The Order of Business is No. 1, Seanad Bill 2016 - Second Stage, a Private Members' Bill which is being taken in Government time, to be taken at 12.45 p.m. and adjourned not later than 4.15 p.m., with the contribution of the proposing Senator not to exceed ten minutes, the contributions of all other Senators not to exceed eight minutes each and the contribution of the Minister not to exceed 15 minutes; and No. 14, Private Members' business, non-Government motion No. 9, to be taken at 4.30 p.m., with the time allocated for the debate not to exceed two hours.
Order of Business
I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Education and Skills to come to the House to discuss the report by the Irish League of Credit Unions which shows a shocking rise in back-to-school costs as a result of cuts in the back-to-school allowance in 2011 and 2012. The cost of going back to school has since increased by almost €300 for primary school children and €500 for secondary school children. Schools could do more in that regard, particularly in the light of the survey's finding that the parents of eight out of ten children must make a "voluntary" contribution. That schools are doing enough is not true, but the Government must do more, as many parents are under pressure. Some 14% of parents do not go to a credit union for the money; they go to moneylenders. That is something we have to stop. It is the very reason John Hume set up the credit union in Derry and they were set up in Dublin in the light of the shocking number of people who were being driven further into poverty by having to resort to moneylenders to cover costs such as back-to-school costs. Will the Leader organise a debate on that specific issue because when it costs €1,500 to send a child back to school, it makes a mockery of the concept of free education.
The Leader might clarify the position on an issue we discussed yesterday, namely, the closure of emergency departments. He said the Minister for Health had not commissioned a report and that the report had not been presented to him. He mentioned that the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland was producing a report - that is correct - but that was a year ago. In a reply to our spokesperson on health in the Dáil on 10 November last year the then Minister for Health stated his Department, in consultation with the HSE, was developing a policy on trauma networks and that a steering group which he had appointed was in the process of developing it. That is not a report; it is a policy. There is a big difference. As I pointed out yesterday, reports were commissioned by government Departments in England for 20 years and not once did a report differ from government policy. The policy being developed which will result in the closing of the emergency department in Mullingar and eight others is a source of serious concern. Will the Leader to clarify the position for the House. At the conference of the Irish Hospital Consultants Association in October 2015 the then Minister stated, as regards policy on trauma services, that there was international evidence that there were many benefits in organising them on a national basis. He reiterated that he had set up a trauma services steering group. That is the report about which we are concerned as it refers to the closing down of emergency departments. Will the Leader to clarify his comments yesterday that the Minister had not commissioned a report?
Will the Leader consider asking the Minister for Finance or the relevant Minister of State at the Department of Finance to come to the House to enlighten us on the implications for national budgetary policy of the surge in gross domestic product; whether this is illusory, not illusory, a one-off-----
-----or something that will have long-term consequences for us; whether it increases our liability to make contributions to the European Union this year and how the apparent decline in GDP in the first quarter of this year - the last quarter, as it were - is to be understood in the context of these rather fictitious or ballooning figures which seem to have everything to do with multinationals' accounting policies and very little to do with the capacity of the State to sustain its obligations to the European Union and achieve a decent debt-to-GDP ratio?
In a similar vein, will the Leader ask the Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach to come to the House to address the confusion and concern about the latest figures issued by the CSO? Many economists have questioned not only their veracity but also the usefulness of releasing them.
These economic figures could potentially erode any faith in future economic announcements. They bear no relation whatsoever to the reality on the ground. The Financial Times this morning was replete with words such as "bafflement", "fiction" and "amusement". Tom Healy, director of the Nevin Research Economic Institute, compares this growth with the Soviet Union in the 1930s. The revised figures tell us that any recovery is mainly based in Dublin and heavily reliant on foreign direct investment, relocation of assets and inversion deals rather than on agriculture, services and SMEs. In examining these figures and having listened to the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, yesterday, I am reminded of the months leading up to the economic crash and the words that were repeated ad nauseam that the fundamentals of the economy were sound. The then Taoiseach, Fianna Fáil's Bertie Ahern, even suggested those of us who questioned the economic instability should “go away and commit suicide.” We must not let this happen again, which is why I am calling for a Minister of State from the Taoiseach’s office to come to the House to have a full and frank discussion about the latest figures which are fantasy.
With regard to the appointment of Theresa May as British Prime Minister, although she had campaigned for Britain to remain in the European Union, she has been a long-time critic of the European Convention on Human Rights. Human rights legislation is key to the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement and I have concerns about her commitment to the extension of human rights safeguards. The North is still awaiting a Bill of Rights and I ask that the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade remind the Prime Minister of her obligations in that regard.
Will the Leader invite the Minister for Health to come to the House to talk about the issues around alcohol services in the State? I spoke last week about the alcohol problem in the State and feel I have to bring it up again. After some research I was shocked to see the findings. Figures in the Health Research Board’s national alcohol diary survey show the following: over 150,000 people in Ireland are dependent drinkers; more than a 1.35 million people are harmful drinkers; and 30% of people who were interviewed said they experienced some form of harm as a result of their own drinking. The report also revealed that 75% of alcohol consumed was consumed as part of binge drinking and that people underestimated the amount they drank by about 60%.
I shall provide further facts which I hope is okay with Senators because they provide shocking figures. There are 88 deaths every month in Ireland directly attributable to alcohol. There are three people a day who die from an alcohol-related illness in this wonderful country of ours. One in four deaths of young men aged 15 to 39 years in Ireland is due to alcohol. There are almost twice as many deaths due to alcohol in Ireland as are due to all other drugs combined. Alcohol was implicated in 137, one in three, of all poisoning deaths in 2013, more than any other single drug. Alcohol poisoning has claimed one life each week. Some 900 people are diagnosed with alcohol-related cancers and nearly 500 people die from these diseases every year.
Alcohol is a factor in half of all suicides in Ireland. It is also involved in over one third of cases of deliberate self-harm, peaking at weekends and public holidays. Alcohol is a factor in one third of all drownings in Ireland. In 2011 over 14,000 people were admitted to the liver unit in St. Vincent’s University Hospital for the treatment of alcohol dependence. Every day 1,500 beds in hospitals are occupied by people with alcohol-related problems. Alcohol-related illness cost the health care system €800 million in 2013. These are scary and shocking figures.
The question must be asked: how much is too much? The Health Research Board has found there is a strong belief among 85% of people in Ireland that the current level of alcohol consumption in Ireland is too high and that 58% of people think the Government is not doing enough to reduce alcohol consumption, while 19% think the Government is doing enough. However, 58% of people think not enough is being done. It is scary. Some 78% believe that the Government has a responsibility to implement public health measures to address high levels of alcohol consumption.
These are just a few of the stark figures from the Health Research Board’s report on alcohol harm. Behind those figures are thousands of families, some of whom I meet daily, who require support and guidance in dealing with the stress, anxiety and heartbreak of having a loved one with an alcohol problem. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Health to come to the House to give an overview on the supports being offered by the State to people who have a problem with alcohol and the supports offered to their families.
We should be concerned about reports emanating from the Department of Social Protection today, undertaken by the ESRI on behalf of the Department, which expose the multitude of problems experienced by young people in society. The message from the report which I understand is to be released later today is that younger people face very tough times in modern Ireland compared with their older counterparts. We all know the reasons for this are varied but one glaring and obvious factor in young people's experiences today is their particular exposure to precarious working hours and low pay. In order to close the income gap and the generation gap we must move the national minimum wage, responsibly and over a period of time, towards a national living wage. This week the living wage technical group - an independent expert body - calculated the national living wage to be €11.50 per hour for a single worker. This compares with the Government's frankly miserable ambition for the national minimum wage to reach approximately €10.50 per hour over a five-year period. Next week the Low Pay Commission which was established last year will issue its second report on the national minimum wage rate and issue a recommendation to Government about the rate of the national minimum wage for 2017. This will be the Government's first test regarding assisting those on low pay. We have heard statements from a range of Ministers and individuals from the Independent Alliance which comprises part of the Government that their ambition is to see a national living wage. However, the reality is that those very same Ministers signed up to a programme for Government that insists the minimum wage will only reach €10.50 per hour in the next five years.
The national living wage is currently a voluntary initiative and a considerable number of employers have adopted the rate of €11.50 per hour. There are certain workers in the State who are employed by the Government and its agencies who do not receive what could be described as a living wage. If the Government is ambitious enough, it is within its remit to ensure young workers coming into the Civil Service and public service are paid a national living wage. This measure would only cost an additional €10 million to €15 million per year. Making sure people who are working for the State receive a living wage of €11.50 per hour would be a good expression of the Government's bona fides in assisting those on low pay. It is important that the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation state in this House, at every available opportunity, her ambition for the national minimum wage, whether the State will become a living wage employer and what roadmap she has provided for the Low Pay Commission to reach the minimum wage of €10.50 per hour as provided for in the programme for Government. The Minister has been silent on the guidance she has given to the Low Pay Commission on reaching that ambition in the next while.
I welcome the news from the CSO figures that Ireland's GDP has increased by 26.3%. I share the sentiments of Senators Rose Conway-Walsh and Michael McDowell that the Minister should come to the House to explain the figures exactly. I understand much of the growth is attributed to multinationals and the aircraft leasing industry. However, it has been good news. Sometimes we do not get enough good news and we should share that good news.
Theresa May takes over as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom today. Her view on the EU referendum result is that Brexit means Brexit. She has predicted that border controls will be required on the island of Ireland when Britain exits the European Union. We need to bring in the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade to clarify if her appointment is a game changer.
A Tory grandee, Mr. Ken Clarke, said she was "a bloody difficult woman". I hope she will not be difficult when it comes to Irish affairs.
I raise an issue that has been raised by a couple of my colleagues in the House and call on the Minister for Finance to come to the House as soon as possible. There is great concern about the inversion deals and companies, as has been alluded to, using Ireland as a base for tax reasons only. I know that there has been some limitation in America to try to stop some of these inversion deals but the figures are really mind-boggling. They tell us that we have 26.3% growth. The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, said yesterday that the real growth was closer to 7%. If that is the case, 80% of that growth, or four fifths of the economy, is a false economy. As has been outlined, the main reason for that are the aviation and leasing companies operating out of Ireland. It would be brilliant if they were providing some jobs. However, the serious problem I have is that about two weeks ago a leading aviation expert said in one of the national newspapers that 1,000 jobs were directly contributed by the newly formed aviation leasing companies in the country and that there were another associated 1,000 jobs. It is 80% of our GDP and we have got only 2,000 jobs out of it. The tax figure is minuscule, or so they are telling us. That is nobody's fault and nobody is doing anything wrong in that regard. They are bulking up on stock and whatever else. However, we are not seeing any benefit to the real economy. Our corporation tax rate has been a huge help to the country. It has certainly been a great help in bringing jobs and growth to the country. However, this is something at which we will have to look. Whether it is a minimum tax rate related to the turnover of these companies or something else, a mechanism will have to be put in place to ensure this sector gives real help to the country.
I echo the sentiments of my learned friend across the Chamber about the Minister for Education and Skills coming to the House, especially with families coping with children going back to school soon. I was on the education committee from 2011 to 2016 and we produced a report on school donations from parents with children going back to school, which is a huge issue. Certain schools state if parents do not give €100 or €150, the student will not get a locker key or will not be allowed to do arts or computer studies. What happens then is that we have bullying in schools. Children are left with their schoolbags on their backs for the day because they do not have a locker key. The Department of Education and Skills has stated this should not be happening and that it is totally wrong. I want the Minister to come to the House to tell us that he will write to schools to tell them that this practice is outdated and should be done away with. I have no problem with any school fundraising if it needs something. That is not a problem at all. However, at a time when children are going back to school, when parents with three or four children have already bought school books and uniforms, it is an absolute disgrace that the school is looking for €100 or €150 extra per head. One particular school now sends parents a statement. If a parent is paying say €25 or €50 each month, the school sends a statement on the donation. We need to get rid of this practice. It is draconian and it leads to bullying in schools. I want the Minister to come to the House and write to all the schools in the country engaged in this practice. I know for a fact that in certain schools, there are separate accounts into which this money goes. It is kept in separate accounts. I asked this question at the education committee. Do the Minister and the Department know what is in these accounts and where this money goes? There is one account for the school and another account for fundraising. Let us have the Minister come to the House to explain the position. I want this practice to stop.
Maidin mhaith duit, a Chathaoirligh. Tá mé chun dhá ábhar gasta a ardú ar maidin. I hope the Cathaoirleach will indulge me if I say a few quick words to commend the people responsible for ensuring yesterday's 12th of July events in the North passed off, by and large, without any major incident. That is down to a tremendous amount of work by community and political leaders, the PSNI, statutory agencies and officials from both Governments who are working very hard on the ground. I believe the Seanad can play a positive role in trying to show leadership and provide assistance and support to the Department of Foreign Affairs officials and to local communities who look to Dublin for leadership and support at some of these more challenging times. I ask the Leader, once the Committee on Procedure and Privileges is formed, if this is something that committee can consider in advance of next summer.
The second issue I wish to raise is a very positive one, which is important to me. I indicated very early on in this Seanad that I would be bringing this issue to the floor of the House and working on it as vigorously as I possibly could. The Minister of State, Deputy Joe McHugh, announced yesterday that a referendum would be held next year to consider giving voting rights in presidential elections to the Irish diaspora. That is a very welcome and positive move. It is only right and proper that we enfranchise our Irish citizens who are living around the world and who have a very close affinity with home. As Senators know, the President is the President of Ireland and the Irish people. It is important that we all have the opportunity as Irish citizens to be enfranchised and to exercise our vote. It was something that was supported by the Constitutional Convention in terms of extending voting rights to Irish citizens not just in the diaspora but even closer to home in the North. Out of interest, I took a photograph of the inside of my passport, which, of course, is an Irish one and states: "It is the entitlement and birthright of every person born in the island of Ireland, which includes its islands and seas, to be part of the Irish Nation". It is past time that we worked to ensure that becomes the case and that all Irish citizens across this island have a vote.
I have two items to raise. The first is a positive story for Limerick. Yesterday, I was present at an event at which Limerick city formally put in its bid to be the European Capital of Culture 2020 and I wish to commend everyone involved. It showed Limerick in the best possible light. I think a decision is being made later this week and hope Limerick will be announced as the European Capital of Culture 2020.
On the issue of the figures announced by the CSO yesterday, I note that there are statements on finance scheduled for 1.30 p.m. tomorrow. That would be an opportune time to debate these figures in detail. It seems rather unusual that the CSO has announced figures of that breadth. I noted in the underlying figures that consumer spending is up by 4.5%, which is a positive feature. These figures are positive but they obviously need to be fleshed out in terms of the positive underlying base. Perhaps the Cathaoirleach might communicate whether the Minister will be in attendance tomorrow to deal with a broad range of issues on finance, including the CSO figures.
I wish to bring to the Leader's attention my concern at the alarming number of increased assaults on members of An Garda Síochána. Assaults on gardaí have almost doubled in the past five years, which is a frightening statistic. Only yesterday, three members of An Garda Síochána were hospitalised in Portlaoise regional hospital after the patrol vehicle they were driving was rammed by a stolen 4x4 with three occupants on board. The three men were subsequently arrested after failing to stop. It was part of a Garda operation on rural crime in the midlands. It highlights again the dangerous job that members of An Garda Síochána do on behalf of us all on a daily basis. What disappoints me is the fact that is happening at a time when conditions for new recruits from a pay perspective are very low. I am afraid on two fronts.
The first is we might struggle to get young people to join the Garda. The second is that talks have broken down between the Garda Representative Association, GRA, and the Department on relevant and genuine issues gardaí are raising. I implore the Leader to ask the Minister to get those negotiations going again. Gardaí do a very good job on behalf of all of us and put their lives at risk on a daily basis for our benefit.
Another issue that concerns me relates to comments I read in the media this morning on the meeting between the Taoiseach and the German Chancellor Angela Merkel. If we can believe reports coming from the meeting, we should be concerned. I understand the Taoiseach went over to bat for Ireland's specific and special case relating to the Brexit vote, but he seemed to be slapped down in that regard by Dr. Merkel. I find that very disappointing. We must stand up to the European Union on the issue because Ireland is a unique and special case and different from other countries in Europe as it is the only one with a land border with the United Kingdom. Chancellor Merkel and the rest of Europe must wake up to the fact that Ireland is a special case.
I raise a problem of which I am particularly aware in my home town of Ballina relating to the installation of meters by GMC-Sierra on behalf of Irish Water. In a number of cases, the contractor - GMC-Sierra and its agent - went to install the meter and switched the water back on after the installation. A problem arose in unoccupied houses or some that were being renovated, as the houses have flooded. This happened in March 2014, when the job was undertaken in Ballina. I am aware that it took approximately three months for an assessor to inspect the problem. The issue went from GMC-Sierra to Irish Water to an insurance company. To my shock, I am told the house I describe and ten others - 11 houses in total - still have not been sorted out and the owners have not been compensated for the damage. I saw a rented house recently where the water had been switched off because of a leak in a pipe to a hot water tank. When GMC-Sierra workers switched on the water, the house flooded. It was reported at the time.
Ballina and surrounding areas in County Mayo, with other parts of the country, were among the first to have water meters. I wonder how widespread is the issue. Is it really acceptable that it has taken this long for Irish Water and GMC-Sierra to look after people with rented properties who have not been able to take in rental income? I ask the appropriate Minister to investigate this issue in order that we can get some answers. Is this the way business is to be done? Will the insurance company or Irish Water cover the cost? What is the policy with the installation of these water meters? This is a real problem for several house owners in my town and it may be even more widespread, particularly in some of the areas where the water meters were first installed. It is not good enough for this to be the position after more than two years. That is not the way people should be dealt with. These people were required to register for water and pay water charges but they now have had to cough up to fix their houses. It is not good enough.
The point has been well made.
On Monday morning I had the opportunity to visit the Royal Irish Academy on Dawson Street for the launch of a detailed report on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, LGBT, victims and survivors of sexual violence and disclosures in Rape Crisis Centres across the State. The report is entitled, Finding a Safe Place, and was undertaken by Rape Crisis Network Ireland, alongside the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network and Gay Switchboard Ireland. Importantly, it outlined the layers of discrimination and vulnerability faced by victims and survivors of sexual violence coming forward to tell their stories. All victims face those barriers but this is diligently recorded information. For example, 47% of LGBT victims of sexual violence wait ten years to come forward, as opposed to 21% of heterosexual victims of sexual violence. That information is really important in forming our work as politicians and political representatives, activists and, importantly, legislators. The information is reliant on the work of Rape Crisis Network Ireland which faced cuts of 70% in the past few years. Public policy should be dependent on hearing the voices of the marginalised, as those voices place their trust in the Rape Crisis Centres that have borne the brunt of cuts to the network in Ireland. The Departments relating to justice and the environment fund the group and we should request the presence of the relevant Minister in order to detail the plans and what I hope are priorities in the restoration of funding to the group. I ask the relevant Minister to issue support and state the priorities relating to victims and survivors of sexual violence.
I ask the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to be invited to come to the House to discuss traffic management in Dublin in the light of the proposal to extend the 30 km/h limit throughout the city. Nobody observes this as it is; it is laughable. I drive around the city and nobody is observing it. It is understandable as this proposal was promoted by a woman whose child was killed in Kilkenny. That is a very emotional issue and it is very understandable that this should happen, although it is unrealistic. The next thing is having somebody walking in front of a car with a red flag. It is all part of a policy in Dublin that has been ongoing for years. The city authorities are attempting to use the infrastructure of the city as a weapon against the citizens. It is dangerous.
The authorities have spikes in the middle of the road and they continuously alter the layout of those spikes. At the back gate of Trinity College Dublin there are crashes and traffic flow hold-ups, etc. They have extended footpaths unnecessarily all over the place. They have jagged parking areas for rented bicycles. Just today I was nearly run down by somebody on one of these rented bikes cycling on the pavement with a telephone at her ear. It is funny but it is also dangerous, particularly for people even more elderly than I am who could be knocked down and have their limbs destroyed. There is also a policy of restricting the number of parking spaces in new developments. There is a deliberate plan to curtail people, particularly those living in the inner city, from having cars at all. It is a real mistake. The transport policy is a disaster and the Luas is useless. The way it was put together is mad. It should have been put underground and there is still a possibility it can be put underground. That is the way to go. I ask the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to come to the House to discuss these matters.
I wish to raise two issues but before doing so I will refer to Senator David Norris's point about the Luas being useless. I am a regular user of the Luas and love it. I use the DART on a daily basis and it is great that Dublin has such a great network of public transport.
I wish to raise the issue of homeless children. I draw the House's attention to the comments made in recent days by Dr. Niall Muldoon, the Ombudsman for Children, on homeless children. His comments echo the sentiments expressed in the House with the Fianna Fáil motion a number of weeks ago that was unanimously passed by the House. Dr. Muldoon has indicated that bed and breakfast and hotel accommodation are not suitable to support normal family living. He argues that urgent action is needed to provide alternative accommodation for families who have become homeless. He has also said there is no doubt the housing crisis is having a disproportionate effect on children.
Becoming homeless and spending months in unsuitable accommodation is traumatic for anyone but for children it differentiates them from their peers and can mean a loss of a significant period of their childhood. The new housing action plan must make it clear that bed and breakfast accommodation and hotel accommodation is a measure of last resort for children and their families. The new plan should ensure no child is subjected to degrading or humiliating experiences as a result of being homeless. If a family is to stay in emergency accommodation for a short period, there should be no question of them using service entrances or being forced to eat in separate areas. My last point is very valid. The State pays for this accommodation. Therefore, the people who avail of this accommodation are being hosted by the State and should be treated as equal citizens. The State should make it clear to hotels and bed and breakfast accommodation that the people who stay in them should be treated no different from anybody else. I ask the Leader to raise this issue with the relevant Minister.
I wish to raise a second issue.
The Senator is over time. Last night the Committee on Procedure and Privileges unanimously agreed that when Senators rose, apart from the leader of a group, only one issue could be raised. I shall let the Senator off on this occasion but the rules should apply to everyone.
Very good. I was not aware of the ruling. I propose an amendment to the Order of Business, that No. 11 be taken before No. 1 today.
I bring to the attention of the House something that I have discovered lately. If equipment is damaged such as fridges and washing machines by a power surge generated by the ESB, Electric Ireland, or whatever it is called now, the company will not pay compensation and will only issue a letter to confirm a power surge that allows people submit a claim to their insurers, irrespective of the fact that a claim on insurance will result in a loading that will increase the cost of insurance. In addition, people with an uninsured home will end up having to pay to replace damaged items, which is frightfully unfair. I ask the Leader to use his good office to write to the chief executive of Electric Ireland to clarify what happens and outline the protocol adopted in cases where equipment is damaged by an unexpected power surge.
I suggest the Committee of Public Accounts extends its remit to include the local authority auditor. It is ridiculous that we have two separate structures - the Committee of Public Accounts and the local government auditor. I suggest we have only one structure. The Comptroller and Auditor General and the local government auditor should come within the parameters of the Committee of Public Accounts. Such an initiative would make for good-----
As the Committee of Public Accounts is a Dáil committee, we have no remit in this matter.
We are entitled to make recommendations in this House and I have made a recommendation to make.
I ask the Leader to arrange for us to take statements on the new lobbying legislation in the autumn. The Standards in Public Office Commission recently published its first annual report. Therefore, it would be a good idea to invite the Minister to come here in order that we can review the effectiveness of the legislation.
I am mindful of the Cathaoirleach's ruling. I express my satisfaction at the development that there will be a fresh investigation into the disappearance of Mary Boyle nearly 40 years ago, a matter I raised in this House last week. The investigation is the result of hard work by journalists and investigative reporters. Their job is often a thankless one but this is an example of how they can shake up bureaucracy and take steps that people believe are justified.
The culinary and hospitality industry is probably the second fastest growing industry in Ireland. Therefore, the development of culinary courses is vital for the growth of the sector. These days we are very conscious of the impact of Brexit and how it will impact on tourist numbers from Britain. This is all the more reason to make sure the culinary and hospitality industry is at its best in order that we can be at our most attractive to tourists from home and abroad. The industry is experiencing a shortage of chefs. An estimated 5,000 chefs need to be trained each year, by 2020, if demand is to be met. These figures were published in November 2015 after extensive work on the hospitality sector had been done by the expert group on future skills needs. Since the merging of the Council for Education, Recruitment and Training, CERT, into the new Fáilte Ireland there has been little funding for industry training other than what was given to institutes of technology. Only 1,300 chefs are trained each year. Chefs are needed all over the place, not just in restaurants, hotels, gastropubs, contract caterers, coffee shops, food production units and more. The Restaurants Association of Ireland, with which I have been in contact, receives calls every day from members struggling to find trained chefs. There are over 800 vacancies for chefs of all grades. We should hear from the Government about this matter. A solution would be the re-establishment of CERT. More important, today I would like the relevant Minister to come into the House, perhaps in the context of another debate or on this issue, to address how the skills shortage and the shortage of chefs is to be addressed.
Gabhaim buíochas leis an gCeannaire i dtosach as an bplé a bhí againn maidir le cúrsaí dramhaíola. I received a response from the Minister on the bins issue, but, unfortunately, it has created more chaos than it has solved. We will return to the issue and I shall e-mail the Leader about it later. I have already e-mailed the Minister.
My party has called for a lot of debates on different issues such as the diaspora, rural affairs, Gaeilge, repossessions, fishing and school transport. I hope we will have some of these debates before the break and ask the Leader to indicate when the debates will happen. Another key issue is Leader programme funding. As the matter has led to great consternation, it would useful to debate it before the break.
I would like to raise a very distressing issue that came to my attention this morning. I refer to a man who is married to an Irish citizen but was deported from Ireland at 5.55 a.m. this morning. There appears to be serious issues around the scenario. The couple were married and he has worked here for six years. It appears that there are issues around how the legal side of the case has been handled. There also appear to be issues around how the non-release of a marriage certificate has added to the distress caused to the woman involved, her family and everyone connected to the situation. This is a very serious issue. The man was sent to Cloverhill Prison for three days. I have been told that he was treated quite badly while in prison and that his representatives want to make this an issue. It appears, on foot of anonymous unproven statements made on the nature of the marriage, that the Garda and the Department of Justice and Equality acted in a very speedy fashion to have the man deported back to Brazil. We should address this very serious issue with the Minister for Justice and Equality. I appreciate that the Leader might not want to raise the matter on the floor of the Seanad, but I would appreciate it if we could debate the matter. I will e-mail the Leader about it. I would like to secure his support to see if we can receive clarification as to why this has happened and what can be done to rectify the matter as soon as possible.
I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade to come to the Hoiuse in the next session for a debate on funding for the International Development Association, IDA. The association is funded, in the main, by the World Bank and participating countries. The IDA carries out great work in poorer countries throughout the world. It has proved to be an exceptional tool in supporting the achievements of the millennium development goals or tackling the toughest global challenges. For instance, from 2011 to 2015, IDA support provided 50 million people with access to better water services, immunised 205 million children and provided 413 million people with essential health services. Ireland contributes to this work. It is important that we, as parliamentarians, scrutinise projects and the great work being carried out. In the next session it is important that we have the Minister here to outline to us where our funding goes, the projects that are being carried out and the great work that is being don, to see if we can get better value for our buck and whether there are priorities that we might like to see achieved.
I support Senator Rónán Mullen in his call for the relevant Minister for to address the shortage of chefs in the country. It is a matter I had planned to raise here last week, but I did not get around to it. It is well known that there is a serious shortage in the hospitality sector and it is not just in my own county of Kerry. I have picked it up around the place. Chefs are reportedly very volatile people and it is very hard to hold onto them at the best of times, but it seems to be their market because there is such a shortage. Bringing back CERT and that type of programme would be of use and I support Senator Rónán Mullen in that regard.
I am not sure whether the Leader has ever attended a humanist ceremony, but such ceremonies, particularly weddings and funerals, even though a minority thing, are of growing interest, especially to people who may not have any religious beliefs and who wish to have either their marriages or funerals attended by proper and appropriate services. These humanist celebrants are selected and trained to perform their duties in a professional and sensitive manner. Their fees are in the order of about €470 per ceremony, but unfortunately of late the Revenue Commissioners have decided that VAT is payable on the fees, at a rate of 23%. These humanist celebrants have to register for VAT and it adds to the cost of the celebration. I am not sure what the average parish priest or curate does with the stipends he receives.
They must be doing a lot.
That is his own business. I know that they do not pay VAT on it. It should be a level playing pitch. There are not many humanist celebrants in the country. There are probably fewer than one per county and some of them have to travel fairly good distances and travel expenses are also involved. Will the Leader address that matter with the Minister for Finance to see whether humanist celebrations, like all other religious income, could be exempt from VAT?
I am sure the Leader will have an appropriate answer for the Senator.
I try to be original.
To put Senator Ned O'Sullivan's mind at ease, priests and clergymen pay tax and VAT on their income, like everybody else.
I second the amendment to the Order of Business proposed by my colleague, Senator Lorraine Clifford-Lee, that the Leader allow the Corporate Manslaughter (No. 2) Bill 2016 to be printed.
I join other colleagues in asking that the Minister for Health come to the House to clarify the position on the report in The Sunday Business Post last Sunday concerning the nine emergency departments that are due to be closed. We are told there is no substance to this report, but I am reminded of a report a couple of years ago where it was stated in a Sunday newspaper that the Department of Defence was proposing to close a number of Army barracks around the country. We were told there was no substance to it, but a number of months later the Minister for Defence sanctioned the closure of Army barracks, including Dún Uí Néill barracks in Cavan town.
Previous speakers have spoken about back-to-school expenses, but it is frightening to think that in 2012 it cost €686 for a child to go back to primary school and now it costs €967. It cost €1,090 for a child to go back to secondary school in 2012, while it now costs €1,474. To know that parents have cut back on food is frightening. As I have said to the Minister for Education and Skills, last year in Carlow, like in many other places, we opened up what we call the soup kitchen, St. Clare's Hospitality. I came to the Minister and went down every avenue I could to get funding for that soup kitchen and food parcels. We were told there was no streamlined funding to provide any help towards soup kitchens. In this day and age, when children are hungry and we are in the summer, parents are now cutting down on food to buy uniforms. It is an absolute disgrace that we are living in a society where children are now going to soup kitchens to be fed. I ask the Minister to make sure there is streamlined funding for soup kitchens and that parents get help towards the cost of school uniforms. It is an absolute disgrace that in 2016 we are going backwards.
I apologise to Senator Michelle Mulherin. I missed her contribution by mistake in my reply on the Order of Business yesterday. She raised the issue of food waste. As she rightly said, it is a very important social and environmental issue. She referred to the fact that 60% of the waste we produced was food waste. It is important that we have a debate on the issue. It is welcome that she she raised it yesterday.
On the point raised by Senators Mark Daly and Diarmuid Wilson on trauma networks, there might be confusion. There may be two reports. Emanating from the AGM of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, the Minister for Health accepted the need for a report on trauma services to achieve the best outcomes for patients in a national strategy. Let us make it clear again in order that we will not stoke fear, as has been done since the commentary at the weekend: the Minister has committed to coming to the House for a debate on the issue when the report is published. He does not yet have a date on which the report is due, but he is not looking to close or remove trauma services in or from any hospital and there are no plans to do so. If the Senators want to have a debate on the issue of reconfiguration, we can arrange it, but those involved in the particular medical specialty believe trauma patients need to be able to access the best care service, have the right resources at the right level to match their critical needs and be seen in the shortest time possible. There is also an underlying need to develop a national policy on trauma networks. The report is aimed at putting together a national strategy in order to have a national clinical programme for trauma and orthopaedic services and for those who work in the area. I reiterate that the Minister has not received the report and does not have plans to close or remove trauma services. He is willing to come to the House to debate the issue when the report is published. He cannot be any fairer than that. I hope I have clarified the matter for the Senators.
I note the remarks made by Senators Michael McDowell, Rose Conway-Walsh, Frank Feighan and Kieran O'Donnell on the growth rate. I also note the remarks made by commentators and the Governor of the Central Bank, Professor Philip Lane, but I point to the statements issued by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform and the Minister for Finance that in October the Government will present to the Lower House a budget based on sensible growth figures, not the figures we saw yesterday. It is fair to point out, however, that there is growth, that the level of unemployment is decreasing and, as Senator Kieran O'Donnell rightly said, consumer spending is on the up. We will see a sensible approach being adopted in the budget. In saying that, it is imperative to understand the economy is in a much better position than it was seven years ago. It is growing and more people are back at work. We will have a discussion in the House tomorrow on the summer economic statement. While growth levels are improving, no one is taking the figures presented yesterday as indicating that we should be moving off the charts in terms of public expenditure. It is important to understand, however, that the economy is in a better place and that we have seen an improvement in the economic health of the nation.
Former Senator Mary Henry has just left the Chamber. I acknowledge her presence in the Visitors Gallery.
The soaring cost of preparing children for their return to school is of huge concern and a source of worry. The Minister for Education and Skills made reference yesterday to the increase in the back-to-school clothing and footwear allowance, which is now payable at the rate of €100 for children between the ages of 4 and 11 years and €200 for children between the ages of 12 and 22. While these are small amounts in the context of the overall cost for families, it should be noted that overall €38.8 million is being made available this year for the scheme which, at its core, has been designed to help people to meet back-to-school costs. Any measure that could be put in place at a local level or otherwise to meet the cost of uniforms and textbooks must be considered. I know from a discussion I had recently with my sister-in-law that she spent €250 on copies and hardbacks alone for my nephews and nieces. It is important to record that the former Minister for Education and Skills, Ruairí Quinn, put in place an agreement on textbook costs with the Irish Educational Publishers Association. Those of us who have been involved in education recognise the importance of book rental schemes and the significant amounts of money that can be saved by families in that regard. The Minister is acutely conscious of the issue of back-to-school costs. While he does not have powers to regulate school uniforms, it is important that we require schools to be sensible in their demands on parents and pupils in that regard.
On the point made by Senator Ray Butler about bullying, the practice to which he referred is one we should never countenance.
On voluntary contributions, having been involved in education for almost 20 years, from my perspective, there is no compulsion to pay. I would be appalled if schools published a list of payments and indicated non-payment by parents. That should not be tolerated. There should be no publication of such lists. School principals and boards of management should provide for exemptions. There is an onus on boards of management to work with parents on how they can help to meet the needs of the school community.
Senators Rose Conway-Walsh and Frank Feighan referred to the appointment later today of Ms Theresa May as the new Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. I wish her well as she takes up her post. Mr. David Cameron is taking his final round of questions as Prime Minister in the House of Commons. It is important that we congratulate and pay tribute to him for his stewardship during his tenure as Prime Minister, in particular for the increased co-operation we have seen between the North and the South and between Ireland and the United Kingdom. I hope this will continue during the tenure of the new Prime Minister.
Senator Frances Black again referred to alcohol services and the misuse of alcohol. The Public Health (Alcohol) Bill will be brought before the House soon, at which time we can debate the issue. It is important we continue to work on it. I commend the Senator for her work in that regard.
Senator Gerald Nash referred to the problems faced by young people as highlighted in the departmental report published today. I will be happy to have the Minister responsible come to the House for a debate on the report of the Low Pay Commission when it is published.
Senator Niall Ó Donnghaile mentioned the 12 July events held yesterday. It is welcome that there was no major outbreak of sectarianism, other than the events about which we spoke yesterday, and that there were no major casualties or injuries. I hope we can continue to build bridges such that celebrations can be held in a dignified, tolerant and respectful manner.
On voting rights for immigrants, I will be happy to have the Minister of State, Deputy Joe McHugh, come to the House for a debate on the issue.
Senator Kieran O'Donnell mentioned that he hoped Limerick would be announced as European City of Culture 2020. As I said yesterday, I wish everyone involved well.
Senator Robbie Gallagher raised the important issue of assaults on gardaí. We can never allow a situation to develop where members of An Garda Síochána are disrespected. We all condemn unreservedly any attack on members of the force. It is to be hoped everybody in a position of influence in communities in all parts of the country will work to ensure gardaí are respected.
Senator Michelle Mulherin raised the issue of water meter installation in Ballina. I suggest she take it up with the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government by way of a Commencement matter.
Senator Fintan Warfield referred to the report commissioned on LGBT victims of sexual abuse and domestic violence. There is an inordinate ten-year wait, which is unacceptable. I commend those involved in producing the report and thank the Senator for raising the matter. We must strive to ensure those who feel vulnerable or are victims of abuse or violence can overcome such awful events in their lives and that barriers will be removed in order that they will be more accepted within society. We must work to improve the lot of all citizens.
Senator David Norris again referred to transport services in Dublin. I am happy to work with him in arranging such a debate. Like Senator Lorraine Clifford-Lee, I believe the Luas and the DART are important parts of the public transport system and rather than say they are useless, we should work to ensure their increased utilisation.
Senator Lorraine Clifford-Lee also spoke about the housing action plan and the important point made about the Ombudsman for Children, Dr. Niall Muldoon. I agree with her and Dr. Muldoon that hotel rooms and bed and breakfast establishments do not provide suitable accommodation for young children or families. The Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Simon Coveney, will present his housing action plan in the coming weeks and we can discuss the points made during the debate on it.
Senator Martin Conway referred to power surges. I will be happy to take up the matter with Electric Ireland.
The Senator also referred to the Committee of Public Accounts. The Cathaoirleach is correct that the Committee of Public Accounts is not within the remit of this House, but it is important that the points made by the Senator be taken on board. Perhaps we might write to the committee in that regard.
Senators Rónán Mullen and Ned O'Sullivan rightly raised the important issue of chefs and the staff deficits in the hospitality sector. This is the by-product of a decision made by a previous Administration, during the tenure of which Senator Rónán Mullen and I were last Members of the Seanad together, which resulted in a lack of training and expertise in the sector and the recruitment of staff from abroad. Thankfully, the Ministers of State, Deputies Damien English and John Halligan, are addressing the issue via the future skill needs programme. I hope we will see an improvement in the position soon. Ireland is the island of the cead míle fáilte. The tourism sector is growing exponentially and it is critical that services be provided at an expert level and that we have trained chefs and the other staff required by the services industry. I thank the Senators for raising the issue.
Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh referred to bin collection services. We will revert to him on the matter. Because of the need to have legislation passed, some of the debates requested and agreed to have had to be postponed. They have been placed on the list for the autumn session. I assure the Senators concerned that they have not been forgotten. I am not familiar with the case mentioned by the Senator. If he outlines it to me following the Order of Business, I will raise it with the relevant Minister.
Senator Paddy Burke called for a debate on the funding provided by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade for the International Development Association. I will be happy to arrange such a debate.
Senator Ned O'Sullivan referred to Humanist ceremonies. It is important that VAT be paid. It is also important that there be transparency in payment for services provided, including marriage ceremonies and burials. Everybody should pay his or her taxes. Those of us who have attended Humanist ceremonies recognise their importance. I will be happy to work with the Senator on how imbalances in that regard can be addressed.
Senator Jennifer Murnane-O'Connor referred to the funding of social protection schemes. I will be happy to have the Minister for Social Protection come to the House for a debate on the issue. I am also happy to accept the Bill, as amended.
Senator Lorraine Clifford-Lee has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That No. 11 be taken before No. 1." Is the Leader accepting the amendment?
He has accepted it.
Is the amendment agreed to? Agreed.
I seek clarification on a matter. Notwithstanding the fact that the Minister for Finance will be in the House tomorrow, the Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach needs to come to the House to discuss the CSO figures for the repatriation of profits and how figures are presented by the CSO. Will the Leader clarify if that matter will be put on the agenda for debate?
I assume that it will come up in the discussion tomorrow. However, we can also request a separate debate on it.