The Order of Business is No. 1, motion re appointments to the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of the Order of Business; No. 10, non-Government motion No. 8 re Ibrahim Halawa, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of No. 1; and No. 3, Proceeds of Crime (Amendment) Bill 2016 - Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken at 2 p.m.
Order of Business
I raise the issue of waiting times for speech therapy and early diagnosis of speech and language difficulties. Early diagnosis of autism, in particular, and other medical problems is crucial in order that children can progress. A number of medical conditions are being diagnosed earlier and an early diagnosis gives children a better start at school. Waiting times for assessment are a big issue in many of our constituencies. The average waiting time should be three months, but in many cases it is much longer. Speech and language therapy is important because if the problems are nipped in the bud before children go to primary school, they will not have the development issues they might have otherwise. They will also be on the same level as their peers if there are early interventions. Disability services are being reconfigured and one of the main issues is the recruitment of occupational and speech and language therapists. In 2014 the previous Government announced the allocation of moneys to provide 275 additional therapists, including 88 speech and language therapists. At the end of October last year, only 27 additional speech and language therapists had been recruited. I looked for a section 13 report on the assessment of needs for occupational and speech and language therapists. The last report I found had been completed in 2007. Section 13 of the Disability Act 2005 provides for an annual report to be given to the Minister on needs identified in an area and the future allocation of speech and language therapists. If a more recent report has been published, I ask the Leader to provide it for the House. If no report has been completed since 2007, will he ask the Minister for Health to commission a section 13 report on the assessment of needs for speech and language therapists in all HSE areas?
Yesterday, after I had contributed on the Order of Business, Senator Rose Conway-Walsh made various comments on Fianna Fáil's record on home care services. On 5 January this year the United Kingdom Homecare Association which represents independent health care providers published a press release entitled, The State of Home Care Funding in Northern Ireland. It is stated in the first paragraph-----
-----"Home care services in Northern Ireland have been pushed to the brink of collapse leaving old people and disabled people at risk of inadequate care-----
The Senator should respect the Chair. That is a matter for-----
This was mentioned yesterday
If the Senator wants to correct the record, there are ways to do so.
I would like to correct it.
The Senator can raise the issue by way of a Commencement matter. We cannot reopen yesterday's Order of Business and refer to what someone said - dúirt bean liom go dúirt bean leí. I cannot allow the Senator to do that.
Yesterday Sinn Féin had free rein in attacking Fianna Fáil.
From time to time there is a lot of barracking while Members are speaking and I will not allow it to happen. I was not in the Chair yesterday. This is not the Dáil. This is a special Chamber in which there are special protocols that will have to be respected. The Senator has made her point.
This week the role of the Attorney General was brought into question with respect to advice given to the Government.
I am somewhat unclear about this. A number of people have contacted me about the statement made by my colleague in the Lower House, the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, that the opinion of the Attorney General was nothing but an opinion. We need a debate in this House in order to establish whether the opinion of the Attorney General should determine the way in which legislation will pass through the Oireachtas or whether we can second-guess that prestigious office. The latter has not happened in the past, I understand, but is now very much on the table. In fairness to the Oireachtas and the people of the country, we need to establish what the Attorney General's advice means when it comes to passing legislation through the House. If the situation that has now developed is that every time the Attorney General gives advice it can be second-guessed, we need to clear up that matter and do so very soon.
The Seanad has no role in matters concerning the Attorney General and we should not discuss matters in the other House. The Senator has made his point. What happens in the Dáil is a matter for that House to rectify or change the rules. We are different and we have certain restrictions, but we must respect what the other House does also.
I dtosach báire, tá a fhios agam gur ardaigh mo chomhghleacaí, an Seanadóir Paul Gavan, ceist inné maidir le táillí bruscair. Tá mé ag iarraidh a fháil amach an bhfuil aon fhreagra ar sin. We had a meeting last week with the Minister about the ongoing refuse collection issues. He assured us that he would have a meeting on Monday or Tuesday of this week to clarify the position. From what I can see, there has been no clarification whatsoever so far. I am getting calls about this issue from people who have no mechanism to get rid of their refuse this week. This will continue next week and they need clarification on the matter. I think the Minister was asked yesterday to seek clarification. Will he clarify the position? Otherwise, next week we will have to raise this issue once again in the Seanad and I do not want to have to do so on an ongoing basis.
Many people are thinking about school holidays, but many parents are faced with the proposition of school transport for next year and there are some serious issues in this regard. Very severe cutbacks were introduced in 2011 by the Fianna Fáil and Green Party Government, which were continued during the last Administration because, we were told, of lack of funding, etc. However, there have been some serious anomalies, particularly in rural areas. Yesterday I visited a school in Mullagh, County Galway, that has a very big problem in that it is being asked to send children to schools in different parishes because they are 100 m. closer to a school over the parish boundary than they are to the one they want to attend. There are serious issues in this regard and in the way in which the Department is very rigidly imposing the school transport directives. I call for the Minister of State with responsibility for school transport to come before the House, possibly before we break for the summer, in order that we can raise some of these issues with him now, rather than having to come back to them after the fact in September, once the issues have been raised.
I note with concern that in County Monaghan this week five heifers belonging to a south Monaghan farmer were shot dead by the Defence Forces. I understand this relates to a repossession case. I am very concerned about the issues surrounding repossessions in the State and the way they are being handled and I have raised the matter on many occasions. Surely there are questions as to why the Defence Forces had to get involved in such a situation. The Animal Health and Welfare Bill was brought before the Houses under the last Administration, during which time we went into an awful lot of detail about the health and welfare of animals. To see five animals shot in County Monaghan, on foot of some form of repossession, is extremely worrying, and we should have an explanation as to what exactly happened. I want us to have a specific debate on the whole area of repossessions. Again, in Galway in the past week there have been more than 100 repossession hearings in the courts. This is happening in courts across the country. There does not seem to be any move whatsoever to try to resolve these issues for people who find themselves in these situations. There are also serious questions about the way banks, the legal profession, etc., are handling all of these matters. I call for a debate on repossessions to be held as quickly as possible.
I was honoured to be selected yesterday as the chairperson of the Oireachtas cross-party group on alcohol harm, which is an informal group seeking to progress legislation and policy that can reduce alcohol harm in Ireland, with a particular emphasis on the implementation of the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill. Yesterday we had our first briefing which highlighted the impact of harmful parental drinking on children in Ireland. There was a great turnout at the event and it was fantastic to see such huge interest. We were honoured to have such speakers as the chief executive of the ISPCC, Grainia Long; the head of advocacy at Barnardos, June Tinsley; the chief executive of the Children's Rights Alliance, Tanya Ward; and Suzanne Costello from Alcohol Action Ireland.
As many Members may know, I hear daily from family members impacted by a loved one's alcohol, drug or gambling problem. Families all over Ireland are devastated by alcohol misuse and the most vulnerable person within the family unit is the child. Children living with parents who drink in a harmful manner are among the most vulnerable in society. The wide range of harms caused to children as a result of harmful drinking in the home is known as "hidden harm" as the harm is often not visible in public and largely kept behind closed doors. These vulnerable children can suffer in silence. They do not know where to turn for help and the impact of harmful parental drinking has a deep and long-lasting impact on their lives.
The voice of Irish children was heard on this issue when the ISPCC national children consultation surveyed almost 10,000 children aged between 12 and 18 years on the effects of parental alcohol use on their lives. The findings from this survey show that one in 11 young people said parental alcohol use affected them in a negative way. These negative effects include emotional impacts, abuse and violence, impacts on family relations, changes in parental behaviour and neglect. Some children who took part in this survey commented:
It worries me; I can't get on with my life as I am taking care of my mum.
When they get drunk, they don't know what they are doing. It's embarrassing. I hate it.
I have to mind my sister while my [mam] looks for my father in the pub.
We need to address the impacts of parental drinking by introducing measures to protect children from alcohol harm in the home. It is imperative that we ensure the best possible start in life for every child and effective prevention of alcohol harm and provide for early intervention. The Public Health (Alcohol) Bill is evidence-based legislation that aims to reduce the high levels of alcohol consumption in Ireland and can, therefore, play a key role in helping to break the negative cycle of harmful parental drinking that causes so many problems for children. The Bill contains a provision for structural separation of alcohol products in mixed retail outlets such as supermarkets and convenience stores, which will mean that they can no longer be displayed like everyday or ordinary products such as bread or milk.
I also acknowledge all the great work that Alcohol Action Ireland has done on this issue in the past few years. It is a privilege to work alongside it. I look forward to continuing to work with it in the future and moving forward with this legislation.
I refer to the Admissions Bill, as published yesterday by the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Richard Bruton. I understand the Bill will be brought before the House in due course, but I wish to raise a matter of concern. There seems to be a level of confusion regarding the processes surrounding the Bill and that some of the issues would be dealt with in the committee, according to the Minister, or a committee being set up within a committee. The committees appear to deal with some issues surrounding admissions to schools, while other will be dealt with by legislation. There is also confusion as to whether the Minister intends to tackle the school tie issue, by which some schools in the State insist on keeping their intergenerational, hierarchical bloodline in place to demand priority be given to children of past pupils, which, of course, discriminates against those who are from outside the area or those of a family background of parents who possibly did not attend secondary school. I ask the Leader to facilitate a discussion in this House with the Minister, understanding, of course, that the legislation will be brought before this House in due course. I know, however, that the Bill was a source of great tension in the last Government. It did not reach any agreement between the two parties in government last time. It is now the intention of the Minister to bring the issue forward. I am slightly confused and concerned, however, as to why some of the issues surrounding school admissions are being dealt with in a committee and some through legislation and at the same time what was considered to be a very minor change proposed by the Labour Party a number of weeks ago in the Dáil was voted down by a conservative consensus of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael.
Last week I raised the issue of the delay in the processing of passports. I welcome the Minister's announcement yesterday that 233 people had been appointed to the Passport Office to deal with the backlog. I urge members of the public to check their passports in good time in respect of renewals. There is a facility where a passport holder can sign up to receive an alert three months before a passport is due for renewal. However, in many cases, there is a need for a passport to be renewed six months before its expiration date; therefore, it makes common sense that the alert should be six months before a passport is due for renewal. Nowadays with technology, every passport holder should receive an automatic alert. That would reduce the bottleneck that occurs every year in May and June, at the beginning of the holiday period.
I wish to comment on the incident that occurred in County Monaghan this week where five cattle were put down. I am not aware of the full facts surrounding the case, but it is a cause of concern and, on the face of it, it appears it was done in a heavy-handed manner. I understand they were five limousine heifers about 18 months old. This appears slightly over the top. When cattle get excited, it takes a while for them to settle down. Having been born and reared on a farm, I know that there are ways and means in which cattle can be handled. I ask the Leader for a report on the particular incident.
I wish to raise the issue of the Kevin Bell Repatriation Trust. With other Members, I attended a briefing by Colin and Eithne Bell from Newry. Three years ago they lost a son in Australia in tragic circumstances and his body had to be repatriated. At the time the people of Newry fundraised. Arising from that incident, the Kevin Bell Repatriation Trust was born. A total of 197 bodies have since been repatriated by that trust. When I speak of a trust, I am speaking of a husband and wife, Colin and Eithne Bell, and their children. I commend them for the work they do in a voluntary capacity. I will give Members some idea of the work the trust does. In November 2015 the bodies of eight young Irish people had to be flown home to their families, which involved a huge cost. The service provided by the trust is invaluable and cannot be quantified. However, the need for the service has increased and the trust has got to a point where it needs help. It has opened an office but is under financial pressure and is seeking funding of approximately €50,000 per annum towards the running of the office. Will the Leader contact the relevant Minister in order that the issue will be addressed as members of this family are providing a fantastic service on a purely voluntary basis and we should support them?
I would like if the relevant Minister would come to the House to deal with the North-South interconnector. I know that because of the oral hearing, the Minister could not answer questions in the other House. We all know Fianna Fáil and the Green Party started the North-South interconnector. When Fianna Fáil was in power, it was like "The Wombles". It was all right for the interconnector to go overground but as soon as it was out of government, it had to go underground - wombling free. I understand that is politics and that we have to move on.
The Senator is wandering.
I met various Ministers during the five years I was a Member of the other House. We were told it could not be changed and that it was further down the road than any other project. That message was shoved down our throats. There are 155 pages in the programme for Government between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, which includes bogs and the butterflies. However, there is no mention of the North-South interconnector. Deputies in my area and Cavan and Monaghan shouted about this and it was a huge issue during the general election with people with EirGrid posters outside the church shouting "Butler out", Butler out". My family had to walk through them on the Sunday before the general election. The programme for Government does not mention the North-South interconnector, but the bogs are mentioned.
Shame on you both.
We do not want to leave Sinn Féin out, we want to bring it into the picture.
It can come riding in on its high horse because we have good news. Sinn Féin is going to stop this. As result of the Brexit vote, there is a problem for the North-South pylon project. It is a designated EU project of common interest. To be awarded this status, a development must have benefits for at least two European Union states. I call on Sinn Féin - we have Members who are from the North-----
I ask the Senator to address his remarks through the Chair.
Sinn Féin can sort the whole thing out. It can stop the North-South interconnector. I call on Sinn Féin to get off the fence and stop this once and for all.
As a matter of clarification for Senator Ray Butler, there is no programme for Government between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil.
There is; it is as good as one.
We are facilitating a minority Government in the interest of the State.
Tweedledum and Tweedledee.
Some of the comments by Senators Diarmuid Wilson and Ray Butler might be more appropriately dealt with in their respective parliamentary parties.
I agree totally. I just wanted to clarify the matter.
Or at a Cabinet meeting.
West Donegal and the wider Gaeltacht community is in mourning following the sudden death of Seamus Mac Géidigh, broadcaster and manager of RTE Raidió na Gaeltachta northwest service. Seamus was a much respected broadcaster. He was passionate about Gaelic football and a highly respected commentator on Gaelic games. On Saturday evening last, Seamus travelled to Breffni Park to commentate on the Ulster semi-final replay between Monaghan and Donegal. I am sure he left Breffni Park with a smile on his face having witnessed his beloved Donegal beat unfortunate Monaghan. Seamus was heavily involved in the Irish language and in his local community in Gortahork. I extend my sincere condolences to his wife, Dolores; his three children, family, friends and work colleagues. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.
I raise the issue of Japanese knotweed. It is an invasive plant. As a state, we need to bring together all our organisations to come up with a solution. As most Members are aware, Japanese knotweed has become very prevalent in recent years and local authorities are struggling to deal with it. It is an exceptionally invasive plant. At present, it comes within the remit of the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Heather Humphreys. We have to look at how to deal with it and we need to work with all Departments to come up with a national strategy to deal with it. To give an example, it cost £70 million to clear Japanese knotweed from the site where the Olympic village in London was located The National Roads Authority, NRA, has put €5 million aside this year to deal with it. The NRA will clear motorways, but the railway lines, the inland waterways or the minor roads will not be cleared. We need a comprehensive plan to sort out this issue. The Minister and other Ministers should come up with a national plan to deal with this invasive plant.
I thank all Senators who have signed a motion calling for the release of Ibrahim Halawa. In particular, I recognise the work Senator Mark Daly has done in the past three years and continues to do to try to secure Ibrahim's release. I would also like the Seanad to acknowledge the great efforts of Lynn Boylan, MEP, as well as former Minister, Alan Shatter. Today marks the 1,055th day that a young 20 year old Irish citizen has spent in custody abroad without trial.
He is a man who was just a child when he was arrested and incarcerated. Diplomatic efforts towards securing Ibrahim Halawa's release so far have, unfortunately, been fruitless. Last week his trial was postponed for the 14th time. My Green Party colleagues and I in the Dáil sought support for identical motions in both Houses today as it has become clear that a stronger more public statement is now required. All parties have pledged their support in both Houses, which sends a very strong message. The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Charles Flanagan, now has the full weight and support of the Oireachtas behind him. The Oireachtas must stand up for the rights of all citizens. We must now expend every effort towards securing Ibrahim Halawa's release.
An agreed motion will be taken without debate later.
I also refer to the bizarre incident at a farm in Carrickmacross, County Monaghan, where five heifers were shot dead by members of the Defence Forces. There was also the involvement of the Garda and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine on private property where an official assignee was in the process of seizing assets and disposing of them for a bankruptcy case. These are all State resources. Who made the decision? Did the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine make the decision that these animals would be shot down in this manner or was it the decision of the official assignee? It has been reported that they tried for eight hours to round up the animals. I find it very difficult to believe they could not round up five heifers, having already rounded up 30 cattle and calves. Is this the most humane way to put animals down if they represent some risk to public health? We need a statement from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and/or the Department of Justice and Equality and perhaps the Department of Defence. Who is footing the Bill for all of this? It sounds crazy and bizarre. It was reported that the animals had been wild. It was also reported that the animals had failed a TB test. How was it possible that the animals could be rounded up for a TB test but could not be rounded up subsequently? The official assignee is reported as saying that the animals were roaming the road, yet they were shot in a field. This matter gives rise to many questions and considerable concern over the use of State resources in cases of this nature. Is chasing down animals for eight hours the most humane way to proceed? People who know anything about animals will be aware that things will not get better after chasing them round a field for eight hours. I know many farmers with wild cows or calves who can coax them back to wherever they want them eventually. What happened in this instance does not sound very humane to me. Why were tranquilisers not used? I call for a statement from the relevant Ministers on how all of this came to pass. On the face of it, what happened seems pretty barbaric. At best it sounds as if a sledgehammer was used to crack a nut.
I again raise the issue of the ongoing industrial dispute between the Psychiatric Nurses Association of Ireland, PNAI, and the HSE. The dispute has now entered its second phase, which commenced this morning. The HSE needs to commit to resolving this dispute urgently before patient care is impacted on. Phase 2 commenced this morning throughout hospitals. Essentially, nurses will not be performing what they consider non-nursing duties. I spoke to a representative of the PNAI this morning who acknowledged that good progress is being made on 15 out of the 16 issues to which the dispute relates and that the subgroup is meeting to tease out the most difficult ones. Phase 3 which is scheduled to commence next week will involve an overtime ban. We all know that overtime is keeping hospitals ticking over. Psychiatric services in particular cannot function without the use of overtime. Therefore, should the dispute enter phase 3, patient care and treatment will be severely impacted on. The PNAI and I call on the HSE and the Department to restore good faith and meet its demands to resolve this dispute in the interests of patients and their families. I also call on the Minister for Health to provide an update on where his Department and the HSE stand.
In 2012 the European Court of Justice made a landmark decision that obliged the United Kingdom to grant a free fuel allowance to those who had lived or worked in the United Kingdom and had been born before 5 July 1951. There was no means test imposed in respect of qualified. One of the only times I received thanks in this country was from the tens of thousands of Irish people who had lived and worked in the United Kingdom, who had worked hard all their lives and did not expect anything for nothing. They were able to get between €115 and €350 a year from the British Government towards free fuel, which was very welcome. Based on the numbers applying, I believe it would cost the United Kingdom Government approximately €40 million a year. I am concerned that with Brexit, this may not be delivered on. I have raised the issue with Members of the UK Parliament at the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly. I ask that the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade or the Minister for Social Protection come before the House to allay the fears of tens of thousands of Irish people. These individuals have not contacted me. All their lives they were not used to getting something for nothing. It is vital to continue this payment for people who worked all their lives to build up the United Kingdom and who sent money back to this country. I hope it will continue.
I draw the attention of the House to an auction taking place at Christie's auction house in London at 7 p.m. Three paintings that form part of the Alfred Beit collection are going under the hammer, namely, "Venus Supplicating Jupiter" by Reubens, "Piazza San Marco, Venice" by Guardi; and "The Piazzetta, Venice, with the Doge’s Palace" also by Guardi. They are being sold to fund an annual operational deficit in maintaining Russborough House and keeping it open to the public. I call on the Minister, Deputy Heather Humphreys, to intervene immediately to halt this auction. As it is taking place at 7 p.m., this is very urgent. We cannot allow our heritage to be sold off in this fashion. These paintings are being sold to fund the operational costs of Russborough House, which is open to the public. Any member of the public can go to view these wonderful historic paintings. We need to ensure that they remain in the country. In 2015, three paintings were withdrawn from auction and sold under a tax relief purchase scheme. This was done with the support of three private donors and then the paintings in question became part of the national collection at the National Gallery of Ireland. The proceeds of the sale were put into an endowment fund for Russborough House. I call on the Minister to intervene and to something similar today. It is essential that these works are kept in Ireland because they form part of our heritage and must remain accessible to the public. If the Minister does not intervene, not only will part of our artistic heritage leave the country but the ability of the Alfred Beit Foundation to attract private philanthropic donations in future will be affected if the collection is dissipated in this fashion. I would appreciate it if the Leader raised it with the Minister in order to try to halt tonight's auction.
It seems strange that five cattle had to be destroyed in the manner they were. However, contrary to what Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh stated, it was to prevent these cattle from entering the food chain; it had nothing to do with repossession. We all have our views on repossessions. Repossession should obviously only be used be a last resort when all other avenues have been explored. In this case, I understand the animals were destroyed because they had TB or some other related disease and meat from then had to be prevented from entering the food chain. Therefore it was a public health matter, regardless of who made the decision. Let us not jump to conclusions.
Let us ask the Minister to clarify.
Exactly. We will hear the Leader respond in due course.
Earlier Senator John O'Mahony spoke about passports. I agree that the position is very serious.
He put forward an idea on issuing reminders. One of the big problems with passports is that one has to send back one’s existing passport with an application for a new one. I recently encountered the case of a young girl who had to travel abroad for a year as part of her college education and consequently was not in a position to send back her passport. Despite this, she sent it back within the 21-day period by express post, but she could not get it back. Therefore, if we are to propose changes concerning the passport system, there ought be a provision whereby a photocopy of the existing passport or document of that nature could be sent back rather than the full passport. It is a mess at present, including because of what is happening with Brexit. If we are to consider this, we need to overhaul the whole system.
A number of councils around the country brought to my attention the fact that the new tenant purchase scheme in some local authority areas contains a clause that does not allow a tenant to purchase the house if the local authority deems it to be under-occupied. If a mother and father in their 50s whose children have moved out want to buy the family home, they cannot do so in certain areas. Everybody likes to have his or her own home. In some local authority areas, tenants are being prevented from buying their home. This is unfair. I have never seen it before with a tenant purchase scheme.
I would like the matter to be brought to the attention of the Minister and for the relevant section of the new tenant purchase scheme to be amended to allow all tenants who meet all the other relevant criteria to be allowed to purchase their house without being told there are not enough people living in it to permit them to do so. Many tenants who were not able to afford to participate in a tenant purchase scheme in the past but whose circumstances have improved on getting employment would be prevented from buying the family home, and they would see it lost. The family house is the family home and it is where people like to meet and congregate. The arrangement needs to be changed where it is being implemented by local authorities.
I agree with what Senator Denis Landy said. The regulation seems to be very difficult. I encountered a case in which a local authority deems that, because the social welfare income of two retired people on the old age pension is inadequate, they may not purchase their house with the support of family members. The decision is being made on the basis of income rather than family support. The local authority is stating it is not prepared to sell the house, in which the couple has lived for over 40 years. They are now being denied the right to buy it. The regulation is wrong in such circumstances. The Minister should come to the House to explain to us why it is so difficult for people to purchase, particularly where they have paid rent for a house all their lives and are now in a position to buy. Those affected would have been able to buy ten years ago if there had been a tenant purchase scheme in existence. We should certainly examine this matter.
There is a presentation being made in Buswells Hotel this morning by booksellers and members of their representative organisation. There is now to be just one central tendering process for the purchase of books for libraries. Many of the people involved in this area believe they will go out of business because of the new process being introduced. The likelihood is that the contract could very well go to an organisation outside the country. There are jobs at risk. It is not appropriate to have one central tendering process for the purchase of books. It causes a problem for those who produce and publish their own books. Many Irish authors may be excluded under the process. This is a matter that should be taken up with the Minister for Education and Skills or another relevant Minister to determine why we are now moving towards one central tender for the entire country.
I wish to follow up on the points made by the previous Senator. The library service is a source of national and local pride. Many councillors will know that the library service is passionately supported by local authorities. It is one of the only really continuously positive stories of the local authorities. It is a national resource. Ballyroan and Tallaght libraries come to mind as libraries I visited while a member of the council. The issue of procurement of library stock is being highlighted by the Booksellers Association today. The Government is planning a blanket, State-wide tender for book stocking across libraries in September 2016. The result will obviously have a considerable economic impact on small bookshops, in addition to specialist Irish library suppliers, be they of children’s books, fiction or otherwise. The proposal has the potential to greatly affect content as Gaeilge across the library service. It is important in the arts that we tell our own stories, on screen or in print. September 2016 is the deadline for State-wide procurement to be stopped. Like the previous Senator, I request a statement from the relevant Minister because time is not on our side.
I raise the issue of eFlow tags. From 31 August one will no longer be able to use one’s eFlow tag on the N7 between Dublin and Limerick, the Waterford city bypass and the M1. This follows a breakdown in communications between Celtic Roads Group and eFlow. I request the Leader to speak to the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to ascertain whether he can intervene to determine whether this can be sorted out. So many people use eFlow tags daily to shorten their journey time and in order that they will not have to queue at the tolling station.
I support Senator Lorraine Clifford-Lee’s call for the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht to address the issue of the sale of paintings from the Beit collection. It may be too late if the event is being held this evening. I raised this issue in 2015 when some paintings were to be sold. It is possible that some solution could be found. There are many people in the country who invest heavily in art who, if they were aware of this and given the opportunity, might be willing to offer a solution to the problem. I commend the Senator for raising the issue.
The Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources was in the House yesterday. He is clearly a Minister who is very much on top of his brief. I hope we have him here regularly. Logically, we would have him here regularly. Particularly on the subject of broadband, he was very comprehensive in his comments. Mobile phone coverage is a considerable issue throughout the country. The current mobile and voice data obligations are based on population and do not result in universal coverage. ComReg imposes a population coverage requirement of 70% for companies to fulfil their licence obligations. This requirement allows them to leave out the more sparsely populated areas and more isolated communities where communication is clearly a significant issue, especially for SMEs. I accept that we just had the Minister in but this is an issue we need to track regularly. It is welcome that Deputy Bernard J. Durkan has organised presentations in the Audiovisual Room on broadband and mobile phone coverage. He has agreed that all the providers will come here again in a few months. It is a matter we should also keep an eye on in this House.
I support my colleagues who raised the issue of public procurement. It affects booksellers today and others on other days. As a matter of urgency, we should invite to the House the Minister of State at the Department of Finance with responsibility for public procurement, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, to have a debate on the issue.
Up and down the country, SMEs are losing contracts for a service that they may have been providing for 20 or 30 years for a particular State body in a particular location. The frameworks are being designed where they are looking at it in gross terms, all the contracts combined, which could in some cases be 100 or more contractors, suppliers or small family businesses. If there appears to be a small saving to the State, they lose the contracts to, in a lot of cases, large multinationals. A lot of them provide employment here, but some may not. There is a loss of jobs throughout Ireland, aside from the social dimension.
Senator Fintan Warfield spoke about local libraries. A local bookseller would provide books relevant to that local area. If it is, for instance, in Limerick City and County Council, someone may be providing books that are relevant to local historians in Limerick. That would be unique to Limerick Library. That whole intellectual knowledge would be lost. This is about the design of the frameworks, about finding a methodology where local contractors can retain the contracts. They have to go up for tender in the normal way, but at least they should be able to tender. At the moment they are not. I ask the Leader and the Cathaoirleach to, as a matter of urgency, arrange for the Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, to come before the House in order that we can debate the matter at length.
I thank the 21 Senators who have raised matters on the Order of Business. Before I reply to them, on the Order of Business yesterday Senator Paddy Burke referred to the European Council's decision on the EU-Canada free trade agreement. For the information of the House, the agreement can or may be applied on a provisional basis if the Council agrees and the European Parliament gives its assent. Member states would then have to ratify it. That means that it would be brought to the Oireachtas for ratification following the conclusion of procedures by the Council and the European Parliament. Members will be aware of this from what happened yesterday.
I thank Senator Catherine Ardagh for raising the very important issue of speech and language therapy. She is correct that early diagnosis and intervention are critical. There is a commitment in the programme for Government to review the provision of services for children with additional needs. A cross-sectoral team of officials from the Departments of Health, Children and Youth Affairs and Education and Skills is to meet the HSE on Friday to move matters forward. One of the key items on the agenda for the meeting is the provision of speech and language therapy. I will seek further information for the Senator. It is a topic to which we will come back because it is one we need to highlight in this House. I understand the issues raised by the Senator. There has been investment in the service, as well as the recruitment of staff. There is, however, a deficit and further work needs to be done. I am happy to move on the issue for the Senator, on which I am at one with her.
Senator Gerard P. Craughwell referred to the Attorney General. That is not a matter for the House and I do not want to dwell on it as she is the law officer to the Government. Her advice is given in a considered manner, rather than as part of a cavalier approach.
Labhair an Seanadóir Trevor Ó Clochartaigh mar gheall ar chúrsaí bruscair. Bhí mé ag caint leis an Aire agus is dóigh liom go dtiocfaidh sé ar ais chugam Dé Máirt nó Dé Céadaoin seo chugainn. Is dóigh liom freisin go mbeidh sé ag caint leis an Seanadóir.
Senators Trevor Ó Clochartaigh, Robbie Gallagher, Michelle Mulherin and Paul Coghlan referred to the incident in County Monaghan. I do not have all of the information to hand, but I understand members of the Defence Forces were asked to carry out this exercise, if I can use that term - the destruction or killing of five animals - on a farm in County Monaghan out of concern for public health and safety. The operation was carried out at the request of the official assignee responsible for the herd, in conjunction with An Garda Síochána, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and the Defence Forces in keeping with official protocol. The carcases were removed and not included in the food chain. I will seek more information for Members, if that is what they want, but that is the information available to me.
I will be happy to arrange a debate on school transport at the earliest convenience.
I again thank Senator Frances Black and acknowledge the work she has done in highlighting the misuse of alcohol and the effect it has on children. The all-party committee on health in the last Oireachtas engaged in the pre-legislative scrutiny of the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill which will be brought before the House again in the autumn when I am sure we can address the issue further.
Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin referred to school admission policies. The relevant Bill will be brought before the House when there will be an opportunity for him to discuss the issue with the Minister for Education and Skills. To facilitate the passage of the Bill, perhaps we might arrange a briefing on it for Members and the Cathaoirleach.
Senators John O'Mahony and Denis Landy raised the important issue of passports. I welcome the allocation of new staff. The issuing of a reminder notice is a matter we should pursue with the Department.
Senator Robbie Gallagher raised the very important issue of repatriation. I join him in sympathising with Colin and Eithne Bell and paying tribute to them for the work they are doing. I know that there is discussion taking place on the issue of the repatriation of bodies. Again, perhaps it is one on which we might work together as it affects many families and communities. Dealing with the death of a loved one is a source of huge stress, without the bureaucratic nightmare of trying to get a body home, which can be heartbreaking. We can certainly take up the matter with the relevant Minister and Department.
Senator Ray Butler referred to the North-South interconnector. I will not get into a debate on the Wombles, but we can have the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment in the House to discuss the interconnector issue. I hope, in keeping with new politics, that Members opposite will be able to work with the Senator to ensure we will have an outcome that will be in keeping with the mood of people living in that part of the country. The oral hearing is ongoing. I attended it on one day as part of the Seanad election campaign when I witnessed at first hand the tension and anxiety of residents.
Senator Diarmuid Wilson referred to the death of Séamus Mac Géidigh who was a broadcaster of high repute. He was a man of integrity in the promotion of the Irish language and Irish culture. He had listeners to his local radio station enthralled with his commentary. We extend our sympathy to his wife, Dolores, and family on his untimely death.
I thank Senator Tim Lombard for referring to the scourge that is Japanese knotweed. He will be aware that in his area, at Minane Bridge, there is a very impressive company, Japanese Knotweed Ireland Limited, which is dealing with the problem. It has been in contact with many of us about the issue. We need a national strategy to deal with it. I will be happy to ask the relevant Minister to come to the House to discuss it.
Senator Máire Devine referred to the dispute with psychiatric nurses. The Government recognises their importance and the serious issues that have been raised. It is important to say there is a mechanism that the State uses to resolve industrial disputes and it should be used at all times. In saying this, there is also the issue of maintaining services with staffing levels that are safe. Recruitment is taking place in a variety of places to fill vacant positions in the mental health service, of which the former Minister of State, Kathleen Lynch, was a strong advocate. I am sure the current Minister of State, Deputy Helen McEntee, will also be a strong advocate of the service. As the Senator is aware, 1,500 new posts have been approved since 2012, of which 1,150 have been filled. It is important that the new posts be filled. The issue needs to be addressed and I hope the mechanisms in place can be used in doing so.
Senator Frank Feighan referred to UK-EU relations in the context of the fuel allowance. The Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Leo Varadkar, will be in the House next Tuesday to discuss social protection issues. He might perhaps address the issue on that occasion.
Senators Lorraine Clifford-Lee and Catherine Noone mentioned the forthcoming auction in Christie's of the Beit collection in Russborough House. I will be in communication with the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs on this very important issue after the Order of Business. It is important that every avenue be used to avoid paintings being sold and leaving the jurisdiction or even being placed in private hands. I hope we can address the issue.
Senators Denis Landy and Colm Burke referred to the new tenant purchase scheme. I will be happy to ask the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government to come to the House to discuss it. It is important that there be a resolution of the matter.
Senators Colm Burke, Kieran O'Donnell and Fintan Warfield raised the issue of the purchase of books, procurement and the tendering process.
I very much share the views expressed by them. It is not just about books; it is also about the importance of the public procurement process and the need for Ireland as a small island nation to recognise the importance of small, family-run businesses which are providing services and products for a multiplicity of State agencies. They should be allowed to continue to tender in a real way, not just cosmetically. The framework process is one that needs to be changed and I am very happy that the Minister of State, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, should be asked to come to the House to discuss it. I hope he will be here on foot of the summer economic statements to be made next week. It is important that we debate this issue. As such, I will try to facilitate one before the summer recess. To assist Members, it would be useful if a Commencement matter could be tabled on it also. It would find universal, cross-party support. If the rules of the House allow, there should be a Commencement matter tabled by a number of Senators to get the issue on the agenda.
Senator Maria Byrne referred to the M7 and the use of eFlow tags. This is an issue the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Shane Ross, must address. In a previous existence he was instrumental in having a switch made to have the EazyPass system used on the toll bridge on the M50. I hope we can address the matter. I am not sure if the Senator is referring to the toll plaza near Portlaoise, but as someone who uses the M7, I note that use of a tag helps to facilitate speedier commuting times.
Senator Catherine Noone raised the issue of communications. We have asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment to come to the House to discuss the issues of broadband provision and phone coverage.
I thank the parties represented in the House for their co-operation in advance of taking the motion on the appointment of members to the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission.