Ombudsman and it is important that this House send a clear message to everyone involved that we need to provide services and backup support. If this person was in State care it would be costing us €2,500 a week. We have a mother and father who are committed to looking after this child and to providing the services for her, but the State is not giving them the support they require. I ask the Leader to put this matter on the agenda for when we return.
I ask Members and the public, through the Leader, to advocate safety in our waters during the summer. The summer has not been great so far, but, unfortunately, we hear of appalling tragedies with people jumping into lakes and into the sea in hot weather and not being aware of the dangers. I urge Irish Water Safety to redouble its efforts to ensure, through programmes of education and interaction with coastal communities, that we reduce the incidence of people being drowned. We say it every year but four or five times more people are drowned in our rivers and lakes and around our coasts and seas than are killed in farm accidents. I appeal to this House to sincerely request that people be cognisant of the dangers of water and the sea and not to take them for granted. I also hope the media will pick up on it.
I wish the Cathaoirleach, Members and all the staff a good recess, with time for reflection. I hope they come back with a new lease of life.
I urge the Leader to indicate the date of the next general election. He was unable or unwilling to do so, but I hope we will see the Seanad into the new year. The Government has a mandate and should see out its full term. The general election should happen in the spring when everybody would be fully prepared for it. I wish everybody a good summer recess. They should be safe and careful and not get too much sun.
I ask the Leader to accede to Senator Darragh O'Brien's request for a change to the Order of Business, noting the fact that it refers to a previous resolution of the Seanad on the matter. Trade and trade matters generally are important to the country and the motion should be considered seriously.
While the House is in recess, a number of very anxious parents will be awaiting the results of the leaving certificate examinations that will, unfortunately, determine the futures of many children and young people. I seek a debate early in the new term on student grants. I have raised the issue in the House previously, but we have dragged our feet on it for several years. When I examine the level of student grants, it is a mystery to me how anybody can possibly be educated at a third level institution. A Higher Education Authority report will soon be published on student accommodation. I have raised the issue previously on the Order of Business. Access to accommodation impacts on access to education. The lack of affordable accommodation is preventing a number of young people from accessing third level education.
I agree with the statements made on funding for disability services. In my area respite care services have suffered a 20% cut and there have been greater cuts in disability services. In the new term we should have a broad-ranging discussion on the budget and what the priorities should be.
I wish all colleagues a very good and restful break. There is much commentary in the media about how Fine Gael would like to return to government with the Labour Party. Given the very nice comments made by Senators Darragh O'Brien and other colleagues, I am beginning to wonder if we are heading towards a national coalition.
I will have to clarify my remarks.
The record will speak for itself.
I am sure it will. I am worried about it.
I, too, thank the Seanad staff, particularly for the help, assistance and mentoring, to some degree, I received when I came here.
In recent days I have received a number of telephone calls from councillors around the country, all referring to three basic issues, namely, entitlement to sick pay, the negative impact on household incomes of full-time councillors with no other income and the unfair treatment of lone parents and child care issues.
Last week we were told the councillors' representative bodies, the Local Authority Members Association, LAMA, and the Association of Irish Local Government, AILG, had met the Ministers. Councillors were e-mailed by Members of this House advising them that the meetings had been constructive and that a get-together was planned between the AILG and the LAMA in advance of further engagement. The Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, advised the representative bodies that budgetary issues were always present, but that the briefing he had received from the representative bodies would inform his position when proposals were received from the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government. Regarding the class K PRSI issue, the Minister of State at the Department of Social Protection told the representative bodies that PRSI classification was a complex issue and asked the AILG for proposals which would give his staff a basis on which to negotiate on the regulatory and financial issues involved. In all of the reports from the various meetings that took place I cannot see any record of a discussion on the key issues involved. What is the status of office holders who are not elected representatives and how does it compare with the treatment of councillors? There is no sick pay for councillors, whereas there is for most office holders, including Members of the House. Class K PRSI is a tax. Can anybody show me one benefit that derives from the figure of 4% that councillors pay? I ask the Cathaoirleach to indulge me for a few moments, given that this is an important issue. Unlike many in this House who will walk away after the next general election well provided for, to what can a councillor look forward? Do we even provide a contributory old age pension for them? We do not. From the recent talks, I see no plan of action, only vague language and soft talk to pacify. Why is the councillors' representational payment subject to tax when, in theory, it should be treated in the same way as the Senators' parliamentary standard allowance of €12,225 which is tax free to cover various expenses?
There is a motion on the Order Paper dealing with that issue.
I realise that, but the motion has not been taken. I am receiving calls from people who are sick and have no income because they are councillors. Last night I received a call from a councillor who, as a lone parent, had lost all of her welfare payments because she was a councillor. It is not good enough and all we are offering is soft talk. Everybody in the House has been in contact with councillors telling them how committed we are to dealing with their issues, but action speaks louder than words. It is time for us to put up or shut up. I have asked for the Minister to come to the House. Negotiating in a back room or in silence is nonsense. We need the Minister to come here. He writes the regulations and can change them at the stroke of a pen. We need this to happen. I, therefore, ask the Leader to arrange it immediately after we return in the next session. We will all seek the support of councillors during the next election and I sincerely hope I am not one of the Senators who will walk away with a lump sum having failed to secure their votes.
We all echo Senator Gerard P. Craughwell’s sentiments and every Member is working hard to ensure the Minister will take the issue on board and address some of the Senator's points.
I join in the condemnation of the appalling act of terrorism that took place yesterday on the Turkish-Syrian border. The young people killed were doing nothing more than working for their community in trying to rebuild the city of Kobani. It was a real community effort. It is beyond time the international community and world leaders addressed the ongoing threat posed by ISIS. The appalling situation in Syria, the unfortunate people of which are being barrel-bombed on a daily basis and starved into submission by the Assad regime, must be addressed as a matter of urgency. I am pleased that the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, announced yesterday that Ireland would take in 600 migrants as part of the European Union's response to the Mediterranean migration crisis.
I commend the Irish Farmers Association, IFA, for designating today, 21 July, as National Farm Safety Awareness Day. It is a call to action to farm families to take time out to review their farm safety measures and undertake a farm safety risk assessment. I call on every farmer and farm family to review the risks on their farms and put in place control measures to deal with them. The IFA has published a very fine farm safety risk assessment planner which every family should examine, given that far too many families have been bereaved in recent years as a result of farm accidents of various type. Let this be the day farm families take the issue of farm safety seriously. It follows on from the excellent work done in the Seanad to highlight it. I hope we can continue to keep it on the agenda in order that no more lives will be lost as a result of carelessness on farms.
I support Senator Gerard P. Craughwell's comments on the need to have a proper debate on councillors' remuneration, their role in public life and representational role in Irish democracy. For people to pay PRSI contributions and have no entitlement to sick pay, any other form of social welfare payment or a pension in later years is wrong. The position must be clarified.
We should have the Minister here in the autumn to discuss this very important issue. I would go further and say an opportunity was missed during the crisis of the past three to four years to reform the way we do politics in this country. There is a need to move national politicians away from local issues and give councillors more autonomy, proper resources and secretarial backup in order to carry out their duties on the ground. We should allow national politicians to deal with national issues and scrutinise legislation properly and have the proper political oversight that so many who are now in government spoke about when things went belly-up as a result of the building boom. I believe we missed an opportunity and are depriving councillors of the real and substantive role they should have.
I ask that we have a debate in advance of the budget. We might even come back one week early and have a number of debates on spending and income in each Department. We should be able to come up with some novel ideas on where we can generate additional income for the State, given what we are looking to spend. Whether we are contemplating a levy on the profits of the banks or the multinationals, or dealing with the issue of generic medicines within the Department of Health, which is costing millions of euro, we should have a debate on some of those issues ahead of the budget. I ask the Leader that, if we cannot come back a week early, we at least sit additional days in September and get the respective Ministers into this House well ahead of any budget decisions by the Minister for Finance. I hope this request will be facilitated. If the Leader indicates today that he was amenable to this, at least Members who want to contribute could do some preparatory work over the summer recess.
I wish the staff and all Members a lovely summer. I hope we get the sunshine. I wish them all a nice break, as I am sure it will be a busy autumn when we come back.
Senator David Cullinane called for a debate on the costs associated with disability, in view of the paper we received yesterday from the Disability Federation of Ireland. We have failed the disability movement and disabled persons in recent years. The Government was to bring in a "money follows the client" approach, whereby we as parents would not get the funding but would get a call on where we could buy services and what agency we could buy them from. I was never one for saying we should just fire lumps of money at service providers, many of which are already bloated and overloaded, particularly because we do not get value or accountability as to how they spend the money. The cost of respite for my own child works out at about €180 per night, but the agency would be getting €380 a night, which is €200 on top of the cost of physically minding the person for the night, and I am sure that happens across many agencies. That is a lot of money as a top-up to the actual cost, given that they would also get the accommodation.
I second Senator David Cullinane's suggestion that we invite the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, to the House before the budget for a discussion about the costs of disability and the position with the "money follows the client" concept, which I believe is a key point. Without doubt, the first thing we must do is recognise the fact that to have a family member who is intellectually or physically disabled, or effectively disabled by old age, puts an extra cost on a household. Whether this is recognised in the form of a grant or a tax credit, it must be addressed.
I agree with much of Senator Gerard P. Craughwell's contribution on the position of councillors. I make the point that, as Senators, we are not going to walk out of here with a big pension after five years and we contribute in a pretty hefty way to our pensions. Having served 12 years on a council, I agree with the Senator that this is a debate that we need to have. I would have had no difficulty contributing to a pension while on the council, which would effectively be a service pension, but we were not afforded that opportunity. As I said to the former Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Mr. Phil Hogan - I have no qualms about saying this - we have left a massive democratic deficit up and down the country. One can travel from Clonlara or Meelick to Ballyvaughan and still be in the Killaloe electoral area, which covers over 100 miles and even has a coastline. We reduce the size of the councils, their representation and their income, yet we expect the same degree of service. Although Senator Gerard P. Craughwell and I argue on some points, he is right on this issue. We should have a proper debate on this matter and not just pay lip service to the people from all parties who do a damn good job.
I am glad that Senator Gerard P. Craughwell has again raised the case of the unfair treatment of councillors. The mere fact that he has stood up to speak means that people outside who have a jaundiced view of democracy will suggest we are only doing it because we are electioneering. That is one of the reasons this debate has gone into a cul-de-sac over many years. It is important that the Minister come to the House for a proper debate on this matter.
Those of us who work on the ground understand full well the work of councillors and the responsibility that attaches to their work. There are many councillors who are now full-time at that job and those who are not are finding it particularly difficult to give the same time to the work that they have given in the past. If we study the way they are treated, we must conclude that there is no other section of society who find themselves in that position. Therefore, we must ask ourselves why that has happened and why it is allowed to continue. I would say we are leaning over backwards to satisfy and pacify a very small section of the media who present a particular caricature of county councillors which is totally at variance with the reality on the ground. We should also remind ourselves that councillors are elected. Is it not particularly interesting that the voter turnout in local elections is the highest of any election at any time, well up into the 70s in percentage terms? That shows quite clearly that the community and the people on the ground want councillors, respect them and appreciate the work they are doing. Do we appreciate that work with legislation? Do we respond to what we know is wrong and look after the councillors in the manner to which they are entitled? I am glad the matter has been raised because there are some very cogent arguments. I am not asking that we make a decision here this morning to do A, B or C, but that we have a fair and open discussion on this. Let us put the facts on the table. Let us have the Minister present to justify or otherwise the position in which councillors find themselves. However, it is most unfair to let this continue in the manner in which it is continuing.
I acknowledge and commend the Irish Farmers Association on organising National Farm Safety Awareness Day today, 21 July. The IFA is not looking for anything from the Government. The campaign is totally focused on asking farm families to take a little time out today to look at their practices and take an overview of their farms in order to see what steps, whether minor or major, can be taken to make sure their farms, which are also their homes and workplaces, can become safer and thereby minimise the risk of a tragedy. This is a phenomenally positive campaign by the IFA. It is not crying to the Government or accusing the Government, the system or the establishment of not doing enough, even though we are clearly not doing enough. Instead, the IFA is focusing on its own organisation and on the 400,000-odd people who live and work on farms. It is a campaign that will save lives. I sincerely hope it becomes an annual campaign and that 21 July each year will be designated National Farm Safety Awareness Day. I call on other organisations in the farm sector, whether those supplying products or otherwise, to get behind National Farm Safety Awareness Day and perhaps 21 July 2016 might see even more organisations involved in this very important initiative. Seanad Éireann has certainly led the way and played its role in highlighting farm safety.
It is incumbent on all organisations engaged in farming through providing insurance, products or farm education to rally around on 21 July 2016. I send my very best wishes to the IFA and those involved for what they are doing today.
I endorse the call of Kerry County Council, initiated by Councillor Michael Gleeson, that common sense prevail on the issue of gorse fires. We all know of the potential damage which can be caused. The practice has been continued for hundreds of years. Landowners and farmers burn at certain times to encourage regrowth. The Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, landowners and the fire service should come to an agreement to have controlled burning at specific times. That would solve the problem.
On the matter referred to by Senator Gerard P. Craughwell, it is not helpful for any of us at this time to refer to specific items that we know are the subject of ongoing discussions between the AILG, LAMA and two Ministers. It could be misinterpreted that we were seeking publicity. We can all make individual representations, as I am sure many of us have done, and we can all hold a watching brief, which is the important role we play. I genuinely do not believe having a debate on the issues involved would be helpful.
We were promised open and honest government.
Let us await and outcome and see what happens. We should allow the talks the oxygen they need and councillors and the executives of the Local Authority Members Association, LAMA, and the Association of Irish Local Government, AILG, who represent 1,000 councillors and have been elected by their peers the time required to deal with the issues. I plead with Senators to let this continue.
Senator Darragh O'Brien has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business which I will agree to take without debate. He also raised the issue of replacement medals. I will certainly take up the matter with the Minister for Defence. It has not been the practice to replace medals, but I will certainly bring the matter to the attention of the Minister.
Senator Darragh O'Brien called for a debate on policing and the issue of Garda resources. I will certainly try to arrange such a debate with the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, early in the new session. As the Senator rightly pointed out, more and more recruits are coming onstream and more divisions throughout the country are receiving extra gardaí. We are coming from a very low base of approximately 12,000. I hope the strength of the Garda will return to the level it was at a number of years ago.
Senators Ivana Bacik and Michael Mullins spoke about the suicide bomb attack in Turkey and the threat posed by ISIS and other terrorist groups and called for a debate in the new session. Senator Ivana Bacik also welcomed the Government agreement under which the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade will accept 600 migrants. This will be welcomed by all right-thinking people in the country. The Senator also welcomed the Bill on victims' rights.
Senators Ivana Bacik and Denis Landy, among others, referred to the minimum wage, a matter about which I am sure we will hear more in the budget in October.
Senator Sean D. Barrett welcomed the national economic dialogue and stressed the importance of family income supplement, something which is not mentioned on many occasions. He also welcomed the renewal of diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba. On this matter, Senator Terry Leyden outlined the difficulties surrounding the appointment of the Cuban ambassador to the United States.
Senator Terry Brennan referred to the unprovoked attack on a tourist. Such attacks certainly send the wrong message to potential tourists. This is seen as a welcoming country, but, unfortunately, such incidents happen. They are not too frequent and let us hope we can eliminate them totally.
Senator Terry Leyden asked where the Seanad would meet. As the Cathaoirleach mentioned, this is a matter for the OPW. It has been discussed by the Committee on Procedure and Privileges and when we have deliberated on it, we will report back to the House. I have no intention of moving and do not believe there will be any intention to move to Farmleigh. The last thing people want is a flood of cars, be they State cars or others, to Farmleigh. They did not welcome it in the past and would not welcome it now.
Senators David Cullinane and Tony Mulcahy raised the issue that was raised yesterday by Senators Michael Mullins and Mary Moran of the provision of support for people with disabilities and assisting the most deserving and in need. We would all like to see this issue addressed in the budget. Senator Tony Mulcahy spoke from personal knowledge, as did Senator Mary Moran yesterday. We all appreciate where they are coming from.
Senator Colm Burke spoke about the role of access officers in local authorities. I do not understand the case about which he spoke. It is absolutely disgraceful that such a person should have to wait seven years to have a house upgraded. Local authorities have been given quite an amount of finance to attend to these issues. I am not aware of the full circumstances of the case, but I cannot understand a seven year wait to have such work carried out. It is totally incomprehensible.
Senator Denis O'Donovan highlighted the need for water safety during the summer and asked Irish Water Safety to redouble its efforts. I am aware that it does an excellent job. I know that many people are involved and I am sure they will do everything possible in that regard. As public representatives, with the Senator, we should highlight the need for people to take great care when entering the water. The Senator agreed with the Taoiseach that the Government should complete its full term and I agree with him. It is what will happen.
Is that meant to provide reassurance?
I cannot assure the Senator. Only one man can do so.
Senator Aideen Hayden spoke about the leaving certificate results, student grants and the HEA's report on the issue of student accommodation. I agree that we should debate the report and the issues of student accommodation and student grants. I will ask the Minister for Education and Skills to come to the House for a debate early in the new session.
Senator Gerard P. Craughwell referred to the pay and conditions of councillors. LAMA and the AILG requested the political parties to arrange a meeting with the Ministers involved, Deputies Alan Kelly and Kevin Humphreys. All political parties, including Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, Sinn Féin and the Labour Party, arranged the meeting. It was quite productive, but we must wait and see what will come from it. All of the issues mentioned by Senator Gerard P. Craughwell were raised with the Ministers. In the case of PRSI, there are 25,000 others in the same category; it is not just a matter, therefore, of dealing with councillors, as others would also have to be dealt with. I have no problem in having an open debate, but when the Senator was president of the TUI, were the negotiations in which he was involved ever held in public? Did he ever have an open debate?
All the time.
Most of the debates were held directly with the Department and officials.
There is a way of negotiating and doing so in public is not the right approach. Councillors have nothing to hide and are treated appallingly. I hope we will see action being taken by the Minister and the Minister of State in this regard. Recent circulars issued by the Department on attendance at conferences should be withdrawn. I have asked for this to happen, but there is no sign of it happening as yet.
Like Senator Ivana Bacik, Senator Michael Mullins called for a debate when we return after the summer recess on terrorist attacks and the situation on the Turkish-Syrian border.
Like Senator Martin Conway, Senator Michael Mullins also mentioned National Farm Safety Awareness Day. The Irish Farmers Association has issued a risk assessment planner. I have seen it and it is excellent. Last week the House held a good debate with the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Simon Coveney, on the report of the Seanad Public Consultation Committee on farm safety. There is a need for greater vigilance by farm families, as too many people are killed in farm accidents. As last year was particularly bad, let us all be vigilant. I compliment the IFA on organising National Farm Safety Awareness Day.
Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill called for pre-budget debates. Yesterday I mentioned that I would ask the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Brendan Howlin, to attend such debates in the House. It had been suggested by another Senator that the Minister would be prepared to do so. We will put that to the test.
Senator Paul Coghlan raised the issue of gorse fires and the need for common sense in that regard. It is a serious issue. There are many gorse fires throughout the country, some of which get out of control. All agencies must become involved if they are to be controlled.
I join other Senators in wishing all Members a good summer break. I thank the Cathaoirleach, the staff of the Seanad, the ushers and all other staff of the Houses for their help and courtesy at all times. Please God, we will be back suitably refreshed in September.
Senator Darragh O'Brien has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That No. 70, motion No. 20, be taken before No. 1." The Leader has indicated that he will accept the amendment and that the motion will be taken without debate. Is the amendment agreed to? Agreed.