Although everyone is not present, I have a couple of suggestions to make because as it happened yesterday, the Order of Business was cumbersome in many ways and went on for too long. While we must sort it out at the Committee on Procedure and Privileges, I suggest the Order of Business not last for more than one hour. I am simply thinking out loud and not dictating or imposing or anything like that, but I have a notion about the rota of speakers. The leader of each group, for example, would be a speaker each day, but then, because Fine Gael is the biggest party, the Government side might have at least four speakers with the Leader. Perhaps Fianna Fáil and the different groups might have three speakers with their leaders. Moreover, speakers could rotate if someone had something in particular to say. At present leaders have three minutes. Perhaps by readjusting the limits, they might have four minutes to speak on some important issues about which people were passionate. Members could rotate and would curtail their contributions in order to have a more streamlined and focused Order of Business rather than having everyone hopping up and down. While it is not my style to stymie debate, at the same time, had there been a Minister waiting in the ante-room yesterday to deal with important legislation, he or she would not have been happy with me for having, as we might say in west Cork, a leadránach Order of Business.
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, statements on delivering sustainable full employment, to be taken at 12.45 p.m. and adjourned not later than 2.15 p.m., with the contributions of all Senators not to exceed six minutes each.
First, I congratulate Senator Paul Coghlan on his election yesterday as Leas-Chathaoirleach. I know that he will be fair and prudent like the Cathaoirleach. I express my congratulations to him and his family. I have known one of his daughters, Aoife, for a long time as I was in the Gaeltacht with her almost 20 years ago.
I wish to address the House on the tragic death of a nurse at Our Lady's Children's Hospital, Crumlin. While the matter is being looked into by An Garda Síochána, I express my sympathy and that of Fianna Fáil to her work colleagues and family.
There is a growing sense of fear and frustration among families about reports that bin charges could be on the rise again from 1 July. Any rise in charges is a struggle as people are still doing their utmost to pay their mortgage and other bills. The policy change agreed to by the former Minister, Deputy Alan Kelly, to pay by weight could result in charges increasing from €200 to €400 a year. That is unrealistic and completely unfair. Last January the former Minister had the audacity to state the pay-by-weight system would result in savings of 87% for customers. Instead, they face a doubling of bin charges. Unless action is taken now, Members will face a situation that could quickly become uncontrollable. Waste will be disposed of illegally and there will be chaos in the making of payments. People are faced with a double whammy of standard fees being increased under the pay-by-weight system which will add extra costs.
The reaction on Joe Duffy's radio show in recent days has come from reasonable people with genuine concerns and lectures on competition will not resolve the issue. There are no exemptions for low-income households, the infirm or people with young children. In today's edition of The Irish Times Miriam Lord describes it as "the wheelie bins are coming". Unless the Minister, Deputy Simon Coveney, takes immediate action to address the genuine concerns expressed, we will be faced with marches on the streets and more people being unable to pay bin charges, with which they have been co-operating in recent years. The pay-by-weight system will penalise families with young children, particularly those in the nappy stage. Families tend to produce more rubbish. Options for recycling have already dwindled in the city and there are no substantial plans to have an education system to advise people on how to keep waste to a minimum. The Government must listen to the concerns being expressed and not keep ignoring the problem in the hope it will go away, as it will not. I call on the Minister to come to the House to explain the actions he intends to take to address this problem and to address the exorbitant bin charges that are being sold to Members as climate change measures. Personally, I do not buy this.
Will the Leader indicate when it is proposed to take No. 6, non-Government motion No. 2, the motion on city and county councillors? I hope the debate will not be partisan on any side as we are all equally committed. Yesterday, with a number of Senators, I met representatives of AILG which is seeking a timeline as to when its concerns will be addressed. I am open to any suggestion in that regard, but I would like to be able to report back that a timeline as to when the matter will be dealt with has been agreed to.
I congratulate Senators Denis O'Donovan and Paul Coghlan on their appointment as Cathaoirleach and Leas-Chathaoirleach, respectively. I also congratulate Senator Jerry Buttimer and all of the other leaders on their appointment as group leaders. This is the first time I have been a Member of the Seanad and I get the sense that there will be a great degree of working together and consensus in this Seanad, which is welcome.
The Public Health (Alcohol) Bill which was approved by the previous Government last December provides for minimum pricing and the health labelling of alcohol products and so on. During the last Dáil I was Chairman of the Joint Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport which published a report on sports sponsorship and so on. There is a need to progress the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill and, in terms of sports sponsorship, to identify other streams of funding for sports bodies. In that context, I welcome the announcement yesterday by the Minister of State, Deputy Patrick O'Donovan, of a fund of €1 million for the Camogie Association and the Ladies Gaelic Football Association for training and so on as an indication of equality of provision in sport. Had the Government not provided this funding, the two organisations would have had to seek it elsewhere. Will the Leader invite the relevant Minister to come to the House to provide us with an update on the progress of the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill? I am aware that there are obstacles in that regard from a European Union point of view, but I would very much welcome receiving an update on the issue.
On behalf of the Sinn Féin group, I, too, extend sympathy to the family of the nurse who tragically lost her life in Crumlin hospital.
I also wish to raise the issue of bin charges and the anxiety being caused by the proposed increases. This was to be expected once the decision to privatise such an essential service was made and the chickens are now coming home to roost. Citizens need to be protected from the folly of that decision and what privatisation will bring, as happened in the case of the privatisation of eircom, the main communications company.
I draw the attention of the House to No. 6 on the Order Paper, non-Government motion No. 1 which deals with Seanad reform, the rationale for which I would like to explain. The motion seeks the establishment of a time-limited committee and commends the report of the working group on Seanad reform. In this regard, we were happy yesterday to support the Bill tabled by the Independent group. There are two key reasons we are of the opinion that a committee on Seanad reform needs to be established and given the task of coming back to the floor of the Seanad with its recommendations within six weeks. First, there are 42 new Senators in this Seanad. It is important that these new voices be heard and have ownership of the reform process. Second, there is a need for the Seanad to be distinct from the Dáil and play a key role in the scrutiny of European policies and directives, as well as the North-South initiatives that permeate the report. We agree with this, but we are concerned that the Bill does not reflect it. In particular, we are concerned about the absence of speaking rights for MEPs and MLAs and believe this issue needs to be examined. We are mindful of the major failings of all previous reports on Seanad reform which never reached implementation stage. Notwithstanding this, we believe a time-limited committee, as described in the motion, would enhance the final outcome in an inclusive and collaborative way. We, therefore, ask that No. 6, non-Government motion No.1, be taken next week.
I join other speakers in congratulating the Cathaoirleach and the Leas-Cathaoirleach on their appointment.
There are two issues I would like to highlight. The Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation will be in the Seanad today for a debate on the issue of delivering sustainable full employment. I express the hope we will also hear during the debate about proposed legislative measures to reflect the recently agreed Labour Party motion in the Dáil on employment issues, including if-and-when contracts, protection in cases of insolvency and, crucially, given the process of development of public procurement policies in the context of trade agreements such as the CETA and the TTIP, protection of employment standards in such policies. These are legislative issues which we know are on the table. I look forward to us having the opportunity to speak again to the Minister about these concrete measures and the need to move forward on them.
Today is Bloomsday. It is a day on which the arts, Ireland's heritage and culture are celebrated across the world. I am sure others will speak more knowledgeably on that issue. It is important, however, on this day that we address the concern widely expressed about what has been perceived as a roll-back on the commitment to the arts. It is unfortunate in the context of the future debate on the heritage Bill that the term "heritage" is not reflected in the title of any Department. Ireland lags behind the rest of Europe in its funding of the arts. We need to move towards an average figure of 0.6%, the average figure across Europe, as opposed to the current figure of 0.3%. I urge the Leader to inquire of the Minister for the Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht what opportunities the Seanad may have to engage on Culture 2025, the plans related to our sustainable development goals and the right to cultural participation. I look forward to having an opportunity to discuss these issues with the Minister.
I am slightly concerned about the proposed change to Standing Orders. I believe the current system which allows for a diversity of voices to be heard is important. I am sure, however, that we will have an opportunity to discuss this matter further through the appropriate channels. I would support the imposition of a one-hour limit on debate.
As this is my first time to speak in the Seanad, I take the opportunity to congratulate the Cathaoirleach and the Leas-Chathaoirleach on their appointment. I also congratulate Senators Jerry Buttimer and Catherine Ardagh on their appointment as group leaders.
As stated by Senator Alice-Mary Higgins, today is Bloomsday. It is also the first anniversary of the tragic accident that occurred in Berkeley. We should remember those who died on that day and those who were seriously injured. There were six fatalities. Eimear Walsh, Olivia Burke, Ashley Donohue, Niccolai Schuster, Eoghan Culligan and Lorcán Miller died in the accident, while the many casualties, some of whom were seriously injured, included Jack Halpin, Clodagh Cogley, Aoife Beary, Sean Fahey, Conor Flynn, Niall Murray and Hannah Waters.
It is important to remember those who died or were injured and their families and friends. It was a very tragic day, particularly for the area I represent in Dún Laoghaire. I apologise to Senator Gerard P. Craughwell if I am being parochial, as it was a national tragedy which affected all of these young people who left Ireland for the summer on J1 visas to experience a different culture and earn some money before returning to college. Some of them did not make it back alive. It would be good for the House to remember them on this the first anniversary. It was a very dark day for south Dublin and the country in general.
I sound a warning on the issue of reform of the Seanad. This morning I heard about the scrutiny of European Union legislation. At our meeting I warned about this as it could be extremely dangerous. People are being given the impression that legislation of the European Union will be scrutinised without anything being clearly defined. There is an enormous amount of material spewed out every week from the Europe Union and if we set ourselves up as a monitor and a watchdog, we will fail and the public will rub our noses in that failure. The other issue is that of speaking rights. Elected Members of this House have speaking rights. Others can and should be invited, but they do not have speaking rights.
Today is Bloomsday and it is wonderful. I have attended three or four events already and the city is throbbing with energy. So many places not mentioned in Ulysses have small groups of people wearing straw boaters and actors are performing. We had the Lord Mayor for breakfast in the James Joyce Centre and I attended the wonderful Westland Row community breakfast party before travelling to Sandymount Green. Joyce's power of reputation helped to save North Great George's Street, as one of the crucial buildings, No. 35, was identified. It is now the centre of the Joycean ménage in Dublin.
That brings me to the inner city. I note that the Taoiseach spent some time there, which I very much welcome. It was about bloody time. The north inner city of Dublin has been grotesquely neglected throughout my entire lifetime, including when the Prime Minister of the country, former Deputy Bertie Ahern, represented the constituency and did sweet damn all for it. Apparently, the Minister responsible for tourism, transport and whatever else you are having has decided to demand that Stepaside police station be reopened. That issue is on the agenda. I would like to hear the same said about Fitzgibbon Street Garda station. I was lied to in this House about it, as I was told it was being closed for refurbishment. That was rubbish; it was closed down. Now there are murders every second day of the week, while there is a drugs problem in the north inner city. We are down 136 gardaí, about which something must be done. What about the stripping of every decent thing from the north inner city and its replacement with down-market drug clinics that people would not have in Ballsbridge or other affluent suburbs in the country?
The late Tony Gregory was a great friend of mine and I remember the time when he initiated the debate on the Criminal Assets Bureau. He did not call it the CAB, but he said something had to be done to link income tax collection, the social welfare system and the Garda. Essentially, this was realised with the establishment of the CAB. After Veronica Guerin was shot, the then Government took the idea on board and claimed credit for it, but I made sure in this House that the late Tony Gregory was remembered. In concert with him in the Dáil, in this House I asked that the money taken by the CAB be reinvested in employment creation, housing provision and education services in the north inner city. It should be ring-fenced as it was bled from the veins of the most vulnerable people in the north inner city, but the Department of Finance squashed that suggestion. It is time for major reinvestment in the north inner city.
The Senator is blooming today.
Minus the straw boater.
There was an old defence in law, now long abolished, that if a person was caught in a pub or hostelry more than three miles from home, he or she was a bona fide traveller. The man I will call next is a bona fide traveller; his home is the furthest from the House. It is against the rules somewhat, but I will allow him to speak for one minute. I also know that he is facing surgery.
I reiterate that today we should remember the terrible tragedy that occurred in Berkeley last year. It is every parent's nightmare when their children travel to the United States on J1 visas to seek employment for the summer. We all receive calls and everybody tries to help. I compliment the Irish centres, especially those in California, that rallied around the parents when they came last year after all the people mentioned had been killed and injured. They deserve incredible support. Senators may know that there are problems with the J1 visa programme this year as students must be pre-employed before being issued with visas. That is wrong and, from what I gather, the process was initiated by one or two agencies. I do not believe what they are doing is legal and I am certainly looking into the matter. It is one for further debate at some stage.
I will read a letter that I received last night. It is from the White House and states:
Please accept my congratulations on your appointment to the Seanad.
As I have noted before, your story is a powerful one and it reflects the enduring ties of friendship between the peoples of the United States and Ireland. In beginning this new chapter, I trust you will reflect on all that has led you to this point with tremendous pride.
Again, congratulations. You, Anne and Billy have my warm regards,
The letter was signed by President Barack Obama. I read it not for self-congratulation but to highlight the importance of the ties between Ireland and the United States.
Ag leanúint, ar bhealach, leis an téama sin, ba mhaith liom a bheith ceangailte leis na mothúcháin atá luaite ag na Seanadóirí Horkan agus Lawless maidir leis an dream óg a maraíodh in Berkeley agus an dream óg a d'fhulaing in Berkeley agus an dream ar fad timpeall orthu a thug tacaíocht agus mar sin dóibh.
It would be very good to have a debate on the diaspora. I agree with Senator Billy Lawless that there are concerns about the reform of the J1 visa programme. I was concerned about statements made by the Minister of State, Deputy Joe McHugh, on cherry-picking the emigrants he wanted to attract back to Ireland. If there is a pick-up in the economy, as we are told, it is important that people be invited and encouraged to come back and that we make the environment suitable for that to happen. I am concerned that the Minister of State was speaking about cherry-picking engineers and professionals with degrees, etc. The diaspora is so diverse; there are many Irish people across the globe and many issues that must be discussed. It would be good to know what his vision is for the role. There are serious matters to be addressed, including representation in the Houses, voting rights and how we work to help the undocumented Irish abroad, etc. Irish people abroad need us to address issues of that nature in the House. It is good to have Senator Billy Lawless here to represent that cohort. I know that there are many groups that are in contact with us regularly. A debate on issues concerning the diaspora would, therefore, be very pertinent.
Today is Bloomsday. I note that Senator David Norris, a great Joycean scholar, has left the Chamber. I add my voice to that of Senator Alice-Mary Higgins on the status of the arts in Ireland, particularly with their perceived, if not real, downgrading from a Department structure perspective. There is the lack of a Minister of State with responsibility for the arts. One of the Taoiseach's nominees to this House five years ago, former Senator Fiach Mac Conghail, director of the Abbey Theatre, added greatly to the debate on the cultural importance of the arts sector to social and political life.
That is also an omission. Will the Leader invite the Minister to come to the House to discuss the issue of arts funding and the importance of the arts? This is the only country in the world that has a musical instrument as its national symbol. While we often view the arts and cultural life as being somewhat of a luxury, from my work in the equality field, I know that those on the edges of society often do not have any other means of expressing the lives they lead and their trials and tribulations. The only way they can do so is through the arts.
Following on from what Senator Catherine Ardagh outlined, there is quite a level of unease and disquiet on the issue of waste charges. I heard on radio this morning that the Minister intended to meet various private sector companies next week to discuss the issue. It would be a good idea to have a calm debate on the floor of the House because when there is a vacuum, fears can be raised. As Senator Catherine Ardagh rightly said, people have fears about how they can meet bills as the situation continues.
I hope we can progress the issue of the arts and their importance to the country. I also hope we can have clarity on the issue of waste charges. To this end, we should invite the relevant Ministers to come to the House to further the debate.
Keeping to the cultural theme, I wish the House a happy Bloomsday, particularly Senator David Norris.
Like every football fan on the island, I am delighted to see both Irish teams competing in the European Championships this year. To qualify in the first place was a massive achievement and although both teams are playing well, we are still awaiting a first win. I hope it will come tonight when Northern Ireland play Ukraine. That said, I cannot help but think how much stronger an all-Ireland soccer team and an all-Ireland football association would be with the likes of Kyle Lafferty and Shane Long playing alongside each other and, more importantly, the pooling of grassroots resources in a united effort to get more boys and girls off the couch and on to the sports field. With a lifetime involvement in many sports, I have seen at first hand the benefits of cross-Border co-operation in sport, whether in playing schoolboy rugby matches in Belfast or a more recent visit to Craigavon to play American football of all things. Sport is always the winner and one of the best tools to break down many barriers. The exemplary behaviour of both sets of Irish fans, including Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, has been heartening against the background of hooliganism over the weekend in Marseilles and, unfortunately, again last night in Lille. The tribute paid by fans at the game against Sweden on Monday following the tragic death of Ballymena man Darren Rodgers was not just fitting but also very moving. It shows how far both sets of fans have come since the dark days of the Troubles, when my late father and his friends were afraid in a Dublin pub to cheer Gerry Armstrong's goal against Spain in 1982 for fear of abuse and when Republic of Ireland fans dreaded the sectarian atmosphere in Windsor Park. Thankfully, those days are passing, if they have not completely passed. The issue was raised in the previous Seanad by Senator Catherine Noone and former Senator Paul Bradford. With a new Government in place, I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport who is a keen football fan to engage with us in the Seanad and talk to his Northern counterpart, as well the CEOs of the two football associations, to build on the progress made through the Setanta Cup and follow the example of the GAA's international rules team, the Irish rugby team which had a great win at the weekend, the Irish hockey team which will be travelling to Rio de Janeiro to compete in the Olympic Games for the first time and the Irish cricket team which is battling the showers in their match against Sri Lanka in Malahide. Let us merge the two soccer teams and every sports team on the island to put Ireland on the strongest possible footing in every sports contest.
I received two letters and three telephone calls in the past two days about the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Dún Laoghaire. It has been said on numerous occasions that a totally new hospital was to be built there. It was then said there had been setbacks and that there would be an extension. On his next visit to the House, will the Minister for Health give us a comprehensive update on the suggestion at the hospital in the past few days that the project will be delayed to 2017 and that it will be a much modified scheme? The staff and those who run the hospital are unhappy. There is, therefore, a need for greater clarity on this major project. I would appreciate it if the Minister was to address it when he next visits the House.
I welcome Senator John O'Mahony's remarks about the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill. It is great to see movement on it, considering that it has been seven years in the making. In December 2009 alcohol was included in the national substance misuse strategy. In the intervening seven years we have failed our fellow citizens by allowing alcohol misuse to be an acceptable part of our culture. The Bill will go a long way towards helping to change our attitudes to and relationship with alcohol. On a daily basis I see the mental health issues, devastation and heartbreak caused for families all over the country. We must remember that we are enacting the Bill to protect them and future generations. It is important to know how much we are drinking if we are trying to stay within the low-risk weekly guidelines on alcohol consumption and it becomes even more important to track our alcohol intake when one considers that the most comprehensive survey of alcohol consumption ever carried out in Ireland reveals that we underestimate what we drink by about 60%.
Alcohol marketing, including advertising, sponsorship and other forms of promotion, increases the likelihood that adolescents will start to use alcohol and drink more if they are already using alcohol. Young people’s drinking patterns have a direct effect on their health, development and welfare. Therefore, reducing their exposure to alcohol marketing is a child protection issue, yet every day, in numerous ways and through numerous media, children and young people are continually exposed to positive, risk-free images of alcohol and its use. Owing to the lack of effective regulations, young people are poorly protected from these sophisticated and powerful influences on their drinking behaviour and expectations. They are bombarded with positive images of alcohol through the marketing of brands and products. In effect, the alcohol industry has become a child's primary educator on the use of alcohol. Marketing can shape youth culture by creating and sustaining expectations and norms about how to achieve social, sporting or sexual success; how to celebrate, relax and belong. The failure to protect children from exposure to alcohol marketing is associated with earlier and increased alcohol consumption. Restricting advertisements for alcohol products to content about their nature will mean that advertisements will be less likely to glamorise alcohol or make it appealing to young people as they will no longer see alcohol products aligned with physical performance, personal success, social success and a variety of other positive outcomes.
Minimum unit pricing is a targeted measure designed to stop strong alcohol being sold at very low prices in the off-trade, particularly supermarkets, where alcohol is frequently used as a loss leader and sold below cost. The easy and widespread availability of such cheap alcohol has contributed to a dramatic shift in alcohol purchasing and consumption habits from pubs to the off-trade sector which now accounts for the majority of alcohol sales in Ireland. Minimum unit pricing is able to target cheaper alcohol relative to its strength because the price is determined by and directly proportionate to the amount of pure alcohol in the drink product. Minimum unit pricing will be effective in reducing the level of alcohol consumption; the harm caused by alcohol, including deaths, hospital admissions, crime and workplace absences and the associated costs. In the analysis it was estimated that with a €1 minimum unit price, the number of deaths attributable to alcohol would be reduced by approximately 197 per year after 20 years, by which time the full effects of the policy would be seen owing to the time lag involved in many serious alcohol-related illnesses such as cirrhosis of the liver and alcohol-related cancers. We would also see almost 6,000 fewer hospital admissions per year and a reduction in alcohol-fuelled crime and the number of workplace absences. The total societal value of these reductions is estimated at €1.7 billion.
The alcohol companies will lobby to have the core elements of the Bill changed. We need to listen to words of warning from Dr. Margaret Chan, director general of the World Health Organization, WHO, who stated in April 2013 that he development of alcohol policies was the sole prerogative of national authorities. She said that, in the view of the WHO, the alcohol industry had no role in producing the formula of alcohol policies which had to be protected from distortion by commercial or vested interests.
I would welcome enactment of the Bill by both Houses without the undue influence of the alcohol industry. We need to do this for the well-being of our fellow citizens, the future of the country and to ensure a reduction in the impact of alcohol on families across the country.
As Senators know, this is National Carers Week. A very important contribution to the care provided is the assistance provided by the private nursing sector. Nursing Homes Ireland made a presentation yesterday. Unproductive meetings represent one of the issues the organisation has raised with me, one I am sure it has raised with other Oireachtas Members. When its members meet the Department of Health to discuss an issue, they are advised that it is one for the HSE, but when they meet the HSE, they are advised that it is one for the Department. Nursing Homes Ireland has suggested - I have raised this matter previously - that a forum be set up to ensure clear communication. When the organisation meets the Department, it also wants to meet the HSE, the IMO and the INMO in order to be able to deal with all issues. It also wants to see a formal structure being put in place to deal with care of the elderly, not just in nursing homes but also in the context of associated issues such as delayed discharges from hospital. A forum would ensure all issues could be dealt with. It might only meet every four or six months, but it would ensure the attendance of all of those involved in the care of the elderly. Even though I have already brought the matter to the attention of the Minister for Health, I ask the Leader to do the same because I want the issue to form part of the debate on health care and long-term planning.
The provision of care for the elderly will be challenging in the next 15 years because the number of people over the age of 65 years will increase from 600,000 to over 1 million by 2031. Therefore, we need to ensure we provide services sufficient to meet these challenges. Let me give another important figure. some 51% of all hospital beds are occupied by people over the age of 65 years, which poses a challenge, particularly given the fact that we have a growing elderly population. We must provide more services in order to tackle the discharge process in hospitals. We need to debate this important issue. I, therefore, ask that the Minister for Health, his Department and the HSE work together and take this challenge on board rather than continue the constant buck-passing that has continued for years. We need to create an efficient and effective service, but we can only do so in working together. I, therefore, ask the Leader to bring this matter to the attention of the Minister as I want it to form part of our debate with him.
Tá mise ag iarraidh labhairt ar feadh cúpla nóiméad mar gheall ar chúrsaí fiontraíochta, entrepreneurship. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation to come to the House to discuss two main topics, the first of which is small businesses. There are more than 200,000 SMEs in Ireland and they account for 99% of all businesses. They employ approximately 74% of those who work in the private sector. There is significant support available for exporters in the form of advice and mentoring, but support is not all about the provision of finance. The exports sector is an important sector for us, even though it is small. The vast majority of small and medium-sized businesses, however, do not export. I want the Minister to have an opportunity to speak to us to outline her vision and strategy for those small businesses that do not export.
On the second matter I wish to raise, as I am new here, I am not sure whether we can invite someone to come to the House. Can we invite the new Minister for Finance in Northern Ireland, Mr. Máirtín Ó Muilleoir, to address us? He is an entrepreneur who has created businesses and is very much involved in the community. From my perspective and knowledge of enterprise and entrepreneurship in Ireland, I know that the relationship between entrepreneurs in the North and the South is hugely important. A fair amount of business takes place between entrepreneurs on both sides of the island. I, therefore, ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Finance in Northern Ireland to inform Senators about strategies in place for entrepreneurs in the North. As it happens, I am due to meet him next Wednesday morning to discuss the sector and believe the meeting will prove helpful. It would be a big step forward if the House could invite such persons to address us, particularly when we have a very strong common interest.
I call Senator Ray Butler, as I do not think he spoke yesterday.
I did not get to speak yesterday, even though I had prepared a speech. There was such a big crowd yesterday that I decided to hold off until today.
I take the opportunity to congratulate the Irish team on their outstanding performance against Sweden in Paris on Monday and wish them continued success in the next games. I acknowledge the tens of thousands of Irish soccer fans who have travelled to France as incredible ambassadors for Ireland. They have shown the world how to create and enjoy a positive, safe and fun atmosphere in which we can all join. They have done us proud and I urge them to keep it up.
I offer my sincere condolences to the family of Darren Rodgers, a Northern Ireland football fan from Ballymena who tragically lost his life at the weekend in Nice. I also express my deepest sympathy to the families of the victims of the Orlando nightclub shooting whose lives were abruptly and brutally cut short. There are no words of comfort for all of the families who lost loved ones in this barbaric act of terrorism. May they rest in peace.
Before I address the specific reason I am speaking today, I congratulate Senator Denis O'Donovan on being appointed Cathaoirleach, Senator Paul Coghlan on being appointed Leas-Chathaoirleach and Senator Jerry Buttimer on being appointed Leader of the House. I wish all of my colleagues in the Twenty-fifth Seanad a successful term.
I am delighted that in my first speech in the Twenty-fifth Seanad I will refer to statements made by the Minister for Health which were published last Tuesday and Thursday in the Irish Independent. I welcome his statement that he plans to close the gap between the self-employed and PAYE workers. Like many others in the Oireachtas, including Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell, I have campaigned on the issue of social protection and sought social welfare benefits for the self-employed. In the past five years, with others, I campaigned continuously in the Lower House to have the issue of the social welfare status of the self-employed addressed. This is the only country in Europe which is industrialised that does not provide social protection for the self-employed. There are 330,000 self-employed persons with no such protection. If they get sick or suffer a disability in the morning, they will be entitled to nothing. In the five years I was a Deputy there was the Mangan report on social insurance and I hope it will be implemented. It is a huge issue for the self-employed. If we want people to create jobs, we need to put a safety net in place. I will table a motion that I hope will be supported by all parties. I also hope all Senators will support the plans of the Minister for Health for the self-employed. I call on the bigger unions that represent self-employed persons to come on board. The elephant in the room on the last occasion was whether participation in the initiative should be voluntary or made mandatory. I suggest it be mandatory because nothing in the sphere of social protection works where participation is voluntary. As I said, I will table a motion on the matter that I hope will be supported by everybody in the House.
I thank the Senator for his kind remarks.
It is welcome that on Bloomsday we celebrates a great writer. James Joyce's imagination and creativity caused him to be an exile in that he chose to live outside the country. His departure was a great loss to it, although he remembered Dublin. Interestingly, it has been said that if Dublin was laid to waste, Ulysses could be used in reconstructing the city because it is so topographically and geographically correct. I ask that we remember this great writer today.
I would never presume anything about the background of Senators because I have a great belief that when they join this Chamber, they come with a wealth of knowledge and expertise. I know that Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin is not present, but I wish to point out that I come with a wealth of experience in the arts.
I was reared and have worked in them. There are young children in the Visitors Gallery who are very welcome. I know that singing, dancing, drama, the visual arts and sport mean a great deal to them. Many of them might go on to have a career in these areas. I worked in the arts from when I was a child, right up to being involved in Dublin City University, the Larkin concert series, the artists in residence arts in education programmes, and know what the arts mean to culture and creativity and how they have a language above and beyond politics. In Palestine where there was terrible trauma and terror, I saw how the arts had superseded them. I point out to Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin that the Taoiseach has a spokesperson on the arts in the Seanad, one who is very vocal, perhaps verbose and very dramatic, although it is great to be a visual aid for one's subject. I hope to continue to do this and argue as a spokesperson on the arts with all parties in the House in the future. We should never presume about the expertise of whoever is sitting in front of or behind us or about what he or she brings to the House, as one can see with the new brilliance in backgrounds which the 42 new voices and faces have brought with them.
It is obvious that the Senator's long association with and involvement in the arts stand her in good stead in the House.
I endorse the request that the Leader invite the Finance Minister in the North, Máirtín Ó Muilleoir, for whom I have great personal admiration and respect, to make a presentation to the House. His passion for people, equality, investment and prosperity is palpable. As a whirlwind of politics and human endeavour, it would be good to have him here. Is Gael go smior é chomh maith.
Will the Leader urgently invite the relevant Minister to come to the House to discuss the report produced by the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland, Dr. Michael Maguire, on the police investigation of the Loughinisland massacre? I do not know if Members are familiar with the damning report published by Dr. Maguire on the police investigation into that atrocity. When Loughinisland is mentioned, it conjures up many images and memories. I recall that my family was holidaying in Minerstown, which is approximately a 20 minute drive from Loughinisland, after enjoying the match like everybody else. When word arrived, we were put in the car and taken home, such was the palpable fear that this was not the end of such events or that something equally bad or much worse would happen. When we say the word "Loughinisland", we might reflect on The Heights Bar, the image outside the bar and the fact that this week and in the coming weeks many of us will gather at home, in pubs and clubs to watch and cheer on Ireland as the team progress through another international tournament, just as the people who were in The Heights Bar were doing. We think of the photographs of the six men who lost their lives: Adrian Rogan, aged 34 years; Malcolm Jenkinson, aged 54 years; Patrick O'Hare, aged 35 years; Eamon Byrne, aged 39 years; Daniel McCreanor aged 54 years, and his uncle, Barney Greene, aged 87 years. They were slaughtered because of their faith and support for a team in a terrible time. When I think of Loughinisland now, I think of the campaigning families of these men whose stand for justice and truth has been beyond admirable. It has been extremely difficult for them. They have faced obstacles and obstruction, but the report published by Dr. Maguire validates their stand. Not only was there collusion and obstruction in the investigation into the event but that collusion reached the highest level. I will quote a brief paragraph from what is a long and frightening report on the institutional and deliberate failings in the investigation:
I have found that Special Branch held intelligence that paramilitary informants were involved in a range of activities, including command and control of Loyalist paramilitaries; the procurement, importation and distribution of weapons; murder and conspiracy to murder. They have not been subject to any meaningful criminal investigation.
It is incumbent on the Government, not just as a body that upholds the rights of Irish citizens but also as co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement, to take a clear, strong stand after the Fresh Start agreement on the policy of the British Government in recent times to use national security as a veto to block any further investigation or truth recovery process. This does not just apply to what happened at Loughinisland but also to the case of Pat Finucane and any investigation of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings. This should concern not only the Members of this House but also the Government. Given the severity of the report, I ask the Leader to respond as urgently as possible. It was discussed in the Dáil this week and it is incumbent on us to hear from the Minister on what he can do to maintain the pressure and ensure there will be no such veto and that no shutter will be pulled down on a future investigation.
Will the Leader invite the relevant Minister or Ministers to come to the House to address an issue that is close to the hearts of people from rural Ireland - the cuts in funding for regional and local roads? Thankfully, in recent years a great deal of money has been spent on the surfacing of regional and local roads which have been brought up to a satisfactory standard. Unfortunately, however, in recent times funding has been cut dramatically, so much so that the road network is crumbling under our feet or the tyres of our cars. We talk about looking after and protecting rural Ireland, but one of its most important aspects is providing access to rural areas. I, therefore, ask the Leader to invite the relevant Minister to come to the House to address the issue. When the Minister is here, we might also discuss the reinstatement of funding for local improvement schemes for private lanes, for people who lived on country boreens. Until recently, there was funding available which was specifically ring-fenced for their maintenance and upkeep. That funding was cut a number of years ago to such an extent that the network of such roads is also crumbling. The issue is particularly relevant to rural Ireland and I ask that the Minister come to the House to address it.
I wish to raise a point that came to mind as I travelled the country during the Seanad election campaign. It is a bugbear of mine. It might seem small, but not when it comes to the promotion of tourism. Directional road signs in Ireland are atrocious. Unless one has a satnav, one cannot find the areas we should be marketing as tourist attractions. Will the Leader and the Cathaoirleach ask the relevant Minister, in either the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport or the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, to instigate an audit of road signs throughout Ireland, particularly small road signs? Ireland probably has the best tourist destinations, but that is no good unless one can find them. Members will be aware from the Seanad election campaign that the satnav does not always work. There should be good old-fashioned signs. Perhaps we might learn from the French. When one arrives in a village or town, one should be directed towards its centre and see signs to wherever one wishes to go. When travelling in Ireland, one might be travelling to a town that is, perhaps, ten miles down the road, but its name is not given on the sign, while the name of the town five miles further on is. That is basic. There is a need to conduct a simple, proper audit of road signs throughout the country to ensure we can market Ireland in the best possible light.
There is another aspect to this matter.
IDA Ireland brings prospective employers to various parts of the country, while Enterprise Ireland wants people to locate in rural villages. I represent an area which is both urban and rural and we need to be able to find a place. Good old-fashioned signs are still as important as they were 20 or 30 years ago, in the pre-satellite navigation era. This may seem to be a very simple matter, but it could yield an enormous dividend from a tourism, business and personal perspective. I ask that the Minister be invited to come to the House to discuss this matter and that such an audit be carried out.
From my long experience of Seanad campaigns, most candidates will go through fire and water to find a councillor and not rely on either satellite navigation systems or signposts. I am not taking from the point the Senator is making, but-----
I am sure the Cathaoirleach has many friends all over the country and have no doubt that he can drive into any village and people will say, "Is that you, Cathaoirleach?" However, for the average tourist, this is something we should do to market Ireland and it would be very simple to do so.
I was amused by a story about the most recent campaign when a certain person climbed an eight foot gate at 8.15 a.m. to canvass a voter in a county which shall remain nameless. We must wrap up this discussion shortly. I ask the remaining speakers to be brief.
I will be very brief. Like many others, I spent recent months travelling the length and breadth of the country, from Malin Head to Mizen Head and from Galway to Dublin and back, during the course of which I became intimately acquainted with-----
Very successfully, I think.
I was a slow starter, but I got there. I came to understand the deficiencies of the mobile phone system very well, as I am sure did many others. I am not talking about broadband or Wi-Fi but basic mobile phone coverage, which is very important. Invariably, I found that one particular network worked but another did not. The State obviously issues licences to mobile service providers. The time has come to invite the Minister for Communications, Climate Change and Natural Resources to the House to discuss the issue of mobile phone coverage and mobile services in general. One will invariably find on the new motorways that one will not get a service. I do not use the phone when I am driving, but I pull in now and again to use it. On most of the new roadways, however, one can forget about doing so.
I would also like to say something about the customer service provided by the mobile network providers. If one happens to have the misfortune of going into a mobile phone shop, one will generally be obliged to queue for service. I was in one such shop the other day and there were several elderly people present, but there were no chairs for them to sit on, despite the fact that the queues were lengthy. There are many other issues I could raise, but it is a little late in the day to do so. I ask the Leader to accommodate a debate on mobile phone services at his earliest convenience.
I am not trying to stymie discussion, but we must wrap up some time.
I will be brief. I commend Senator Ned O'Sullivan who has an admirable political antenna. Whether it be seagulls or mobile phones, he certainly picks up on the issues that affect citizens.
The issue this morning was magpies.
I wish to pick up on points made about the importance of recognising the Irish diaspora. In that context, I commend Senator Billy Lawless for the work he has done. I commend all of the Irish Americans and the Irish centres all over the United States of America for their tremendous work in promoting Irish culture, heritage and the connections that sustain links with the Irish currently residing on the other side of the Atlantic. As Minister of State, I had the honour to visit the mid-west of the United States in 2015 and in the cities of St. Louis and Indianapolis I met a very proud Irish community. However, the members of that community were very concerned that the traditional links with Ireland were weakening. Some of the Irish people who had been to the forefront in promoting Irish links had passed away or were no longer as active as they had been. There is a concern that the mid-west which has not seen the same level of interaction as areas on the east and west coasts of the United States needs to see more sustainable linkages being developed in the areas of culture, education and business. It is important that this House recognise those links. I know that Irish Americans really appreciate it when Irish representatives, be they mayors, Ministers or other representatives of the State, travel to the United States to strengthen these links. I urge the Leader to invite the Minister of State with responsibility for the diaspora, Deputy Joe McHugh, to come to the House for a debate on the issue. I know that such debates are appreciated. In this House we must consistently refer to and recognise the importance of the diaspora.
I know that the Cathaoirleach is under pressure, but I am delighted to see one of the Taoiseach's nominees, Senator Billy Lawless, in the House. It is great to have someone in the Chamber with a direct link to the White House. That can only be good for the country and the Seanad.
I am also very much in agreement with what Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell said about the arts. For many decades she has been performing in the arts and continues to do so in this House. She is someone with a direct link to the Taoiseach, which should also be of huge benefit to the House.
I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Richard Bruton, to come to the House in the coming weeks to discuss adult education, the plc sector and the Youthreach training centres.
Finally, I call Senator Martin Conway who has just reappeared.
I am sorry; I missed my slot earlier.
I am being very lenient today.
The Cathaoirleach is always a gentleman and that is not going to change.
I commend Senator Ned O'Sullivan for his contribution on the issue of mobile phone coverage, although I am coming at it from a different perspective. I intend to bring a SIM registration Bill to the floor of the House in the coming weeks which will aim to ensure all SIM cards sold by mobile phone operators will be registered in a database and that anyone who wishes to buy a SIM card will have to produce a utility bill or a passport to do so. Mobile communication is great and the ongoing advances made are wonderful but, unfortunately, the possibilities associated with such communication are being abused, particularly by gangland criminals who are buying multiple SIM cards at will. There is no minimum age limit for the purchase of a SIM card. Children as young as nine or ten years can go into a mobile phone shop with €50, buy ten SIM cards and walk away. The cards can then be inserted into electronic devices and used to cause mayhem. It is not good enough. In many other European countries there are registration systems in place for SIM cards and it is time a degree of control was taken of the pay-as-you-go market. I hope the House will support the forthcoming SIM registration Bill and send it to the Lower House for approval.
In wishing everyone a happy Bloomsday I will begin by quoting James Joyce: "Love loves to love love." I hope that, in keeping with today's theme of the arts, we will continue to promote the arts and culture, not just in this House but also across the country.
I remind members of the Fianna Fáil Party that today also marks the anniversary of Jack Lynch's victory in the 1977 general election. At the risk of sounding a discordant note, perhaps the motor tax policy referred to by Senator Robbie Gallagher had its origins in what happened at that time, when there were cuts in funding. However, I will not go back in history, except to say this is a very important day.
The Senator can go back in time, if he likes.
Senators Catherine Ardagh, Rose Conway-Walsh and Aodhán Ó Ríordáin raised the issue of bin charges, but as Members know, the movement is towards a pay-per-weight system which is being introduced, by regulation, from July. I am surprised that Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin did not remember that it was his party colleague, the former Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly, who signed the order which followed the standard of the polluter pays principle. I agree that we should have a debate on waste policy. In that context, Sinn Féin has tabled a Private Members' motion on the issue which will be before the House next week for debate. Oral hearings on the topic of incineration are being conducted in Cork by An Bord Pleanála. Many people are against incineration, but landfill sites are not able to cope with the amounts of refuse being generated. It is important that we educate ourselves and the next generation on the importance of recycling, reducing and reusing waste material. We must reduce the amount of waste going to landfill sites.
If we are to have effective prevention measures, it is important that people be rewarded on the basis of how they treat and dispose of their waste. The Environmental Protection Agency and the Central Statistics Office produced data which showed that 87% of householders would see a reduction in their charges, that 8.5% would see no change and that a small number would see an increase. I am pleased that the Minister is meeting the bin companies. Senators Rose Conway-Walsh and Catherine Ardagh are correct - people should not have to pay more. Private operators should not exploit their customers. One of the major tragedies in the elimination of municipal waste collection services was that the waiver system in many coastal areas was removed. It is important that we be proactive. To that end, the Minister is working with the bin companies which should not be exploitative but which should instead work with their customers to ensure proper charges are applied. We will take up the issue. As I said, awareness and the segregation of waste are important. We should continue along that route.
I refer to the motion in the name of Senator Rose Conroy-Walsh. As I explained at a meeting earlier, there are a number of discrepancies in it. Therefore, as Leader of the House, I cannot allow it because it would have implications for the Cathaoirleach and the House. It is not in keeping with Standing Orders.
Based on the remarks made in the House yesterday, I look forward to the Twenty-fifth Seanad bringing about change in how it works and does its business in terms of how it is perceived across the country by the Fourth Estate, citizens and constituent members. I am not afraid to examine the electoral system or the internal workings of the Seanad, but let us do so in the context of what is best for democracy and representation in the country. Let us put aside our vested interests and put the country and the people first in the reform of the Upper House, of which we are the current occupants. A generation has gone before us and another will come after us. It behoves us, therefore, to do the right thing and I hope we will all do so because it is important that we continue to be representatives of whoever put us here.
I agree with Senator Niall Ó Donnghaile on North-South relations. It is incumbent on us to carry on the work of the last Seanad and the work done by many of us in committees in working with our partners from the Northern Ireland Assembly. We are living on the one island and must work together to ensure the Good Friday Agreement will be implemented and the quality and standard of life of all citizens, whether Catholic or Protestant, will be espoused and advanced. That is our duty. To be fair, the Orange Order visited the previous Seanad. That is a matter for the Committee on Procedure and Privileges in the context of Senator Pádraig Ó Céidigh's request that the Minister for Finance in Northern Ireland be invited to come to the House. It is important that we continue to build bridges and relationships. As Leader of the House, I look forward to doing so. In that regard, Senators will find no obstacle placed by me. The record shows that while I was Chairman of the Joint Committee on Health and Children, committee members visited the Assembly in Belfast, while a reciprocal visit was made to Dublin. It is important that we continue that process.
Senators Alice-Mary Higgins, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin and Marie-Louise O'Donnell referred to the arts. I note the passion of Members of the House for the arts and, in particular, the eloquence of Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell. I am pleased that she is spokesperson on the arts because she brings to the Seanad not just knowledge but also a passion for, interest in and experience and wisdom of the arts. I assure Members that the Government is committed to the arts, for which the Minister, Deputy Heather Humphreys, retains full responsibility. There has been no dilution of roles; the buck stops with her, as can be seen in the programme of work of the Government, as part of which she is committed to producing the first ever national policy on culture, with a view to its publication in in the next couple of years. Culture 2025 is the plan to which she is committed. Having said that, the Government as a whole is committed to the promotion of the arts, culture and heritage, of which there will be no downgrading by it. Significant funding was provided for the arts at a time when the country had no money. I remind Members that €30 million was provided for the National Gallery of Ireland, €8 million for a new expansion project at the National Archives of Ireland and €10 million for the renovation of the National Library of Ireland at a time when the country was bereft of money. That was the legacy of the previous Government which will be continued by the Government. Let us ensure we continue that policy to keep the arts at the forefront of everything we do.
I join other Members in offering sympathy to the family and colleagues of the nurse who died in Crumlin. It was a tragedy, but we must await the results of the post-mortem. It is important, however, that we acknowledge that a human life has been lost and that people are mourning today. On behalf of the Government and Members, I sympathise with the family and staff affected.
Senator Gerard P. Craughwell referred to the motion in his name on the terms and conditions of councillors. Yesterday Senator Paddy Burke tabled a Commencement matter to the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Leo Varadkar, on class K PRSI contributions. As I said yesterday, it is important that we speak with a unified voice on the terms and conditions of councillors. We should not bat as individuals in trying to score political points. Ní neart go cur le chéile. If we stand together as members of a body elected by councillors, we can effect change, but if we go off on divergent paths, we will all end up on the road less travelled and not achieve the result we all want to achieve. Senator Gerard P. Craughwell can move his motion during Private Members' time. The Government will be happy to work with him on it and I will happy to talk to him about it. I am not saying he is trying to scoring political points, but we must work together on the issue.
Senators John O'Mahony and Frances Black referred to the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill 2015 which had reached Committee Stage in the previous Seanad and which I am pleased to say was restored to the Order Paper yesterday. The Government is committed to taking it at the earliest possible opportunity. A large amount of work has been done on it. I refer Senators to the work done by the Joint Committee on Health and Children which engaged in strong pre-legislative scrutiny of the issue. I compliment Senator James Reilly and the former Minister Alex White on the work they did in progressing the Bill, without which it would not be on the Order Paper. We need to address the issue because alcohol misuse is costing the nation dearly in terms of its effect on people lives and the qualify of life of families and the number of working hours lost. Too many homes are affected by the blight of alcohol.
Senator Alice-Mary Higgins referred to the Department of Arts, Heritage, the Gaeltacht and the Islands. We will return to that issue.
Senator Gerry Horkan, among others, referred to the anniversary of the deaths of the young people who died in Berkeley. It is important that we remember them. Young men and women are on flights across the Atlantic heading off to enjoy a new summer experience. I spent a summer in America on a J1 visa. It is important that we provide young people with such opportunities. I welcome Mr. Brian O'Dwyer and Mr. Mike Carroll from New York. They were most helpful in working with Irish-Americans and providing jobs. To that end, Irish community centres and members of the diaspora in the four corners of America have helped many young people. As Senator Paudie Coffey said, it is important that we remember the young men and women who died in Berkeley. I thank him for raising the issue.
Senator David Norris referred to what was happening in the inner city of Dublin. I do not want to cause a political row by going into the issue, but I do not think it was the late Tony Gregory who formed the Criminal Assets Bureau. However, Senator David Norris is correct in that the inner city of Dublin requires regeneration, to which the Government is committed. The Taoiseach and Ministers visited the area this week and it was not, as some people said, a circus; rather, they went to listen and continue the work being done. I have worked in deprived areas. It is important that the arms of the State reach into such areas and work in a cross-departmental way to help the people living in them.
Senator Billy Lawless referred to a letter he had received from President Obama who I am sure he will be able to persuade to speak in the Seanad at a later date. That would be a nice gesture. It is good that he is a Member of the House and it is important that the President has acknowledged his role. He is not a token Member. He has a valid mandate to represent the diaspora. I look forward to working with him in that regard.
Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh also referred to the J1 visa programme. I would be happy for the Minister of State, Deputy Joe McHugh, to come to the House to discuss the issue of voting rights for the diaspora. It is important that we reach beyond our shores and acknowledge that the diaspora has an important role to play.
As Senator Paudie Coffey correctly said yesterday, there is a skills shortage in some areas. Therefore, because of the shortages, the Minister responsible is right to single out certain professions or appeal to people with particular skill sets.
I have referred to the contribution made by Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin.
Senator Neale Richmond's comment on a unified North-South soccer team was interesting. I am not sure how the Football Association of Ireland and the Irish Football Association would feel about it, but perhaps it is something we should consider. The Senator might suggest the issue is one that could be discussed by the committee with responsibility for matters to do with sport. We all join in wishing every success to the Northern Ireland soccer team tonight and the Republic of Ireland at the weekend. It is important that we continue to build on what has been achieved and that Irish soccer fans continue to show the importance of being good ambassadors for the country. We have seen videos on social media showing the fun Irish soccer fans are having, but I sound a note of caution and ask all Irish supporters to be careful and take their time and not to travel off the beaten track. A consular service is available, should they need to avail of it. In case anyone gets into trouble, they should add the contact number in their mobile phone or put it in their wallet because for whatever reason people can get lost. It is important that Irish supporters continue to have a good record. It would be a shame if their good spirit and the manner in which they are viewed across France were to be damaged.
Senator Victor Boyhan mentioned the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Dún Laoghaire. He is correct in saying it is a very important facility and the men and women who work in it do a tremendous job. It is long overdue an overhaul. I will ask the Minister for Health to come to the House to comment on the issue. As a short-term measure, perhaps the Senator might consider tabling it for discussion in the Commencement debate. He is correct that it is one we must put on the radar.
I spoke about Senator Frances Black's contribution.
Senator Colm Burke referred to the HSE and the Department of Health. He is correct in saying that if we were engaged in new politics, the HSE and the Department would be involved in new business measures and operate differently. The Minister for Health is to be congratulated on initiating his ten-year strategy, but it should include all stakeholders, including those suggested by the Senator. It would be similar to the concept of social partnership, which did not include a political element. In that context, I welcome the creation of a Dáil policy committee to consider a ten-year health strategy. I hope, however, that the Minister will expand the committee to include Members of the Seanad who could play a constructive role in health policy formulation. The committee the Minister has established is a good one, but he should go further and model it on the social partnership system.
I referred to Senator Pádraig Ó Céidigh's remarks about small business and the Minister for Finance in Northern Ireland. It is a matter for the Committee on Procedure and Privileges. As Leader of the House, I would have no problem if the Senator, as well as Senator Niall Ó Donnghaile, wrote to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges about it.
I congratulate Senator Ray Butler on making his maiden speech. I welcome him to the House and compliment him on the work he has done to promote the needs of the self-employed, an issue on which he has always been very vocal. I look forward to bringing the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Leo Varadkar, to the House to discuss it. The Senator is correct in saying there is a deficit when it comes to the self-employed. I hope the Mangan report will be the starting point in making improvements in that regard.
I have mentioned Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell's reference to the arts.
Senator Niall Ó Donnghaile referred to the events that had occurred at Loughinisland. I would be happy if the relevant Minister came to the House to discuss the issue. I will try to facilitate the Senator's request in that regard.
Senator Robbie Gallagher is correct in saying roads are important. Now that we are in a period of economic recovery, it is important that we invest in upgrading regional and national roads, in particular. I will follow the Senator's suggestion that the Minister responsible be invited to come to the House to discuss the issue.
Senator Kieran O'Donnell is correct about road signs. Those of us who travel throughout the country are aware that road signs can be misleading and also dangerous in many parts of it. A plethora of commercial signs are now beginning to get in the way also. This is a matter we should discuss with Transport Infrastructure Ireland, the relevant Department and local councils. I will certainly arrange to have the Minister responsible come to the House to discuss it.
Senators Ned O'Sullivan and Martin Conway raised the issue of mobile phone coverage. It is worrying that the quality of the signal is decreasing in some areas. I cite the Cork to Dublin road as an example. I can pinpoint three or four locations where coverage disappears automatically. It is an important issue. As Senator Michelle Mulherin said to me, from an economic point of view, it is one we must address because if investors consider mobile phone coverage is not good enough or that it is poor and patchy, they might think twice about investing here.
Senator Paudie Coffey mentioned the diaspora and Irish-American centres. He is correct in saying we should discuss them.
Senator Diarmuid Wilson referred to education issues. I am a former director of an adult education service and believe adult and continuing education are very important. I will invite the Minister for Education and Skills to come to the House to discuss the issue.
Senator Martin Conway's Bill on SIM cards is one we should accept and embrace as it relates to the issues of data protection and safety.