The Order of Business is No. 1, Water Services (Amendment) Bill 2016 - Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken at 12.45 p.m.; No. 2, statements on the action plan for housing, to be taken at the conclusion on No. 1, with the time allocated for the debate not to exceed two hours, 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. 3, Commission of Investigation (Irish Bank Resolution Corporation) Bill 2016 - Committee and Remaining Stages, to be taken at 4.30 p.m.; and No. 4, motion re Commission of Investigation (Irish Bank Resolution Corporation) (Amendment) Order 2016, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of No. 3.
Order of Business
I raise the issue of the lack of emergency and social accommodation in the city for people with a disability. The constituency of Dublin South Central is home to one of the highest proportions of people in the country living with a disability, with more than 15,000 people. A total of 12% of the population of that constituency has a disability, compared to the national average of 9.3%. Last week I was contacted by a constituent whom I will not name who is sleeping on the streets with her guide dog. She has been told by Dublin City Council that it has no suitable accommodation for her. We called Dublin City Council which referred us to six disability organisations. They confirmed that there was no supply of emergency accommodation in the city suitable for a disabled person. The lady has attended many hostels with her dog and confirmed to us that her dog has been kicked and shoved out of the way. She was unable to stay in the hostel as it was not safe for her dog on which she relies.
Yesterday's national housing strategy outlined an ambitious plan that will inform the specific supply responsible for people with disabilities at a local level, including accessibility requirements in new local housing stock. The report outlined that €10 million will be ring-fenced to provide for the implementation of the strategy which seeks to secure people in their local communities. Meanwhile, the cuts to the housing adaptation grant which were introduced by the previous Government run counter to the policy of trying to move people into communities and enable people with disabilities to live independently in their own homes where possible. Grants such as the housing adaptation grant make it possible for people with disabilities to remain in their own homes, providing vital support for installing essentials such as handrails and lifts to assist people to get around their homes more easily.
It is imperative that essential grants such as these not be filleted further by the new Government. They need to be adequately resourced and funding made available because they are often the difference between a person remaining in his or her own home or being forced to enter a care facility such as a nursing home. While budget 2016 aims to increase the allocation by 10% to €55 million, the programme for Government states it supports further increases in funding for the scheme. It is imperative this commitment is delivered.
The Fianna Fáil election manifesto calls for a restoration of the grant to 2011 levels, which would require an extra €25.5 million in funding. We hope the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government who has responsibility for the grant will begin the process of working towards restoring it to more adequate levels in the next budget and will honour the commitment to increase funding to the scheme, as committed to in the programme for Government.
The Senator is just reading a statement.
I thank the Senator very much. It is nice to give someone an opportunity to learn how to be such a great orator like him, as he has had many years in the House.
Everybody now reads statements all of the time in the House and it is not-----
I am absolutely entitled-----
This is not the time to deal with that matter. It is one for the Committee on Procedure and Privileges. I ask Senator Catherine Ardagh to conclude.
If I wish to read a statement in the House, I am entitled to do so. Senator Norris, if you wish to go on about whatever topic you would like, you are very much entitled to do so.
Will the Senator, please, address her remarks through the Chair?
Yes, but it is not done through reading continuously.
I do not want Senator Catherine Ardagh to have a debate with Senator David Norris who was wrong to interrupt her, but talking back is also wrong. Will she stop and respect the Chair?
I will wait for his apology.
The Senator will not get it.
That is another minute wasted.
Tá an-áthas orm a bheith anseo inniu. Táim trí scór is cúig bliana d'aois. Níor cheap mé riamh go mbéinn anseo i Seanad Éireann mar Sheanadóir ag labhairt ar son na mílte Éireannach atá thar lear, go háirithe sna Stáit Aontaithe. Is mór an onóir é sin. Tá súil agam go mbeidh mé in ann gach cúnamh agus tacaíocht a thabhairt do na daoine atá luaite agam. I ndáiríre, tá an t-ádh liom.
I thank the Cathaoirleach for giving me an opportunity to speak. This is truly an historic moment for the Seanad and the people of Ireland, regardless of where in the world they live. I stand here as the first Irish citizen emigrant to be appointed to this Chamber. I am here to give official voice to the millions of Irish men and women who have left these shores but have not forgotten the land of their birth or lost their innate sense of Irish identity. More than 70 million people throughout the world claim Irish ancestry. My appointment to the Seanad is an official and long-overdue nod to Ireland's diaspora and an acknowledgement that the people of this proud and ancient island desire a modern and mature relationship with their fellow Irish men and women who live in other lands. I look forward to sterling debate and action in the Seanad for all the undocumented in the United States.
It is with great honour and a deep sense of humility that I take up my post in this Twenty-fifth Seanad of the Irish Republic to represent Ireland's emigrants. I thank the Taoiseach and his Government colleagues for their continued commitment to the diaspora. This has been made manifest by my presence in the Chamber today. Like countless men and women before me, I left Ireland to begin a new life for myself and my family in the United States. In my case, I left for Chicago in 1998. Ireland and the US share a deep and enduring bond that has been forged over the centuries in common kinship, epic struggles and shared values. More than 40 million Americans claim Irish ancestry. Many of them are descended from the more than 1 million desperate men and women who fled this country during the ravages of the terrible Famine. I remind Senators of what President John F. Kennedy said on this issue when he addressed the Oireachtas in 1963:
And so it is that our two nations, divided by distance, have been united by history. No people ever believed more deeply in the cause of Irish freedom than the people of the United States. And no country contributed more to building my own than your sons and daughters. They came to our shores in a mixture of hope and agony, and I would not underrate the difficulties of their course once they arrived.
When they arrived in America, they faced a cold welcome, not unlike that received by today's desperate immigrants and refugees fleeing war and famine. Despite that, the Irish set about building a new life for themselves and in the process helped to build the United States of America.
Emigration from these shores continues today, although it is diminishing rapidly, thank God. If one stands on the south side of Chicago, one is likely to hear brogues from the four corners of Ireland. The Irish continue to make their mark in the United States and countries throughout the world. From Argentina to Australia and from Dubai to Italy, Irish citizens are moving, innovating and working in every conceivable industry. In an era of global citizenship, when people are more mobile and nations are more interdependent than ever, Ireland has to choose between adapting to an ever-changing definition of nationhood and of Irish citizenship by embracing her diaspora, or looking away and focusing inward. The revolutionaries of 1916 certainly did not choose the latter option. As we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising, I am confident that the lofty ideals of the Proclamation's reference to "cherishing all the children of the nation" are being fulfilled. Today's open and inclusive Ireland is redefining the meaning of nationhood and, in so doing, is reaching out to the diaspora in ways that have never been done before. My appointment to the Seanad is just the first step in this process.
Last Wednesday I listened on the Internet to some of the speeches being made in this House. I thank Senator Michael McDowell for introducing the Seanad Bill 2016 which proposes reforms that would not be before time. I am committed to making the Seanad a legislative body that is designed for the Ireland of the 21st century. I commend the Taoiseach for his willingness to extend voting rights to Irish citizens living abroad. If 25 of the 28 other EU member states can facilitate this - it is provided for in 125 countries throughout the world - so can we. I suggest we start with the 2018 presidential election. If we allow people in both the North and the South to vote in that election, it might be the catalyst for them to vote for a united Ireland. Ireland will only benefit from engaging her dynamic emigrants in the democratic process. The thousands of people who flew home to vote in last year's referendum on marriage equality showed us that Irish citizens who live abroad truly want a say in the country they call home. I respectfully challenge this Chamber to ask itself what it can do for the diaspora, rather than what the diaspora can do for it. This challenge rings particularly true for vulnerable Irish emigrants such as the elderly in Britain who were affected by the recent RTE longwave controversy, and the undocumented in the United States who continue to need our support. I stand committed to providing a voice for such people in this Chamber and beyond.
I would like to touch on a point that was made last week by Senator David Norris whose career in the Seanad I have followed for many years. I have enjoyed his oratorical analysis and his great wit, but I was surprised last week to hear him castigate the Taoiseach on his 11 appointments. Of course, I am one of the 11 appointees. Was it not the Taoiseach's constitutional duty, as set out in Bunreacht na hÉireann, to nominate 11 Senators?
I was merely saying the system should be changed.
I look forward to good conversation and debate with the Senator on the issue of reform in the coming months.
I thoroughly enjoyed Senator Victor Boyhan's words last week. I took great inspiration from his personal story of humble beginnings and self-education. I feel the same sense of pride that made the hairs on the back of the Senator's neck stand up when he first walked through the hallowed halls of this Chamber. I come from a dairying background, having once supplied milk to most of the restaurants in Galway city. It has often been thrown at me that I was born with a silver spoon in my mouth. Given that from the age of six years I got up at 4.30 a.m. seven days a week, including Christmas Day and St. Patrick's Day, I have often wondered what a golden spoon would have felt like. We stand on the cusp of great change in this Chamber and the way Ireland relates to its people at home and abroad. I look forward to working with every Member of this House to ensure all Irish men and women are fully represented here. I will conclude with a tried and tested quote from my good friend Bill Clinton:
Thomas Jefferson believed that to preserve the very foundations of our nation we would need dramatic change from time to time. Well my fellow citizens, this is our time. Let us embrace it.
I am not sure about golden spoons or silver spoons, but I know what it is like to have no spoon.
On a point of order, I did not like to interrupt my good friend Senator Bill Lawless, but I wonder if it would be timely, in the light of what I said earlier to Senator Catherine Ardagh and given that there are 42 new Senators, if the Chair were to remind the House of the tradition that continuous reading from manuscripts or typed material is not encouraged.
The Senator made those comments previously and they did not go unheeded. I will return to him on this issue which is on the agenda of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges and will be dealt with shortly. I gave Senator Billy Lawless a couple of minutes of latitude, with the indulgence of the House, because I did not let him in on a previous occasion, because he has been absent owing to illness and because it was his maiden speech.
Fair enough too.
We will get back to normality now. I will start to ring the bell again.
We are enjoying new politics.
The lack of beds in hospitals in the west and, in particular, University Hospital Galway has been mentioned previously. I had not intended to raise the issue, again but I am doing so on foot of a telephone call I received this morning from a young woman called Mary who was diagnosed with lymphoma four weeks ago and whose experience underlines the human difficulties being caused by the lack of beds in University Hospital Galway and elsewhere in the west. She started her treatment plan and had her first session of chemotherapy three weeks ago. Her chemotherapy sessions were planned for 21-day cycles.
She was told to ring between noon and 1 p.m. on Monday, which she did, only to be told a bed was not available. She was told to telephone again yesterday, which she did, but again she was told a bed was not available. The nurse then indicated that it would be better to be honest and told her she was 16th on a list and that even when her name was reached, she was not guaranteed a bed.
Mary is 30 years of age. She was supposed to have blood taken on Monday and Thursday, but as she was supposed to travel to Galway, she could not get to Castlebar, 50 miles away, where blood is taken only on Mondays and Thursdays and then sent to Galway. She is a young woman who has been left sitting in her home in north Mayo, not knowing when she will receive the life-saving treatment she needs. Unfortunately, this is not an isolated case. For as long as I have been a public representative, I have been dealing with people such as Mary.
I ask that the Minister for Health, Deputy Simon Harris, explain to the House how he proposes to deal with the lack of hospital beds. Decisions taken by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael in government to cut bed numbers are causing premature deaths, particularly along the western seaboard. People like Mary are dying prematurely because they are being denied the essential treatment they need. Hospital bed numbers were cut under the stewardship of Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats and the previous Fine Gael-Labour Party Government. The Government will tell us its decisions cannot be reversed in the same way it told us medical cards could not be given to children with disabilities. That claim was proved wrong in the Dáil yesterday evening.
We can no longer pat ourselves on the back or run around like self-licking lollipops as we praise ourselves for what we are doing when people are dying prematurely because they cannot afford basic health care and have been denied such care by successive Governments.
In welcoming the Government's housing action plan I highlight the concerns expressed recently by the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, ISPCC. We must bear in mind that the number of children in emergency accommodation increased by 67% in June compared with the same month last year. Hundreds of children are living in emergency accommodation and the State must take measures to make this accommodation as safe as possible. The ISPCC has consistently called for physical and management standards to be introduced for emergency accommodation. Emergency accommodation is provided under a contract agreed between the State and a commercial provider. These contracts should contain physical and management standards which hotels and bed and breakfast accommodation providers should be obliged to meet to ensure the protection of children. The standards required include Garda vetting of hotel staff, access to safe areas to play, access to drinking water and a minimum threshold for physical and management standards. It is simply not good enough that such standards are not yet in place. Some 1,394 children are living in hotels and bed and breakfast accommodation in Dublin and the inherent risks they face are not being addressed. While the housing action plan addresses house building and finance, it is also essential that structures are put in place to support people who are forced to live in emergency accommodation. The safety of children living in such accommodation is of the utmost importance and all measures must be taken to ensure these children are safe.
I also welcome the renewed conversation on building relationships on the island in the light of the decision by England and Wales to vote for Brexit and the decision of Scotland and the North to vote to remain in the European Union. My contacts in the voluntary and community services in the North are very concerned about the prospect of the North being taken out of the European Union. People living on Rathlin Island, from where my father comes, are talking about having an independent island to get away from it all.
Are they not doing that already?
I am pleased that the Taoiseach has not ruled out the triggering of the clause in the Good Friday Agreement on a Border poll, especially given economic research launched recently in New York. Led by Dr. Kurt Huebner, director of the Institute of European Studies at the University of British Columbia, the findings of this research indicate that the unification of Ireland would have the potential to deliver €36.5 billion for the island in the first eight years after unity.
I enjoyed Senator Billy Lawless's contribution. In the week in which Mr. Donald Trump is to be nominated the Republican candidate for the presidential election in the United States, anybody with a sense of justice should reject Mr. Trump's racism, xenophobia and sexism at every opportunity in the coming months.
I raise the issue of disadvantage, particularly in the light of another visit by the Taoiseach to the north inner city of Dublin today. I greatly welcome this visit as it shows the Taoiseach's commitment to the issue that is ongoing in that locality. As we Senators constantly try to remind ourselves, a criminal justice response to murderous feuds will not make a long-term difference. What would make a difference in areas such as the north inner city are investment, empowerment and education. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Katherine Zappone, to the House to discuss the roll-out of the area based childhood, ABC, initiative introduced by the previous Government. We should discuss the investment made under the programme, its success or otherwise and other initiatives that could be fleshed out to empower young people and parents.
The House should also discuss literacy issues. It is interesting to note that studies undertaken in the United States show that when the country's prison system, much of which has been outsourced to private interests, is planning its capacity needs for ten or 15 years hence, it examines literacy rates among current ten year old children. The reason is that identifying literacy rates among ten year olds allows the prison system to calculate how many prison spaces it will need in 15 years. We are also aware of studies of the oral language capacity of children of different backgrounds and income thresholds. We often have a knee-jerk reaction to feuds, killings, shootings and murders. If we are serious about long-term investment and change in areas of disadvantage, we must address parental and child empowerment because they will make a difference. I know that the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs is deeply committed to this change given her background and constituency. A debate on this issue would be highly beneficial.
I have been requested to raise the issue of pay-per-view broadcasting of sports events. The group that contacted me wishes to keep Gaelic games free to air. Negotiations on broadcasting rights have commenced between the GAA and various companies. This is a major issue which affects all sports. At the weekend, for example, the British Open was broadcast for the first time on Sky Sports, having been broadcast previously on the BBC. Some Senators may recall that under a deal agreed between the GAA and Sky, 14 games were broadcast for the first time on an exclusively pay-per-view basis. Ordinary supporters believed they had not been consulted at the time and they fear the number of pay-per-view games will increase in this round of negotiations. Having discussed the issue formally at a committee, I understand it is a matter for the governing bodies and television companies. At the same time, the Government has a role to play in the matter. In the case of Gaelic games, the only games ring-fenced, if one likes, for terrestrial television coverage are all-Ireland finals. If they wished, the governing bodies could agree to have all other games broadcast on a pay-per-view basis. The GAA has done tremendous work in promoting its games. I commend Senator Billy Lawless for his contribution on the diaspora. In this regard, the GAAGO platform allows thousands of followers of Gaelic games living abroad to tune into games and connect with Irish culture, which is important. A review of the sports events to be shown on terrestrial television was carried out in 2014. I raise this issue because all hell broke loose three years ago when the broadcasting rights to certain GAA games were sold to Sky Sports. Given that the issue is under negotiation, I request that the Leader ask the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to outline his views on the matter.
I bring to the attention of the House the fact that, despite the Government's assurances that the recovery is going strong, much needed services are still being disbanded throughout the country, which is affecting those who need them most. This week I was told about an autistic child in the Waterford region whose specialist therapists whom the child knows well and with whom they have become comfortable were removed. Instead of four specialist therapists with whom the child is confident and content, they will now have just one unfamiliar general therapist. The specialist therapists who provide vital language and speech support and occupational therapy have been reassigned to the general system. If the child wishes to be seen by them, they must begin from scratch on the waiting list. How can it be that this child, for whom routine is so important, is left without any specialist therapy and can be put on a waiting list for as much as a year?
The National Council for Special Education, NCSE, recently published the first major report in 14 years on the education of students with autism. The report indicates that almost 14,000 students, just 2% of the total, had an autism spectrum disorder, ASD. The report also shows that a July provision scheme which is similar to summer school open to the country's 13,874 students with ASD and valued by parents, could threaten the well-being of students. The NCSE believes the staff recruited will not be familiar with the behaviours and needs of individual students, which could lead to challenging behaviours. Like so many others, autistic children require specific help that is tailored to their needs. Instead, they are being let down by a Government purporting to help them.
Deirtear sa Ghaeilge "Tús maith leath na hoibre". Sílim go raibh tús maith againn ar maidin leis an giota craice a bhí againn ní ba luaithe. It is always more craic when Senator David Norris is in the Chamber. I am sorry to see him go, but I hope he does not mind that I will consult my notes from time to time during my contribution.
Will the Leader invite the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to the Chamber to address us on the benefits of sport, not just in terms of health but also in its social capacity? Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin mentioned a number of concerns. Sport and participation in it can benefit communities and individuals.
Many of our athletes are heading to Rio di Janeiro. We are just coming off the back of a fantastic Euros campaign. The Irish athletes who are heading to Brazil will lift the spirits of the entire country. The Irish hockey team received a great farewell from the Northern Executive's junior Ministers. In Belfast our boxing heroes, many of whom will be familiar to Senators - Paddy Barnes, Mick Conlan, Brendan Irvine and Steven Donnelly - were seen off and wished every success recently. What fantastic ambassadors for the country and the people. They are ordinary guys and girls, many of them from the same streets and parishes we have had the privilege to represent. I wish the athletes all the best. We are heading into a break, but could the Minister attend the House post the recess to expand on how we could utilise and capitalise on the goodwill that will be engendered across the country, particularly among young people when they see our sporting stars, many of whom are amateurs, in order to create a new generation of heroes as opposed to thinking only selfishly from a sporting or medal winning point of view? How can we expand on this and utilise sport as a tool against some of the socioeconomic issues facing communities, be they urban or rural?
I concur with Senator Billy Lawless. It is wonderful to see one of the diaspora in the Chamber articulating the views of many millions of people whose voices have not been heard as much as they should have been. More members of the diaspora should be included under the Seanad reforms.
Brexit has happened and is presenting major challenges, but a positive can be found in the large number of multinationals in England wishing to relocate to the Republic. They want a foothold in Europe. I know of an agency with more than 700 jobs that is coming to this country. There is a major opportunity, not for Dublin, which does not have the capacity, but for the rest of the country. I would like the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation to be invited to the Chamber in order that we might ask her what is being and will be done. It will represent a significant opportunity if Ireland Inc. can attract these multinationals, European agencies and high profile jobs. They will be considering other countries such as France. Brexit is causing the country many problems, but we must also consider the positives.
Ba mhaith liom cúpla focal a rá leis an Senator Billy Lawless. His contribution was uplifting. He is a prime example of a young man who headed off to the USA and made a great success of himself. "You reap what you sow" is an adage that can be used in respect of him.
I wish to address the charity sector. Unfortunately, the Console controversy has done the sector untold damage. For volunteers and contributors, it was sad news. I trust that the Charities Act 2009 will address governance and management issues in that regard. It is estimated that Ireland has approximately 7,000 charities which contribute approximately €500 million each year to worthy causes. Every Senator present knows of charities and organisations in every parish and town throughout the country, from Tidy Towns to residents and sports groups. We are very fortunate to have so many. Many of these bodies have expressed to me a difficulty with the amount of red tape and management that are necessary if even a simple residents' association is to conduct its business. Some struggle for funding sufficient to cover their annual insurance costs. In many cases, red tape is acting as a deterrent. They have voiced their frustration in this regard. In most groups or organisations, it is just one or two people who are putting their shoulders to the wheel. Only for them, our society would be lost. I do not know whether anything can be done to assist such small organisations in terms of the administration and governance tasks that are rightly required of them, but perhaps we might examine the matter. Will the Leader ask the Minister to determine whether they can be given assistance?
I commend Senator Billy Lawless for his maiden speech. I will defend the right of every person in the Chamber to speak, be it scripted or unscripted. Most right-minded Senators would agree with me.
I understand Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin's concerns for the longer term and agree with him on the area-based childhood, ABC, school programmes. Early intervention is important. The early childhood care and education, ECCE, programme, the second free preschool year and the special needs package that were put in place will help in that regard, but other initiatives are required. We all acknowledge that an immediate law enforcement response is necessary. It is not either/or.
Senator Frank Feighan mentioned Brexit, on which I have touched previously. I agree that there will be opportunities, but I remind the Senator that there is plenty of capacity in Fingal.
I raise a serious issue that has exercised many of my constituents and many others around the country, namely, the fact that Tusla has a guideline to the effect that there should not be 40 years or more between a prospective adoptive parent and the child he or she is adopting. This is out of date and from a different era. It is incensing, insulting and offensive to many.
I am sure there are people of my vintage in this room who have siblings whose mother was over 40 years - certainly I have - when they were born. I know that many women are leaving childbirth to later for one reason or another. This morning I spoke to the Master of the National Maternity Hospital, Holles Street and was informed that there had been an increase from 3% to 7% of births in the hospital to women over 40 years of age. What are we saying? As Senator Keith Swanick will know, GPs can now work until they are 72 years of age in General Medical Services, GMS. Why have this guideline in place? It is antiquated and out of date. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs to discuss the matter. I am sure she will have heard about it this morning and will take the opportunity to get Tusla to review the guideline. Perhaps we might have a more satisfactory situation than we have. Most people now live a different life and have much better longevity associated with living in this country. Therefore, it seems utterly unreasonable to have such a guideline in place. Many people who are parents of children who are more than 40 years younger than them find the guideline offensive.
Yesterday the Low Pay Commission recommended increasing the national minimum wage by just 10 cent an hour. Its recommendation is nothing short of disgraceful. Key sectors of the economy where low pay and precarious work is widespread such as the retail and hospitality sectors are experiencing unprecedented economic growth. This morning I heard somebody from IBEC say on radio that while IBEC believed in the minimum wage, it did not consider that it was the right time for an increase. This is at a time when activity in the hotel sector is up by somewhere around 30%, but IBEC has deemed now not to be the right time for the lowest paid in society to receive a pay increase. If one accounts for inflation which is between 1.7% and 2.2%, the proposed 10 cent increase would mean workers earning the minimum wage will suffer a pay cut. I ask Senators to think about this. After all the talk by this new Government about new politics and fairness, the lowest paid workers in society face a cut in the real value of their pay. It is striking that the Low Pay Commission's trade union representative felt it necessary to issue a minority report, as did the Migrant Rights Centre, in which it was critical of the report's recommendations. It noted the Low Pay Commission's failure to apply parity of esteem to the competing interests of workers and business. It stated the persistence of this approach would be a serious challenge to the work of the Low Pay Commission. This disgraceful proposal underlines why it is important for all workers to be members of trade unions. Ultimately, it is through collective bargaining with their employers that workers will most likely achieve payment of a living wage, as well as other key benefits such as sick pay, pensions and security of hours.
The latest report calls into question the usefulness of the Low Pay Commission, about which my party has always had serious reservations. It is too easy for the Members on the Government side to shrug their shoulders and say the commission has made its recommendation. I accept that there were good intentions behind its establishment but issues of low pay, in-work poverty and labour market inequality belong in the political arena. They have societal wide consequences that are far too important to be relegated to a commission comprised of 12 people who meet now and again. I call on the Minister to reject the recommendation and instead make the first in a series of step increases towards a living wage figure of €11.50 per hour. I ask him to set out concrete steps to end the scandal of poverty pay. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister to attend the House at the earliest opportunity when we reconvene to debate the issue of low pay.
Ba mhaith liom tréaslú go láidir leis an méid atá ráite ag an Seanadóir Frank Feighan mar gheall ar fhostaíocht tar éis an Brexit. Labhair mé ar an ábhar seo seachtain ó shin agus tá dualgas orainn rud éigin a dhéanamh faoi. Molaim an méid atá déanta ag an IDA ach tá sé riachtanach anois go meallfaidh sé na jabanna go dtí na réigiúin. Tá mé lándáiríre faoi sin agus tá mé ag súil go dtarlóidh rud éigin faoi.
Having congratulated and endorsed the words expressed by Senator Frank Feighan about the great importance of regionalising jobs, I welcome the announcement made by the European Commission and specifically Commissioner Phil Hogan that €11.1 million will be targeted at dairy farmers to help them to deal with difficult prices. I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine to attend the House at the beginning of the next session to debate and discuss, in a detailed manner, how to direct help at the smaller dairy farmers and help them to survive. We must parallel that effort with looking at international markets and seeing where to establish new markets. I do not think we have fully exploited the Chinese market yet. I talked to people from Taiwan the other day who also have tremendous potential to accept more product from us and the same applies to a number of countries. We must examine the whole market in question in order to overcome the problem in commodity pricing in the dairy sector. The problem affects a lot of dairy farmers in counties Cavan and Monaghan and throughout the country. The pricing problem will spread to the beef sector shortly. All of which makes this a very serious problem. I appreciate the Cathaoirleach's indulgence. I say to the Leader that I would like to know that we will act on the agricultural pricing crisis shortly.
Like other colleagues, I commend Senator Billy Lawless for his maiden speech. I concur with what my colleague, Senator James Reilly, has said about people having the right to speak whether they use notes. There is nothing in Standing Orders to prevent Members from speaking from script once they do not breach the timeline given or their privilege that they have as a Member of this House.
I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Education and Skills to come here early in the new term to debate the further education and training sector, including Youthreach. The sector is an important part of the education system, yet it continues to be under-funded.
I commend my colleague, Senator Keith Swanick, for his Commencement matter on parking charges at general and other hospitals. He made an excellent suggestion that should be pursued by the Department of Health, that outpatients be given a barcode on their appointment card that would allow them a certain amount of free parking.
This morning a number of Senators have raised issues related to Brexit. Senator Joe O'Reilly mentioned the beef trade, while Senator Frank Feighan mentioned investment. I would like to make two points. First, as I mentioned before to the Leader, we need deeper and stronger debates on the impact Brexit will have on the Irish economy. It would be very useful if we could schedule a series of debates after the summer recess with each individual Minister focusing on how Brexit will impact on his or her Department. The key Brexit issue I would like to raise this morning is the announcement by the British Prime Minister that the United Kingdom has opted out of hosting the rotating Presidency of the European Council in the second half of 2017. It is a wise decision. It would not be smart for a country that has indicated it will leave the Union to hold the Presidency while the most important negotiations take place. It is vital that another member state steps up to the plate and takes over the Presidency. I call on the Leader to ask the Taoiseach to put it to the European Council that Ireland is willing to be at the heart of Europe again in 2017 and is willing to take on the European Presidency. We did an outstanding job hosting the Presidency in 2013. It was a huge boost to the Irish economy and Ireland's standing within EU politics. We have had great successes during previous Presidencies when we oversaw German reunification, the accession of ten new member states in 2004 and agreed the multi-annual financial framework in 2013. Crucially, the next two rotations of the Presidency of the European Council are by two new member states. After the United Kingdom was due to hold the Presidency it was meant to be two new member states. Therefore, it is vital that an experienced proven member state, that is also sympathetic to the ongoing Brexit debate, steps up to the plate and takes on the Presidency. I repeat my call for the Taoiseach to offer Ireland to hold the Presidency in this case.
A vibrant economy and open healthy democracy depends on a diverse, enriched, creative and cultural atmosphere. Ms Jane Daly, the programme manager for Galway 2020, has said with confidence that the award to Galway of the European Capital of Culture is for the city and county of Galway and that the most extraordinary capital of culture programme Europe has ever seen will be delivered by the city.
In Galway she has a lot about which to be confident. I had the pleasure of living there where I studied for a course in film and television and played in sessions across the town. It comes as no surprise that its cultural landscape has been recognised by the European Union and that it will be European Capital of Culture 2020.
The glass is half-full for Galway. However, we were disappointed to hear this month of the closure of Cinemobile. It was a powerful resource in the past 16 years. It brought a mobile cinema experience to community projects, festivals and schools across the island, North and South. The board of Cinemobile took significant steps to increase commercial revenue to fill the gaps left by constant erosion of public funding, but they did not prove to be sufficient. It was a small one-of-a-kind, not-for-profit organisation that brought the magic of cinema to communities across Ireland. Compare the benefits of Netflix to the benefits of communal viewing on social occasions. The National Theatre of Scotland has an innovative model of theatre without walls. The Scottish equivalent of the Abbey Theatre does not have a permanent public space and the result is a more democratic form of art, a greater outreach and a more diverse experience for its society. Bringing art outside the confines of four sterile walls can lead to public art in phone boxes, at bus stops, in gardens, schools and community centres. For the past 16 years, Cinemobile did just that and guaranteed a diverse experience for our society. I commend the founders of that not-for-profit organisation for their work during the past 16 years. The Irish Film Board which is based in Galway has had its budget cut by 50% since 2008. We have a real opportunity to match the Danish model and build a real indigenous film and television industry, despite the 50% cut. To date, the Minister, Deputy Heather Humphreys, has not come to the Chamber to debate the arts. I respectfully ask the Leader to consider asking her to come before us at the earliest opportunity to outline her Department's budget plans.
There have been reports today on an internal HSE audit into the awarding of contracts to a private company by the Saolta health group. It does not make for very good reading. It suggests a potential conflict of interest on the part of the former CEO, Mr. Bill Maher, who has now gone. At this juncture, the chairman at the Saolta group is operating on an acting basis. The Minister needs to appoint a chairman immediately to deal with this issue which gives rise to considerable concern, particularly in view of the fact that not so long ago the then chairman, Mr. Noel Daly, resigned in similar circumstances. This is not the first time the Saolta group has been rocked by this type of issue. The current thinking is that businessmen should head up public authorities such as Saolta and other Government agencies. With the old health boards presided over by politicians, this conflict of interest did not arise and it was not an issue that came to the fore. We may need to reconsider what politicians can or cannot do. I ask the Minister to move immediately to appoint a formal chairman as the person who is there is filling the role on an acting basis.
I agree with the sentiments expressed by the previous speaker on accountability in the HSE and not just with regard to sub-tendering for contracts for the provision of services. Democratic accountability in the HSE is at an all-time low. The old health board system had democratic accountability. The current forums do not represent democratic accountability. Major issues are emerging across the HSE budget which are very often beyond scrutiny. The Minister for Healtjh should consider beefing up the health forums to give democratic accountability to locally elected representatives to sit on those forums and hold the executive to account. That is not happening. The consensus among local authority members is that the forums are just talking shops. We need to beef up the democratic accountability to which reference has been made.
Ba mhaith liom dá dtiocfadh an tAire Stáit le freagracht as an nGaeltacht isteach anseo go luath agus is féidir tar éis sos an tsamhraidh díospóireacht a bheith againn ar chúrsaí Gaeilge agus Gaeltachta ar lá amháin. Mholfainn ansin go mbeadh díospóireacht againn ar lá eile maidir le Straitéis 20 Bliain don Ghaeilge, straitéis atá an-tábhachtach, más féidir é sin a eagrú leis an Aire Stáit, an Teachta Seán Kyne.
Yesterday we debated Lowcostholidays. I have received calls from individuals who are stranded abroad. One couple left their hotel yesterday morning to go to the beach. When they returned, their belongings were in the hotel room but they did not have access because Lowcostholidays did not pay for the accommodation. There are major issues arising. To be fair, the Commission for Aviation Regulation and the banks seem to be co-operating. However, there is a bigger issue with the regulation of cheap holiday companies such as Lowcostholidays which went into administration at 4.30 p.m. on Friday last but which was still taking bookings at 4 p.m. that day. There are questions to be asked and the consumer protection agencies should be required to forewarn customers when companies are in financial difficulty. It may require change to the legislation but it should be considered.
I distance myself from Senator David Norris's comments earlier. I am the only Member who physically cannot read a script, but I would love to be able to do so. If I were, perhaps my contributions might be far better. I think it is good that Members can consult a script.
They are excellent.
Most of the time.
It is good that Members have the option of consulting a script because ultimately we want quality debate in the House. We want Members to feel comfortable in contributing in whatever way - either with or without a script. I am sure I could easily be attacked for saying things off the cuff simply because I do not consult a script. I was disappointed with the father of the House making such an intervention. I have a very high regard for him and ask him to reflect on his comments.
Flooding affects many people and in recent years has affected many communities, particularly in County Clare which were devastated in 2014 as a result of the significant storm damage and flooding caused. Similarly, last year a number of estates in south-east Clare were affected by severe flooding, as were other places, including Roscommon, Athlone and Galway. It is important to keep the issue on the agenda of the House. In September or October when we are back here, I ask the Leader to invite the Minister of State, Deputy Seán Canney, to the House to give us an update on the Government's work programme on flooding.
There would be no stopping the Senator if he had a script.
I thank the 19 Senators who raised matters on the Order of Business. I do not mean to single out Senator Catherine Ardagh, but the intervention made by the father of the House was inappropriate. I defend the right of Senators to raise any matter they want on the Order of Business and to do so in whatever manner they believe is appropriate. Senator Catherine Ardagh has always been very gracious on the Order of Business and does not try to score political points. She has the dual task of representing her party and her local area. Like the rest of us, she is entitled to raise any matter she wants. How we do it is up to us. The father of the House should consider this.
Some of us are new in the House, while others are new to the Oireachtas. It is a matter of finding one's feet. We are all learning and I make mistakes every day of the week. In fairness to Senator Catherine Ardagh, therefore, I defend her right to do her job as best she can. She has been a very willing partner with other leaders in managing the business of the House, for which I thank everyone, during this term. I will be very happy to have the Minister responsible come to the House to discuss the issue she raised about people with a disability and accommodation. If she wants to raise it as a Commencement matter, she can.
I commend Senator Billy Lawless and thank the Cathaoirleach for his graciousness to him. It is a wonderful day. Cuirim mór fáilte roimh an Seanadóir nua. He represents not just the diaspora but all of us in the House. We are very happy to have him here and I look forward to the contribution he will make. We wish him well following his hip replacement operation. He has certainly not lost his zeal for life after it. We should all reflect on his remarks and how we can work to bring our emigrants home, as well as on how to bring investment to the country. I look forward to working with him in that regard.
Senator Rose Conway-Walsh raised an important and sensitive issue about a person named Mary. If she wants to give me the details, I will happily give them to the Minister for Health. However, we should be careful in the language we use in referring to premature deaths because, as we all know from our work, it is a sensitive issue. There is increased funding in the budget, while there are more GPs than ever before. There is greater access to primary care services and we are moving towards having a universal health care system. As I said, if the Senator gives me the information, I will be happy to bring it to the Minister's attention for her.
Senator Frances Black raised the issue of accommodation and housing. We will have the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Simon Coveney, in the House this evening for statements on the subject.
Senator Aodhán Ó Riordáin referred to the inner city, which the Taoiseach is visiting today. The Taoiseach has established a task force and a working group. I agree that it is imperative that we empower people through education and training, by finding them jobs and investment in their local areas. I agree with the Senator completely that we must give them the tools and skills to live an alternative life to the one some of them are living. It is most important to have people in work.
Senator John O'Mahony raised the issue of pay-per-view and the availability of Gaelic games, in particular, but also other sports which it was important to make available on free-to-air and terrestrial television services. I will be happy to have both the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Shane Ross, and the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Denis Naughten, come to the House to discuss the issue.
Senator Keith Swanick referred to autism services. If he wants to give me the details of the particular case mentioned, I will provide them for the Minister responsible. I am surprised by the remarks made because the last Government increased the funding for speech and language therapy services. Speech and language and occupational therapists have been recruited and we have a plan to deal with people with disabilities, particularly young people and those with autism.
To respond to Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill, I would love to see a cross-party group come together in the Seanad to promote sport and its importance in all of our lives. I will certainly invite the relevant Minister to come to the House to discuss the issue. We all join in wishing our sports stars, including our athletes, boxers and other Olympians, every success in Rio de Janeiro. It will be an extraordinary opportunity for us as a nation to showcase our sports heroes. I wish each and every one of them every success. I had the privilege of being at the Olympic Games at Atlanta. It is a fantastic feeling to watch an Irish athlete compete and almost win a medal. To see someone in the green jersey do so well gives us a great sense of pride. I also wish our Paralympians well this year because sport unites us, as we saw at the European championships. Sport and its benefits are important and I hope to arrange the debate sought in the autumn.
Senator Frank Feighan raised the issue of Brexit and the potential in that regard. I will come back to the points made by Senator Neale Richmond, but it is an important issue at which we must look again. Senator Kieran O'Donnell made the point that we could play a role. Perhaps the Committee on Procedure and Privileges might discuss the matter.
Senator Robbie Gallagher raised the important issue of the charities sector and highlighted the anomaly in its regulation in the sense that things are becoming more and more bureaucratic for residents' associations, sports clubs and charity organisations in terms of red tape and bureaucracy. While we all want to see regulation, it makes life more difficult for small, voluntary groups. I hope we can see the matter being rectified in time.
Senator James Reilly referred to Tusla. I agree with him on the issue of guidelines. At a time when more and more people are having children later in life and presenting to become adoptive parents, the guidelines need to be looked at. I will certainly address the Senator's request for the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Katherine Zappone, to come to the House to discuss the issue.
Senator Paul Gavan referred to the Low Pay Commission and the report published yesterday. The balance we have to strike is between the employer and the employee and maintaining competitiveness and increasing the number of jobs created, while ensuring people have a decent income. The recommendations made by the commission are independent of the Government. There was a wide variety of people involved in the commission.
That is a handy cop-out.
I do not agree with the Senator, as somebody who has been a very active trade unionist.
There is no balance in recommending an increase of 10 cent.
My point is that if one looks at the composition of the Low Pay Commission, they are people with huge experience from a wide cross-section of society, including ICTU, with which the Senator has worked closely.
She disagrees with a rise of 10 cent.
Please allow the Leader to respond.
The Minister is going to look at the commission's report. The commission considered a wide variety of data before reaching recommendations. I was not part of it. I certainly want to see people have a decent wage, but I also want to see the country open for business and being competitive. That is the balance we must strike.
Senator Diarmuid Wilson raised the critically important issue of Youthreach. I commend him for his work in the area. He has been a very strong advocate and innovative when it comes to further education for young people. As a former director of adult education, I agree that Youthreach is something we must continue to pursue and fund adequately. I will ask the Minister for Education and Skills to come to the House to discuss the issue.
Senator Neale Richmond, as always, made a timely and important contribution on Brexit, as well as on the Presidency of the European Union in 2017. I agree with him that it would be a huge honour, given the way in which the country performed when it last held the Presidency, to have it bestowed on us again. I will certainly take up the matter with the relevant Minister. I hope I speak for the House in saying it is our view that the Taoiseach should make the case in Brussels for Ireland to fill the vacancy in 2017.
Senator Fintan Warfield referred to Galway and the arts. We wish it well as capital of culture. As a member of Cork City Council when that city held the honour, I note that it is not only a great opportunity for the arts but also the wider city. I take on board the Senator's point about the Irish Film Board and funding and will ask the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Heather Humphreys, to come to the House to discuss the issue. I am not sure why the Cinemobile has been removed. If the Senator gives me the details, I will forward them to the Minister.
Senator Michelle Mulherin referred to the ongoing issues for the Saolta health group. I will be happy to take up the matter with the Minister for Health and have him come to the House to discuss it.
Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill raised the issue of HSE accountability. As a former member of the HSE forum, I agree fully with him that such fora are complete talking shops. I remind him, however, that it was his party leader who, as Minister for Health, got rid of political democracy in HSE fora. I am not being political, but it was a huge mistake. There is no accountability and the forums are just talking shops as a result. They let the executive away with a great deal. No mandate is provided for public representatives to question it and hold it to account. I will be happy to support the Senator if there is anything we can do to make it happen in a different way. That is part of the problem. To be fair, there are very good people working in the HSE, including many strong and vibrant managers, but they need to be held to account, either at local level, on a quarterly basis at the Oireachtas committee or before the Committee of Public Accounts. I strongly believe the local dimension of the old health boards is missing. We need to go back to that model. I will be happy to pursue the matter with the Senator.
Tá an-suim ag an Aire Stáit teacht chuig an Teach seo tar éis na laethanta saoire le haghaidh díospóireachta ar an teanga, an straitéis agus cursaí Gaeltachta. The Minister of State, Deputy Seán Kyne, is willing to come to the House. We had hoped to bring him here before the summer recess, but, unfortunately, the legislative programme in the Houses precluded him from coming.
Senator Martin Conway raised the wider issue of flooding, not just in County Clare, to which he rightly referred, but also in many other parts of the country. I have spoken to the Minister of State, Deputy Seán Canney, about the matter and he is willing to come to the House at a later stage to discuss it.
It is important that we receive an update on the plans put in place since the flooding of last year and earlier this year. I will be happy to have the matter debated in the autumn.
I did not respond on two issues raised yesterday. Senator Maria Byrne raised the issue of ash dieback disease. The Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Andrew Doyle, gave me a note yesterday stating he had put in place measures to address both the impact of the disease and the future of the hurley. Those of us who come from hurling counties, although they may not be strong at present, realise it is important that we preserve our native games.
I hope they will come again.
Senator John Dolan requested that the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, appear in the House to discuss the UN report on people with disabilities. I will be happy to have her come to the House before Christmas.