The Order of Business is No. 1, motion re arrangement for speaking time on the Order of Business, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of the Order of Business; No. 2, motion re Standing Order 57, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of No. 1; No. 3, Paternity Leave and Benefit Bill 2016 - Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 2 and conclude not later than 1.45 p.m.; No. 4, Commission of Investigation (Irish Bank Resolution Corporation) Bill 2016 - Second Stage, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 3 and conclude not later than 3.30 p.m., with the contributions of group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes each and those of all other Senators not to exceed five minutes each and the Minister to be given five minutes in which to reply; No. 5, motion re Legal Services Regulatory Authority, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 4 and conclude within 45 minutes, with the time allocated to group spokespersons and all other Senators not to exceed five minutes each and the Minister to be given five minutes in which to reply; No. 6, motion re European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Training, CEPOL, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 5 and conclude within 45 minutes, with the time allocated to group spokespersons and all other Senators not to exceed five minutes each and the Minister to be given five minutes in which to reply; and No. 22, Private Members' business, non-Government motion No. 3 re tax and social welfare codes, to be taken at 5 p.m., with the time allocated for the debate not to exceed two hours.
Order of Business
As a country, we have failed in the area of child protection and the victims of child abuse. Unfortunately, we continue to fail them. Louise O'Keeffe is an extraordinary woman. She took the State to the High Court and the Supreme Court and failed, despite massive pressure being brought to bear on her that she would be destroyed financially because all legal costs would be sought by the State. She then took the State to the European Court of Human Rights, ECHR, and won. We owe her a huge debt. The ECHR stated the State should have been aware of the risk of child abuse in schools and that it was obliged to protect children. A total of 210 others did not get as far as the ECHR. When Louise O'Keeffe failed in both the High Court and the Supreme Court, they were bullied and threatened with financial ruin by the State if they pursued their cases. In a recent judgment a High Court judge said those who had withdrawn their cases were no longer entitled to compensation.
The State is now indicating that, in addition, proof must have been shown by the people looking for compensation that a prior complaint had been made, which is an impossible burden for anyone to try to achieve.
Nine months after the European Court of Human Rights judgment, the Taoiseach invited Louise O'Keeffe to Government Buildings to discuss the issue with her. She did not ask for anything for herself but that the other victims would be looked after. We can see now what is happening. The only remedy open to those victims is a political remedy. I ask the Leader - the Fianna Fáil group is proposing this - that Louise O'Keeffe be brought into the House in the autumn as a representative of those victims of child abuse to talk to us about what we should and must do for the victims. The State continues to fail them and, unfortunately, continues to abuse them.
I raise a second point about the Taoiseach's comments at the MacGill summer school that the European Union needed to prepare for the prospect of Northern Ireland rejoining the Republic. I believe the issue is not that the European Union needs to prepare but that we need to prepare. There is no plan to achieve Articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution. The reason is not now an issue of culture or religion; it is economic. The economic argument that we can put forward as to why Northern Ireland should rejoin the Republic is borne out in the UN development index which measures health, education and income. The Republic ranks sixth in the world on the index, equal to Germany, and just above Canada and the United States. The United Kingdom is 14th, while Northern Ireland, as a region, is 44th and going to go below 50th and join Romania and Kazakhstan.
The issue is how we get from where we are today to where we want to be. I do not agree with this idea of a referendum sooner rather than later. The issue is how one makes a convincing argument. We should never ask anyone to vote for a worse future; we must ask them to vote for a better future. I think that, together, we would have a better future. A recent report by the Oireachtas employment committee stated an all-island economy would be a boost to everybody, in particular in the areas of education and farming, as well as on other issues. I ask the Leader to organise this House, whether through the petitions committee or the Cathaoirleach, in order that we could start bringing in the experts to discuss the issue. It is not that the European Union needs prepare but that we need to prepare.
I very much welcome the Taoiseach's remarks in the past couple of days about a referendum on Irish unity. For years, we in Sinn Féin have wanted a full conversation and discussion of what it would mean to have the reunification of the island. We are pleased that this is happening and, obviously, will do everything to continue to lead it.
I welcome the initiative taken by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment to include computer coding as part of the national school curriculum. Of course, it is 20 years late but better late than never. I have direct, on-the-ground experience of organising coding and programming workshops in County Mayo for a number of years as co-ordinator of Iorras Le Chéile community development project. We ran an initiative whereby more than 50 children between the ages of eight and 13 years gathered every Saturday to learn computer coding and programming with a local programmer and computer expert. The speed of learning and the depth of interest shown by the children of those ages was remarkable. However, like many similar projects throughout the country, the funding was slashed and we could no longer continue.
The idea behind the project was that we would encourage a cohort of young people to go on to follow computer science and develop their coding and programming skills. This measure, in a remote rural area of the western seaboard, was an attempt to provide young people with the skills that would enable them to live and work in their own communities while, at the same time, working for companies based in Tokyo, New York and other major economic hubs throughout the world. It was also an attempt to prepare for opportunities presented by the transatlantic fibre-optic cable.
I am calling on the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Richard Bruton, to follow through on his intention to include coding and programming in the curriculum as a matter of urgency. This cannot be done, however, without a commitment of multi-annual funding, including that for computer hardware, connectivity and tuition. It should also be done in full consultation with national school teachers and boards of management. In the interim, as a gesture of his intent, I call on the Minister to provide funding for projects similar to that run in Belmullet on the western seaboard which could then be amalgamated in local national schools.
I have been a long-time admirer of Louise O'Keeffe. She is a brilliant woman and an example of how individuals can overcome adversity and the absolute weight of Governments and institutions in order to get recognition. It is very much welcome that she will come to the House to lead us and guide us on what needs to be done.
As it does around this time every year, Social Justice Ireland launched its budget briefing document - Budget Choices 2017 - yesterday. I draw attention to one particular matter relating to disability. Social Justice Ireland has a practical proposal in its document in respect of the cost of the disability allowance. It is a well known fact that people with disabilities have extra but ordinary day-to-day living costs. The proposal is for a €20 per week allowance to begin the redress and compensation in this regard. There is no doubt that there are three things we can always say about people with disabilities. First, their incomes will drop and if it is not already the case, they and their families will go into poverty. Second, there is a loss of expectation for employment, activity and housing. There is also a loss of hope brought about by these circumstances. This is a practical measure and I call on the Leader to invite the Minister for Social Protection to the House to discuss the matter. This could put some valuable money into the hands of every person with a disability in every corner and parish of the country.
The programme for Government refers to a request for an Oireachtas all-party committee to develop a single long-term vision or plan for health care in the coming ten years. We have the Dáil committee sitting. When he was here, the Minister for Health expressed his interest in having participation by Members of this House. He noted the varying expertise and understanding of Members across the House. It is important that the flavour of expertise this House could bring to bear be represented on that committee in order to assist it, although I recognise that useful and serious work has already been done by the Members of the Dáil on the committee.
If possible, it would be timely in the autumn for the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality to come to the House to outline her strong commitment to and the measures that have been taken to ensure the ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the timelines associated therewith. This is something about which I am paranoid and, therefore, I would be grateful if the Tánaiste could come and assist us in this matter.
I give notice to the Leader that I intend to propose an amendment to the Order of Business to have the Taoiseach come to the House, particularly if he cannot provide some positive news on the date and time of such a visit.
Since this new Seanad began meeting, we have been listening to references to new politics. We have also heard them in the Dáil. In every debate people refer to new politics. As yet, however, no one has been able to provide a definition of new politics or explain the theory of the language that underlies it. I am reminded of the use of terms such as "going forward" in the past. Everything was going forward but nothing was ever delivered. The latter is something we remember from the period when Brian Cowen was Taoiseach. The language to which I refer is now being used all the time. In the light of new politics, we are not going to have a vote on the eighth amendment.
In the light of new politics, we will adjourn for one year a decision on the school admissions Bill. In the light of new politics, we will delay bringing forward legislation on workers' rights. The phrase "new politics" is starting to become a dirty one because very little delivery is discernible and everything is kicked down the road. There is an onus on the Taoiseach to come into the House to explain exactly what he means by "new politics" or whether it is simply a gesture, with no theory or clear understanding as to exactly what he means by the term. I worry it is language without a plan. We heard the same thing in respect of the summer school, when he spoke about a referendum on unification, where it was words with no plan. Everybody is in favour of unification, but a plan must be put in place. Everybody is in favour of new politics, but one must understand what it is, what the theory is and how pragmatically new politics can be delivered in this House. Almost a month has passed since I requested that the Taoiseach come into the House. Unless the Leader has positive news in this regard, I intend to table an amendment to amend the Order of Business calling for the Taoiseach to come to the House today.
Does the Senator intend to propose the amendment? He must propose it now as he cannot decide to do so subsequent to the Leader's answer.
I propose the amendment now that the Taoiseach be called to the House.
For what purpose?
For the purpose of having him explain and define what he means by the term "new politics" in the context of the programme for Government.
It has been proposed.
I wish to raise two matters, the first of which is the closure of Lowcostholidays. While it seems fine that people are being refunded, there are two elements in this regard. While there are those who booked their all-in package of flight and hotel accommodation, those who booked their own hotel accommodation are not entitled to anything. The legislation was enacted back in 1983, but it contains nothing to cover those who booked their accommodation directly through any of those companies. I ask the Leader to raise this matter with the relevant Minister because it must be reviewed. More than 15,000 people in Ireland have been affected by the Lowcostholidays fiasco, but more than half of them will not be entitled to anything because they booked their accommodation directly through online companies.
The second matter pertains to the threat of ash dieback disease which affects the making of hurleys. Everyone in Ireland is familiar with hurling, as all counties are involved in it, and it is great to see so many children and young people out playing it. It has been recorded that this disease has been discovered in trees in 19 counties in Ireland. It can be spread by someone walking through the forest or can be transmitted through the air. I ask the Leader to raise the matter with the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine because it affects us all.
I ask the Leader to bring the following matter to the attention of the Minister for Education and Skills. It was announced yesterday that coding was to be introduced in schools, which I certainly welcome as being positive news. However, I am concerned that it will raise expectations that may take some time to fulfil. The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment will need time to develop a curriculum and will devise a means of integrating it with the existing subject areas. There was some talk about mathematics being the subject to carry this new coding subject, but I have my concerns about it. As a child who struggles with mathematics might automatically turn away from coding, this issue must be considered. One hears a lot about curriculum overload and no doubt it will be raised by teachers. Teachers themselves will also require training and there is a major issue in respect of IT infrastructure in schools because without the fundraising of local parents, we would be in dire straits in that regard.
Despite the best intentions and ambitions of the schools and the pupils, teachers cannot achieve their aims because of lack of broadband connectivity and the desperate state of hardware in their schools. Only last month, schools received their USB data devices for each teacher, containing information on the new language curriculum for junior infants up to second class. The USB keys were accompanied by a letter stating the Department of Education and Skills was sending them by post because teachers could not download them via the Internet. This clearly demonstrates some of the issues we face with new digital skills. We certainly do not want to be left behind in terms of computer science literacy. They are key issues and key skills for the future. We must focus on rolling out coding across the education system without delay. There is much work to be done and some realism needs to be brought to it also. There are many issues that need to be addressed if this is going to be a success. Certainly, we all want it to be a success.
With Senator John Dolan, I raise the issue of the budget choices launched by Social Justice Ireland yesterday. It is hoped the report will be studied, listened to and acted on in all the deliberations as the Government prepare for budget 2017. Ireland faces major challenges. There are challenges that have been constant such as poverty, inequality and homelessness, but others will emerge and are emerging as a result of the Brexit vote. Social Justice Ireland is committed to a just society and recognises the need to invest in public services. The current investment is far below what is required for infrastructure and services if it is to be close to the EU average. For example, in the years of the downturn, the devastation wreaked across Europe led to cuts of 15% but across Ireland, the absolute devastation wreaked led to cuts of 39%. I have spoken to Social Justice Ireland and focus particularly on health care and disability services. My own area of Dublin South Central is above the national average in terms of the number of people with disabilities. Cutbacks from 2008 to 2014 are most adversely affecting people on low incomes. There are long waiting lists, increasing prescription charges, a change to the threshold on the drug repayment scheme and so on. I have listened to and support the proposals outlined in Social Justice Ireland's document. I would like to see the provision of additional support for older people to live at home and additional support services to meet the demographic pressures that are coming and will be more to the fore in the years to come. An additional €30 million has been suggested for disability services and €42 million has been suggested to improve mental health services and progress the implementation of A Vision for Change. I urge the relevant Minister and the Department of Health to consider Social Justice Ireland's prudent and independent proposals when drawing up budget 2017, with the overriding guiding principle of delivering a prosperous, cohesive and just society.
We talked this morning about child protection and child services. I raise the issue of the HSE dentist system for schools. I am sure many Senators here have had parents contact them, as I have, to discuss children with serious dental problems. They are assessed and placed on waiting lists for at least five to six years. From 2005 to 2010, things were going well with the Celtic tiger and people could borrow money from their local credit union or the banks to pay for braces and all the rest. We are talking about approximately €4,000 to €5,000 for a set of braces for a young child and follow-on services. That cannot be done anymore. There has been no investment since 2009. Services have been closed. We have ended up with nearly a decade of underfunding in this system. As things get better, I call for the provision of funding in this area. I ask the Minister for Health, Deputy Simon Harris, to look at this issue as we approach budget time. These waiting lists cannot go on. There has been a decade of underfunding and we really need the system to come up to scratch. Young people and schoolchildren are suffering because of this issue.
I call on the Leader to arrange a debate when we return in September on foreign policy concerns in the light of the recent atrocity in Nice and the attempted coup in Turkey, details of which are only emerging.
Everyone will agree that it is a matter of deep concern to see not only that a coup attempt got so far but also to see the repercussions and that President Erdoan has now arrested and detained nearly 20,000 people. There is talk at a high level in the Turkish Government, it appears, of bringing back the death penalty. It is a matter of real concern for all of us across Europe and, in particular, other member states of the Council of Europe to see another member state speaking about a return of the death penalty. I would like to have the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade back in the House in September to debate matters of foreign policy, to debate, in particular, matters of security concerning the threat of international terrorism and the local threat we saw manifest even today in the news of the attack on a train in Germany. It would be useful to have that debate. At the same time, I ask for a debate with the Minister for Justice and Equality in order that she can update us on the position as regards the resettlement programme for Syrian refugees. I expressed concern last week that there had been so many delays in the resettlement of refugees here. It would be good to hear from the Minister precisely when the resettlement would take place.
I also second the motion proposed by Senator Kevin Humphreys.
I support Senator Mark Daly's call for Louise O'Keeffe to be invited to address the House. I will certainly be supporting any such request that comes before the Committee on Procedure and Privileges.
I also support Senator Kevin Humphreys in his call for the Taoiseach to come to the House. The Taoiseach should be obliged to come to this House at least three times a year to address us on various issues. In addition to what the Senator has outlined in his request, I would like the Taoiseach who is Minister for Defence to outline his policy on that Department.
I propose an amendment to the Order of Business that No. 15 be taken before No. 1. I am looking for consent to publish a Bill on missing persons.
Following on from what Senator John Dolan said about the Committee on the Future of Healthcare, the Leader and I met the Chairman of the committee and the matter needs to be progressed. I understand it has had four or five meetings. There are no Senators on it. Full clarification should be given as to whether it is a joint Oireachtas committee or a select committee and whether Senators are going to be excluded. It needs to be clarified before we break for the summer. I am not too sure what procedure we can adopt in this matter, but we should come to a conclusion, one way or the other, and it is wrong if Senators are being excluded from this very important issue. We are talking about a ten-year vision for health care for the country and here 60 Members of the Oireachtas are not going to be participating. Will the Leader come back to us, perhaps tomorrow morning, to see what further progress can be made to bring the matter to a head? It should not be left without clear answers when we break at the end of this week.
Go raibh míle maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle, nó a Chathaoirligh. Bhí mé sa Teach mícheart ansin - gabh mo leithscéal.
I want to expand on and ask the Leader about some of what my group leader, Senator Rose Conway-Walsh, outlined in terms of the Taoiseach's remarks at the MacGill Summer School at the weekend. The remarks were very welcome. They were very positive and progressive in terms of what they could do for the people of the island. They followed on similar remarks made by the leader of the Fianna Fáil Party at the weekend. Particularly in this year, given that in the last few weeks and months we all stood at gravesides and monuments the length and breadth of the country, we should all be persuaders for Irish unity. I use that term in a very considered manner. We cannot operate in silos in respect of this very important matter. It is very encouraging to hear a broader consensus come to the fore on this issue of such importance. I want to expand on, reiterate and support the remarks by Senators Mark Daly and Kevin Humphreys about the need for the plan to be considered, nuanced and informed. There is deep concern in the North, particularly among the 56% of people who voted to remain, that we will be marooned with a Government that is austerity-driven in its ideology and which has punished ordinary citizens in the North in the past couple of years. We could invite the authors of the report modelling Irish unification to address this House and its Members. This is a comprehensive study carried out by very highly regarded economists from North America and Europe who have identified that in the first eight years of reunification there could be a €35.6 billion boost to all-island GDP. That is just in the first eight years. As someone who is in danger of being marooned with that London economy, that is very hopeful to me. Mar fhocal scoir, it is vital that we get the Taoiseach to come to the House. We are in the midst of considering these issues. It is a live matter that is affecting us all. It is important that we hear from the Taoiseach on that national dialogue. We have heard contributions on the need for a forum. Call it what one may, that is a very legitimate, important and practical call to make and the Taoiseach seems to be up for it. Everyone in this and the Lower House is up for it. Civic society, business, agriculture, the trade union movement and broader life in Ireland are all up for it. I hope the Leader can encourage the Taoiseach to come to the House to discuss the issue.
The Brexit vote could be the beginning of the end for the United Kingdom. Given Scotland's determination to remain in the European Union, an independent Scotland remains on the cards and I believe they will not be deterred. We are fortunate that the new Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Mr. Brokenshire, has set his face against the hard Border between Dundalk and Derry. If we remain in a situation where the majority of people in Northern Ireland wish to remain part of the European Union, I believe very firmly that the Taoiseach was right to refer to the possibility of triggering the clause in the Good Friday Agreement where a Border poll could be taken, in due course. I accept that first we must await the outcome of Britain's exit negotiations. We have a vital interest in them, for many reasons. There will be further developments over the summer. Will the Leader arrange a debate on this issue in early course when we return in the autumn?
Something caught my eye yesterday and some of the other Senators have touched on it today. We are aware that we have an horrific record in relation to refugees, an issue we have debated on numerous occasions. I have witnessed this at first hand in Athlone and again in Mosney. I could only describe them as detention centres. I was concerned yesterday to read that the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, had been talking of deportation and other measures in relation to extremist sympathisers. She said she would make no apologies, on limited intelligence, which was not enough to bring a case to extradite. I know that a strong hand is needed with people who break the law. There is no doubt about that and no stronger supporter of that principle than me. However, I am concerned that the Minister would turn into a judge and jury. I would like her to clarify the Government's position. Perhaps she was misquoted, but I would be concerned if everything I read was correct.
I second Senator Colm Burke's amendment to the Order of Business.
I agree with Senator Niall Ó Donnghaile in his remarks about the Taoiseach's comments on a united Ireland. I think he used the word "unity", which I very much welcome. From my work in the last ten years at the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly and the Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, I know that the idea of a united Ireland brings hope to many of us but to others it brings pain and fear.
We need to come up with a new term such as unity, one Ireland or Ireland together. It is a term that should be inclusive. We need a debate because with Brexit, this is an interesting time. Previously, I have mentioned Ireland participating in, associating with or rejoining the Commonwealth. All of these should be in the ether because they all bring a future for the island of Ireland. I would like to see the people of Ireland and all traditions and all sides unite.
We saw what happened at the European championships, with Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland supporters, with many others, behaving and bringing great joy. Yesterday in The Irish Times, a leading garda called for soccer banning orders. He is very worried about the level of violence at League of Ireland soccer matches. I raised this issue nine or ten years ago, when I saw Setanta Cup matches being played. I felt there could be a deterrent. There has been some violence but, thankfully, 99.5% of the games have been great. I have always felt this issue needs to be tackled. It is becoming more weaponised. There is now category A violence and a soccer match with a crowd of fewer than 5,000 people has the same number of security staff and gardaí as would be at an all-Ireland football final. Something is wrong and this needs to be dealt with. Last night I watched a local derby between Shamrock Rovers and Bohemians. I do not believe there were 4,000 or 5,000 people at the match, but one could see the number of gardaí who were present. It is not just in Dublin but also around the country. We need to bring in the relevant Minister and ask for football offences legislation and perhaps stadium banning orders. We need to give the Garda and football clubs all the protection we can.
I refer to the ongoing crisis at University Hospital Limerick. This morning 32 patients are languishing on trolleys. Over a five-day period last week, we had 149 patients languishing on trolleys. When one walks into the emergency department, one will more than likely meet a sign stating there will be an eight-hour wait before seeing a doctor. Last week one man in the emergency department was asked to stand where his wife's trolley was while his wife was wheeled away for tests to keep the corridor clear for the trolley on its return. That is how ludicrous and awful the situation is. On the Friday night of the week before last, I drove my neighbour to the hospital. She got into a ward the following Wednesday night. It took five days of languishing in a corridor before someone who was extremely sick managed to get access to a ward. Members of SIPTU and the INMO have had enough and, quite rightly, are now balloting their members for industrial action, not because they want more money but because they are absolutely disgusted by the lack of action. The most ludicrous point of all this is when the unions speak to management, the local hospital management agrees with them that they need more staff, but there is a moratorium. We have a ludicrous situation where everyone agrees that the place is in crisis but nothing is being done. We know that the roots of the crisis lie with Fianna Fáil which closed emergency departments in Nenagh and Ennis without making adequate provision for enough resources in Dooradoyle in Limerick. We had five years of a Fine Gael and Labour Party Government, at the end of which things were worse than they ever were before. It is a litany of failure on behalf of all of the major political parties. It needs action and I ask the Minister for Health to come to the House as a matter of urgency to debate the issue. I know from my neighbours and friends that people in Limerick have had enough. People are frightened to have their relatives go into hospital. Imagine that - imagine being in fear of seeing one's loved ones going into hospital, but that is the reality in Limerick. It is at crisis level and I ask the Leader to ask the Minister for Health to come to the House urgently to discuss the issue.
I am sure some Senators have heard of the new video game Pokémon GO. It is relatively new to me. It is sweeping the mobile gaming market in the United States and apparently has overtaken Twitter in the popularity stakes in some cases. What is different about this app is that contrary to most video games which encourage a sedentary lifestyle, this inspires teens to get out of the house and walk. The augmented reality game mixes the real world with the colourful world of Pokémon, bringing the creatures into towns and streets. Apparently this is having a ripple effect on health in the United States. It may be the novelty factor, but Pokémon GO seems to motivate young people, even those who have not been active for some time. There are cases in the United States of previously inactive people getting out and walking for miles to try to increase their Pokémon stash. Of course, there is a concern about young people not paying enough attention to safety, but I believe safety measures could be implemented. Pokémon GO is only available in the United States, Australia, New Zealand and Germany. As I have stressed in the House on numerous occasions, ad nauseam, Ireland is on course to become one of the fattest nations in the world by 2030 and we should do everything we can to remedy this trend. As such, in the upcoming budget, the Government, of which my party is a member, should support video gaming companies to a greater degree when they come up with innovative ways to get people moving. This may sound funny - I do not know an awful lot about video gaming as it was a friend of mine who brought the matter to my attention - but Ireland is already very fertile ground for gaming, from we make a lot of money. We speak about new politics. We should have innovative ways to deal with the problems we have. I hope the Government will be forward thinking when it comes to something like this in the upcoming budget.
Perhaps the Senator might recommend that Pokémon GO reach out to older people like me.
You are all welcome to play.
I welcome the news that we will have coding classes in primary schools. It is a very progressive move. There is also a proposal in the programme for Government for an ICT course to be on the leaving certificate curriculum. Plans are afoot to develop a coding curriculum and I call for it to be expedited. Already St. Joseph's secondary school in Rush has a coding class. Although it is not on any curriculum, more than 30 children, mainly girls, have taken it up. There is huge appetite and interest in it and I ask that it be expedited.
I echo Senator Colm Burke's concerns about the Committee on the Future of Healthcare regarding health services in the coming years and the effective exclusion of this House, one of the two Houses of the Oireachtas, from involvement in the process. It is a dangerous precedent to exclude a House of the Oireachtas. I ask the Leader to call in the Chairman of the committee to explain her position to the Seanad and to do so as quickly as possible.
Many improvements have been made and as improvements continue to be made in services and with the progressive changes we have brought about in child care, paternity leave, marriage equality law, the children's rights referendum, as well as the ongoing improvements in the economy and the employment rate, the idea of a Border poll will become more and more attractive as we try to achieve our goal of making this country and island the best place in the world in which to raise a family, grow up and grow old with dignity. I have no doubt that we can achieve this goal if we continue to work together with our brothers and sisters north of the Border. The old adage will be proved to be true, as we do this, that we have nothing to fear but fear itself.
I refer to the newly formed boundary commission which has been established in the light of the recent census results to look at the boundaries of Dáil constituencies. I understand it is envisioned that an additional Deputy will be required to match the increase in population. The commission was established by the Minister, Deputy Simon Coveney.
The method used for arriving at the number and locations of Deputies is too crude at one Deputy per a maximum population of 30,000 citizens. This is not fair in certain constituencies and is leading to a democratic deficit. The geographical size of County Mayo, my constituency, is greater than all of Dublin's constituencies put together, yet we only have four Deputies. In Dublin North-Central, the quota is approximately 6,000, but it is 10,000 in County Mayo. This is repeated throughout the country. It is unfair and shows an ignorance of the time and requirements involved in representing people who live in dispersed rural communities. These factors are recognised in other jurisdictions. Under the system in the US Congress, for example, smaller states have the same number of representatives as larger states, regardless of population. There must be some equality or balance. Populations in rural areas are declining. The eight seats removed during the previous Dáil were from the western seaboard. The number of councillors has also decreased, yet the same areas must be covered and they are seeing the least amount of economic growth. There is a democratic deficit. We have poorer infrastructure and so on. The new commission is a way to address all of these issues. There is an issue with the Constitution, but giving proper democratic representation to every citizen as opposed to just those living in large urban centres is fundamental. Will the Leader speak to the Minister and ask that this serious issue be addressed?
The Senator's point is made.
One of the advantages of getting old is that one qualifies for free travel. I look forward to collecting my free travel pass next November. Free travel is available to everyone and a legacy of Charlie Haughey who was far-thinking on the issue. It has been brought to my attention that people who carry an Irish passport but do not reside in the country permanently do not qualify for the free travel pass. In particular, I have in mind members of religious orders who are working in the Third World, including Africa. When they return home on holiday, usually just once every three years, and try to catch up with family and go on retreat to their convents or chapels, they do not qualify. Of all people who should get some clap on the back from the State, it is these unsung heroes who do tremendous work abroad. When they return to Ireland, they should be considered for inclusion in the free travel scheme. Any emigrant over the age of 66 years who returns to the country for a break should be able to avail of this bounty. It is not means tested, with people entitled to it who are well able to afford stretch limousines if they want to. Why not extend the free travel scheme to specific persons on their return to the country? I ask the Leader to raise the matter with the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport.
By far the largest portion of tourists who visit Ireland come from Great Britain. What plans will the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport and Fáilte Ireland put in place to counteract the weakening in the value of sterling in recent months? Regional airports such as in Knock, Kerry, Shannon, Waterford and Donegal, benefit from flights from the United Kingdom. This is particularly so in the case of Knock, with direct flights into the west from Scotland and England. The weakening of sterling will have a major effect on the number of tourists coming from the United Kingdom. What plans are being put in place to ensure we will continue getting the same great numbers from the United Kingdom instead of being at a disadvantage? Perhaps the House should debate the matter at an early stage. The tourism season will be well over when we return. Will the Leader bring this matter to the attention of the Minister and ask him to notify the House or us individually of what steps are being taken?
Like many Senators in the wake of the Brexit referendum, I have been inundated with inquiries from Irish people abroad and many people living in Northern Ireland about the application process for Irish passports and trying to guarantee their EU rights. Much of this issue has been addressed. I commend the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Charles Flanagan, for accelerating the process and allocating more staff to meet demand, but I have also received a number of inquiries from British people who have been living in Ireland for many years and who believe their status is threatened by the United Kingdom's possible withdrawal from the European Union in the next two and a half years. Many of them have been living in Ireland for some time, are married to Irish citizens and entitled to apply for Irish citizenship, but they are finding the costs prohibitive. We have one of the costliest citizenship application processes in the European Union. Will the Leader invite the Tánaiste to come to the House to discuss whether she will review the process in view of the fact that the more than 300,000 British citizens living in Ireland have found themselves in a different situation?
I call Senator Martin Conway who should be brief, le do thoil.
I appreciate that. Will the Leader arrange for a debate early in the autumn on the National Ambulance Service? I do not know what protocols are in place governing the service or its relationship with the fire brigade. There are many anecdotes of ambulances having to travel hundreds of miles to respond to crises. Recently, an ambulance attending an emergency at the Cliffs of Moher was dispatched from Nenagh. That does not make sense. Whatever the national emergency protocols are, they are not working. Travelling from Nenagh to the Cliffs of Moher to attend an emergency is not acceptable. There must be a review. Ambulances must remain in their counties and deal with the emergencies therein. The ambulance was dispatched from Nenagh because none was available in County Clare at the time. I am aware of the challenges facing the paramedics and the ambulance service's lack of resources, but this issue must be addressed as a priority. Some €500 million extra is being made available to the health budget this year. I am sure that this amount will increase in 2017. We must have a root and branch review of the National Ambulance Service.
I thank the 25 Senators who raised matters on the Order of Business. The main theme was Brexit. Senators Mark Daly, Rose Conway-Walsh, Niall Ó Donnghaile, Paul Coghlan, Frank Feighan, Neale Richmond and Paddy Burke raised matters relating to it and referred to the Taoiseach's remarks yesterday in Glenties. It is important that the House have a timely debate on the role of Senators in the country's future post-Brexit, Irish reunification and the matters raised by the Taoiseach. His remarks were interesting in that he re-articulated his belief that there was a need for an all-Ireland forum to consider how to progress North-South relations. Those of us who are constitutional republicans welcome the fact that many others have followed us down the road to where we are today. It is important that the dialogue be given an all-Ireland context. I welcome the Taoiseach's remarks in that context.
I remind the House that he has already met Chancellor Merkel and is meeting President Hollande on Thursday. He is also attending a meeting of the British-Irish Council in Cardiff this week. In addition, as leader of the Government, he is making the changes within the Department of the Taoiseach that he outlined last night. The Government intends to establish a new Cabinet sub-committee on Brexit which will be chaired by the Taoiseach. An integrated approach will be taken within the Department of the Taoiseach under the Secretary General of that Department. The Government will strengthen staffing in other key Departments to deal with the issue of Brexit. It is important for Members of this House to play a role in the future of the country on an all-Ireland basis. As many Senators have articulated, this issue needs to be addressed because it is very important for the economy, industries such as tourism and agriculture and the movement of people.
Senators Mark Daly and Diarmuid Wilson spoke about Louise O'Keeffe, whom we all admire and to whom we all owe a debt of gratitude. The Committee on Procedure and Privileges discusses and makes decisions on who to invite to the Seanad. I have no difficulty with anybody coming into the Chamber, but it is not my decision to make. It is important for Senator Mark Daly to recognise that the last Government created the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, which meant that for the first time, there was a Cabinet Minister with responsibility for children. It also enacted the Children First national guidance to protect the welfare of children, held a referendum on children's rights and established Tusla as a dedicated national child and family agency. It introduced a plethora of legislation, including the Child Care (Amendment) Act 2015, the Children First Act 2015, the Children (Amendment) Act 2015 and the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015. None of us wants to go down the road of what happened in the past. We all take the protection and security of children seriously. That is what the previous Government did and the Government will do likewise. It is important that we continue our work; we cannot become complacent. We need to resource child protection agencies and see a greater partnership between the HSE and Tusla at all levels. All Departments need to work together in a seamless way to protect children.
Senator John Dolan referred to the cost of paying disability allowance, which is a very important issue. He has made a good case in comparing the costs incurred by people with a disability who receive the allowance with those incurred by able-bodied people. It is clear that higher costs are incurred by people with a disability. The Senator, in his role with the Disability Federation of Ireland, has been a strong campaigner and advocate for changes to be made to the disability allowance regime to assist those who have to incur higher costs. It is an ongoing issue. I agree with the Senator that the Departments of Health and Social Protection need to adopt a more joined-up approach. I will certainly be happy to facilitate a debate on the matter in the House.
Senators Colm Burke, John Dolan and James Reilly spoke about the meeting of the committee on future health strategy which is under way. It is disappointing that the composition of the committee is not in keeping with the programme for Government, but it is not an Oireachtas committee. Senator Colm Burke and I met the Chairman and the clerk to the committee last week and the outcome of the meeting was disappointing from our perspective. There is a reluctance to appoint Members of this House to the committee. As Leader of the Seanad and a former Chairman of the Joint Committee on Health and Children, I do not see any reason Senators should be precluded from membership of this forum. I do not know why the terms of reference governing the composition of the committee cannot be changed, even at this stage. I will not say at this "late" stage because the committee is still agreeing its overall work scheme. The exclusion from a full participatory role in the committee of 60 Members of the Oireachtas is wrong. It has been outlined to us that our views will be sought in the form of a submission, but we will not be asked to participate. This is not new politics - it is bad politics. It is exclusionary rather than inclusive politics. I received a response when I wrote to the clerk to the committee on behalf of all of us which I can forward to Members after the Order of Business.
Senators Kevin Humphreys and Diarmuid Wilson referred to the request made by Senator Kevin Humphreys to bring the Taoiseach to the House. I assure the Senator that the Taoiseach is willing to come to the House not because he wants the Taoiseach to come but because the Taoiseach wants to do so. The Taoiseach is more than happy to attend and speak in the Upper House. It is my intention that the date in question will be 29 September. There will be a debate on a range of issues, including the post-Brexit environment, Ireland's place in Europe, Ireland's relationship with the United Kingdom following Brexit, the programme for Government and the impending budget to be announced in October. There is no need to divide the House on the issue because the Taoiseach has agreed to come. I share Senator Diarmuid Wilson's view that it is important for the leader of the Government to come to the House at least once in each term. Other Taoisigh have been missing in action in the Seanad. I am happy that we will have the Taoiseach in the House on 29 September. I hope that will satisfy the Senators who have made proposals in that respect.
Senators Rose Conway-Walsh and James Reilly raised the issue of coding. The Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Richard Bruton, has written to the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment to ask it to consider the introduction of the teaching of coding in primary schools. As a schoolteacher, this would be a brilliant act, especially in the light of the way the country has moved in terms of career development. It would be extraordinary to see it happen. Senator Rose Conway-Walsh referred to the success of Coder Dojo, which is an example of the benefits of teaching coding to young people. It changes their perspective and also gives them a balanced approach to education. I hope we can have a debate on the matter. We will support this movement in any way we can.
Senator Maria Byrne spoke about a company, LowCostHolidays, that has gone out of business. We will take up this very important and serious issue with the Minister in question. The bonding system that applies to travel companies needs to be changed. We need to address the issue of bed banks, especially in terms of how they can get and charge for them.
Senator Robbie Gallagher raised the issues of coding and broadband connectivity.
Senators Máire Devine and John Dolan highlighted the publication yesterday by Social Justice Ireland of a very interesting read. I hope the Ministers for Social Protection and Finance will consider the document as part of the Government's approach to the budget to be announced in October. The Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Leo Varadkar, was here last week, but we might invite him back in advance of the announcement of the budget.
Senator Ray Butler spoke about the dental scheme. I hope the Ministers, Deputies Simon Harris, Leo Varadkar and Michael Noonan, can form a plan on dental care for young people. The removal of the PRSI scheme for young people, in particular, was one of the big mistakes made in the last two Dáileanna and Seanaid. The effects can be seen in the cost of dental work, the waiting times for orthodontic treatment and the bad state of repair of the nation's dental health.
Senator Ivana Bacik called for a debate with the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, on the issue of Syrian refugees. As the Senator knows, the Minister is committed to taking in more refugees. She has established a task force on refugee protection. I would be happy to have her come to the House.
I agree with Senator Ivana Bacik that any regime or government that contemplates using the death penalty should not be supported. I certainly hope the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade will take up the issue on our behalf. Proposing to use the death penalty sends the wrong message and is the wrong thing to do.
I will be happy to accept Senator Colm Burke's amendment to the Order of Business on the missing persons Bill.
Senator Aidan Davitt also raised the issue of refugees. I agree with him that there is a need to have an integration policy. I do not think the Minister, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, said or meant what the Senator might have thought she had said. Her policy on refugees has been one of positivity. She has been strong on the issue of national security and protecting the Border. I will be happy to pass on the Senator's remarks and invite the Minister to come to the House after the summer recess.
Senator Frank Feighan spoke about soccer hooliganism, which is a worry. I hope we will see the FAI working with all sports organisations to eliminate all forms of discriminatory behaviour in sports grounds.
I will note Senator Paul Gavan's remarks about University Hospital Limerick and ask the Minister for Health to liaise with him on the matter.
Senator Catherine Noone raised the issue of Pokémon GO. I certainly hope none of us will walk into the table or walls here. We note that Pokémon GO is an app. The Senator is right when she says we must promote the gaming industry, which is a fertile ground for us. We did this successfully when the Minister, Deputy Richard Bruton, was responsible for job creation. Blizzard Entertainment in my city of Cork is promoting gaming and employing people.
Are there some in the Chamber?
I hope not, but if there are, I hope they are not moving towards me.
Senator Michelle Mulherin referred to the constituency boundaries commission. It is an independent group chaired by Mr. Justice Haughton. Members who have issues with the commission should communicate directly with it. I will, however, be happy to invite the relevant Minister to come to the House to debate the matter which we will debate when the Bill is brought before the House.
Senator Ned O'Sullivan raised an important point about the free travel pass for people who were Irish citizens but who no longer lived here. He mentioned, in particular, missionaries abroad. I will be happy to arrange a debate on the matter.
Senator Paddy Burke referred to tourism and Brexit. I will be happy to invite the Minister of State, Deputy Patrick O'Donovan, or the Minister, Deputy Shane Ross, to come to the House to debate the matter.
Senator Neale Richmond raised the issue of passports and the cost of admission to citizenship. I will be happy to invite the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, to come to the House to discuss it.
Senator Martin Conway raised the important issue of the ambulance service. There has been a lengthy debate on its role and importance. Changes have been made and there has been investment in the service, but the Senator raised an important point to which we can refer in the autumn.
Senator Kevin Humphreys has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That the Taoiseach be invited to come to the House to discuss new politics and the programme for Government." Is the amendment being pressed?
The Leader has given a commitment that the Taoiseach will come to the House on 29 September. Undoubtedly, it was due to me pressing the matter for the past four weeks. One can count on two fingers the number of times the Taoiseach has come to the House in the past five years.
We do not wish to reopen the debate.
I thank Senator Diarmuid Wilson for his support. I support his suggestion that the Taoiseach schedule three visits to this House every year. That might solve Fine Gael's problem with the Taoiseach's exit. If he had to come to the House three times every year, he might resolve that issue.
We will not reopen the debate on it.
I withdraw the amendment.
Senator Colm Burke has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That No. 15, Civil Law (Missing Persons) Bill 2016 - First Stage, be taken before No. 1." I understand the Leader is prepared to accept the amendment. Is it agreed to? Agreed.