The Order of Business for today is No. 1, the Misuse of Drugs (Amendment) Bill 2016 - Committee Stage, to be taken at 12.45 p.m.; and No. 2, Private Members' business, the Immigration (Reform) (Regularisation of Residency Status) Bill 2016 - Second Stage, to be taken at 4 p.m., with the time allocated for this debate not to exceed two hours.
Order of Business
I raise the issue of charities regulation and, in particular, the case of corporate governance irregularities and mismanagement within the organisation Console, which has been the subject matter of a "Prime Time" investigation lately. The Health Service Executive, HSE, started an audit last April and the findings of this audit are now with the senior management of the HSE.
Console is a well-known national charity founded in 2002. It helps people who are distressed and have suicidal thoughts. It has offices throughout the country and its patron is our President, Michael D. Higgins. This charity recently expanded to the United Kingdom and it has been endorsed by many celebrities in the UK. It provides a 24-hour help line that anyone can call if they or members of their family are distressed. It receives approximately 3,400 calls per month.
People who watched the programme last night were shocked and appalled at the misappropriation of funds. Console has received at least €2.5 million from the HSE in the past five years alone for providing suicide prevention services. Its last filed accounts show that Console received grants of €817,000. The grants included €783,000 from the HSE and €31,000 from Tusla. It also received a further €3,500 from the national lottery, €521,000 from fundraising and €551,000 from donations. In addition, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has allocated €130,000 to Console to allow it support Irish immigrants in the UK.
Console depends on the goodwill of thousands of people who do charity walks, runs and cycles around the country. I read in The Irish Times that the founder of Console, his wife and son ran up credit card bills of almost €500,000 on items such as groceries, designer clothes and foreign trips over a period of three years, according to the HSE audit. The audit also established that the family benefited by almost €500,000 in salaries and cars from the period between 2012 to 2014. Among the items the credit cards were used for were large unvouched withdrawals of cash from ATMs, trips to Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and other destinations, designer clothing from outlets such as Ralph Lauren and Hugo Boss, dining out, Rugby World Cup tickets and dental work.
"Prime Time" alleged that the Console chief executive officer had received director's payments totalling €215,000 between 2010 and 2012, which allegedly is in breach of company law and Revenue regulations. These allegations raise serious questions with regard to charities and how State and privately raised funds are used and abused for people's personal gain.
I ask the Leader to request the Minister to address the House on the role of the Charities Regulator in this matter and any other matters the HSE or the Charities Regulator is investigating. It is not acceptable that State funds are used in the manner alleged. It is particularly disturbing in light of the recent U-turn on mental health funding and the rise in mental health issues and suicide in our society. With so many people on waiting lists for therapies, this wanton waste makes me sick to the core when others are left anxiously waiting for appointment times.
My heart goes out to the many staff employed by Console who are 100% dedicated to their jobs. This incident is another blow to the charities sector when the majority of people working in the sector are hard-working, honest individuals living on modest incomes.
I would like to know the action the Minister is taking to ensure that other charities are being monitored and audited to prevent such abuse of State funding and people's donations being spent on director's payments, luxury cars and luxury travel. In particular, I would like to know the number of investigations the Charities Regular is involved in currently and whether other charities that have been audited are being investigated. Can the Minister confirm to the House that the Charities Regulator will use all the powers it has under the Act to take over Console to ensure that the vital services it provides can be continued and extended?
I am a little concerned about some of the utterances from the political class in Ireland as a result of the Brexit referendum. I hear people talking about how they got it wrong. We are democrats in this House and I ask the Leader, as a democrat, to acknowledge the fact that 72% of the electorate of the UK turned out, and 52% of those voted to leave the European Union. Whether we like that or not, it is wrong that we would in any way condemn the electorate of the UK for deciding to exit the European Union. I accept it has left many problems and I was delighted to hear on "Morning Ireland" earlier that Sinn Féin has parked its suggestion that there be some sort of Border vote. It is not the time to start rattling cages that do not need to be rattled just yet but we do need to look to the UK and to our brothers and sisters in Northern Ireland and respect their decision.
Dreaming again, Gerry.
They have made their decision.
We must now work towards finding a way for us jointly to go together and ensure our Border remains open and that we remain part of the island of Ireland along with our brothers and sisters in Northern Ireland. It is not the time for people to start second guessing electorates or what might happen if we decide to go for an all-Ireland solution. It is a bit too early for that. I ask the Leader to acknowledge that in his reply.
It might be parked but the engine has not been turned off.
I condemn the attack on Istanbul airport and offer condolences to the families of all those who were killed and those who were injured. It is a frightening time for those whose loved ones travel to areas targeted by such attacks, not knowing if their relatives have been caught up in them.
I want to table an amendment to the Order of Business to allow for time to discuss the motion put down by Sinn Féin Seanadóirí on Seanad reform. It is essential that if parties are serious about reform, they at least agree to allow time to discuss one of the first motions laid before the current Seanad.
I raise the issue of spending by the suicide charity, Console. I am aware that an administrator has been appointed and it is important to stress that services offered by the charity continue.
Following the charities sector wage scandals, arguments were put forward for the 2009 Charities Act to be implemented, with full accountability in terms of the salaries of senior employees. The Government dragged its feet on this issue to the degree that Sinn Féin introduced a Private Members' Bill to move on the Act. Eventually, aided by the huge public demand for full financial accountability, the Charities Regulatory Authority was established in 2014 aiming to regulate charities to ensure their effectiveness, accountability and transparency to their donor and beneficiary communities.
Despite the controversies faced by charities in recent times, it is essential that the HSE continues to reassure those who use their services or who may need them that there is no break in support. I commend all the workers in the many charities who do wonderful work across this country.
There were many contributions to the debate on mental health in the House and much stress was placed on the role charities and voluntary organisations play in aiding those worst affected. It is a hugely important issue for the House and action should be taken immediately on it to ensure we do not see the contagion effect on other charities as well as Console.
I want to raise one other point briefly on the issue of Brexit, which is what we can do in Ireland. There are many conversations going on in Brussels and throughout the EU and Britain, but there are certain things we can put in place. I speak for the cohort of people who live in this State who have English pensions. While they may only be small English pensions, the Irish contributory pension that they receive is paid on a pro rata basis, and it is very important that the Department of Social Protection immediately take cognisance of the fluctuations in sterling and increase the payments here in line with the decreases in sterling. I believe this needs to be done immediately.
Hear, hear. It is great to hear Sinn Féin promoting English pensions-----
Will the Senator please clarify-----
-----and the good old English Government.
Will Senator Conway-Walsh please clarify to which motion she is referring as regards the amendment?
It is to the motion on Seanad reform. It is the original motion tabled by Sinn Féin on one of the first days; it is all on the Order Paper.
I am grateful to the Senator. I called Senator John Dolan, but he was not offering to speak. I invite Senator Gerald Nash.
I would like to share in the expression of sympathy to the people of Turkey after yesterday's horrendous terrorist attack and utterly meaningless loss of life. I share the condolences expressed by Senator Conway-Walsh. I visited Turkey on a number of occasions in recent years, once in an official capacity, and I was really struck by the warmth and hospitality of the Turkish people. Notwithstanding the fact that I am personally quite disturbed about the moves in Turkey towards a more autocratic style of government, our affection for the people of Turkey should remain. Our sense of anger at the horrendous attack in Istanbul airport yesterday is shared by everybody. We should all express our sympathy to the people of Turkey and the Turkish Government on the horrendous loss of life in Atatürk airport.
With regard to the situation at Console, I believe the comments made in the House by a number of speakers reflect the real public anger at the way in which certain directors of Console appear to have used the organisation as their own personal ATM in recent years. Over a period of time, lavish spending was clocked up on the charity's multiple credit cards, including on clothes, dental work and cash withdrawals. What we know now about how Console was run makes it very hard to comprehend where Console starts and where the interests of a number of directors ends. A charity should not be made or operated in the image of its founder or of any one person. If anything, it should be held up to an extremely high standard of corporate governance and ethical codes.
The scandal is a major test for the relatively newly founded Charities Regulatory Authority. A number of very important questions must be answered by the charities regulator, by the Government and by other agencies in an effort to restore trust in what is a very important organisation. In the first instance, there needs to be an unambiguous statement from the charity itself that its founding director is not still in charge, as there appears to ambiguity around that. The charities regulator must make it very clear how and when it is going to deploy a number of independent trustees to ensure there is robust governance in the organisation and that the organisation restore the public trust, which has been so badly damaged.
I also wish to establish whether the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement, ODCE, will investigate the alleged conduct of the directors concerned, which has been revealed in media reports in recent days. I agree that there has been a huge amount of public investment in Console. It was not only a matter of public financial resources; people trust the organisation and people trust the staff in Console. I would argue that there are a considerable number of people in this country who owe their lives to the services delivered to them by the organisation. In the efforts to establish the facts around this case and our efforts to re-establish trust in the organisation, which must happen, we should not in any sense blame the staff. Trust has to be restored, and it is the job of Government, the organisation itself and the relevant regulator to do that.
The Senator is over time.
We are all concerned about transparency in public life. Yesterday was actually a good day for transparency in public life in Ireland because, as a result of the Lobbying Act introduced by the Labour Party in the last Government, the Standards in Public Office Commission, SIPOC, published its first report concerning the behaviour of registered lobbyists in the State. The report found that 2,500 returns were made by 1,000 registered lobbyists. There is still more to be done around this issue and we would like to see SIPOC given more teeth to investigate breaches of the Act and to ensure there is more compliance than seems to be the case at the moment. I do not believe that anybody in all seriousness would accept that there should only be 2,500 returns on 1,000 registered lobbyists in the State. We know that the picture is actually very different from that.
I wish to discuss the PSO levies on electricity charges and the proposed increases for 2016 and 2017. The PSO is a Government levy on all customers, both domestic and industrial. It has been increased substantially over the years and it is used to subsidise renewable energy generation. The proposed increase of 36% comes into effect in October. I have been contacted by a number of companies that would be greatly affected by this increase. In one case, a company whose bills during 2015 and 2016 were €5,500 per month, or €66,000 per annum, will face bills of €7,500 per month, or €90,000 per annum, if this goes ahead.
We all know the importance of small businesses, job security and job creation, but this increase would negatively affect that. I know some decreases in electricity prices have been implemented by energy companies in recent times, but this would wipe all of that out. I ask that the Minister with responsibility for this area - the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Naughten - be invited to the House to explain the justification for this increase and the effect it would have on jobs and particularly for small businesses.
I refer to a development in the last number of days in which the talks between the Garda Representative Association, GRA, and the Department of Justice and Equality have broken down. It is very worrying. I understand that the GRA is frustrated that the commitments given during negotiations on the Lansdowne Road Agreement have not been adhered to by the Department. It is a worrying development, and I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Justice and Equality to the House to address it. The last thing we want is a threat from the GRA of industrial action. I appeal to the Minister to engage with the GRA with a view to ironing out the issues that are outstanding between both parties so that this can be avoided at all costs.
I am disappointed to note that the trial in Egypt of the Irish citizen Mr. Ibrahim Halawa has today been postponed for the 14th time. That is a worrying development. Seanad Éireann should again send our concerns on this issue to the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, who I know is doing everything he can to expedite a resolution of this situation.
Like everybody else, I was quite shocked at the contents of the "Prime Time" programme last night with regard to Console. It is a pity because, as Senator Nash and others have said, Console has done some remarkably good work, but unfortunately the good work is negated by the fact of these scandalous revelations. Unfortunately, they are not the only scandalous revelations about charities that we have seen in recent times. There is a simple solution to this. The Minister for Justice and Equality could commence section 4 of the Charities Act.
Section 4 of the Charities Act, if commenced, would give the regulator considerable powers to send an investigator into this charity and to demand to see all the books and accounts and speak to all the personnel, including the auditors and everybody else, who have had a hand, act or part in this scandalous abuse of not just taxpayer's funds but funds from people who have worked hard to raise money for the charity. The Minister for Justice and Equality should immediately commence section 4 of the 2009 Charities Act without delay.
The HSE has a serious role to play in this matter. Earlier I heard Deputy Sean Fleming speak on radio. He is correct that the HSE should go to the High Court today to get an order to seize everything to do with the administration of Console. The HSE should also send in people to run Console. This is what the public demands and it should happen. The HSE has an absolute responsibility to deal with this situation today.
I share the concerns of Senators who spoke about Console. Yesterday we discussed the matter on the Order of Business and we had somewhat of a reply. On that occasion, a number of Senators expressed their concern.
Today I raise one simple issue, namely, the European Commission and the Water Framework Directive. This week the European Commission said that Ireland cannot abolish water charges without breaching the EU Water Framework Directive. EU Commissioner, Karmenu Vella, has said the flexibility offered to Ireland ended in 2010 when the then Government pledged to introduce water charges. He also said that derogation from water charges could have been sought in 2010 but it was not. No one did so and the opportunity has now been missed. Subsequently, the Government applied water charges. The Commission said that it does not consider that Ireland can now revert on the water charges. Commissioner Vella's comments are significant, particularly in the recent days and given the debate on water charges in both the Seanad and the Dáil.
The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government plans to travel to Brussels next week to meet Commissioner Vella. Will the Leader invite the Minister to the Seanad when he returns to explain what is the correct situation? Is it correct that Ireland may be subject to fines for breaches of the Water Framework Directive?
I would like to raise a few issues. Last week we had a very good debate on mental health but I wish to raise the issue of unit 5B in University Hospital Limerick, from which five people were missing for a number of days, and security on the hospital campus. People were in the hospital for a particular reason and were receiving a lot of valid help. The fact they were able to walk out of the hospital and remain undetected is frightening. One lady was missing for an entire weekend.
I welcome the fact the number of rheumatology clinics in the hospital has more than halved. However, pain relief clinics have been cancelled each week for the past number of weeks. Will the Leader take up the matter with the Minister for Health?
A Garda-led programme called Operation Prowl was rolled out on the streets of Limerick over the past three or four years, ensuring that gardaí were visibly seen during the working day while businesses were open, especially on the main streets. The programme helped to reduce the number of robberies in shops. Unfortunately, the Garda has announced the programme has ceased. The business community is very put out by the news because the number of thefts had reduced.
I second the proposal by Senator Rose Conway-Walsh to amend the Order of Business today. It has been mentioned that Ibrahim Halawa's trial has been postponed for the 14th time. Sinn Féin believes it is high time that Enda Kenny picked up his phone and called Egypt.
I take this opportunity to congratulate the participants and organisers at every level of Dublin Pride. I hope that the LGBTQI community, our friends and comrades had a safe, happy and healthy Dublin Pride. I would like to express my solidarity with those who joined the protest for the first time. I recall still being in the closet when I marched with Sinn Féin friends and comrades who, without direct knowledge and alongside all of the participants in Dublin Pride, facilitated my being there and provided a safety net. We understand acutely what it means not to be in a position to celebrate and protest at Dublin Pride.
Yesterday, Senator Rónán Mullen referred to the national broadcaster in this Chamber. In an effort to promote inclusion and to reach out to those who struggle with their sexuality, there should be an onus on our public service broadcaster to cover the occasion-----
-----that has become the second largest festival parade after St. Patrick's Day.
This year's Dublin Pride festival followed the harrowing, tragic and senseless attack on the LGBTQI community in Orlando that left 49 people dead. The news from Florida struck the Irish community to its very core and Dublin Pride reflected that sombre mood. Many beautiful and moving reminders of those no longer with us were visible along the route taken by the parade. One older couple displayed a rainbow flag that had the words "Keep partying Yvonne. You will always be in our hearts."
Dublin Pride began following the public outcry and response to the homophobic attack and murder of Declan Flynn. To this day, we march visibly, proudly and publicly against persecution and discrimination.
I wish to continue our discussion on Brexit and to raise the serious implications for the Irish agrifood industry following the decision by the people of the UK to leave the EU. The UK is our single biggest trading partner and Irish agribusiness will, undoubtedly, be the most exposed. Ireland exported €5.1 billion in farm produce to Britain in 2015. A recent Teagasc survey has suggested that it could drop by up to 8% or €800 million per year.
There are major issues in this regard. The collapse in the value of sterling makes Irish exports expensive and will have an immediate negative impact on agriculture. Some 41% of all Irish food and drink exports go to the EU. The impact of the pound falling to an all-time low will see lower prices for Irish farmers in the coming months.
I am concerned about the possibility of trade barriers and tariffs. They are real possibilities for the UK and Northern Ireland. There is extreme uncertainty. Quite a number of farmers have contacted me over the past number of days and they have genuine and sincere concerns in this regard.
In 2014 the UK's contribution to the Common Agricultural Policy budget was €1.27 billion. As we know, CAP payments sustain many Irish farm families. Similarly, we are concerned that EU farm payments, which are so essential for Irish farmers, could be severely hit.
The exit will take a number of years to negotiate. We are very concerned about the terms of the negotiations, particularly the impact an exit will have on Ireland. I welcome the contribution made by the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade yesterday in terms of trying to use all of the resources available to meet those challenges. Will the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine address the Seanad? Agribusiness is a key sector of the Irish economy. Therefore, it is important that we understand what short-term and long-term implications there be and what measures will be put in place to help us get through this process.
I wish to raise a couple of matters. Much has been said about Console and I do not want to say anything that is unhelpful. People are quick to point to other people's behaviour. It is clear that wrong has been done in this instance and that there have been clear governance failures.
At a macro level, our Oireachtas has to look at how difficult it was for us to get the Charities Act in place and to resource the regulator's office. We need to think about those things also.
I will make one other brief observation on this issue, which is that we use the word "charity," and it is also used in the legislation. It is in the name of the Act. However, this is about public and community benefit. It is important to remember that it is not just charity in the sense of giving away money or something else. It is about being in concert with the State in the provision of public benefit and services.
On Brexit, all of us are quick to say how others should have behaved and acted and what decisions they should have made. However, there is not one of us in this Chamber, in our business life or in our work in the Oireachtas who has not turned around and said, "Perhaps I should have made a different decision; perhaps I should have measured twice before cutting the plank of timber." That is an important approach to bring to the issue. From my own work in Europe on disability and social inclusion and the different organisations in which I am involved, my reflection on it is that the European Union is a difficult entity to love sometimes. It makes it difficult for us all to love it. However, we should still remember that it is a precious entity in a world that badly needs it. That should be our instinct.
I am coming to the end. The situation in Istanbul hardly needs commenting on. People have already mentioned it. However, I wish to make one observation and draw an Irish connection. This concerns the man who threw himself down to save others. I am reminded of an incident that took place 100 years ago, perhaps to this day, when a man named Billy McFadzean saved his comrades in the trenches in the Somme. He was a member of the 36th Ulster Division. There are great people. We should always remember that.
Hear, hear. Well said.
I wish to raise the issue of our archaic and discriminatory motor tax system. It is years old and not fit for purpose. It militates, in particular, against those on low incomes or whose personal finances are stretched. People who are renewing their motor tax and wish to pay by instalments, which people who are on a tight budget often wish to do, end up paying more over the course of the year than they would if they paid in one lump sum. I was speaking to a person who had the option of paying their motor tax on a three-monthly, a six-monthly or a 12-monthly basis. They pay it on a three-monthly basis and, therefore, end up paying €170 more. It is obvious that, unless someone is leaving the country or not using the vehicle anymore, in most cases people are paying it in instalments due to the financial pressures they are under.
Another motor tax issue that was brought to my attention concerns a vehicle that has been put off the road. There was a big problem with petrol stretching in my constituency of County Mayo and many vehicles were destroyed. The owners could not get a refund of motor tax, even if their vehicles were off the road, unless there were at least three months left to run on the motor tax. This hits people who can ill afford to be hit in this way.
There is a big disparity in the amount of motor tax paid on vehicles registered after July 2008 and those registered before that, even those with the same engine size. A person might pay €180 to tax a 1.6 litre vehicle while another would pay in or about €500 due to the age of the vehicle. I understand the rationale behind it, and that it is designed to encourage people to buy vehicles with lower emissions. The reality, however, is that it requires people to buy newer, if not new, vehicles, and not everyone can afford to do so. People with older vehicles are shouldering this cost even if they are not using the road as much as someone with a newer vehicle.
It is inherently unfair. As we face into budget discussions, I would like the Leader to bring this issue to the attention of the Ministers for Finance and Transport, Tourism and Sport so that it might be corrected. In fairness to people and the difficult circumstances in which they find themselves, we could develop a new system. It was previously proposed that the tax should relate to the amount of fuel used.
I am not suggesting that that should be the system. However, the tax could be added to the cost of petrol or diesel at the filling station. This would, of course, mean that filling stations were collecting another tax on behalf of the State, but I do not think the current system is fair and we should do something about it.
On a point of order, before I start, will the Leas-Chathaoirleach advise the House how many items we are allowed to raise? In the last Seanad, we were allowed to raise one item. Are we allowed to raise more than one item now?
For God's sake.
I have no control over the number of items the Senator raises, but he has only two minutes.
That is telling him.
I can say what I like so, can I?
The Senator should not waste his time. Carry on.
I will not waste my time. Nor do I think I wasted it asking the question. The Leas-Chathaoirleach might get clarity on the question for us.
There is no clarity required. I have no control over it. The Senator has two minutes and he can raise what he likes.
I am sorry, a Leas-Chathaoirligh, but there was a ruling in the last Seanad that when a speaker other than the Leader went beyond one item on the Order of Business he or she was told it was not permitted to bring up more than one item.
That was a different Cathaoirleach and a different Seanad.
Yes, and I am asking for clarity on the matter. If the Leas-Chathaoirleach is not prepared to do it-----
I am telling the Senator now that he can say what he likes within the two minutes.
-----I will wait until the Cathaoirleach is back-----
I am giving the Senator the ruling. Carry on.
Okay. No problem.
I want to raise the issue of Console, which has already been raised by a number of Senators today. Unlike some Senators in this Chamber, I am not prepared to wait and see. This is black and white. It is quite clear that what has been done is an absolute disgrace. It is robbing money out of the pockets of people who provided funding and supported the charity over the years. At this point in time, there is no reason for any course of action other than a full investigation by An Garda Síochána. I understand the board has put in two people to examine and audit the books, but that alone is not acceptable. This is in the public arena and it is not being challenged by anyone. It is quite obvious that ordinary people's money has been stolen. We need these people to be called to heel. We also need a quick investigation and a visible result.
The last time this happened - it concerned another national entity - we saw a drop-off in support for genuine charities by 20% or 30% within weeks. Every time this happens, people will be less willing to support genuine charities. There are genuine charities, but the regulator is not doing its job adequately. The regulator should be inspecting the books of any registered charity he wishes and auditing them without notice. That is not happening. The gangsters in Console were chancing their arm and spending donations for their own gain and entertainment. I call on the Minister to instruct the Garda Síochána to start a full and open investigation into the matter.
I agree with Senator Landy on the number of items being raised during the Order of Business. It would be far more practical if we stuck to one item.
I wish to mention an issue raised by the retailers' group, RGDATA. This concerns the report from the Data Commissioner on the use of CCTV footage to prevent crime in retail units. Retailers have now been advised that they cannot share this footage with other retailers. It is a disgrace that this is allowed to happen. Someone is clearly identified as a shoplifter, but the retailer in whose premises it occurs cannot share that information with other retailers, including those in the same centre. That is outrageous, and we need clarification on the matter. If someone produces a knife in a retail unit, can that footage be used? If necessary, we should introduce amending legislation to deal with the issue.
We have a situation whereby retailers are required to pay rates, insurance costs, service charges and security charges, and it now appears that they are being asked to pay shoplifters as well. We need the Minister to come before the House to explain what will be done to ensure that legislation is introduced immediately to allow retailers to share information where crimes are being committed. This is a serious issue. Retailers' margins are at an all-time low and it is important that we deal with this issue immediately and do not put it on the long finger. Will the Leader to ask the Minister who deals with data protection to come before the House to outline what amendments he intends to introduce and when?
With regard to the matter of Console, it is extremely sad but we should remember that it is a very useful organisation. It provides help to a large number of people who are in great distress. I will not name the gentleman who founded it, but I have met him and he seemed to be a very decent person. One cannot always tell. He was certainly affected by the tragedy in his family. It seems he is a kind of Walter Mitty character, having turned up in various roles as an Aer Lingus pilot, a doctor and a Roman Catholic priest and so on. It is also tragic for his family.
I agree 100% with Senator Mulherin about motor tax. It is completely ridiculous. Lots of people, myself included, have very old cars. My car is large and I pay as much for it in tax and insurance every year as it cost me to buy it. The polluter pays principle should be implemented. I raised this issue when Mr. John Gormley was Minister. Mr. Gormley agreed with me but said it is a was a matter for the Department of Finance, which would not let him make the relevant change. I support Senator Mulherin in calling for the position regarding motor tax to be examined.
I also wish to refer to the debate on Brexit yesterday. There is a lot of insecurity and instability at present. While we, as democrats, accept the decision made by the United Kingdom, I cannot accept that it is now holding the Irish, UK and world economies to ransom by kicking to touch a decision for a minimum of three to four months. The Leader needs to put pressure on the Taoiseach and the Ministers who will be in attendance in Europe in the coming weeks to move the process forward. Europe is now saying it will not discuss the exit details until the British invoke Article 50. Markets react to instability and will always err on the side of caution in their own interests. As has been said before, the biggest problem facing various businesses, in particular agribusiness, is the sterling exchange rate. Our exporters are suffering terribly. While insecurity and instability remain ongoing, the markets will control the sterling exchange rate. This influences people's pensions and our exports. We cannot stand on the sidelines and watch Europe and the UK kick the decision down the line. The UK is looking for three months to sort out its political affairs. Our biggest loss will take place during that period. Once the exit details are being negotiated, who knows what will happen. We are in the EU and can be part of the negotiations. Things may not be as bad as certain people have painted them. The one thing that is sure and certain is that while insecurity and instability continues for three or four months we will suffer in terms of our exports, agribusiness and as a community in general terms of the fluctuation of sterling. The situation will not stabilise while there is insecurity.
I accept the decision of the people of the UK. It was a democratic decision. I do not and cannot accept that once they made the decision, they cannot enact it and are entitled to postpone it for three months in order to get party political leadership in order. This is happening at the expense of the Irish, European and world economies. The Leader must put pressure on our representatives in Europe to try to move the process forward and eliminate the current instability.
I join other Senators in condemning the awful massacre in Istanbul Atatürk Airport. It happened during Ramadan, which is a period of prayer, fasting, religious devotion and charity. It belies the contention that ISIS is an Islamic or Muslim organisation. It is antithetical to Islam and that should go on the record of the House. It does not represent Islam or Muslim countries.
Brexit has happened and is causing major turmoil around the world, including on the island of Ireland, in the UK and across Europe. I am angry that people have decided to leave Europe, but they did not think of the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland - which comprise the island of Ireland - Scotland or Europe. The vote has major implications. The British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly will meet in Malahide on Sunday. This is a plenary session that happens every six months and the most recent meeting was held in the UK. It brings MPs, Deputies, Senators and many others from Scotland and Wales together. There will be a very interesting discussion at the assembly which meets from Sunday until Tuesday. I look forward to making contributions.
One aspect of the assembly is British-Irish friendship. We are dealing with a century of Irish independence and the peace settlement in Northern Ireland. We are forgetting that we now have to consider Scotland and ensure that a deal is done to ensure it remains in the EU. The people of Scotland are reaching out because they feel left out by the UK. We must work to ensure that whatever happens will be in the interests of Ireland and countries such as Scotland.
David Cameron is gone and the head of the Labour Party is almost gone. These matters are making fifth page headlines. The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Flanagan, is visiting Northern Ireland today. I welcome the latter because we need to keep the lines of communication open during what is a very difficult and dangerous time for our country and for Europe.
I would like to note that the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission has published its annual report and laid it before the Houses of the Oireachtas. It highlights issues we have discussed, such as the importance of strengthening equality and human rights in the post-Brexit context, the importance of addressing the scandal that is direct provision, something we will debate today and I hope will take action on, the importance of addressing austerity in terms of economic, social and cultural rights and the importance of moving forward on the rights of people with disabilities, something our group has previously debated in the House. I ask the Leader to facilitate a discussion on the report and the issues it raises.
I refer to the future of the dairy industry in Ireland. Average milk prices this year will probably be in the region of 24 cent or 25 cent per litre. In 2014 dairy farmers got 38 cent per litre. The income of an average dairy farmer milking roughly 70 cows will be down by up to €50,000 this year. This crisis is affecting every part of rural Ireland and there is no real solution. As a nation, we need to examine how we will support family farms. Retailers and the industry need to move together. Today, one can buy milk in Aldi, Lidl and other outlets for six times the farm gate price. One can buy a smaller 250 ml product for the same price as a farmer is paid for 150 litres, which is roughly 25 times what a farmer receives. The situation cannot continue unless retailers work with industry and farmers. If this does not happen the dairy industry will not survive.
A labelling process should be put in place. The farm gate price of products should be put on labels.
I do not believe the general public know that they are paying six times the price of the product, or in other places up to 25 times, depending on where you buy it. There needs to be a debate on this. The Minister needs to come to the House and look at what legislation we can pass to put a labelling system in place so the actual price of the farm gate product is put on the product itself. If we can do that, the general consumer will realise exactly what the farming community is making, or how little it is making. If we fail, we will have a situation that, unfortunately, our dairy industry and our family farms will not survive.
I call Senator Máire Devine. I assure her that I am strictly adhering to the rota on the list.
I want to bring to the attention of the House a group that will hold a protest outside the Dáil. It is Sarcoma Action Group Ireland. Sarcoma is a rare cancer of the soft tissue or bone, diagnosed in about 250 new patients each year. They require ongoing care from multidisciplinary team specialists, surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy. Unfortunately, on Thursday 30 June, Ireland's only specialist oncologist in sarcoma chemotherapy will leave her post at St. Vincent's hospital. The ongoing care for these 200 to 300 patients a year is at risk.
We have utmost respect for the other oncologists, but nobody has the expertise that this oncologist has. Her name is Dr. Bertuzzi. She has been contracted as a locum for the last three years. The previous oncologist has now returned and Dr. Bertuzzi, apparently, is no longer required. Patients from all over Ireland have been referred to her for chemotherapy for the various types of sarcoma. The oncologist taking her place does not have expertise in sarcoma cancers, which are quite different. It is like referring somebody who has brain cancer to a person who specialises in breast cancer. It just would not happen. This is a specialist service. The patients are devastated. To listen to them would make you cry at how vulnerable and very sick they are. Dr. Bertuzzi has expertise and brings to it a very thoughtful, caring and researched approach. She has been able to diagnose not just on research but on her own intuition. She has even proved popular in Britain, where people are being referred to her, yet she is to go tomorrow, leaving 300 patients with no specialist oncologist. The Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, has passed it over to the HSE. He has made meaningless statements that he has been struck by the number of phone calls his office has received and that they will look into it. Unfortunately, this will happen tomorrow. Perhaps the Leader could ask the Minister, Deputy Harris, to make a meaningful statement. I ask for the specialist oncologist to be retained while we work out further detail. If anybody is interest, there is a protest at 1 p.m. outside the Dáil.
I had not intended to speak, but I was very troubled to hear the news from the Oireachtas Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport that the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, has announced that there will not be any sports capital grant this year. It is somewhat fitting that I wrote my wee notes with a pen given to me by the Federation of Irish Sport while sitting beside Senator John O'Mahony, one of the most famous bainisteoirí in Gaelic football history. It is an absolute travesty for many clubs around the country to know that the preparations that have been ongoing on submissions for sports capital grants will not now be needed, as the grants will not be provided in 2016. I ask the Leader of the House to ask the Minster, Deputy Ross, to come in and reflect on this. Sports capital grants are vital for sport, communities and our nation's health, but also for the economy. They provide direct returns in VAT for works and in PAYE for the workmen carrying out the works, and for the local economies close to clubs in many areas around the country. One of the most disappointing aspects is that sports capital grants are a little bit of a mystery. We do not exactly know when we will get them. We know that we are promised them and that they are good things, but we do not know for sure. That has a huge impact on clubs and communities. I have been working with a number of clubs in my area that are getting ready to prepare on foot of expecting a sports capital grant this year. This is now going into next year. Money that has been saved and preparations that have been made will have to be delayed. It would be a far better idea if the Minister, Deputy Ross, brought in a system where a smaller, annual allocation would take place.
Ba mhaith soiléiriú a fháil ón gCeannaire, más féidir, maidir leis an díospóireacht faoin diaspora. Cén uair a bheidh muid á thógáil sin? Bhí sé sin iarrtha ag roinnt daoine.
I also propose an amendment to the Order of Business: that we take motion No. 7 on the Order Paper today. I had phone calls from a very irate constituent yesterday who told me that she has been a customer for 23 years with one of the waste disposal companies and has always used the system where she buys the refuse sacks in her local shop to dispose of waste. She can no longer do that under the new system that has been set up. This is a change from what we were told last week in a debate in this House - that "under no circumstances would the Government allow a situation whereby households would be mandated to switch over to a new charging system that would result in dramatic increases for many households". That is exactly what is happening, contrary to what the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Coveney, told us here last week during a debate. This new regime is to come in on 1 July. I have been contacted by people across the country, so it is quite clear to me that there are still issues with the waste companies across the country on this. I still believe that the Minister, Deputy Coveney, wittingly or unwittingly misled us in the Seanad last week. I do not know whether that is because the refuse companies did not tell him the full truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, or whether he was aware that anybody who had been disposing of their refuse to date or who had been using bags or tag systems that they bought through the local shop would now be forced into a situation where they first have to register with the companies and then pay by weight, which is a fundamental change and very different from what we were told in the House last week.
I call on Fianna Fáil to support this amendment to the Order of Business because I am not sure whether its members were aware, when they proposed last week that they would give full support to the Minister on this, that they were not being given the full picture and the full information, or whether, under the new arrangement between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil was aware of it as well and this was part of the collusion that happened here last week. This is a very urgent debate. We need the Minister, Deputy Coveney, to come before us to clarify this very quickly. We need action to ensure that the new system is not brought in and that people are not penalised, because there is a huge cohort who either dispose of their own waste or use the bag or tag system who will now be forced to register, pay standing charges and pay extra costs.
I ask the Leader to organise a debate today or, at the latest, tomorrow, on the case of Ibrahim Halawa, whose trial has been postponed yet again until October. The Government has not been doing enough on this case. Some 494 people face a mass trial with Ibrahim Halawa. Two were released today and three have died in custody. The questions all of the Government should ask are: why were the two released and how did the three die in custody? Ibrahim could face the same fate, because according to his legal team he faces the death penalty, yet our Government says that he does not. The ambassador from Egypt says that he prays that Ibrahim is not facing more serious charges. If he faces the death penalty and gets convicted on that charge, the presidential decree that our Government is hanging its hat on, saying that we can intervene after the trial, does not apply. Our Government wants transparency; it says that it needs and likes transparency. Yet, Fine Gael and the Labour Party in the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade refused in a vote to have Ibrahim Halawa's legal team come before it. The committee did not want to hear what they had to say. I ask the Leader to organise this debate tomorrow. Ibrahim is an Irish citizen. He is the only Irish citizen that Amnesty International has declared a prisoner of conscience, yet our Government says that soft diplomacy is what will work. It has not worked, but what does work and has worked for the Australians is hard diplomacy. They got their citizen, Peter Greste, released on a presidential decree while awaiting trial.
He had faced trial. The trial was quashed, the verdict was overturned and he faced trial again. He was in the exact same legal position as Ibrahim Halawa. Australia's Prime Minister intervened directly with President el-Sisi and secured the release of its citizen awaiting trial. Yet we will be told that soft diplomacy works. Our citizen is in jail and has gone through 13 trials, none of which was heard. Now he faces waiting until October with no guarantee that he will get a hearing that day either. I ask the Leader as a matter of urgency to ensure that there will be a special debate today or tomorrow on this issue.
I second the motion Senator Ó Clochartaigh spoke about in regard to bin charges. I appeal to everyone in the Chamber to read the motion. There is nothing here that anyone could object to. We are simply asking that what the Minister told us was the situation would in fact be the situation. It is very clear that there are several issues connected with bin charges. I too have heard of companies which are moving the goal posts as we speak, and from 1 July will increase charges. According to the report in thejournal.ie yesterday, one of the biggest companies, Greyhound, has declared that it will move to new charges unless the customers write in and request it not to. That is not how the situation was explained to us last week. This is a major problem that will affect tens of thousands of people across the country. We have the opportunity and the duty to look into this. There is nothing in the motion that any of us could object to.
I commend Senator Daly’s comments on Ibrahim Halawa. It is extremely important that we address this issue.
I spoke on the pay-by-weight issue last week. There is confusion. The Minister needs to clarify this for us, especially for the people using Greyhound and other facilities. I would like the Minister to come to the House to explain the situation. I believe it will be sorted but we need confirmation of what the situation is.
In the last local elections, the name of the Leader programme changed to local community development committee, LCDC, but no payments have been made to any local authorities for more than two years. I want the Minister to ensure that every local authority is paid. Carlow County Council should be paid €6.4 million for necessary projects. All local authorities have 12 or 14 projects waiting to be assessed and get the go-ahead. I believe that under this new process, they have to reapply. That is not good enough. Any project waiting more than two years to be assessed needs to get the go ahead. That is only fair play. I want the Minister to look at the projects listed for the past two years and put them forward.
On a point of order, I asked last week that the Minister responsible for the rural development programme, RDP, come to the House to answer those questions.
That is not a point of order.
I thank the 26 Senators who contributed to this morning’s Order of Business. Eight Senators, including Senators Ardagh, Conway-Walsh, Conway, Boyhan, Dolan, Landy and Norris, raised the issue of Console. I think all of us in this House will join in condemning the lack of transparency and accountability in regard to the governance and use of public moneys in a charity like Console. It is equally important to segregate the two parts of this story. Console, with the Health Service Executive, HSE, is providing a service to people requiring intervention of some type or another and they must have confidence in the service being continued. In tandem with that, there is very important work to be done by the HSE and the Charities Regulator in holding the board or chief executive of the charity to account for the expenditure of money and the governance of the organisation. The revelations are appalling and unacceptable. Those of us involved in the charity and community sector or in sporting organisations expect and demand high standards of probity when dealing with public moneys, in particular money raised by volunteers across the country. It is also important we understand that the HSE in its auditing of accounts of section 38 or section 39 organisations must do so to the letter of the law. The Charities Regulator has been appointed but not because of a Sinn Féin motion. The Charities Act was passed in this House in 2009 and to give Senator Conway-Walsh a history lesson, it was the only time in that Seanad when the Opposition combined to defeat the Government on a Bill. I was the Fine Gael spokesperson on the community sector.
Fine Gael took credit for Iceland because it had blue shirts.
We must have probity such that the strict rules applying to the charity sector are implemented. Senator Conway referred to Part 4 of the Charities Act. It is a staffing issue. There is an obligation on the Government to work with the Charities Regulator and give him a full complement of staff to implement the Charities Act with its full rigour. We cannot condone any wrongdoing and must condemn it and hold those involved to account. These were public moneys, charitable money and money we all work hard to accrue and spend. The accrual of personal largesse is despicable and there is no other word for that kind of behaviour. I hope the breach of trust arising from this "Prime Time" programme will lead to a better corporate governance structure across the charity sector. In the previous Dáil and Seanad, we saw breaches of trust in section 38 and section 39 organisations. I hope this is a watershed moment when we can turn the corner and say it will happen no more.
Six Senators mentioned Brexit. I say to Senator Craughwell that we accept the democratic will of the people of the United Kingdom to vote the way they did. That does not mean it is the right decision. What is important now for us is that our Government, on behalf of the people, acts in our interests within the European Union. As a very proud advocate of the European Union and as a republican, I believe it is imperative that we put the green goal forward to protect the North and South of the country, to protect jobs and to highlight the issues raised this morning in regard to agriculture and, in particular, trade. The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine will come to the House next week.
Senator Conway-Walsh mentioned currency fluctuations for those on social welfare. The Department of Social Protection has said it will monitor the situation and take steps to adjust and rebalance the amounts payable to pensioners, in particular. It is important to keep a watching brief on that.
The relationship between this country and the United Kingdom is important and special. The repercussions of the vote will have a profound impact on this nation. There is a need now, within the EU, for a calm reflective debate on how best to further the European project. If that means changing the democratic institutions and how they operate, let us do that. For now, we need a period of calm and certainty to allow the UK trigger the mechanism to exit but in so doing, perhaps it will recognise the error of its ways and revisit the vote at a later date before triggering that mechanism.
I thank the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade for coming to the House yesterday for the debate, which was very good. I thank all Senators for their participation in it.
Several Senators mentioned the awful and tragic killings in Istanbul yesterday. I hope all of us will join in the condemnation of those senseless and meaningless attacks in the name of whatever. Violence has no place in our world. There is no justification for any type of violence in the pursuit of peace or a common cause.
Senator Conway-Walsh also proposed an amendment to the Order of Business. I will not accept the amendment for the reasons I have already outlined. All of us want the Seanad to move forward in a way that is productive and reflective of the new dynamics in the House, but there is a structure in place. I have explained the rationale for that. I hope the legacy the Members of this Seanad leave is a reformed Seanad that will work better for generations of people to come.
Senator Nash raised the report of the Standards in Public Office Commission. I welcome that report. Senator O'Mahony raised the PSO levies on electricity charges. I will be happy to invite the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Naughten, to the House to explain this and have a debate on it. If the Senator wishes, he could table a Commencement matter to get a reply more quickly but I will facilitate the Minister coming to the House as well.
Senator Gallagher raised the talks between the Garda Representative Association, GRA, and the Department of Justice and Equality on the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest, FEMPI, Acts and the Lansdowne Road agreement. The FEMPI legislation is very important legislation which the last Government began to roll back in terms of the reduction it contained. Industrial action of any type is regrettable and I appeal to the GRA and, indeed, to the teachers, particularly the Association of Secondary Teachers in Ireland, ASTI, to re-engage and not take their members to the brink.
I am a public service worker and have been a member of a union all of my working life. It is important that 200,000 public sector workers signed up to the Landsdowne Road agreement. Further engagement is needed and is desirable. There are issues to be addressed, and I understand the frustrations of the two unions involved regarding the pay and conditions of their members. Those of us who were involved in this debate previously will recognise that there is a road to travel. However, there is an understanding, which should have been conveyed by the unions, that when one did not sign up to the Lansdowne Road agreement there was a consequence, however regrettable that is. I hope that there will be compromise and further engagement at this 11th hour. I have no wish to see any member of the Garda Síochána or a teaching union representative losing pay or losing out on receiving money as a result of the FEMPI legislation being rescinded, but I hope there will be further engagement on the matter.
Senators Conway and Mark Daly raised the Halawa case. I will do my best to get the Minister to come to the House at the earliest opportunity. It might not be possible tomorrow, but I will do my best.
Senator Boyhan raised the important issue of Irish Water. We heard this morning that the former Senator, Mr. Joe O'Toole, has been appointed to chair the commission. I am glad Senator Boyhan referred to the fact that it was the Fianna Fáil Government in 2010 which conceded the derogation. However, it is important that we allow that piece of work to be done and have the debate. It is part of the programme for Government and the confidence and supply arrangement between Fianna Fáil and the minority Government to have that report commissioned. I wish Mr. O'Toole every success in his work.
Senator Maria Byrne raised two important issues relating to security in Limerick. I will ask the Minister for Justice and Equality to report to her on Operation Prowl.
Senator Warfield spoke about Dublin Pride. I was a proud participant last Saturday in Dublin when there were 70,000 people on the streets. It is regrettable that there was an incident late that night in which somebody was attacked, for whatever motivation. Contrast the carnival and celebratory atmosphere in Dublin with what happened at the Istanbul pride parade. It shows the progress this country has made. I thank the many parents and grandparents of LGBT people who came out on the streets of Dublin on Saturday and celebrated. It was worth seeing. There was a Mardi Gras atmosphere. Is it not fantastic that, as we remember the late Declan Flynn and people such as Chris Robinson, in 2016, as we celebrate the centenary of the Rising, we can walk as free and equal citizens across our capital city?
Senator Hopkins raised the issue of agriculture, as did Senator Lombard. The Minister will be in the House next week to discuss agriculture issues.
Senator Dolan, who as been a strong promoter of the charity and disability sector, made a poignant point about the Battle of the Somme and the role of Irish people in that battle. The Minister is travelling there to take part in the commemoration events. We certainly recognise the importance of that event.
Senators Mulherin and Norris raised the issue of motor tax. I will be happy to invite the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport and the Minister for Finance to the House to discuss that issue.
Senator Landy and Senator Colm Burke spoke about the Order of Business. It would be a great help to me if a Member could raise only one item on the Order of Business, but that is a matter for the Cathaoirleach to decide. Senator Colm Burke also raised the important issue of not being able to share closed circuit television, CCTV, footage. I am a member of the Cork city joint policing committee on which there is representation from the Garda. The Garda is absolutely tied in not being able to allow this to happen in the sharing of information. The Senator is right and I agree with him that the legislation should be amended to reflect the new technological world in which we live whereby we can share information which could prevent crime and theft occurring, at the flick of a switch. I agree that we should invite the Minister with responsibility for data protection to the House. I will endeavour to do so at the earliest convenient opportunity.
Senators Feighan and Paul Daly raised the issue of Brexit and the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly. As I said, the Minister will come to the House to discuss agriculture. The Senators are correct that it is important to have an urgent debate on agriculture.
Senator Alice-Mary Higgins raised the report of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission. I will be happy to invite the Minister to the House to discuss the broader issue.
Senator Lombard raised the role of the family farm and he highlighted the price differential in a startling way. I hope the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Creed, will address that when he comes to the House.
Senator Devine raised the issue of oncology services for the treatment of sarcoma. This is predominantly an operational matter for the HSE, so I will take it up with the Minister and the HSE.
Senator Richmond raised the sports capital programme and the non-allocation of sports capital grants this year. If that is the case, it is a very disappointing announcement by the Minister. As the Senator rightly said, this is about sport and community. It is about benefitting sports grounds for communities, clubs and sports organisations. It is also about the local economy and allowing small builders, in particular, to make an income. It is disappointing and I will invite the Minister to the House at the earliest opportunity.
Senator Ó Clochartaigh raised the issue of waste. I will not accept the amendment as we had a debate on the matter last week. The Senator can table a Commencement matter on it as well if he wishes, but the Minister gave a clear outline to the House last week and the circumstances have not changed. Senator Murnane O'Connor raised the issue as well.
He misled us.
I do not believe so, to be fair. It is very unfair of the Senator to say that.
He did it wittingly or unwittingly, but we were certainly misled.
The Leader without interruption.
With regard to Leader funding, the Minister announced 18 new projects last week. Senator Conway-Walsh raised this matter and I have invited the Minister to the House. I will follow up with her on that.
On a point of clarification, will the Leader respond on the diaspora?
I have spoken to the Minister of State, Deputy McHugh, about that, because the Senator raised it previously if memory serves. He has agreed to come to the House but timing is the problem. However, I will pursue it for the Senator.
Senator Conway-Walsh proposed an amendment to the Order of Business, "That No. 9, motion 1, be taken today." Is the amendment being pressed?
I can leave it until tomorrow, unless there is a clear pathway before the end of today's business.
You wish to defer it until tomorrow, so you are withdrawing the amendment today?
Yes, but I will raise it again tomorrow.
Senator Ó Clochartaigh has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business "That No. 9, motion 7, be taken today." Is the amendment being pressed?
- Conway-Walsh, Rose.
- Devine, Máire.
- Gavan, Paul.
- Humphreys, Kevin.
- Mac Lochlainn, Pádraig.
- Ó Céidigh, Pádraig.
- Ó Clochartaigh, Trevor.
- Ó Ríordáin, Aodhán.
- Ruane, Lynn.
- Warfield, Fintan.
- Boyhan, Victor.
- Burke, Colm.
- Buttimer, Jerry.
- Byrne, Maria.
- Conway, Martin.
- Craughwell, Gerard P.
- Feighan, Frank.
- Hopkins, Maura.
- Lombard, Tim.
- McFadden, Gabrielle.
- Mulherin, Michelle.
- Noone, Catherine.
- O'Donnell, Kieran.
- O'Donnell, Marie-Louise.
- O'Mahony, John.
- O'Reilly, Joe.
- Reilly, James.
- Richmond, Neale.
I was having a cup of coffee in the Oireachtas bar and the division bells never went off so I have missed one or two votes. I do not mind particularly but I just thought I would mention it.
I thank Senator Norris but I do not think there is anything we can do about it at this stage.