The Order of Business is No. 1, motion of referral to the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality of European regulation on matrimonial matters, matters of parental responsibility and international child abduction, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of the Order of Business; No. 2, motion of referral to the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality re appointment of members to the new Legal Services Regulatory Authority, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of No. 1; No. 3, motion re change of names of select committtees, to be taken without debate at the conclusion of No. 2; and No. 4, statement by the Taoiseach, to be taken at 2 p.m. and conclude not later than 4 p.m., with the time allocated to group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes each and to all other Senators not to exceed six minutes each and the Taoiseach to be given five minutes in which to reply to the debate. Senators may share time.
Order of Business
Does that mean that we are having no discussion whatever this morning before the Taoiseach comes into the House?
That is correct.
That is a matter for the House to decide.
On the Order of Business, yes.
On the issue of support for victims of crime and their families, a man whose son had been murdered in Spain in a case of mistaken identity came to my office recently. He was in great shock. He had had no interaction with the Irish authorities on any investigation into his son’s murder. He did not know where to turn. Will the Leader ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality if her Department plans to do anything to set up a proper office to liaise with victims of crime and their families? Many charitable organisations have stepped into this breach to support victims of crime and their families.
In view of the upcoming and unprecedented work stoppages by An Garda Síochána in November, I have massive sympathy for gardaí because they are on the front line. Their job is very difficult. Every day they run the risk that they will not go home. The Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality needs to engage more with the Garda Representative Association to try to avoid this desperate measure which will have a serious effect on the country.
Will the Leader ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality to come to the House to explain the appointment or non-appointment of new judges? When Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil made the confidence and supply agreement which was published, it was provided that all agreements with Independent Deputies and other political parties would be published in full. We have read in the newspapers in the past couple of days, however, that the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Shane Ross, believes he has an agreement with the Government that no new judges will be appointed until a Bill which has not yet even received pre-legislative scrutiny and the terms of which will be highly controversial, if published in the form adumbrated, and raise serious constitutional issues is passed. That Bill must be passed before further judges can be appointed by reason of an agreement which one Minister seems to have extorted from the rest of the Cabinet. That is constitutionally wrong. The Constitution provides that it is the Executive’s function to advise the President to appoint judges. This is not an academic issue. It is an issue of significant importance because a few days ago the President of the High Court suspended reforms he had brought forward for want of judicial resources to implement them. This means that the ordinary business of the courts is being affected by this blackmail deal that seems to have been made privately with the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to the effect that no new judges can be appointed until the Houses of the Oireachtas consider a new Bill.
It ignores completely the fact that this is a minority Government which does not have the capacity to push through its Bill. Deputy Jim O'Callaghan has his own proposals on the matter in the form of a Bill which he has published. It is profoundly wrong that one member of Government should hijack the appointment of judges in this way.
I want the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality to come to the House to explain to us how it is that serious damage has been done to the constitutional process by reason of an agreement which is unpublished and secret and which should not be in place, given the deal on confidence and supply that was entered into between the Government and the Fianna Fáil Party. There should not be a secret deal. It should be published. As legislators, we are entitled to know if it is the case that judges may not be appointed at the whim of one Minister in government. On that basis, I am asking that the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality come to the House as a matter of urgency to explain what deal there is and who entered into it-----
-----and to indicate clearly that the Constitution overrides deals of this kind and that the Government retains its right to appoint judges and will appoint judges when it is necessary to do so.
I want to raise an issue that may be futile to some, but it is important to us in County Mayo. It is important to the elderly and those with disabilities. We will be coming to Dublin on Saturday to take away the Sam Maguire Cup, we hope, and-----
What about the curse?
That only applies in September. Does the Senator not know that Saturday next is 1 October? There are many who want to travel by train and extra trains are being put on from Mayo to Dublin to bring supporters up for the match. However, the elderly and those with disabilities will not be allowed to use their passes on those trains. They are the same trains and tracks that are publicly funded, yet such supporters are being excluded. It is an important issue that needs to be addressed by the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport in order that it will not happen again to the supporters of other counties because this discrimination cannot be allowed to happen.
I note the launch this morning of the rural action plan by the Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. There is a focus on what can be done to attract more employment to rural areas and encourage people to remain living in them, yet at the same time we learn that an area near Ballina has been without a broadband service since Monday last. On an ongoing basis, we are left without mobile phone coverage and broadband coverage. I have been contacted recently by a business in Roscommon that cannot open, even though it has the potential to create quite a number of jobs because the proprietor cannot get the required connectivity. At the briefing this morning we were told that the broadband services were within the remit of the national broadband plan. The bottom line is there needs to be more co-ordination between the respective Departments of the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Denis Naughten, and the Minister Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Heather Humphreys, as one is dependent on the other. It is ridiculous that whole areas of County Mayo and the west continue to be blue spots, that is, areas without broadband coverage. There is no point in having plans to bring employment and investment to areas when we do not have these basic facilities.
I delivered the keynote speech yesterday at a diversity conference in Waterford where a young lady, Ms Nowar Dlikan, a Syrian refugee, gave an account of her story and the atrocities she and all citizens were experiencing in Syria. I have heard more disturbing news this morning from the Syrian city of Aleppo where Syrian Government forces, with the help of their Russian allies, have endangered what remains of the existing peace process with their use of bunker-busting bombs against civilians and hospitals. We are seeing horrific imagery coming out of Aleppo and it is really concerning. I would like to hear from the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade what position the Government will take at EU and UN levels to push for an end to the terrible suffering of the people of Aleppo. I would also like to ask the position of the Government on the EU refugee allocation programme in the light of the assertion by the Slovakian Prime Minister, Dr. Robert Fico, that the programme is now dead in the water.
I very much support the efforts of the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Simon Coveney, to speed up the supply and the announcement of the rapid-build housing. The Minister is talking about supplying 1,600 such units.
It was reported in The Sunday Times at the weekend that the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, was to shut the door on tax reliefs for Airbnb. Airbnb-type businesses are having an enormous effect on the supply of housing, especially in urban areas. It is estimated that we have lost between 1,500 and 2,000 units that were in the ordinary rental market to Airbnb-type accommodation. I suggest to the Leader of the House that he bring it to the attention of both Ministers that to shut the door on the tax relief for rental of rooms, while important for the student market, will not have the effect that we want in shutting the door on the transfer of units that are let long term. Two or three months ago five apartments in my area on the South Circular Road that were rented to ordinary people on rent allowance working in the Civil Service and other areas where transferred to Airbnb. These are five units people had to leave. During the rounds of discussions with various lobby groups on what changes they wanted to see included in the budget, one person pointed out to me that five apartments in the Smithfield area that had been let long term by tenants working in the city had been transferred to short-term lets. Both Ministers need to look at what is happening throughout the world in that regard. In Berlin regulations are being brought forward to control the number of units being transferred to Airbnb accommodation. Only 50% of a flat in Berlin can be part of a short-term lease. Dublin, Cork, Galway and Limerick are not alone in dealing with this problem. It is affecting Berlin, London and Seattle, to name but a few cities which are bringing forward regulations and legislation to control it. We are in a period of constrained supply. While I welcome the Minister's proposal to build 1,500 rapid-build units, if we lose 1,500 at the other end, it will not serve any purpose. I urge the Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, to look at this. He stated he would announce in the budget efforts to shut the door on tax relief on short-term lets, given the impact they were having having on the provision of student accommodation. We also need to look at efforts to shut the door to ensure we will not see a transfer to short-term leases of units being let in the market because that will make the housing problem far worse.
The budget negotiations are under way and there is engagement with the various parties and stakeholders. As policymakers and politicians, we must recognise that in recent years there have been considerable reductions in the pay, salaries and conditions of many. Having said all that, today we see many of the public sector unions lining up and coming forward with their pay claims and pay restoration claims. It is important to state that while it is popular for politicians to support all of these increases, at the same time we, as politicians, are looking for enhanced resources for public service provision. We, therefore, need to be careful. It is a fact that 70% to 80% of public expenditure is on pay and pensions, which leaves just over 20% for public services. It is my belief - this is where we need the debate - that in the budget we should prioritise the provision and restoration of services for three vulnerable sectors, namely, the disabled, the elderly and the sick who require access to health services.
We must also assist those in middle Ireland, the working young parents who are paying for child care and mortgages. They have carried the can for several years and need to be rewarded in some way in the budget. Will the Leader have a debate on the sustainability of public services? While recognising its contribution and its employees, we cannot have it every way. We need to have a considered and genuine debate on this issue.
It is of great concern that gardaí are considering taking industrial action on 4, 11, 18 and 25 November. The Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, should come to the House next week to discuss the issues involved. Gardaí have been extremely patient and involved in negotiations for months. The issue was raised in the Dáil in June by Deputy Micheál Martin, leader of Fianna Fáil. We met the Garda representative organisations last December and they have genuine grievances in that regard. Both the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors, AGSI, and the Garda Representative Association, GRA, are reasonable and constructive representatives of the force. The executives of these organisations have to respond to their members who feel very much under attack from public service restrictions and the fact that new Garda recruits are on a very low salary. In fact, it is now impossible for a young garda to live in Dublin as rent assistance has been withdrawn. The issue should be resolved in a practical manner. I am sure the former justice Minister, Senator Michael McDowell, would make a major contribution to a debate with the Minister for Justice and Equality. All of the issues involved could be discussed here in a practical way. When he was Minister, Senator Michael McDowell brought forward major reforms and improvements. He was an effective Minister in introducing joint policing committees which have played an important role in local areas. No other public servant has to go to work with a stab vest on. We have to bear in mind the danger in which gardaí put themselves every day on the country’s streets. It is a dangerous business, particularly given the growth of the Kinahan and other gangs. We cannot afford for gardaí to take the industrial action they are proposing, but they are being forced into taking it to get a result. Will the Leader invite the Minister for Justice and Equality to come to the House next week to outline the situation as she sees it? We can then put questions to her from the point of view of the people we represent, namely, gardaí at GRA and AGSI levels. I declare an interest as I am a nominee of both organisations on the Labour Panel. However, I make no apologies for doing so. Senator Michael McDowell will recall that we represented our views to him on many occasions when he was Minister.
I support my colleague, Senator Michael McDowell. We cannot have the courts held up. People are waiting years to bring cases before the courts. Now we are told we will have to wait for legislation which may take one year to get through this House. If there is some agreement in place, it should be published. In the meantime, we need an interim agreement which would allow for the appointment of judges.
I support my colleague, Senator Terry Leyden, on his comments on gardaí. We cannot have them on strike.
This year we started off in a spirit of co-operation and working together in this House. At least that is what I thought until I read the Irish Independent this morning. It contained a report that Fine Gael Senators had met the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Simon Coveney, last night in secret to discuss the remuneration terms and conditions which would apply to city and county councillors. The Seanad had a committee in place to discuss this matter. It had only one meeting and has not met since. I understand an announcement is to be made at a forthcoming Local Authorities Members Association, LAMA, conference. What does that say about the level of co-operation and Members working together to do the job we are here to do? It is bloody despicable if a meeting was held last night. At the very least, this House deserves an explanation from the Leader if it did happen. I would be happier to hear it did not happen.
The Senator knows that is about the Fine Gael leadership.
Of course, it is about the leadership of Fine Gael. When the two boys are finished playing it out, I hope the Tánaiste, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, will enjoy her new role as Taoiseach.
Senator Gerard P. Craughwell is welcome back to Fine Gael.
May I have order in the Chamber?
I raise a serious issue which has been escalating for several months at the Oberstown facility for young offenders. It is an excellent new-build which cost more than €50 million and which is very much focused on the rehabilitation and re-education of young offenders to give them a second chance, to which all Members will agree they are fully entitled and which we would like them to have. There has been, however, an ever-increasing number of serious incidents at the facility, with staff injuries. Local residents have become extremely concerned about these incidents. There are many old people in the vicinity living on their own, as well as many parents of young children. They are becoming increasingly concerned owing to several absconsions and a fire on the roof which caused considerable damage to the wonderful facility. There was an incident in which a staff member was locked in a room and held to ransom. Gardaí eventually had to go to the facility to release the staff member. The newspapers report that this day last week over €1 million worth of damage was caused to the facility. For several months it has been clear that whatever protocols are in place at the facility are not working. Staff feel threatened. I know many of them as I worked there as a general practitioner. Many of the staff have worked there for years but do not want to go back. Having been the Minister involved with the facility’s development, I know that it was difficult to get staff to work there. Accordingly, it makes it all the more important that they be retained and feel protected at work.
The facility’s board has apologised for certain failures in texting alerts, etc., when there have been break-outs and will seek to rectify them, as well as ordering a review of existing protocols. However, this needs to be done urgently as local people are concerned. I have written to the Minister responsible about the issue to seek a meeting with local residents to reassure them but all I have received so far is an acknowledgement. People in the area support the facility and have shown good will towards it, but they are deeply worried about the escalating incidents in the past two months. Given this and the money invested in the facility, will the Leader invite the Minister to attend the House to explain what has gone wrong at the facility and why there have been a significant number of incidents there? I believe the protocols in place do not allow staff to deal with young offenders. These are young men, aged 16 and 17 years, some of whom are aggressive and as large as many of us, if not larger. The staff need to be able to deal with these problems when they pass a certain point without having to resort to the Garda which has a significant amount of other work to do and can well do without being called to the facility continually. If the protocols were somewhat different, as they have been in the past, these situations would not get to the point they have.
The Senator’s point has been well made.
I want to raise the issue of apartheid. While we have a wide range of political views in this Chamber, I am confident that nobody here would defend an ideology of apartheid or racism. This summer, however, I visited an apartheid state, the state of Israel where I saw at first hand the people of Palestine under occupation and subjugation. Some 4.5 million Palestinians live under Israeli military rule on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, while Israeli citizens live in over 200 illegal settlements. The two populations are separate and unequal. Palestinians on the West Bank face more than 500 checkpoints, while Israeli settlers come and go as they please. Thousands of Palestinians have their houses routinely demolished each year as new Israeli settlements continue to expand. Israelis enjoy full citizenship and civilian courts, while Palestinians enjoy military courts, temporary citizenship and severe restrictions of their right to travel within their own country, even to see their own families. Up to 2,000 children have been murdered by Israeli forces since 2000.
I could go on, but time is limited. I wish to highlight this evening's protest outside Tallaght Stadium before the Dundalk game, congratulate its organisers and call on anyone going to the game to join in the red card protest against the apartheid state of Israel. Will the Leader invite the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade to come to the House? Israel has announced that a further 2,500 illegal houses will be built on Palestinian land this year; therefore, I would like to hear from the Minister what the Government is doing to oppose the Israeli plans.
Inspired by Senator Michael McDowell, I propose an amendment to the Order of Business that, instead of No. 4 being taken at 12:30 p.m., we have statements on the appointment of judges. I hope the Tánaiste would be present, but even if she was not, we could have statements at 12:30 p.m. at the conclusion of the Order of Business.
Regarding the situation in Syria, a matter raised by my Green Party colleague, Senator Grace O'Sullivan, the Russians are committing war crimes daily and have been doing so for some time, but the American position is weak because it supported the state of Israel when it was doing exactly the same on the Gaza Strip. That is a problem. It remains to me most extraordinary that international politicians at a senior level would seek to move forward abstract policy and the interests of their own countries at the expense of the misery of thousands upon thousands of people.
I support the Sinn Féin Senator's comments on the situation of Palestinians'. I was in a part that is rarely visited, the Jordan valley, the day after demolitions. They are referred to as houses, but they are not houses. They are pathetic, flimsy, corrugated iron structures or tents. They are the lowest of the low. They have nothing. What is appalling is that the land that is in contention is in the hands of the Christian churches which - I speak as a Christian - do absolutely nothing to safeguard the rights of Palestinians. I support the call for a debate on this highly contentious issue.
I have serious concerns about orthodontic services which are underfunded. A constituent of mine who is 16 years of age has been waiting for an operation on her teeth since she was 13. She is a young, maturing lady and her mother has serious concerns for her because this is affecting her self-confidence. It is a problem for the girl and her whole family. She has had four appointments and three operations cancelled. The service is inadequate. I call on the Minister for Health to address the House on this travesty which affects everyone who is awaiting an orthodontic appointment.
I second Senator Michael McDowell's proposal to have the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality appear before the House to discuss the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Shane Ross's reported proposed interventions in what is an important matter.
I would prefer to get the record straight. An amendment to the Order of Business was proposed by Senator David Norris, not Senator Michael McDowell. If Senator Gerald Nash wishes to second the amendment, he may do so.
I second the amendment. I also propose an amendment to the Order of Business that No. 11, Protection of Employment (Uncertain Hours) Bill 2016, be taken before No. 1.
I second the amendment.
Senator Gerald Nash will have to get someone else to second the amendment, as Senator Kevin Humphreys has already spoken.
I second Senator Gerald Nash's proposed amendment.
Go raibh maith agat.
This week I joined IMPACT library staff in the Lexicon library in Dún Laoghaire who were expressing their opposition to a council management decision to proceed with the policy of having unstaffed libraries. I accept that HR matters are ones for council management, but at a time when the public library service is being eroded, libraries are being closed and a policy of staffless libraries is being pursued and a national tender for library stock is being considered, we should start a national conversation about the value of library services. Their space is democratic, cultural, economic, education and social. Few other spaces can boast such a diversity of service focal points. What value do we place on this combination of classes, workshops, programming and supports for combating digital exclusion? For Sinn Féin, this represents accessibility and inclusivity, none of which would be possible in staffless and underfunded or closed libraries. In this light, I request the presence of the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Heather Humphreys, or the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Simon Coveney, to progress this conversation on the downgrading of library services.
On a point of order, my understanding is that, when I proposed that the Bill be taken, I was obliged to reference the date on which it would be taken. Is that correct?
Not yet. We will come to that matter.
That is fine.
We will do it at the end of the Order of Business.
I refer to Norwegian Air International, NAI, and the long-running debacle that has been the attempt to get transatlantic flights into Cork Airport. It is very important for the second city that we have a transatlantic airport and direct flights from Cork to the United States. During the week NAI announced that it had booked slots from March onwards and was proposing to put in place a price structure as low as €100, which is very competitive. The main issue for us is licensing. I welcome the Taoiseach's statement during the week that he was putting pressure on the US authorities to have the issue sorted out. It is important that this open air licensing agreement be enforced. Owing to political issues in the United States, we will probably not have an agreement until after the election, but it is important that we keep the matter on the agenda as one of the key drivers for tourism, particularly in the southern region. It would provide us with great connectivity which I hope would help the tourism industry in the south to develop. I would like to think that, after the election, we will have an opportunity to discuss with the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade how we can work with him and the pressure this Chamber can apply to deliver these important transatlantic flights into Cork.
Ba mhaith liom i dtosach báire tagairt a dhéanamh don chlár a rinne "Prime Time" an oíche faoi dheireadh faoin phictiúrlann nua atá á thógáil i nGaillimh. A few nights ago "Prime Time" highlighted the development of the arthouse cinema in Galway. It chronicled a host of serious issues with the way the project had progressed and which we should investigate. Although it is a local matter, it points to a broader issue within the Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs as to why there had not been proper oversight. We have been told that €6 million in State funding was invested in the arthouse cinema project and that a further €1 million will be needed and that there are questions about the fund-raising methods used to supplement State funding and so on, but it appears from the report that at no point was there proper oversight of whether moneys were available, a proper business plan was in place, etc. A number of substantial capital projects have been earmarked for Galway in the context of it being awarded the designation of European Capital of Culture 2020. I am sure capital projects are being undertaken in other parts of the State. In this light, it is important that the Minister attend the House to discuss how her Department is overseeing such projects.
I also seek a debate on regional economic development with the Minister of State, Deputy Michael Ring. I would like to find out the Government's vision, particularly for the west. We are far behind in the development of infrastructure and there are serious issues with broadband, water and sewerage. In addition, there has been a haemorrhaging of citizens as a result of emigration. Schools have also closed. It is important, therefore, to see how the Minister of State's regional economic development brief will address these matters. How will it create jobs in the west and what is the Minister of State's vision in that regard?
Ba bhreá liom dá bhféadfaimid an díospóireacht sin a bheith againn go luath.
I think we are all agreed that there is not just a need for a judicial council but also that it is the right thing to put it in place, on which both the Executive and the Judiciary are agreed. I am delighted that the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality made a recent statement on the matter. It is included in the legislative programme and there will be a Bill in this session. We currently have a Judicial Appointments Advisory Board which submits names. However, we have to be somewhat cautious. While we can have statements - I am sure the Leader will allow them - I am not too sure we can have them today. Senators Michael McDowell and Victor Boyhan have tabled an item on the agenda that we discuss the matter of having a judicial council. I, therefore, ask the Leader to allow statements, but I cannot see how we can have them immediately. We should be slightly cautious by arranging for such statements to be made in early course but leaving it to the Leader's discretion to arrange for the Minister to attend the House, if possible.
I wish to add to the comments made on the Garda Representative Association's decision to instigate four days of strike action in November owing to the fact that their pay demands have not been met. This is a serious development, one that goes to the core of every community in the country which requires a Garda presence. As such, the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality must intervene.
What about bus drivers?
It is absolutely different. No comparison can be made between emergency response teams, whether they are firefighters, ambulance personnel or gardaí, and other public sector workers and it is unfair to do so because they are the first line of protection, when required. I ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality to intervene. There is no trade union to represent gardaí, although they have their representative bodies. Low-paid firefighters were dealt with heretofore, but the demands of gardaí have not been met or dealt with. We cannot have a trade-off or a stand-off heading into November, before Christmas, when the dark nights of winter are approaching and elderly people are frightened in their homes owing to this situation. It is imperative that the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality deal with the issue. Will the Leader to facilitate a debate on it in the House with the Tánaiste next week or the week after, if possible?
A big change from last night.
The Senator was not listening.
Before calling the Leader to respond, I welcome a public representative, Councillor Crowe, to the Visitors Gallery. I wish him a successful stay. I thought he might be up for the match, but he is not a Mayo man.
I also welcome Councillor Crowe to the Visitors Gallery. I am sure he will be swamped afterwards by his electorate.
I thank Senators for their contributions on the Order of Business. A total of 18 Members spoke and raised matters of importance.
Senator Catherine Ardagh referred to victims of crime. There is a Victims of Crime Office and the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality has published the heads of the Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Bill which is included in the programme for Government. They were published in July 2015. In addition, we have seen a 21% rise in the budget to fund services for victims of crime. Senator Catherine Ardagh has raised an important matter and I look forward to having the Bill before the House.
Senators Michael McDowell, David Norris, Paul Coghlan and Gerard P. Craughwell raised the issue of judicial appointments. I cannot accept the amendment proposed by Senator David Norris for one practical reason - the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, is not available today as she is taking the Order of Business in the Lower House. Second, she will also be tied up during voting time in the Dáil this afternoon. However, the matter of judicial appointments is important. I agree fully with Senator Michael McDowell that it is one which should be the preserve of the Executive. Such appointments should be fully independent of any part of the Oireachtas. As Senator Paul Coghlan said, there is the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board. As Members of the Upper House, it is important that we allow the discussion at the Cabinet table to continue, but I am not afraid of having a debate on the issue because I share Senator Michael McDowell's view. I also agree with Senator David Norris' proposal that we have that discussion at the earliest opportunity. However, I share the view of both Senators that it would be premature to have that debate now because we do not have the full facts and there has been no Cabinet memorandum or decision taken yet. It is important, therefore, that we allow the Executive the power to appoint. According to the note on the Cabinet's discussion this week, it was agreed that the Government could reserve the right to appoint members to whatever positions came up. However, I agree fully that we cannot be at a standstill in the making of appointments to the Judiciary. The debate should take place, but I appeal to Senators' better nature to wait and agree not to have it today. I will arrange such a debate at the earliest opportunity, but it would be a little premature to have it today.
On a point of order, I remind the Leader that I specifically said the debate should take place even in the absence of the Minister, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald.
To be fair, I am trying to be collaborative.
As the Leader has made his point, we will let the Order of Business unfold.
In having the debate it is important to have the full facts and not to have them at half-time.
Will the Leader indicate the timeframe he is contemplating? I agree that it would be preferable for the Tánaiste to be here, but it is not essential. Will the Leader indicate whether we are talking about one week or one month?
I am hoping it will take place in the next couple of weeks. I am not a member of the Cabinet, but it is my understanding there will be another discussion next week. I might be wrong, but let me see what happens after the Cabinet meeting next week. I will come back to Senators Michael McDowell and David Norris on the matter.
I am agreeable to that proposal.
It is also important that we do not use the debate for political purposes to badger people on the issue of judicial appointments. We should allow for a certain degree of independence.
Senator Grace O'Sullivan raised the important issue of the Syrian conflict. In that regard, she mentioned the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Charles Flanagan. At the United Nations in New York last week he reaffirmed Ireland's support to help to bring the Syrian conflict to an end. I share Senator David Norris' views on Russia's role and behaviour. The Senator will accept that in his fine address to the United Nations the Minister spoke about the catastrophic consequences of Russia's actions.
It behoves us to encourage all involved to engage in talks and become more proactive to bring about a resolution.
Senator Rose Conway-Walsh said holders of the free travel pass were not entitled to free travel on the weekend of the All-Ireland football final. That is wrong and I appeal to Iarnród Éireann to change the policy. Given the cost of match and train tickets, we should be encouraging people to travel, especially those who need special assistance. They should not be deprived of an opportunity to attend the match. I agree fully with the Senator and will take up the matter with Iarnród Éireann on her behalf.
I will be happy to arrange for the Minister of State, Deputy Michael Ring, to attend the House for a debate on the rural action plan.
Senator Kevin Humphreys mentioned the importance of housing. The Minister, Deputy Simon Coveney, has brought his action plan before the House.
The Senator also referred to Airbnb, which is a double-edged sword. At one level, it gives people an opportunity to earn income, but it can also deprive students of an opportunity to stay in rooms which were available previously for rent during the academic year. In Cork some rooms are no longer available to students because they are being used for Airbnb. The Revenue Commissioners have been working on the tax incentive issue which the Minister for Finance has said will be dealt with in the budget. We have had a pre-budget discussion with him, but we will try to have him back again to discuss the issue, although it may not be possible to do so before the budget.
The points made by the Senator about Airbnb should be considered in the context of the overall holistic approach to the issue of housing. It is important, however, to increase the stock of housing and availability of rooms.
Senator Paudie Coffey referred to the budget talks with reference to the public sector unions, while Senators Terry Leyden and Brian Ó Domhnaill raised the issue in the context of An Garda Síochána. It is important that Members acknowledge and understand the frustration of members of the Garda who have been obliged to endure pay cuts and are on the front line every day and night. I commend them for the work they do and understand their frustration. However, I appeal to them and their leadership, in particular, to re-engage in talks. The statement made by the Commissioner last night was measured, one in which she appealed to them to engage in talks. The Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality has also done so. Many Members were delighted to hear last Friday that an agreement had been reached with the Garda Representative Association, GRA, on many of the outstanding pay issues. It is important to recognise that there must be continual talks. It is disappointing to learn of the GRA's rejection of the decision, but it is important to highlight the need for constraint by all on the issue of public sector pay as the Government does not have a pot of money available. Were we to accept the accumulated budgetary proposals made by Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin, we would be back to the bad old days of boom and spend.
That is nonsense.
It is not and we cannot go back to them.
The Leader has not even seen the pre-budget proposals-----
I have heard Sinn Féin's spokespeople every day on radio and television promising the sun, the moon and the stars.
All things for everything.
It cannot be done.
They have all been costed by the Leader's colleagues in the Department of Finance.
The Senator should talk to his colleagues-----
All of the figures are from the Department of Finance.
I ask the Leader-----
They made swingeing cuts in the North.
We will check the Government's budget when it is announced.
The Senator should talk to his colleagues in Stormont.
It is not affordable.
The Senator was a great man for figures when he was in the Department of Health.
Sinn Féin is making swingeing cuts and implementing austerity in the North of Ireland.
The Leader, to continue, without interruption, please.
All I ask of Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh is that he talk to his colleagues in Stormont who will tell him what government is about because in government one cannot be all things to all people.
They are very good in government, are they not?
That is a matter of opinion.
Yes; they are managing in government very well.
The important point is that all of us who are committed in public life recognise as public servants the importance of An Garda Síochána. Equally, however, the job of the Government is to govern. The current Administration is committed to protecting the economy and not going back to the old ways. When I hear Senator Brian Ó Domhnaill lectur us, I invite members of his party to cast their minds back to when it was in government and the way in which it wrecked the country. Let us call a spade a spade. Collectively, we must make people's lives better. If that means a reduction in the universal social charge, USC, an increase in public services or a modest pay increase, let us try to do it. However, let it not be a catchall for everybody. We cannot give everybody everything he or she wants and let us not try to do so because people do not believe us anymore.
Sinn Féin is not promising tax cuts.
It is promising everything.
Not at all.
The Senator knows that I am correct.
The other point is that, regardless of whether one is in opposition or a minority Government, if one considers what the Government has available to spend, the fiscal space - I hate using the term - is limited. The ratio is 2:1 in terms of tax cuts and public expenditure. If, as Senator Paudie Coffey sought, one wishes to fund education, disability or housing services for the elderly, one must make choices. While being in government requires the making of choices, in the case of the GRA, I hope it will return to talks because all Members of the House who serve as legislators respect members of An Garda Síochána and value tremendously the work they do. However, one must go into talks and negotiate.
It has to be invited
It has been invited.
It must be invited by the Minister.
Order, le do thoil.
Senator Gerard P. Craughwell, joined by Senator Gerald Nash, raised the issue of judicial appointments. He also referred to a report in the Irish Independent. All I can tell him is that the Minister responsible for housing and local government and all parts in between, Deputy Simon Coveney, had a meeting with Fine Gael Senators yesterday, as other Ministers do. I cannot tell the Senator what decision he has made on anything to do with councillors' pay and remuneration. However, I will ask him to meet the group set up by Members. I, therefore, ask the Senator to take back the remarks he made and the phraseology he used because, as I yesterday, the language used by Members matters.
I totally agree.
Certainly as Leader, I never have acted other than in a co-operative, cross-party way on the issue raised by the Senator. The Minister will attend the conference of the Local Authorities Members Association, LAMA, in Bantry on Friday, as I am sure the Senator will. I am also sure he is canvassing and lobbying for his members, as are we all. The important point, as I have stated from day one, is that we should all try to achieve a result to improve the lot - their terms and conditions and, equally, their lives - of councillors, many of whom have been obliged to forfeit lucrative careers to serve in the public interest. The other objective towards which we should work is giving more power back to local government members because too much power has been given to the executive at local authority level. I hope the Senator will join me in working in a bipartisan way in that regard.
I would be delighted to do so.
It was Phil Hogan who did that.
Sinn Féin's local government proposal is a little like Aesop's tales. I am very fond of the Senator, but I sometimes wonder what world he is living in. Hilary Clinton used the phrase "living in one's own reality" about Donald Trump. I think the Senator should read Sinn Féin's proposals every week because they change from week to week.
It has no responsibility.
The Leader is really showing who is afraid of the real people.
All of the money and no responsibility.
The Leader is inclined to wander a little this morning.
We did not do the leprechaun economics.
Sinn Féin has come up with voodoo economics.
Let us conclude the Order of Business.
Senator James Reilly referred to the Oberstown centre. I will be happy to have the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Katherine Zappone, come into the House to discuss that important issue.
Senator Robbie Gallagher raised the important issue of apartheid in the context of the state of Israel and Palestine-----
It was Senator Paul Gavan who raised the issue. Language is important.
My apologies. The Senator is correct that language is important. Senator Paul Gavan is right; a debate is needed to hear from all sides.
A rose by any other name smells the same, according to the bard of Avon.
The Senator is correct. It is also my opinion that the Palestinian people deserve to have their voice heard and recognised. While I might not receive approval in many quarters for saying that, I share Senator Paul Gavan's views in that regard. This is an issue Members must consider and I will seek to have the Minister come before the House to discuss it.
Senator David Norris referred to the situation in Syria and also referred to Palestine, an issue to which I have just referred.
Senator Aidan Davitt raised the issue of dental care. I will ask the Minister for Health, Deputy Simon Harris, to come to the House to discuss it.
Senator Fintan Warfield raised an important issue regarding libraries without staff that is now entering the public domain. There is a distinction to be made between libraries that are staffed by librarians and the service they provide and staffless libraries, but it is critically important that we recognise the importance of the library service to communities. I will be happy to have the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Simon Coveney, come to the House to discuss the issue with Members.
Senator Tim Lombard referred to Norwegian Air. Many of us from Cork have raised this troubling issue which I believe has been referred to arbitration. However, from the perspective of Munster, Cork in particular, it is critical that this transatlantic link be established. I appeal to the US authorities to certify and give a licence to Norwegian Air.
Ní fhaca mé an clár mar gheall ar an bpictiúrlann i nGaillimh, ach tá an ceart ag an Senator Ó Clochartaigh go bhfuil obair forbartha le déanamh ag gach Roinn maidir leis an gcaoi ina úsáidtear airgead an taxpayer. Oversight of the spending of money on taxpayers' behalf is something in which Members should engage, as well as having the Minister come to the House to discuss the issue. I will also be happy to have the Minister of State, Deputy Michael Ring, come to the House.
I will accept Senator Gerald Nash's proposed amendment to the Order of Business. If Senator David Norris withdraws his proposed amendment, I will endeavour to have the Minister for Justice and Equality come to the House within the next couple of weeks.
How stands Senator David Norris' proposed amendment?
As a litigant in a case before the courts for five years, I feel strongly about it. However, I also remember, with the then Senator Shane Ross, dealing with the matter of political appointments, which is probably from where he is coming. In the light of the Leader's reasonable approach and the indication given by Senator Michael McDowell who was the instigator of the proposed amendment, it would be ridiculous for me to take a more extreme position. Consequently, I am happy to withdraw my proposed amendment.
I thank the Senator. I am sure that if the matter is not dealt with, either he or Senator Michael McDowell will raise it next week or the week after that.
Senator Gerald Nash has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That No. 11 be taken before No. 1." The Leader has indicated that he is prepared to accept the amendment. Is it agreed to? Agreed.