The Leader has changed considerably. The Deputy Leader is very welcome and looks a lot prettier.
Order of Business
The Order of Business is No. 1, motion re report of Seanad Committee on Procedure and Privileges on Standing Orders, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of the Order of Business; No. 2, motion re establishment of select committees, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of No. 1; No. 3, motion re establishment of Joint Committee on European Union Affairs, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of No. 2; No. 4, motion re establishment of Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of No. 3; No. 5, motion re establishment of Committee on the Future of Healthcare, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of No. 4; No. 6, report of Committee of Selection; No. 7, Energy Bill 2016 [Seanad amended by the Dáil] - Report and Final Stages, to be taken at 2 p.m.
I wish to raise two issues, the first of which is whether Ireland will have to return €280 million to the European Union on the basis of the inflated gross domestic product, GDP, figures. Will the Deputy Leader ask the Minister for Finance to clarify the position?
The second issue is the challenges facing small and medium-sized enterprises, SMEs, in seeking Government public procurement contracts. The Office of Government Procurement's drive to centralise the public procurement of goods and services is having a detrimental effect on small and medium-sized businesses. Despite some superficial changes to the rules on turnover, essentially, most small businesses are unable to compete with larger companies when it comes to the Government's public procurement strategy. Many small businesses have contacted me in the past few weeks about the matter. They have modest staff numbers and turnover and are pleading with me because they are unable to compete with larger companies. We hear daily that SMEs are the lifeblood of the economy, yet these measures are hitting home and crippling small and local businesses, ranging from legal service providers to stationery and sanitary suppliers.
The problem is that many of the contracts put out to tender by the Government are too large. The Government's advice to small businesses is that they should join together as a consortium to enable them to compete for these contracts. To ask a small company to join with a competitor is grossly unfair. Many small businesses might be family businesses that have been in business for a long time and have trade secrets and it is unfair to ask them to join others and share these trade secrets in an effort to compete for tenders.
Another major issue is that while many tenders are meant to be provided for SMEs, many subsidiaries of larger companies are claiming to be small businesses. This means that predatory pricing is being introduced, whereby SMEs are just not able to compete with larger suppliers. It is really affecting them.
In the past small businesses traditionally dealt with local schools. For example, a principal would have been able to ring and ask a business to deliver a few hundred rolls of toilet paper. Now he or she cannot go to the local supplier but must go online and order from a centralised database. It is to the massive detriment of the local school, as well as local business. Many local and small businesses do not have the confidence or the resources to apply for the larger contracts. It is generally unfair.
Given that SMEs are the lifeblood of the economy, if we do not protect them, we will have no economy. Any of the larger companies could pull out of Ireland on any day and we would be left with no industry. I ask the Acting Leader to raise this issue with the Minister and ask him to revise the public procurement guidelines. If they cannot be revised, perhaps there might be more investment in providing resources for small businesses to enable them to enter and compete in the tender process, as it is a non-transparent and costly exercise to enter it.
I have raised the issue of media partisanship in a couple of contributions I have made in the Seanad recently. I await a response from the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources to the specific issues I have raised with him. While we wait for policy makers to take the lead in ensuring more fairness and balance, particularly in publicly funded media, the problem continues. Nowhere is this more visible than in the complete lack of fairness and balance in RTE's coverage of the abortion issue which, given the Government's initiation of a citizens' assembly to address the issue, among others, requires urgent attention in these Houses. I will outline the most recent example. In the past month, from 9 June to 8 July, RTE Radio 1 devoted an incredible 81 minutes to people who were pushing for repeal of the eighth amendment to the Constitution, while in the same period the pro-life side was given a paltry four minutes to make its case. Members heard me correctly. If public service broadcasting is to mean anything, regardless of our views on this issue, we must acknowledge that there has been an utter abuse of power and influence which shows contempt for the licence paying public. It is no wonder that the public never hears hard questions being put on RTE to abortion advocates. When a woman from Ireland died in the back of a London taxi after an abortion at a Marie Stopes clinic, there was no outcry on RTE, no headline coverage for days and no "Prime Time" debates. When women hurt by their experience of abortion wish to tell their stories, RTE looks the other way. When parents feel pressured by medical personnel to abort their child with a life limiting condition, as has happened, RTE has shown no interest or curiosity in pursuing their stories. It only gives headline coverage to stories that push abortion. That is what the record shows. It consistently shields Government commentary in support of abortion from any one-on-one debate with those who seek to protect unborn children.
I am concluding and I am grateful for the opportunity afforded me by the Cathaoirleach. RTE no longer deserves the public's trust on these issues. There was only 81 minutes allocated for the so-called pro-choice side and four minutes for those who want to protect both mothers and unborn children. Such allocation is insulting and inexcusable. We should applaud members of the public who have drawn attention to the blatant nature of the bias for some time in a calm, reasoned and persistent way. Fairness in the media goes to the heart of our democracy and how it functions. The House ought to debate this issue as a matter of urgency. It is time we posed hard questions to RTE. It is time that RTE stopped treating members of the licence fee-paying public like fools. It has some fine honourable reporters working for it and my remarks are not directed at them. When it comes to the abortion issue, journalism is dead in RTE and propagandism has taken its place. To claim otherwise is to insult people's intelligence. I ask the Deputy Leader to please arrange a debate on RTE's bias on this issue, at the earliest possible opportunity, because the current problem, controversy and scandal has to be addressed quickly.
On a point of order, can the Cathaoirleach ask Senator Rónán Mullen to explain why he prefaced the term "pro-choice" with "so-called"?
That is not a point of order.
I presume that is the Senator's contribution for the day.
Oh, you nasty person.
I am removing my confidence in the Cathaoirleach.
The Senator can see that the Cathaoirleach is visibly upset.
I want to update people about Mary, the cancer patient awaiting vital treatment, about whom I spoke yesterday. She is at home today awaiting treatment. She must ring University College Hospital Galway between noon and 1 p.m. in the hope she may get a bed.
It would be appropriate to raise the matter raised by the Senator in the Commencement debate. If the Senator had tabled it yesterday, she would have received a full answer because the Minister of State at the Department of Health was here. It is wrong to expect the Deputy Leader to resolve the matter on our final sitting day.
No. With the greatest respect, I do not want an answer but, rather, a bed for the patient. I acknowledge the help that I have received from the Leader in trying to secure a bed. I appreciate what the Cathaoirleach said about a Commencement debate, but I felt it was important that I raised this matter yesterday. Not only to raise it on behalf of Mary but also on behalf of all of the other Marys and Johns who await vital treatment. I will never apologise for doing so.
I want to return to an issue I raised last week in regard to the Government's economic forecast. The CSO, through the Department of the Taoiseach, is responsible for the collation and dissemination of economic data for the State. This is meant to instil confidence in the economy and provide accurate data for Ireland's potential investors and traders. The recent skewed figures for GDP growth were not just an embarrassment for Ireland, as we see now, but a figure has been placed on how much it will cost us, namely, and additional €280 million. That sum would provide a lot of hospital beds in the west. Even the director general of the CSO has said, at the MacGill Summer School, that GDP and GNP, although required internationally, no longer provide a sufficient understanding of the domestic economy or growth. While they may be used to measure income to an extent, they certainly do not measure equality.
That to which I refer has not happened just with these figures. I want to refer to the CSO figures on farming. We were told that 30,000 jobs were created in farming in one quarter in 2013. I was so amazed by the statistic that I rang the office of the CSO in Cork. I told the person who answered my call that 100 new jobs were not being created on a daily basis in farming but I was informed that the statistic was true, according to the figures. I replied that the person must be overrun with tractors in Cork because farming jobs were not being created in County Mayo. Obviously, the figures have been altered. The CSO is looking for leadership for a means to provide more accurate economic data. In the wake of these remarks, from a senior civil servant working in the Taoiseach's Department, I ask that somebody from the latter be invited to come here to address my concerns about the validity of economic data released by the Government.
I am sure the Deputy Leader will address the matter when she responds.
I echo the concern expressed by Senator Rose Conway-Walsh about the GDP figures. It would be useful to debate them more comprehensively in the House.
Earlier this week I raised my concern about the comprehensive economic trade agreement, CETA, between the European Union and Canada. The Minister responding recognised that there was a need for further debate and suggested the jobs, enterprise and innovation committee might be one place where such a debate might occur. I ask the Deputy Leader to consider arranging a debate on the matter in the Seanad because the scope of the agreement goes far beyond the question of jobs and innovation. It would be useful to debate the agreement in this House prior to the proposed signing of a provisional application on 18 October. The agreement is a pressing issue and, therefore, it is a matter for a pressing debate. I would appreciate if we could have a debate during the first week following our return in the autumn.
As a university Senator, I am extremely concerned, as is another of the university Senators, Senator Lynn Ruane, about the developments in Turkey in response to the recent coup. These developments are giving rise to serious human rights concerns. In Turkey 21,000 teachers have had their licences revoked, 15,200 staff at the department of education have lost their employment and been suspended and 1,500 deans of universities have also had their resignations demanded. The Turkish state has placed a huge scale of pressure on the education system at every level and on the individuals who work in the system. There are now media reports that academic staff have been forbidden from international travel. Moreover, those who are travelling internationally at present were given the deadline of 8.30 a.m. today to return to their posts and present themselves for work. That means some of the academic staff only have a matter of several hours' notice. We are not clear what the consequence will be for those who did not get back to Turkey at 8.30 a.m. This is a very concerning issue. I urge that over the summer the Government make sure human rights concerns are placed at the centre of its engagement on the ongoing situation in Turkey. Will the Minister for Education and Skills engage with the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade on the issue? I also ask the to Government promote a review of the EU-Turkey refugee deal in the light of the highly unstable situation and worrying trends in that country.
I will not address my final issue because Senator Gerard P. Craughwell will comprehensively address it. I refer to the issue of the Dublin Institute of Technology, DIT, unfairly reneging on its funding agreement with the students' union there. Senator Lynn Ruane and I call on the DIT to address the issue and ensure interim funding is found.
I support what my colleague, Senator Alice-Mary Higgins, said about DIT and the students' union there. Two days ago, Senator Aodhán Ó Ríordáin and I met members of the students' union. The behaviour of the DIT executive is troubling and affects the independence and autonomy of the students' union. I have received a response from DIT and look forward to meeting its representatives in an effort to resolve the impasse in everyone's interest.
I raise the issue of the conduct of section 38 organisations that are funded by the State and which provide services on its behalf for people with disabilities. In an article by Martin Wall in this morning's edition of The Irish Times it is stated the St. John of God organisation ran two separate payroll systems from 2010 to 2013. Some very well remunerated senior managers were paid a particular amount under one payroll system and the balance under the other. To me, the organisation put this system in place to avoid responsibilities relating to the introduction of public sector pay cuts. St. John of God is effectively a public sector organisation and recognised as such in law.
Its staff and all those associated with it and other section 38 organisations are, de facto, public servants. The Committee of Public Accounts is examining the issue as the result of an internal HSE audit or investigation but there is a fundamental principle at stake here. In difficult times, St. John of God and other organisations had absolutely no compunction whatsoever introducing pay cuts, through public sector pay agreements, in respect of physiotherapists, nurses, administrators and those who deliver services to people who need them most. Of course, its senior decision makers appear to be a much more protected species. Moreover, the body was, and is, absolutely required to implement public sector pay agreements, end of story. This is a matter of fact. In recent weeks the Ministers, Deputies Paschal Donohoe and Simon Harris, have made some very welcome statements on the responsibilities of section 38 organisations regarding public sector pay agreements. However, as a House and as public representatives, we need to send a very strong message to organisations such St. John of God that public sector pay agreements cannot be breached and the organisations cannot be selective in how they are implemented.
It would be appropriate for the Minister for Health to come the House to reassure the public, service users and employees of St. John of God that action will be taken where breaches of this nature are found.
Given that this is the final occasion on which we will meet prior to the summer break, I take the opportunity to thank the Cathaoirleach for the courtesy he has shown us and to thank the staff of the Houses and the ushers. In particular, I thank the staff of the Seanad Office - the Clerk, Ms Deirdre Lane; Mr. Martin Groves, Mr. Ronan Curran and Ms Niamh O'Grady. They are extremely helpful and professional individuals. The help they give us on a daily basis makes it very easy for us to do our job.
I hope it will be a very enjoyable summer, with many Gaelic games to be watched. I bring the House's attention to a very interesting article in yesterday's Irish Independent. A former Kilkenny hurler has suggested hurling should be part of the curriculum at primary and secondary level. For a long time, I have stated history should be a compulsory subject because everyone should know their background and the history of the country. This is particularly the case in the year in which we are celebrating the centenary of the 1916 Rising. History should be at the core of education. Gaelic games, particularly hurling and football, should also be at the centre of the curriculum.
Where hurling and history rhyme.
We have a great tradition of Irish dancing and music, but we also have phenomenal Gaelic games, particularly hurling which is unique. I would like the Deputy Leader to bring this matter to the attention of the Government, particularly the Minister with responsibility for sport, in the context of the 1916 Rising celebrations. To promote what I am suggesting, in September I will send an e-mail to all Members of the Oireachtas inviting them to join an all-party committee to promote Gaelic games in the policy structure of the House.
We are in injury time. The Senator need not worry. Hurling is already part of the curriculum for all children in Kilkenny.
It is in mothers' milk there.
Perhaps the Senator needs to get it in Clare.
Yes, I hope they will do the double this year.
When Kerry won their first all-Ireland championship, before most counties back in the 1890s, we decided to switch to another code having been so successful.
I agree with Senator Gerald Nash on the lack of accountability when it comes to senior management. There is an issue in Irish society whereby we have a land of no consequences for people in positions of influence. When they do wrong nothing ever happens to them.
I am disappointed at the lack of legislation being dealt with this afternoon. The Opposition tabled a number of Bills, including on corporate manslaughter and the recognition of Irish sign language. The corporate manslaughter legislation is interesting because it was proposed by the Law Reform Commission ten years ago but has never been dealt with. The reason for this is that the people who would be held accountable are in the public service. They are those who failed in the Blood Transfusion Service Board and who have failed so many other times, including regarding Portlaoise hospital where women died and people knew about it but no action was taken. Individuals should be held to account but this does not happen as a result of the fact that the legislation is not in place. The latter is due to the fact that those in positions of power are ensuring it is not introduced because it is they who would be held to account.
I propose an amendment to the Order of Business to enable the Irish sign language recognition Bill to be published and ask the Deputy Leader to allow for this. The Bill would allow members of the deaf community to interact with the State which they cannot do at present. The more than 5,000 members of the deaf community and their families have no legal basis on which they can ask the Government to ensure there are services for them to interact. The most serious case of this is regarding emergency departments. A member of the deaf community would not be able to communicate with a consultant emergency doctor and there is no provision whereby there must be an interpreter in place. One may be put in place, but it is not necessary to do so. This is covered in one of the many provisions in the Bill. Will the Deputy Leader allow for it to be published? In the autumn, instead of making statements ad nauseam because there is no legislation, Fianna Fáil has legislation which is long overdue and that is ready to be debated.
The Senator's point is well made.
I thank the Cathaoirleach.
I had thought of moving a motion today to have the House sit on Saturday in order that we could celebrate the Cathaoirleach's birthday properly. I wish him the very best.
I might have ruled it out of order.
My colleagues, Senators Alice-Mary Higgins and Gerald Nash, referred to the issue regarding the DIT students' union. As a result of the row that has developed, the students' union is running out of cash. This puts at risk the jobs of 20 people. Three times the students' union has had an agreement with the institution which, on each occasion, has rowed back on it. This simply cannot be allowed to happen today. Will the Deputy Leader - it is a pleasure to address her on her first time sitting in that seat - make contact on behalf of the House and ask DIT to at least put in place an interim arrangement to ensure funding until a final agreement can be reached? Senator Gerald Nash and his colleagues have written to the institute and received a reply. There will be a meeting at some stage, but the situation is simply not acceptable. This is an attempt by an institution to try to use the pressure of funding to manage a union. When one tries to manage any union, as far I am concerned, it is repugnant to the entire system. It must be independent and have in place its own auditing systems. The students' union at DIT is quite happy to do so. This is Big Brother trying to control things.
Following a Commencement debate, we had an agreement with the former Minister for Health, Deputy Leo Varadkar, on the registration of physical therapists and physiotherapists. This is an extremely serious issue. After completing a course over a couple of weekends, individuals can stick a sign outside their door and tell the world they are physical therapists, whereas chartered physiotherapists must undergo extensive training. There was an agreement in place as to how registered physical therapists and physical therapy students could upgrade to full physiotherapy and this was to be provided for in legislation. I understand it will be rowed back on, which will be to the detriment of the health system. Will the Deputy Leader take this issue to the current Minister, Deputy Simon Harris, and ask him to look into it as a matter of urgency?
I endorse the words of Senator Gerard P. Craughwell to the Deputy Leader on her first occasion in that role - at least the first time when I was here. I wish to be associated with Senator Martin Conway's timely remarks about the staff of the House.
I welcome the set of solutions proposed to deal with the housing crisis announced by the Minister, Deputy Simon Coveney, and his team. We need to establish a mechanism to monitor this as was the case with the Action Plan for Jobs. Each month we need to know what has been achieved, how many houses have been built, how many vacant properties have been acquired, etc. I ask the Deputy Leader to ensure that will happen. The Seanad could play a role in that regard. At least every couple of months, we should have a debate to take stock on the status of the housing crisis.
I am particularly interested in the occupation of vacant houses, whether they are vacant houses owned by local authorities that have not yet been turned around, vacancies above shops, vacant houses owned by people anywhere or even relatively derelict properties that could be reconstructed and put into use. I am also interested in encouraging first-time buyers, which is obviously where the great problem is for the developer-builder sector. More importantly, there is the human reality for the prospective first-time buyers who cannot get into the market. That issue needs to be addressed in the budget. The signs are good, but it needs to happen.
I am encouraged to hear from the Minister and others that there are positive moves afoot in the private sector to develop student accommodation. I am aware of one such development. I am anxious that we also monitor the position because purpose-built student accommodation is key to providing the cheap accommodation third level students need to allow them get the full university experience rather than having to commute but also to relieve the housing crisis.
I am delighted to have the opportunity to address these important issues. It is the biggest crisis facing the country and we should monitor it in the House. We talk about the relevance of this House all the time. Nothing would be more relevant than a two-monthly debate on the status of that issue.
The Senator's friends and guests in the Visitors Gallery were highly impressed by his performance. They are most welcome.
They are very welcome.
Yesterday I attended the launch of the TASC's report, Cherishing All Equally 2016: Economic Inequality in Ireland, a copy of which I have in my hand. I recommend that everybody take the time to read it. It is incredibly well put together. It contains startling figures. For those who do not know, TASC stands for Think-tank for Action on Social Change. It is an independent progressive think-tank whose core focus is economic equality and democratic accountability. Mr. Fergus Finlay was in attendance to assist with yesterday's launch.
The 2016 report reveals a deep inequality at the heart of this economic recovery that threatens its sustainability. It demonstrates not only that there is a deep divide in Irish society in terms of wealth and income, but also that this divide is getting worse. The report states that the top 10% of wealth earners now own 54% of Ireland's wealth while the bottom 50% hold less than 5% of the wealth. Therefore, half of the population in the State has less than 5% of the wealth. That is the Republic that has been delivered to us.
There are shocking figures for gender inequality. For example 29% of female workers are low paid as opposed to 19% of men. The gender pay gap between women with no children and women with at least one child is 31% - the highest in the European Union. The proportion of children living in consistent poverty rose from 6.8% in 2008 to 11.7% in 2013. That equates to 138,000 children, one in eight, living in consistent poverty. One in ten people aged over 65 years is at risk of poverty. In 2014 lone parent households had a deprivation rate of 58.7% and a consistent poverty rate of 22%.
The overall message is that for all the spin of the Government and the media, inequality is growing, not decreasing. The rate of child poverty has nearly doubled. In-work poverty is on the increase, as is deprivation. At the same time the wealth share of the top 10% rose by 10% in a year. These figures are as a direct result of unbroken conservative rule in this state. It does not matter whether it was Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael conservative rule; the results have been the same. I ask the Deputy Leader to invite the Minister for Justice and Equality to come to the House in September for a debate on inequality. We need to talk about the issue.
I wish to speak about the comprehensive employment strategy for the employment of people with disabilities, a ten-year approach to ensure people with disabilities who are able and want to work are supported and enabled to do so. It is a cross-government approach led by the Department of Justice and Equality and based on five strategic priorities: building skills and independence; providing bridges and supports into work; promoting job retention; providing co-ordinated and seamless support; and engaging employers. However, the problem is it has no funding or action plan. What the strategy proposes and what is actually happening are two different things. Without implementation of this strategy and adequate resources, nothing will change. Last week in the Leinster House AV room two young ladies told their stories of how the innovative WALK PEER programme had changed their lives and given them hope of leading contributing lives in mainstream careers, rather than lives in expensive services. The WALK PEER programme works on bridging the gap and providing equal employment routes for people with disabilities. The WALK PEER programme is funded until the end of 2016, but the uncertainty about its future only leads to additional stress and anxiety for the participants and their families. The stress of stop-start projects needs to be addressed.
I ask all Members of the House to support a call for dedicated funding in the budget for 2017 for the implementation of the CES through longer term funding for innovative projects such as WALK PEER in order that the learning can be captured as the strategy is developed. Will the Deputy Leader ask the Minister for Justice and Equality to commit to dedicating resources to the implementation of the comprehensive employment strategy for the employment of people with disabilities now and to funding some current innovative projects? Alternatively, do we have to wait until after the ten years is up before we take some action to reverse the plight of people with disabilities being systematically transitioned from school into expensive Department of Health-funded programmes without the chance of testing their abilities in the mainstream to further education, training and employment?
I wish the Cathaoirleach a happy birthday.
I thank the Senator.
I share Senator Gerard P. Craughwell's concerns about the distinction between a physiotherapist and a physical therapist. It is important that when doctors refer patients, they are referring them to people who they know have the competence and training to deal with their problems. Patients get confused between the two.
I am sure physical therapists also have something to offer, but it is a different qualification.
Senator Joe O'Reilly spoke about student accommodation. This is a serious problem for students and adds quite a burden on them in terms of the expense involved. While we laud the fact that third level education is so much more accessible now, accommodation can be a blockage to people going to third level education, which should not be the case.
A few days ago I spoke about the role of the Seanad on the committee on health planning for the next ten years. I know that the Leader met the Chairman of the committee but was not satisfied.
It is difficult to understand the logic behind this when one of the purposes of the Seanad was to allow additional expertise and competences into the Oireachtas to inform and participate in debate. When I look around the Chamber, I find it unbelievable people with expertise such as Senator Frances Black in the area of addiction; Senator Collette Kelleher in the Alzheimer Society of Ireland; Senator Freeman from Pieta House with expertise in addressing the issue of suicide; Senator Colm Burke who has been a spokesperson on health for so long; Senator Keith Swanick who, as a doctor, has so much to offer; and Senator John Dolan who has spent a lifetime advocating for people with a disability are to be excluded from what should be a more inclusive and-----
And Senator Máire Devine.
And many others besides. The bottom line is that there are 60 Members in this Chamber who have something to contribute. I know that we cannot all be on the committee, which is fair enough, but an arrangement needs to be put in place to deal with this matter.
Will the Deputy Leader arrange a meeting with the Minister to resolve this issue before the return of the House after the break? If the issue is not resolved, we will be sending the message that, rather than being more inclusive, the House is being exclusive. Rather than making the Seanad more relevant, it would be diminishing it.
I am using my discretion to give Senator David Norris a Labour Party slot.
I am very grateful to the Cathaoirleach. I am sure this matter will be resolved; I am not expecting special privileges. I appreciate the Cathaoirleach’s courtesy.
I understand the Taoiseach went on walkabout yesterday in the north inner city. I very much welcome this. It is about time and good. The Taoiseach has been in the inner city five times since the recent emergency. I am extremely glad Fitzgibbon Street Garda station is being reopened. As Senators all know, I have campaigned in this House for a number of years to reopen the station which is central to the policing of the inner city. It is in the area most affected by drugs. It is an area of considerable criminal activity, regrettably, and it is very necessary to have the police station open. I very much welcome the move. Everything of value has been ripped out of the north inner city which has been stuffed with drug clinics. While they are necessary, why concentrate them in an already deprived area? The local authorities have not implemented their own regulations for the development of derelict houses, rubbish, etc. It is time for a really concerted effort to save this area of our city, in which I am proud to live. The amounts of money invested so far are absolutely tiny. I hope this is just seed money because it does not compare favourably with the amount we are apparently happy to give away to the European Union as a result of leprechaun economics. Some €280 million has been just whizzed away. Small amounts of money are provided. I hope the money is just seed money and that there will be further progress.
I wish to raise a final matter about which I am sure a number of Senators feel the same way as I do. I have been contacted by people who run a charity shop in Carlow and who are being charged commercial rates. This is wrong.
I thank the Senator. They have been offered a rates abatement, which is a very civilised step. I thank Carlow County Council for this, but there is no suggestion the abatement will be continued next year. It places the individuals in a very vulnerable position. Particularly in a recession, with so many shops empty in small towns, it would be good to encourage the people in question who are largely volunteers. I hope we will have circumstances in which charity shops run by volunteers will, as a matter of course, be subject to a rates abatement.
I wish the Cathaoirleach a happy birthday.
I second the amendment proposed by Senator Mark Daly concerning the Recognition of Irish Sign Language for the Deaf Community Bill 2016.
I refer to the chronic lack of accommodation for students, particularly in the city of Dublin. In 1980, 20% of students proceeded to third level education. Today that figure has increased to 60%. We have the highest level of participation at third level in the European Union. This is a statistic of which we can all be proud. Unfortunately, finding accommodation for our children, particularly in this city, has become a serious problem. In 2014 the Higher Education Authority stated the number of student beds was approximately 31,000. Today, it is reckoned there is a need for approximately 57,000. This goes to show the extent of the problem. If one couples this with the increase in rent, one can see how some students must commit to leases they simply cannot afford. Some have to sleep on the floor in friends' accommodation, some must live in poor-quality accommodation and some must travel long distances to get to college. The USI recently commissioned a survey of students that found that 58% had missed a meal each day to try to stay in college. Some 38% go hungry in order to stay in college and 34% go without heat. Some 25%, or one in four, have contacted their students' union to contact the Society of St. Vincent de Paul or a food bank for food. That is serious. As one can imagine, this fosters a dropout culture at third level. It is an issue we must address. It is a crisis that will be facing more people in September, unfortunately.
Addressing this issue requires some imaginative thinking. One solution might be a State-backed fund to allow universities to build accommodation. Another might be to decentralise some of the courses in universities. I am sure there is not a provincial town in Ireland that does not have facilities that could serve as an outreach facility to cater for students. In Cavan and Monaghan there are two institutes with accommodation of quality available to students. If institutes of technology are providing an outreach facility, I see no reason the colleges could not address this issue also. It is a serious problem that needs to be addressed.
I beg the Cathaoirleach’s indulgence on a more joyful matter, on the day that is in it. I congratulate Ireland’s oldest councillor, a gentlemen called Mr. Ian McGarvey from Ramelton in County Donegal, on having celebrated his 86th birthday last week. This is a fantastic achievement. He is a credit not only to those of his age but also to the community he serves. He is an example to us all, young and old.
I am sure we all wish him well.
What an inspiration. I shall stay on until I am 86.
We had a meeting with Customs officers recently. The incidence of petrol stretching has increased again. This is because a new dye has been put in diesel and the diesel launderers are finding it very hard to get it out of it. In counties Meath and Mayo there has been an epidemic of petrol stretching, resulting in cars being absolutely destroyed. In certain cases, the retailer sorted out some of those affected. In other areas, the insurance company did so. With the retailer, one had to have a track record, including receipts. With the insurance company, it was a question of one's policy. What is happening now, however, is that insurance companies are including clauses stating they will not cover the policyholder if an engine is damaged by petrol stretching. What I am saying to the public today is that if the price is too cheap, there is something wrong. If a petrol station has no brand or does not have a sign up with the retailer excellence code, one should keep going. In the long run, one will pay, and pay dearly. Customs officials have said this is a very serious problem and that the launderers are going to extremes to water down the petrol. In certain cases, they get away with it, with a 5% kerosene mix, but they are now increasing the proportion of kerosene 15% or 20%.
Another practice the criminals have resorted to is the selling of non-winner scratch cards. They are mixing non-winner scratch cards with legitimate scratch cards, resulting in a profit of 300% for the retailer. When one system of making money illicitly falls through, the criminals move on to some other game. Petrol laundering is a serious issue.
I echo the words of Senator Rose Conway-Walsh in thanking the entire Seanad staff. We, especially the newbies who probably wrecked the heads of the staff, really appreciate their support. I hope we will come back energised and a little more knowledgeable after the summer.
I wish to raise two issues, the first of which concerns the action plan for housing. We welcome the report. It is an improvement over the previous offers, but it could clearly go a little further. The cross-party committee had a target of building 10,000 social houses per year. Based on early indications, the current plan estimates approximately 6,000 units will be built per annum, which is 40% below what we set as a benchmark.
Yesterday I attended the launch of the Dolphin House regeneration project in Dublin South-Central. This is absolutely welcome, as is the €25 million for phase 1.
The community there has fought for over a decade and had to take it to Europe to get it on track. It needs to be delivered throughout Dublin where there is a lot of social housing in poor and even dreadful condition.
I attended a briefing yesterday on Irish credit unions. They have stated they have €4 billion that can be directed to social housing. I understand, however, that Central Bank rules prevent the credit unions from investing in property related schemes. I call on the Minister to lobby and do all in his power to relax the rules and amend the legislation to allow the release through voluntary funds of €4 billion which would go a long way towards providing 20,000 to 25,000 housing units which would be welcome throughout the country for the people who are in need. We need a commitment to establishing a dedicated court to deal with housing repossessions and an urgent amendment to the code of conduct on mortgage arrears for those struggling and threatened with repossession.
There is a dire shortage of rehabilitation services in the health care system. There are 25,000 people in Ireland every year who need rehabilitation for neurological conditions, stroke and acquired brain injury. There has been a decade of promise-making. I will bring this matter back to the House in September but too much time is being wasted and too many lives have been affected. We need those rehabilitation services under the auspices of "We Need Our Heads Examined".
I join colleagues in wishing the Deputy Leader all the best on her debut taking the Order of Business. I am sure she will do an outstanding job.
I was concerned to read this morning in the newspaper a report on correspondence between a certain developer and the Governor of the Central Bank. It is all detailed under a freedom of information request. Where it raises a little concern is in regard to a deficiency in the Regulation of Lobbying Act. Under the Act, anyone who engages with public representatives like us, civil servants or local authority staff must register that engagement. It is going well so far. However, there are wider public servants who are not included within the remit of the Act. While this might be appropriate for small bodies such as the Marine Institute, it is important that correspondence from developers and others should be included under the Act where people are addressing the Governor of the Central Bank. I ask the Deputy Leader to raise this matter with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, as it comes within his remit and is very concerning. The Regulation of Lobbying Act should be amended to include the Central Bank.
I refer to the matter raised by Senator Frances Black on the comprehensive employment strategy for people with disabilities in which I have been involved for a number of years. The strategy should have been and was supposed to be launched in 2013. It was launched in the run-up to the last general election and it was interesting that the only Department not present at the launch was the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation. It is very important. I completely take the point the Senator made that there is no funding to go with it. It cannot move unless there is funding and support. It is a matter primarily for the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation who needs to come to the House and show how it going to be moved on.
Senator Joe O'Reilly referred to the action plan for housing. We had a motion with great support last week on housing for people with disabilities. I expressed my disappointment yesterday about what was in the action plan, but I agree with the Senator that the Minister responsible should come to the House on a regular basis. There needs to be a module in that regular discussion on housing for people with disabilities.
Senators Gerard P. Craughwell and James Reilly raised the issue of the titles "physiotherapist" and "physical therapist". Both are valid professions, but physiotherapists as we know them have a battery of integrated skills. One cannot expect people to know the difference between one and the other. It is vital that the title of "physiotherapist" be protected.
As a novice Member, my thanks, with those of many others, are due to the staff who took us - certainly me - by the hand as if it was our first day in school, which it was in many ways. In my best Romanian, I wish the Cathaoirleach la multi ani.
It must be a sign of new politics. I am here many years and do not think I ever said thanks to them, but I thank the Senator.
There you go.
I join Senator Robbie Gallagher in commending Ireland's oldest councillor, Ian McGarvey. Mr. McGarvey played football in Glasgow and for Sligo Rovers Football Club. He is a renowned soccer player and if he was playing today he could assist the Irish team at centre-half. He is 86 years young and we extend good wishes to him.
I extend good wishes also to Ireland's Olympic athletes who will be flying out to Rio di Janeiro next week. The manager and the team fly out next Wednesday. Patsy McGonagal, a Donegal man, is the Irish Olympic team manager. We wish the squad, many of whom are in training abroad, well as they take to Rio di Janeiro to represent Ireland and hope they achieve some success.
Senator James Reilly referred to the health strategy committee. It is imperative that Members of the Seanad be included in the committee. It is a ten-year strategy to drive a plan and provide a footprint for the future of the health service. There is a drastic need to drive efficiencies from an economic perspective. The budget will take an additional €6.5 billion in public spending between now and 2021. It is where most of the public spending will be going because of the ageing population and it would be very wrong for the Government and the Dáil only to be represented on the committee. Reflection over the summer should allow a number of Senators to serve on the committee on a cross-party basis.
Senator Rónán Mullen raised the issue of bias in the media, in particular on social issues or issues of social policy. There is a need to provide for balance, scrutiny and objectivity in all debates and, in particular, fairness on social policy issues such as the eighth amendment where we saw recently that about 20 times the coverage was given in a one week period to the pro-repeal side. Fairness is not being provided for the other side. There are questions to be answered about the public service broadcaster which is receiving assistance from the State. To reflect on this, we should have a debate in the House at an early date when the sitting resumes in the autumn on the issue of fairness in the media, in particular on social policy issues which are sensitive and in respect of which commentary should be balanced, especially from the national broadcaster.
I want to be associated with the gratitude expressed to the staff of the Seanad office, including Martin Groves and the Clerk, Deirdre Lane. I did not realise it was the Cathaoirleach's birthday. I wish him a happy birthday.
Ná habair faic.
I propose an amendment to the Order of Business, that No. 21, non-Government motion No. 8, be taken before No. 1. It is a topic many have raised before and similar to non-Government motion No. 4. It relates to Brexit and I wanted to put a structure on it. There is a huge opportunity for the Chamber to lead a wide-ranging debate on Brexit. I propose that Seanad Éireann hold a comprehensive debate over a number of days on the outcome of the UK referendum on EU membership and its implications for the island of Ireland, North and South, and invite a range of persons, including the Taoiseach and relevant Ministers, as Senator Neale Richmond said, MEPs from the North and the South, the First Minister and the deputy First Minister in Northern Ireland and any other person we deem relevant to the debate. I hope there will be unanimous agreement and ask the Cathaoirleach and the Deputy Leader to schedule the debate for priority when we come back in September and set aside a number of days for it. We speak about the relevancy of the Chamber. Brexit is a huge issue.
It has dimensions for the entire island of Ireland. We are talking about inclusiveness. This is the Seanad's last sitting day before the recess. Fianna Fáil has tabled non-Government motion No. 4 which is quite similar. I have just fleshed it out a little. I would like the Seanad to agree today to a number of days being set aside to debate the issue. I ask the Deputy Leader to facilitate us in doing something practical and decisive in that regard. A number of days should be set aside for these purposes.
I conclude by wishing the Deputy Leader, Senator Catherine Noone, all the best. I think she will be excellent in the role.
To clarify, is the Senator proposing in his amendment to the Order of Business that his motion be taken today or that it be given priority in September?
I am really asking us to make a decision on my motion today.
The proposal is that it be taken today.
I hope that can be done to facilitate the extended debate for which I am looking.
The Senator has clarified the matter.
I do not think the motion should be put to a vote.
If there is unanimous agreement on it, we should adopt it today. The Chair could ask the other leaders.
Is the Senator proposing that the motion be taken without debate?
If Members would like to debate it, that is fine. Perhaps Members are willing to agree to it without debate. We should agree to it today.
We need to clarify exactly what the Deputy is proposing on the Order of Business.
I am proposing that a process be put in motion. I do not know whether that requires an ad hoc committee to be set up. We need to set the wheels in motion to ensure an extended debate on Brexit will take place when we come back after the recess.
If we agree to my motion today, we will be able to bring various witnesses before us for a two or three-day debate. We have a unique opportunity that the other Chamber does not have.
What is the process involved, a Chathaoirligh?
The Senator has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business. It will be considered after the Deputy Leader has responded. It also has to be seconded.
Can I ask-----
We will get someone to do it. The Senator can suigh síos and relax.
I await the direction of the Chair on my motion.
We will come to it. I call Senator Edward O'Sullivan.
I have been called lots of things, but it is a long time since I was called "Edward".
Lord Edward himself.
I was listening to Senator Rónán Mullen on the television before I came into the Chamber. I have to say he has levelled some very serious criticism at RTE. It behoves RTE to take that criticism seriously and come up with an answer to it. If the Senator is right and I suspect he is, RTE has a case to answer. He has been involved in this issue previously and undoubtedly has a strong position on the repeal of the eighth amendment. There are Members of this House who, like me, do not cross bridges until we come to them. Sooner or later, this issue is going to land into the Chamber. I would like to see a more reasoned debate, with a better proliferation of information on both sides of it, in order to allow us to come to our own conclusions, as we undoubtedly will in due course.
I congratulate the Garda nationally and particularly in the Limerick area on its outstanding success in recent days in bringing about the incarceration of some very serious criminals arising from a drugs bust of very big proportions. This is just another step in the long road that is the battle against organised crime in Limerick and nationally. It is great to see the Garda in the pursuit of law and order coming out on top. The turning of the corner in the fight against crime in one of our major cities is the greatest tribute that could be paid to the memory of the great late Jerry McCabe who was cruelly and foully murdered by the IRA 20 years ago this year.
I commend Senator Kieran O'Donnell's motion on the Brexit issue. I think it would be very timely if we were to tackle this in the Seanad. It is great to see Mr. Hollande here with us today after what the people of France have gone through. We sympathise with the British public in the dilemma in which it has landed itself. Obviously, Brexit is a huge issue for Ireland and the rest of Europe. I agree with the Prime Minister. We are in an especially delicate position with regard to the British. As Bob Dylan famously said in one of his quirky love songs to his girlfriend:
But if you got to go, go now,
Or else you gotta stay all night.
Was that "Lay Lady Lay"?
It seems the British are planning a very slow Brexit. I do not think that is on.
Leaving aside the poetry, is the Senator prepared to second Senator Kieran O'Donnell's amendment to the Order of Business?
Yes, I would be privileged to second it.
I seek action on an ongoing issue. The provision of home care packages in counties Mayo, Roscommon and Galway has reached a critical point. Not only has this year's budget for those packages been spent, but in addition there has been an overspend of €5 million. I spoke last night to a woman whose husband was in Mayo General Hospital and who had been told there was a freeze on the provision of home care packages. A man is being kept in hospital, possibly at a cost of €1,000 a day, because he and his wife cannot get the help they need to bring him home. I wonder whether this is acceptable to Pat Healy who is the HSE national director for elderly people's services. I do not think it is on. It is not cost-effective to keep people in acute hospitals or step-down beds when they could be at home. The best place for somebody in these circumstances is at home, if that is possible at all. Families need support. It is really a contradiction. If this issue cannot be sorted, perhaps the Minister for Health might assist by taking it up with the HSE in order that it can be sorted as a matter of urgency. This is a widespread problem in the three counties in question. If it is not solved, we will not be providing people with a proper health service. Additional funds are required as a matter of urgency. We cannot simply tell people they have to wait for a few months because the budget has been spent. That is not how one's health works and it is not how a health care system should work. The most cost-effective place to provide health care is at home.
I agree that we should set aside a few days for a debate on Brexit which has probably led to one of the most difficult times we have known. It is no coincidence that the French President, François Mitterrand-----
That is a throwback.
-----or, sorry, François Hollande has been here for three hours. Other member states must listen to Ireland's sensitivities regarding Northern Ireland, the free travel area and the common ties with the United Kingdom. I agree with Senator Ned O'Sullivan that the United Kingdom has made this decision and we have to look out for ourselves. I suggest we get much closer to countries such as France because they will be our allies in the European Union.
We should highlight another issue because it is good news. The Taoiseach's visit to the north inner city yesterday was heralded by one and all. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan, for whom I have great time, said it was "very obvious" that the Taoiseach was listening to the views of these communities. Politics is about breaking down barriers. I very much welcome the efforts of the Taoiseach and the various Departments to resolve the serious issues in these communities. We should deal with such issues by going into the communities, listening and doing the work. We do not hear this enough. I was very heartened to hear that an independently minded Deputy was brave enough and good enough to highlight these efforts. That is welcome.
I welcome what Senator Frank Feighan said. It is great that Fitzgibbon Street Garda station is going to reopen. I welcome all of the other fine improvements in that area. Many of us who are used to going to Croke Park, including Senator Ned O'Sullivan - I was going to call him "Lord Edward" - and Senator Mark Daly, are hoping to get there again. Fitzgibbon Street Garda station is an important landmark on the way to the stadium. It is very well situated to deal with everything in that part of the city.
Senator Rónán Mullen raised a very important matter regarding the national broadcaster. Others have spoken about it too. The national broadcaster is charged with a very serious responsibility never to show any bias or favouritism on any issue, let alone the important matter referred to by the Senator. It would be extremely appropriate for representatives of the national broadcaster to be invited to appear before the Joint Committee on Communications, Climate Change and Natural Resources in early course to explain their attitude and approach.
I ask the Deputy Leader to use her good offices, through the Leader's office, to ensure they are called to account in early course on this matter.
I offer good wishes to the Cathaoirleach and the staff, in particular Deirdre Lane, Martin Groves, Ronan Curran and Niamh O'Grady. We are all very grateful for everything that has been done for us.
I second the proposal made by Senator Kieran O'Donnell to have a debate in-----
It has already been seconded.
I would like to add to it, if the Cathaoirleach will allow me to do so.
It has been seconded.
The Leas-Chathaoirleach does not want to allow me to do so.
It is a very important subject which I have discussed here already.
This House can play an important role in dealing with the issue of Brexit. We can do things here they cannot do in committees, or in the other House for that matter. The proposal was made by Senator Kieran O'Donnell that a number of days be set aside to bring in various people who can outline their thoughts and views on Brexit. This may require changes to Standing Orders or other initiatives to be taken. However, it is a very good idea that a number of days would be set aside in order that people from various quarters could come to be the questioned and that the rules of the House would provide that they would outline their views. This could be of great benefit in allowing us to see where we are going or what might happen in the coming years. There is no doubt that the United Kingdom will not be out of the European Union for quite a number of years and we have seen recently that the trade deal between Canada and the European Union took seven years to put together. Brexit has a long way to go and what has been proposed by Senator Kieran O'Donnell could prove very beneficial.
I thank Members for their good wishes. I did not realise quite how many issues were raised when I was raising them, given that some Members actually raised four or five each, but I will do my best to answer them. They will have to bear with me and if I omit to refer to any issue raised, I will be happy to come back to it.
Senator Catherine Ardagh referred to the inflated CSO figures. To the best of my knowledge, the Minister clarified the position this morning. It is an issue that could usefully be addressed in the making of pre-budget statements. I hope we will be able to facilitate clarification of the matter in the House in September.
I agree with the Senator in her point about public procurement. We need to encourage small businesses which are the backbone of the economy and on which many jobs are obviously dependent. It is an issue that has been raised previously in the House, including by Senator Kieran O'Donnell. Having a debate with a special emphasis on small businesses might be worthwhile. I will certainly convey Senator Catherine Ardagh's concerns to the relevant Minister.
Senator Rónán Mullen referred to the need for fairness in the media, particularly in RTE, in dealing with the pro-life and abortion issue. Other Senators also referred to this issue and I will deal with their comments when I come to the contributions made by them. There is a media ombudsman and anyone who believes RTE has been biased in any broadcast can make a complaint - perhaps one has already been made - to the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland. I agree with Senator Rónán Mullen and other speakers that having a debate on the issue would be worthwhile. Certainly, the suggestion of Senator Paul Coghlan that people be brought before the Joint Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Environment is a good one and could prove constructive. It is an issue I will follow up.
Senator Rose Conway-Walsh raised the issue that she raised yesterday. I understand the Leader has been in communication with her on it and I hope matters will be progressd.
The Senator also raised the issue of economic forecasts. I have a similar answer for her to the one I had for Senator Catherine Ardagh, that the Department and the Minister will be more than happy to clarify their position on the issue. I hope we will be able to have a debate early in September on it, as well as other budgetary issues.
The Senator raised a particular issue about farming, in the context of which she referred to the Department of the Taoiseach. I am sure it will be quite happy to clarify the position on the anomalies or, at least, the inconsistencies.
Senator Alice-Mary Higgins raised several issues related to the Canada-EU trade agreement. Having a debate on it would be worthwhile. I will be happy to convey the Senator's views to the Leader and hope a debate can be arranged in the new term.
We could spend an hour or two hours discussing the situation in Turkey which is very serious and evolving. The issues raised by the Senator were wide-ranging and included 21,000 teachers having their licences revoked and the demands universities were making. They will be discussed at length at the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Defence. However, we could also debate them in this House, as they will continue to arise in the context of the relationship of the European Union with Turkey which had come so far but which is regressing hugely, which is a matter of huge regret. We could have done with it moving more towards our way of thinking, but it is moving further away. I agree with the Senator in that regard.
Senator Gerald Nash and others referred to the DIT, an issue I will bring to the attention of the Minister for Education and Skills. Senator Gerard P. Craughwell, in particular, asked that I write to the people involved. I will be happy to do so.
Senator Gerald Nash also referred to section 38 bodies. It is an issue we are discussing and which is being covered in the media every single day of the week. Clearly, the position is not satisfactory., but I am confident that the Committee of Public Accounts will cover the issue well. It has been the subject of a good number of debates to date and there are anomalies. I will be happy to have the Minister for Health come to the House as there are always matters to discuss with him, but this is something that would be worth focusing on in early course.
Senator Martin Conway mentioned the subject of history and the GAA. I will make the same comment as the Cathaoirleach, that I think it is already on the curriculum in Kilkenny. Perhaps that is where we are going wrong in Mayo. Perhaps we should have Gaelic football on the curriculum, as it might bring us the trophy we have been long looking for. The GAA is always worthy of attention. The Senator asked that I bring the issue to the attention of the Minister and I will be happy to do so. It is hard for the GAA not to be in the Minister's focus on a regular basis as it promotes itself very well and we are all acutely aware of the benefits it brings to society at large.
I am happy to agree to Senator Mark Daly's request that we take the Irish Sign Language Bill. I cannot imagine how the issue could be in any way controversial. In the vein of new politics, if there is a method whereby we can make it easier for people who could benefit from interacting with the State, it can only be positive.
To respond to the Senator's comments on legislation, I agree with him. I do not see any point in making statements in the House day in, day out. The Leader has, however, been working very hard to have legislation brought before the House. If there is anything his office can do to have the legislation to which the Senator referred introduced, it will happen early in the new term.
As I said, Senator Gerard P. Craughwell raised the very serious issue of the DIT. I take his comments on board and have said I am happy to contact those responsible and bring the matter to the attention of the Minister for Education and Skills.
I agree with the Senator in his point about the registration of physical therapists and physiotherapists. Until I heard him speak about the issue this morning, it was my understanding the then Minister for Health, Deputy Leo Varadkar, was very happy to clarify the position and recognise the title. I will certainly bring it to the attention of the Minister for Health as it was my understanding that this is what was happening, but the Senator has said there has been a row-back on the issue, in which I am also interested.
Senator Joe O'Reilly referred to the housing crisis and the comprehensive housing strategy announced. I believe most of us agree with his proposal that we touch base on the issue on a two-monthly basis or whatever other period we deem to be appropriate to see what progress is being made. As in the case of Brexit, to which I will come shortly, the House could play a very useful role in dealing with this crisis which, to be fair to the Government, is the top priority, as it has demonstrated to date.
Senator Paul Gavan, rightly, referred to the TASC report and highlighted the divide and deep inequality in society, which is getting worse. Of great interest to me is the gender pay gap and general difficulties in that regard. A debate on the issue would be very useful. The main point I would make is that having a job is a person's best chance of getting out of inequality. Creating jobs has been a major focus of the Government. While I appreciate the Senator raising the issue and that the statistics are very stark, some progress is being made. A debate on the issue could certainly be facilitated in due course.
Senator Frances Black spoke about the employment of people with disabilities. I will be happy to pass on her concerns to the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation. On the funding needs to met in the budget, no doubt we will have pre-budget discussions with the Minister in this House. That is one of many issues that could be raised. It is worth mentioning that this was the first Government to have a Minister of State with responsibility for dealing with disability issues sitting at the Cabinet table, which is very much to be welcomed.
Senator James Reilly referred to physiotherapists and raised the issue of student accommodation which was also mentioned by a few other Senators. It is a major challenge in dealing with the overall housing problem. It is my understanding there is a specific group dealing with the issue as part of the housing strategy. It is to come back with a strategy to deal with it. In the context of the Senator's suggestion, it is one to which we can come back.
The Senator also mentioned the Committee on the Future of Healthcare. It is an insult to this House that Senators are not included in its membership. The Senator highlighted the great expertise available in this House. The argument made by the Chairman of the committee is that there are already enough members on it. The more members there are on committees and the more rounded their experience, the better. As it was intended to be an Oireachtas committee, I cannot understand why it has not been agreed to. There is some resistance to it, which I find frustrating.
Senator David Norris mentioned the Taoiseach's visit to the inner city and the reopening of Fitzgibbon Street Garda station, on which I commend him for his work. He also mentioned a local charity shop in Carlow. I agree with him that local authorities need to be more nuanced and think outside the box when it comes to leaving units empty, rather than having enterprises such as the one mentioned by the Senator actively contributing to the community and business in a small way. There should be some exception made for this type of organisation.
Senator Robbie Gallagher also commented on the issue of accommodation for students. It is very positive that there is such high participation, but it presents major problems, especially in dealing with the overall housing problem. The issue is especially in focus at this time of year because in the coming months many students will be very worried about finding some accommodation that they will be able to afford.
I also join the Senator in wishing the councillor mentioned in County Donegal a happy birthday. I hope I will not be involved in politics at the age of 86 years, but it is a case of horses for courses and I wish him very well. I hope he still plays football.
Senator Ray Butler raised the issue of petrol-stretching. From what I understand, the criminals involved in this activity are moving a little ahead of the lawmakers. They are probably the same individuals who are involved in the production of green diesel. The Minister for Finance did come up with some measures to combat that activity, but there is now a new issue to be dealt with. I will bring it to his attention. It is of major concern to the public. I join in the Senator's request to the public to be vigilant when it comes to the price of diesel.
Senator Máire Devine spoke about Dolphin House. It is an exemplary development which, as she said, needs to be introduced in many other areas. She mentioned credit unions and the Central Bank, a matter I will bring to the attention of the Minister for Finance. She also discussed rehabilitation services and mentioned persons with neurological conditions. It is a very serious issue.
Senator Neale Richmond raised the matter of lobbying, particularly when it comes to developers and correspondence with them. It would definitely be worth getting an official comment from the Minister for Finance on the issue the next time he is in the House. In the meantime I will make sure we communicate with him on it.
Senator John Dolan also raised the issue of having a strategy for people with disabilities. I have covered that issue in my response. The Senator also raised the issue of housing, on which he agreed with Senator Joe O'Reilly. In addition, he mentioned the physiotherapist-physical therapist issue which I have already addressed.
Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill also wished the famous Mr. McGarvey a happy birthday, which I reiterate. He is obviously a very popular man in County Donegal.
The Senator wished the Olympic team well. This is a very important time for the athletes and their families. We all wish our Olympians well.
The Senator also mentioned the ten year strategy and bias in the media. I hope I have covered that issue.
Senator Kieran O'Donnell's proposed amendment to the Order of Business has been broadly welcomed by the House. It presents a significant opportunity for the House and the Oireachtas to cover the matters involved. The suggestion that key individuals come to the House is a very good one. It could prove very constructive and, depending on how it works out logistically, we could put together a report on the outcome and the comments made during that exercise.
Senator Ned O'Sullivan referred to RTE and sought a debate on the need for fairness. I will be happy to arrange or ask the Leader to arrange such a debate in the new session.
The Senator congratulated members of the Garda in Limerick. It is good to highlight the major progress they have made.
The Senator also commented on Brexit. I have covered that issue.
Senator Michelle Mulherin referred to the provision of home care packages in counties Mayo, Roscommon and Galway. On the face of it, what she has described is illogical and very frustrating for those who want to be at home. It is nonsensical that it is costing us more when there is a willingness to maintain them at home and it would cost less overall to do so. I will bring the issue to the attention of the Minister for Health. This wasting of money is frustrating when it is so difficult to find in the health budget.
Senator Frank Feighan also raised the issue of Brexit. I join the House in welcoming President Hollande to Ireland. France is going through a very tough time and our thoughts and prayers are with those who have been seriously affected by recent horrible events.
The Senator also mentioned the very positive visit by the Taoiseach to the north inner city. It is well worth mentioning that it helps to break down barriers. The visit was also mentioned by Senator Paul Coghlan who also referred to the role of the national broadcaster. I have covered that issue which, as I said, would be the subject of a worthwhile debate.
Senator Paddy Burke also raised the issue of Brexit, on which he concurred with Senator Kieran O'Donnell. We are all in agreement that it would make sense to have a few days of debates in this House in the new session, whether consecutively or over a number of weeks. They could prove to be very constructive.
I wish all of my colleagues well and hope they will have some downtime and spend some time with their families duing the break. I also thank the staff. I concur with those who said they are always extremely cordial, friendly and helpful, as they always have been in my time in the House. As Senator John Dolan said, we have all been in the situation where everything is completely new and it is great to have their support.
I express my concern that there is a new voting system in the Dáil on Thursdays which, in a sense, puts proceedings in this Chamber on hold from roughly 12.30 p.m. to 2 p.m. I am not sure how we can get around the problem, but we should reflect on it over the summer. On Thursdays we basically have to adjourn for an hour and a half because Ministers are tied up because there is block voting in the other House, which is not very satisfactory for us. Whether it is in the scheduling of committee meetings, a matter in which I have been involved for many years, or on this issue, the other House seems to have scant regard for our work here. That is unfair and not tenable. It should remember the acid test two years ago when in a referendum the people decided to keep this Chamber.
We should be shown a little more respect. We will look at the issue over the summer to see if there is a way around the problem. Perhaps the Committee on Procedure and Privileges might deal with it.
Having said my piece, Senator Mark Daly has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That No. 13 be taken before No. 1." I understand the Deputy Leader intends to accept the amendment.
Yes, it is agreeable.
Is the amendment agreed to? Agreed.
Senator Kieran O'Donnell has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That No. 21, non-Government motion No. 8, be taken before No. 1." I understand the Deputy Leader is also inclined to accept the amendment which has been seconded.
Yes, as long as there is agreement across the House.
Is the amendment agreed to? Agreed.